Consideration of Lords amendments
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
Let me take this opportunity to thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for their contribution to the Bill so far. I am sure that to many hon. Members in the Chamber the Bill will seem like an old friend, having started its journey in this House back in February. It has been away for a long holiday and has now come back, perhaps a little fatter than before—changes were made to the Bill in the other place—but in pretty good shape as a result.
In response to the views expressed in both Houses, Lords amendments 1 and 2 provide a clear definition of what it means to complete an apprenticeship in England and Wales respectively. We have ensured that employed status is a key element of an apprenticeship. Where the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers propose to allow some flexibility, we have ensured that the regulations setting out the alternative completion conditions will be subject to affirmative resolution.
The clauses dealing with the contents of the specification of apprenticeship standards in England and Wales now include explicit requirements for an apprenticeship framework not only to include both on-the-job and off-the-job training, but to specify relevant occupational competences and technical knowledge. Under the relevant new clauses, together with Lords amendments 4, 6 and 7, we have removed the provision for English and Welsh apprenticeship agreements. That means that if a person enters into an apprenticeship agreement in connection with either an English or a Welsh framework, regardless of where they work, they will be issued with a certificate in England or Wales respectively, provided that they meet the requirements.
We have already made a clear commitment to the House that framework-issuing authorities will be the sector skills councils and other sectoral bodies. To provide further assurance to such bodies, amendment 8 removes the power of the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to designate a person to issue frameworks generally, which we no longer consider necessary.
I thank the Minister for paying tribute to the assiduous and sagacious contribution that the Opposition have made to our considerations.
How will the reduction in the number of sector skills councils, which is widely rumoured to be the Government’s preference, affect their role in this regard?
Not only is that reduction widely rumoured to be the Government’s preference, but there has just been a statement to the House outlining that very policy. As usual, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you want to keep something a secret, announce it in the House of Commons—I have always found that to be a useful way of going about things. That reduction, which was announced in the White Paper that was published earlier today, has to be made in conjunction and collaboration with employers. The White Paper makes it clear that the UK Commission for Employment and Skills will work with the sector skills councils to bring about that sharp reduction in the number of sector skills councils, which is a response to what employers tell us about the complexity of the skills system.
What the White Paper says—I have it here—is that the number of sector skills councils will be reduced to nine. The rumour is that the Government have rather less regard than the Opposition for sector skills councils, and that there may be further reductions, in both their capacity and budget. We would resist that hotly. However, given that we know from the leaked report that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition spoke about earlier that there are plans for swingeing cuts, we want an absolute assurance that those cuts will not affect sector skills councils or their capacity to deal with the matters that the Minister has just outlined.
The hon. Gentleman should not listen to too many rumours. The figure of nine is nowhere to be found, and will certainly not be found in that document. The figures for savings in the document to which he referred were announced to the House in the Budget back in March, proving my point that if you want to keep something a secret, Madam Deputy Speaker, you should announce it to the House of Commons. However, I had better get back to the Bill before somebody notices that we have strayed from the Lords amendments that we are considering.
Lords amendments 9, 10, 13 and 14 provide that a framework may be issued only if the issuing authority is satisfied that it meets the specification for apprenticeship standards. We have made it clear that we would expect the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to consult widely with employers and their representatives on the draft specification for apprenticeship standards for England. Indeed, much of that consultation has already taken place, in anticipation of the Bill’s becoming law. However, in response to concerns expressed in the other place, Lords amendments 16 and 17 place a duty on the chief executive to consult on the specification for apprenticeship standards for England with representatives of employers, further education institutions and other providers of training, as well as those persons designated to issue frameworks and any other persons specified in regulations.
In Committee in the other place, concerns were raised about some of the terms used in the Bill. Lords amendments 82 to 85, 87 to 94 and 99 to 110 replace the term “scheme” with “offer” throughout the Bill. Lords amendment 89 reflects the fact that young people are entitled to elect for the apprenticeship offer, although the amendment does not alter the substance of the offer itself.
Concerns were also expressed about the use of the term “principal” qualification to represent the course of training for the competence element, which is a framework requirement. It was not our intention to imply a hierarchy of qualifications within an apprenticeship framework. It is our view that what makes an apprenticeship unique, compared with other learning pathways, is the combination of vocational, technical and key skills qualifications, along with the mix of off-the-job learning and on-the-job application and the refinement of skills. The intention is made clearer in the Bill by Lords amendments 11, 15, 21, 26, 28, 29 and 30 to 33, all of which replace “principal” with “competencies” in describing the qualification for England and Wales.
In Committee in both Houses there was considerable debate about the need for greater flexibility of access to the apprenticeship offer for people with learning difficulties and disabilities, and, indeed, to apprenticeships more generally. Lords amendments 91 and 105 make changes to the apprenticeship offer qualifying criteria to address those concerns. Lords amendment 91 provides the flexibility to extend the apprenticeship offer to young people with disabilities, who might take longer to become ready to start an apprenticeship, up to the age of 25. Lords amendment 105 will enable young people with disabilities who might find it difficult to achieve the entry qualifications to provide alternative evidence that they are ready to embark on an apprenticeship. We are committed to working with the Special Education Consortium, with Skill, and with other groups with an interest in young people with disabilities, to ensure that the regulations strike the right balance between ensuring that as broad a range of young people as possible can take advantage of the apprenticeship offer and ensuring that standards are maintained.
Lords amendments 106 and 107 require the Secretary of State to consult Ofqual about the level of the qualifications that he intends to use in specifying and amending requirements for the apprenticeship offer. The original clause on careers education was interpreted by some as requiring schools to give pupils information about apprenticeships only when the person giving the advice thought it appropriate. The new clause inserted by Lords amendment 158 explicitly states that pupils must receive information on
“options available in respect of 16-18 education or training, and…apprenticeships.”
Lords amendment 114 makes explicit our expectation that everyone who successfully completes an apprenticeship at level 2 should also be able to aspire to achieve a level 3. It places a duty on the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to promote that progression. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is not in his place at the moment, will particularly welcome that measure. I should like to thank him and other members of the Skills Commission for their work and for the report, “Progression through apprenticeships”, which came out in March. We welcome the report, and I will shortly write to my hon. Friend and his co-chair with the Government’s response to the commission’s recommendations. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) in that regard.
There was strength of feeling about the importance of engaging employers in apprenticeships, and amendments 16 and 17 make it explicit that representatives of employers, further education colleges and other training providers must be consulted on the specification of apprenticeship standards for England.
Amendment 160 makes regulations that deal with the Secretary of State’s power to specify apprenticeship sectors, subject to annulment by a resolution of either House of Parliament. That amendment was made on the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which recommended that the power be subject to the negative resolution procedure rather than to no procedure.
Finally, amendment 173 was made in Committee in the Lords to give effect to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations on which of the regulation powers should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It makes the changes necessary by amending section 236 on orders and regulations of the Employment Rights Act 1996, as it is under that Act that the time to train regulations will be made. The Committee wished to see a higher level of parliamentary scrutiny applied to the following powers: in section 63D(2)(b), a power to specify any further conditions that an application must satisfy in order to qualify as an application under section 63D; in section 63D(6)(a), a power to specify any conditions about the duration of employment that an employee must satisfy in order to qualify for the right; in section 63D(7)(f), a power to specify further categories of people who may not make an application; and in section 63F(7)(j), a power to specify further permissible grounds of refusal. We are happy to follow the Committee’s recommendations in that regard.
This is an historic Bill—the first Bill of its kind dealing with apprenticeships for more than 200 years. It follows on from the Statute of Artificers back in the 16th century, which, among other things, made provision that apprentices should not be allowed to drink beer on a Friday night. That is one amendment that we have not had from the House of Lords, but I commend the Bill and urge the House to agree to Lords amendment 1.
It is a great pleasure to return to these matters. As the Minister said, it has been a long journey, but not an entirely unhappy one. The Bill has certainly been improved by consideration in Committee here and more especially in the other place. It is the Lords’ views on these matters, of course, that we are considering today.
I press the Minister on the issue of sector skills councils, which formed an important part of his opening remarks. I think that a real difference is emerging between those who see a sectoral approach to the management and funding of skills as pivotal and those who prefer the role of the regional development agencies, which are given new life and new power in the White Paper published today. I think that the tension in the end is not a happy one. We want more power given to sector skills councils in respect of the matters we are considering. We view them as pivotal, as I said, to the funding and management of skills. I am not sure that the Government have a coherent view of the relationship between those sector councils and the regions that have been given new powers.
When we debated these matters earlier in the Bill’s progress, we proposed an amendment to specify a definition of apprenticeships, which included the following components: agreement with employers to train a person using the practices, equipment and personnel of his or her enterprise in so doing; a mixture of on and off-the-job training; and training designed to lead to generally recognised levels of proficiency in a trade, profession or occupation.
The Minister will know that when those matters were taken up in the Lords, there was a Division, which the Government lost. The amendment that we are considering in respect of the definition of apprenticeship is a result of that Division and the subsequent concessions made by the Government to the case put by Opposition Members. I do not want to crow about that, which I think would be unworthy—and, actually, a little vulgar, which is something that I would certainly not want to be described as. None the less, it has to be said that—grudgingly, hesitantly, falteringly—the Government have moved to the position articulated all those months ago by both Conservative and, in fairness, Liberal Democrat spokesmen, and, indeed, supported by Members of the other place of all political persuasions, so the Government have finally conceded that we do indeed need a definition of an apprenticeship.
Why, it may be asked, is that so important? Let me answer that rhetorical question. It is important because the apprenticeship brand matters. Unless we define an apprenticeship, there is a real prospect that that brand will be diluted. It is essential for people to know what an apprenticeship comprises—important to employers, important to potential apprentices, and important to wider society. People need to know that an apprenticeship confers real competences which lead to greater employability. That is why a definition of apprenticeship is so critical. That is precisely what the Lords argued, and it is in part what is said in the Government amendment that we are considering, which emanates from the Lords. However, we remain concerned about the provision in the amendment for “alternative… completion conditions”. We are a little anxious that that may prove to be a loophole allowing the devising and delivery of apprenticeships that do not contain the core components that I described earlier.
Let me say at the outset that I do not in any way underestimate the role or significance of pre-apprenticeship training. I know that many organisations, some of which were mentioned in the House earlier today, do excellent work in providing people with the skills that are necessary before they move on to a full apprenticeship, and I pay tribute to that work. I do not think that there is much difference between us and the Government in that regard. We do, however, seek an assurance from the Government that the provision does not constitute a loophole, and that it will not be used liberally or permissively to undo the good work attempted in the rest of the amendment.
We accept the Government’s position that alternative completion conditions may be used to allow pre-apprenticeships for up to six months, but it is not possible to complete a full apprenticeship in that way. Surely the six months count only if a proper apprenticeship follows them. We are pleased that the Government have conceded the need to insert a duty to consult employers on those drawing up draft apprenticeship specifications. The standards that employers will set will be critical to the success of those apprenticeships, for the reasons that I cited earlier relating to both the competences that they deliver and people’s faith in the brand.
In the other place, Lord De Mauley said:
“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.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. 17-18.]
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”.
I raised the point in the House at more or less that time, and, although Ministers are shaking their heads, I think that it was feared across the Chamber that unless we strengthened the definition of apprenticeships—unless we retained what might be called the sovereignty of the brand—employers, learners and the wider public would lose faith in apprenticeships. We have made some progress, therefore. We welcome the additional clarification supplied by the amendments, as it was necessary.
I shall make one further contextual point, because we need to nail once and for all the misunderstanding—that is a parliamentary way of putting it—about apprenticeship numbers. This issue was debated again in the House today, at Prime Minister’s questions. The number of level 3 apprenticeships has not grown; it has fallen. The number of apprenticeships as a whole has grown, but the number of starts at all levels is, as it were, struggling, as the Government know.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about context. Will he acknowledge that the number of apprenticeships at that level is on the rise, and would he also like to tell us what the completion rate was when his party was in power compared with what that rate is now? I can help him on that second question; the current rate is almost double.
As the Minister knows, I am both straightforward and generous, and I have said on the record in the House that progress has been made on completions. However, in a similar spirit of straightforwardness—and even, perhaps, of a little generosity—the Minister might acknowledge that the number of level 3 apprenticeships has not met Government targets and has come nowhere near what the Prime Minister has repeatedly predicted, both as Chancellor and in his current role. That has inevitably led to doubts about the effectiveness of the Government’s policy on level 3 apprenticeships. This is not a matter of partisan contention; it is simply a matter of fact. However, we must now move on, as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would chide us if we did not because we are straying from the subjects we should be debating.
I need to say a few words about the amendments that deal with careers advice for apprenticeships. We originally proposed an amendment that was intended to ensure that schools provide information about apprenticeships as a key route to a particular occupation or trade alongside other education and training options for 16 to 18-year-olds. Government amendment 158 does not make it necessary for young people in schools to be informed specifically about the value of apprenticeships as a route to a skilled job, and there is a great danger that pupils who would find such advice valuable will not receive it. It is vital that we improve careers advice.
The hon. Gentleman talked about a spirit of generosity. Will he therefore be a little more generous to the Government in the context of this amendment? The value and comprehensiveness of the advice that is given is dependent on the authority and wisdom of the provider, rather than on an amendment in Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record as the chairman of the all-party group on skills, and he is a diligent and knowledgeable speaker and thinker on these subjects. I do not wish to embarrass him by creating a gap between his position and that of his Front-Bench colleagues, but he is not unsympathetic to the Conservative policy of an all-age careers service with a presence in every school and college and also a high street presence, sitting alongside Connexions. Certainly, that is the impression I have got from him informally, when discussing these matters over a number of years. I think that we ask too much of teachers when we expect them to be both good teachers and good careers advisers, and that we need to re-professionalise the careers service in the way I have just described—and, to be frank, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman and I are far apart on that.
My reason for holding this opinion is that, as the Government know, the polling evidence suggests that teachers are struggling to give advice on vocational routes, even when many young people would welcome such advice. In 2008, a YouGov poll on the issue revealed that only 24 per cent. of teachers felt that apprenticeships were a good alternative to A-levels. Interestingly, by contrast, 55 per cent. of employers and 52 per cent. of young people themselves thought that they were a good option. It is essential that pupils get the best possible advice and the most detailed and accurate information on both academic options and vocational routes. We were pleased that the Government accepted our argument on that point, to the degree in which this amendment deals with those matters—I hope that that is sufficiently generous for the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden).
Lord De Mauley has done a splendid job in the other place in attempting to improve this Bill, and I pay tribute to his sterling work. He argued:
“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.”
However—I should say to the hon. Gentleman that this is why I added a caveat to my welcome—he went on to say:
“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.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. 44.]
As this House knows, Connexions is a service that must provide advice on all manner and means of subjects—lifestyle issues, as well as careers. Again, I think we ask rather too much of Connexions advisers when we ask them to be authorities on every kind of career and also able to advise on drugs, sexual health and all sorts of other pertinent matters. A decline in the quality of advice, particularly about vocational options, seems to be the result of that change in 2001, and it must be dealt with promptly and decisively.
I should add at this point, because it is relevant to this amendment, that it is vital that we establish a clear and seductive vocational pathway that matches the well-established and transparent academic path which so many of us followed. Most of the people in this Chamber will have done GCSEs—the older among us will have done O-levels—then A-levels and then a degree, and perhaps then a further degree. The clarity of that option means that many take it who, given other advice, might perfectly properly, because of their tastes and aptitudes, take a vocational pathway. That pathway is altogether less clear and perhaps, as a result, less accessible. Our determination in all these matters is to create just that kind of clear, accessible pathway and proper advice on it.
Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned that creating such an attractive vocational pathway would be undermined by his party’s policy of excluding all vocational qualifications from the league tables? Would that not create a false incentive for people not to be encouraged to take vocational qualifications?
I shall simply say to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) that I defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) in all such matters, and he tells me that “they will not be excluded”—quote, unquote. [Interruption.] We must move on. The amendments to clause 30 deal with certification. [Interruption.]
I am immensely grateful for your benevolence, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will have his chance to speak later. [Interruption.] Much later, actually.
The amendments relating to certification address concerns raised by Lord Layard that the Bill introduced the perception of a possible hierarchy of qualifications where “occupational competencies”—national vocational qualifications—were seen as more important than the demonstration of technical knowledge. The Government amendments remove that perception, so that it is obvious that the two component parts of an apprenticeship are seen as being of equal weight and as equal conditions of completion. We welcome the further moves that the Government have made in this regard. Throughout the Bill’s passage through both this House and the other place we have constantly called for further definition and clarification as to the composition and requirements of an apprenticeship.
That brings us back to the issue of reinforcing the brand in the eyes of all those concerned. Fundamentally, we need to ensure that what is taught and tested delivers real competences that match economic need and add to the individual’s employability. That is the bottom line of an apprenticeship; indeed, it is what most people think that an apprenticeship should be in all cases. That seems to me to be relatively straightforward. The issues about certification are closely linked to the amendments on the other matters that I have raised—those on advice and guidance and on definition.
In summary on this group of amendments, because I know that we have a lot to consider and that other Members will be eager to contribute to the debate, they are important because apprenticeships are important. The Opposition see them at the heart of a policy to meet the nation’s skills needs and to provide opportunities to thousands—indeed, to hundreds of thousands—of our citizens. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you take a keen interest in these matters, that the Opposition hope to create 100,000 new apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship training places each year. You will not be surprised to hear that we are pleased that grudgingly, falteringly and rather slowly, but none the less essentially in the right spirit, the Government have moved a little closer to the common-sense position of the Conservative party.
In speaking about Lords amendments 31 and 158, I want to follow the spirit of the speech made by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who expressed his concern about the implications of the lack of support for apprenticeships and other career routes in school, although I must tell him gently that I think that he is slightly missing the point. I welcome the amendments because they go with the grain of what the Government are trying to do and not against it. The Government have, in their previous statements and in the statement this afternoon, rated information, advice and guidance very highly.
It is important to have the amendments on the record. It seems to me that there is a slight misunderstanding of, or mismatch in, what we expect to be provided in schools. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that we sometimes expect too much of teachers in this respect, and I suggest that one of the reasons why is that hitherto we have not provided structures for or enough focus on what information is to be given to students in schools and colleges.
The Government’s policies and the amendments provide much greater flexibility for the provision of that information. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to refer to statistics that suggest that non-academic routes and qualifications are sometimes not as highly recommended to students by teachers and by careers advisers in schools as they should be. He quoted the YouGov poll and he will also be aware, as will my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, of the Sutton Trust’s findings in this respect, which also showed a rather concerning low level of support for and endorsement of apprenticeship routes in schools. There is a job to be done there, but we need also to have a step change in the way in which we look at the provision of information, advice and guidance in schools.
The National Skills Forum and its associate parliamentary all-party skills group, which I have the honour of chairing, have produced two reports on the issue of information, advice and guidance. One was called “Inspiration and Aspiration” and it dealt centrally with information, advice and guidance. The other was produced earlier this year: it looked at the provision of information, advice and guidance in the context of women, especially young ones, and challenged some of the stereotypes. Again, I pay tribute to how the Government have engaged with both reports, as they have taken up positively many of the recommendations.
The amendments would make the provision of information, advice and guidance a duty, but that would not necessarily give teachers or careers advisers a raft of new tasks. What we need to understand is that more and more young people want to get information, advice and guidance online, and from people who have recently attended their own schools or colleges and then gone on into a particular sector. They want to hear from people with long experience in a particular field, and they also want to leave their educational institutions to get some on-site experience and training.
If the amendments are interpreted as generously as I would wish, they would provide a step change in that regard. It was very clear from the evidence that we took on the National Skills Forum reports, and especially the one on the gender skills gap, that experience is very important for young women in their 20s. For example, British Gas has been very successful in encouraging young women to join its work force and take up apprenticeships. That sort of hands-on experience is very valuable.
I hope that the amendments will not cause careers advisers and teachers to groan and say, “This is another lot of things we have to gen up on.” They play a central role in schools and colleges and although they are not the sole providers of advice and information, they are certainly the prime enablers in that respect.
I shall not delay the hon. Gentleman, but I am familiar with both of the reports from the all-party group. In fact, I was a witness for both. He made a point about older learners and, as he said, the report on women emphasises the importance of making training opportunities available to women in their 20s. He will be as shocked as I am, therefore, to hear of the leaked Government document that suggests that funding for adult apprenticeships—just the sort of people to whom he has referred—is to be cut by 10 per cent.
I bow to your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is straying off the point. I think that the Minister gave a very full and robust response to that charge earlier.
In conclusion, I very much welcome the amendments, but I hope that they will be the beginning of the journey and not the end. We must make it very clear that a 21st century structure for the provision of the best information, advice and guidance to young people in schools and colleges can be achieved in a number of ways, and not just in one way.
I would like to begin by welcoming the Minister to our proceedings on this Bill. Two different Departments were responsible for the Bill when we began our progress with it through the House of Commons, but since then not only has there been a complete transformation of the ministerial team, but a completely new ministry has been created. In fact, I think that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is the sole survivor of the joint Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Department for Children, Schools and Families ministerial team. Of course, if the rumours are true, he wanted to move somewhere else as well.
I should like to thank our colleagues in the House of Lords who have considered the Bill at great length in Committee because it is much improved from how we left it at the end of our proceedings. I thank my Liberal Democrat colleagues—Baroness Walmsley, Baroness Garden and, in particular, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, who has spoken for my party for many years on higher education and skills and who is now stepping down from her Front-Bench role. When summing up for the Government in the House of Lords last night on Third Reading, Baroness Morgan of Drefelin was generous in her tributes to my colleagues and mentioned the staff who back them up, and, in that respect, I should like to mention Tim Oliver.
The Lords gave the Bill serious consideration. It is rather disappointing that we have rather truncated proceedings today—just three hours to consider more than 200 amendments—and that is one of the reasons why I will try to be brief in my remarks.
I welcome three areas in the improved Bill—first, Lords amendment 16, which recognises that other people should be involved in developing the apprenticeship framework. Including the sector skills councils and further education colleges in the discussions leading to a framework was the subject of many amendments in Committee in the Commons, but those amendments were stoutly resisted. It is welcome that the Government now recognise that sector skills councils, as representatives of employers who know their industries in depth, have a crucial role to play. They, rather than regional development agencies, should be the drivers of speaking up for employers. I welcome the fact that other private sector providers will be involved also.
I welcome the assurances that were given in another place that full consideration will be given to ensuring that there is a good pathway for young people and adults who suffer from disabilities, to ensure that apprenticeships are genuinely open to all. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) spoke about those matters in Committee.
I want to concentrate on the subject that the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) made the centrepiece of his speech: the information, advice and guidance given to young people as part of their educational journey. Clause 35 as we considered it only allowed for the providers of information, advice and guidance—most likely to be teachers in their schools—to consider what they felt was in the best interests of the young people in their charge and did not require them specifically to mention the opportunity of taking up an apprenticeship place. That was certainly resisted not only by me, but by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). If that provision has been withdrawn and the expectation is that, as he said, apprenticeships and vocational training will be advocated by the providers of information, advice and guidance, that is certainly a welcome step forward.
As the hon. Member for Blackpool, South rightly said, information, advice and guidance must be aspirational if it is to achieve its purpose. He specifically mentioned women. Like him, I played a part in the all-party skills group report as well. We must ensure that people from all walks of life participate in apprenticeships in future. It is not right that only 2 per cent. of the people on engineering apprenticeships are women. Equally, it is not right that only about 2 per cent. of the people who take up a children and young people teaching apprenticeship are men. Both those gender imbalances need to be challenged.
It is also right that the information, advice and guidance must say that a vocational pathway is an attractive career option for young people. I have heard so many times, not just in Bristol but cited elsewhere as well—I do not think that it is an apocryphal story—about a teacher taking a group of young people around a high-tech factory and saying that it was important that her young charges saw it because, if they did not work hard, that is where they would end up. Unfortunately, some attitudes to vocational training need to be challenged, and the Bill will now at least contribute to challenging some of those long-entrenched views.
It is important that the providers of information, advice and guidance make it clear that an apprenticeship can be an end in itself, and a good one. I am slightly worried about a dislocation in Government thinking. We are still digesting the contents of the skills White Paper that was launched a couple of hours ago. There was much concentration in that report on a pathway from an apprenticeship to higher education. We must not assume that higher education is the ultimate aspiration that everyone should try to achieve. An advanced apprenticeship could be a satisfying career pathway for young people.
I thank the hon. Members who contributed to this interesting debate from which we learned new things. Thanks to the intervention from the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), we learned that the Conservative Opposition will publish the vocational results in a separate league table. Presumably they will—
May I put the Minister out of his misery? What we want to do—what our policy says we would like to do—is to have as much information as possible made available to parents about the results that a school produces. Whatever those qualifications are, they should be published by the school to give parents the maximum information.
Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is a relevance, as I shall show in a moment.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) made a new distinction between “what we want” and “what our policy says we want”. We all know what he means—that there will be one league table for the academic results, which in his eyes will be the equivalent of the premiership, and another league table, which will be the equivalent of the Vauxhall conference, because there is no commitment to parity of esteem for vocational education from the Opposition. That is what the Bill and the amendments are about.
In his usual entertaining and eloquent way, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) told us his position and welcomed many of the amendments, as I did in my opening remarks. He tried, in typical and understandable fashion, to open up a false dichotomy or distinction between the Government’s position on sector skills councils and regional development agencies. Both are important. It was important for the hon. Gentleman to make his point because he wants to cut regional development agencies, despite the huge multiplier effect that they have on local economies, as has been shown by research. He wants to cut them away, if he ever gets the opportunity to do so.
We recognise that both are important in the skills agenda. Regional skills strategies will reflect the relevant national and sectoral priorities, and regional development agencies will work with sector skills councils, employers, local authorities and others to ensure that those sectoral priorities are articulated. There is no dilution of commitment by the Government to the sector skills councils, which we helped to set up and with which we work closely.
I will not go into the hon. Gentleman’s anxious desire yet again to wave his so-called secret document, except to remind the House that it was agreed as part of this year’s Budget that we would be seeking the savings outlined in the document to which he refers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in his previous role as Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, wrote publicly to the Learning and Skills Council in May this year outlining that.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings referred to level 3 apprenticeships. The expansion of those apprenticeships announced in the White Paper earlier this afternoon was widely welcomed across the House. In recent years, the proportion of level 3 apprenticeship starts has remained at about 30 per cent., increasing to 32 per cent. in 2007-08 and 34 per cent. in 2008-09. In fact, they are at an all-time high because the number of apprenticeships has been growing generally, so I think that the hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree to disagree on that.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the alternative completion conditions constituted a loophole in terms of the standard of apprenticeships. The regulations will set down the criteria for alternative completion conditions, and they will require affirmative resolutions in both Houses. I can assure him that those conditions do not create a loophole. Those conditions are necessary in order to ensure, for example, that apprentices who are made redundant may complete their apprenticeship on an unpaid basis, and to deliver pre-apprenticeship contract periods for young people on third sector schemes— mentioned in the House earlier this afternoon—provided by organisations such as Barnardo’s and Rathbone. Indeed, those conditions were included in the Bill very much at the request of organisations that engage in that kind of pre-apprenticeship training. I hope that those remarks have reassured him.
While the Minister is in the mood to give assurances, can he finally wrap up the matter of sector skills councils? The amendments, reinforced by some of the remarks in the White Paper—although I feel that there is a contradiction between the RDAs and SSCs in this respect—make it clear that sector skills councils will play a critical role in approving qualifications. How can that be squared with the rationalisation of their number given their diverse range of responsibilities and the very wide range of those qualifications?
I am confident that, as we speak, sector skills councils and employer-led organisations are working together to rationalise their number because they themselves recognise that there are too many bodies and that there is therefore a need for such rationalisation. They do not want Government to specify a particular number, and we have not done so, for the very reason that there should be an employer-led approach. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman welcomes a decluttering of the skills system, particularly where it is employer-led, as in this case, and given that it has been recommended by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and that employers are working together to bring this about in a manner that makes sense for the economy and for those industries and sectors. He is right to point out that the amendments strengthen and clarify the role of sector skills councils in relation to apprenticeship frameworks.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned careers and information advice and guidance, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden). A careers profession taskforce is to be established, and it will report in 2010. Careers education and statutory guidance for schools, including comprehensive information and advice on apprenticeships, will be part of that, and adherence will be inspected by Ofsted. There will be a full-scale review of the requirements of careers specialists and the Teacher Development Agency in relation to resources and professional development for all teachers. We are creating a new adult advancement and careers service, working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus. Once that is up and running, then we will, in 2011, consider the effectiveness of those arrangements for joint working and whether any further changes are needed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South made an extremely thoughtful and interesting contribution about information, advice and guidance, reminding us that this is not about putting extra burdens on teaching professionals. He also reminded us about the ways that young people these days like to access and experience information, advice and guidance on careers. His contribution was extremely helpful.
I think I may have to refer to my notes and do that in a moment. First, I wish to refer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams), who was concerned about whether the expected provision of information, advice and guidance on apprenticeships had been strengthened by the amendments. I can give him that assurance. The Government always intended that information should be given to everybody, not only to those whom the giver thought might be suitable for an apprenticeship. We recognised that our original drafting did not make that clear, and we have improved it, but our intention to ensure that everybody had information about apprenticeships was never in doubt.
On the question the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has just asked me, I understand that Lord Layard’s concern was that the term “scheme” was redolent of projects introduced during the 1980s, such as the youth training scheme, and that it might be deemed a derogatory term if it were used rather than one such as “offer”, which is much more positive. That was the reason for the change. It was a semantic change, but nevertheless one that the Government were happy to accept.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 33 agreed to.
Education and training for persons over compulsory school age: general duty
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 34.
The amendments are concentrated on crucial changes to the machinery of government to improve the delivery of education to young people and adults, and they demonstrate that we have listened to and taken seriously concerns from all sections of this House and the other place and worked hard to address them.
As the House will recall, local authorities will be supported in their new central role in commissioning services for 16 to 19-year-olds by the new Young People’s Learning Agency. “Supported” is the right word, because the YPLA will be there to assist local authorities, not tell them what to do. That was always our clear intention. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have listened to those who were concerned that that principle was not always obvious, and we have accordingly made a series of amendments to clarify our intention and make it more explicit in the Bill.
Lords amendment 67 stipulates that when the YPLA uses its powers to commission provision, it must have regard to things done by local authorities as they perform their new duties in relation to young people aged 16 to 19, those aged 19 to 25 with a learning difficulty assessment and those subject to youth detention. Lords amendment 68 means that the YPLA will have to have approval from the Secretary of State before giving a direction to a local authority that is failing, or likely to fail, in its duties to secure provision for those groups of young people. I am due shortly to publish a consultation draft of the national commissioning framework, and I want to make it clear in that document that the powers in question will be used only as a very last resort and after all options of support and challenge have been explored and exhausted.
Lords amendment 70 extends the YPLA’s duty to issue guidance to local authorities to cover other aspects of their new role.
Lords amendment 71 would give the YPLA a duty to consult local authorities and other persons it considered appropriate before issuing guidance about performance by local authorities of their new duties.
Lords amendments 179 and 180 set out that the first chief executive is to be appointed by the Secretary of State and later chief executives will be appointed by the YPLA, subject to the Secretary of State’s approval. That is entirely consistent with the approach to other non-departmental public bodies. I know that the Opposition have some concerns about that, but, having listened to the anxieties expressed in the other place, we are of the opinion that the recruitment of an executive employee should be carried out by the employer—in this instance, the YPLA—rather than be a public appointment by the Secretary of State. We do not believe that the amendment would lead to an increased separation of the YPLA from the Secretary of State, but that it gives the YPLA, like other NDPBs, a sensible amount of power to appoint its own chief executive, subject to approval by the Secretary of State.
Last year, I took the Housing and Regeneration Bill through the House, and the appointment of the chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency was almost entirely—word for word—consistent with the approach in the Bill. We are clear that that will not affect the clear lines of ministerial responsibility for the YPLA. The Secretary of State, through his remit letter to the YPLA, will set out the tasks that it must perform, including any necessary operational details, and the YPLA will be accountable to the Secretary of State, and hence to Parliament, for its performance and management. Its funding will be accounted for in the Department’s expenditure plans. Under clause 75, the Secretary of State can give directions to the YPLA.
We had included a requirement for the YPLA, the Skills Funding Agency and local authorities to avoid provision that might give rise to disproportionate expenditure. Concerns were raised in another place that that could result in higher cost provision for learners with special needs no longer being made available—a possible get-out clause. That was never our intention. To minimise such concerns, we have removed the phrase “disproportionate expenditure”. However, it is important to point out that we still expect those bodies to make the best use of their resources. Local authorities are already subject to best value duties under the Local Government Act 1999. The YPLA and the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency are still required by the Bill to make the best use of their resources.
Lords amendment 41 introduces a requirement to consult governing bodies and other relevant parties before a local authority exercises its power to direct a college to take a named individual. I must stress that that is not a new power, but an existing power, which the Learning and Skills Council already has. The amendment would make explicit in the Bill the need for local authorities not to force through their wishes without consideration for governing bodies, but to consult any relevant colleges.
Although the majority of young people will find a suitable place to study further education with relative ease, we must ensure that local authorities have the tools and levers at their disposal to support the minority of young people who may struggle to find a suitable place of learning where they can thrive and achieve. In exercising that power, local authorities will be required to have regard to any guidance provided by the Secretary of State. We imagine that such a power would be used only in exceptional circumstances, and only once a young person, supported by independent advice and guidance, often through the local Connexions service, has exhausted all the available options. The amendment is particularly important to enable local authorities to support some of our more vulnerable groups of young people, such as ex-offenders, children in care or care leavers, who often face additional barriers to participation, to find a place to continue their education.
The powers are particularly relevant and necessary in the context of the historic legislation to raise the participation age. We want to ensure that no young person is disadvantaged and considered in default of their statutory duties just because they have been unable to find a suitable learning place. We believe that the change brought about by the amendment, which reflects what we would expect local authorities to do anyway, will help to reassure colleges about the use of that power.
Sixth-form colleges are some of our most successful educational institutions, popular with pupils and parents. I should like to mention Hartlepool sixth-form college, where I came from, which, in one of its first public acts since opening its new £24 million redevelopment, courtesy of Government money, played host on Friday evening to the BBC’s “Any Questions?” and is a great example of the high-quality educational offer that sixth-form colleges can provide. The Bill will build on that success by creating a separate sixth-form college designation, enabling them to evolve as a sector.
Lords amendment 182 reduces the period before a sixth-form college can redesignate as a further education college from five to two years. Lords amendments 181 and 183 to 186 create a requirement for local authorities and the YPLA to consult governing bodies before using their powers to appoint governors. Again, we always expected that that would happen. Although the creation of the new designation has been generally popular, we hope that the changes in the Lords amendments will help to reassure sixth-form colleges about the operation of the new arrangements, and in particular show our intention to preserve the autonomy of sixth-form college governing bodies.
Lords amendments 34 to 37, 40, 42, 74, 77, 78, 81, 82, 116 and 117 are minor and technical changes to improve and clarify the drafting.
I hope that I have fully explained the reasoning behind the Lords amendments.
As the Under-Secretary said, the second group of amendments contains minor improvements, which we broadly welcome. He made it clear that Lords amendment 67 clarifies the relationship between the YPLA and local authorities, and that is helpful.
We have consistently argued that sixth-form colleges should be able to convert to a further education corporation after two rather than five years from when a sixth form college corporation is declared. I acknowledge that the Government have now accepted that argument.
The Government also conceded our point about requiring the YPLA and sixth-form colleges to consult the SFA before appointing someone to the board.
As the Under-Secretary said, Lords amendment 68 would make it clear that the YPLA had to get approval from the Secretary of State before issuing a direction to a failing authority.
Nevertheless, the amendments do not address the fundamental problems of the structure that the Bill proposes. The recession should surely have taught us that we need a dynamic and responsive system. Instead, the Bill represents the needless bureaucratisation of the management and funding of FE, skills, and in particular the apprenticeship system.
The abolition of the LSC, the creation of the three new agencies—the YPLA, the SFA and a National Apprenticeship Service—and the placing of further education under LEA control create a system whereby everyone has a say, but no one takes responsibility. Consequently, and perhaps without appropriate thought or planning, I suspect that the new system will be as bad as the LSC and possibly worse. It is more bureaucratic, has a greater capacity for contradiction, overlapping responsibilities and confused lines of accountability. At the very least, it is a wasted opportunity, given that we are getting rid of the LSC.
Represented diagrammatically, the system would be a mix of a Jackson Pollock painting and a Heath Robinson drawing. Represented musically, it would be Iron Maiden playing Shostakovich. It is, at best, an extremely muddled and mixed system. At worst, it risks jeopardising the interests of business, learners and the economy as a whole.
It is extraordinary that to that littered landscape the Government are adding a new, big role for regional development agencies. The many Government amendments we are now considering are an indication of just how complicated, and in my judgement unworkable, the arrangements that the Bill puts in place are likely to be in practice.
Amendment 180, which is to schedule 3—on the appointment of the chief executive of the YPLA—would enable
“Later chief executives…to be appointed”
“the YPLA…on conditions of service determined by the YPLA”.
We have serious concerns about this change, to which the Minister referred. The new conditions in question are set out in paragraphs 5(1) and (2) to schedule 3. In the initial draft of the Bill, the chief executive was to be appointed by the Secretary of State. Following changes resulting from the debate in the other place, now only the first chief executive will be appointed in that way—subsequent appointments will be made by the YPLA itself, but those will be subject to the Secretary of State’s approval. I note what the Minister said on those terms.
That creates what was called in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” a “self-perpetuating autocracy”. It is an extraordinary further complication of what is already a complex system. We do not support that development. Reducing the powers of the Secretary of State over appointments to the YPLA has the effect of weakening democratic accountability. It is a further criticism of the structure that is being proposed—indeed, invented—by the Bill that the lines of accountability to this place are increasingly confused. Members will be concerned that amendment 180 reduces their authority over such matters still further.
The YPLA surely should be accountable to the House via the Secretary of State. That is the least we should expect. Since the Secretary of State should have the ultimate responsibility for the performance of the YPLA, surely it is important that he has sufficient authority over it, which should include something as important as the appointment of the chief executive.
One of the most damaging consequences of the proliferation of quangos under this Government has been the understandable sense among the public that those with power over their lives are shielded from democratic accountability. Agencies are not answerable to the public. That is why Ministers should retain control over appointments to quangos—so that they can answer for quangos’ actions to the public through Parliament. If that does not happen, the link between power and elected accountability is inevitably degraded.
Quangos should operate at arm’s length from the Government and the Minister with responsibility for them only in a defined and limited range of circumstances, which might include politically impartial decision making, transparent determination of facts or work of a specific technical or regulatory nature. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition addressed that in a speech on 6 July and explained how a Conservative Government would approach the management of quangos, which is particularly relevant to the debate on this group of amendments. He said:
“any delegation of power by a minister to a quango will not mean a corresponding delegation of responsibility…our goal is democratic accountability, not bureaucratic accountability”.
Amendment 180 takes the opposite approach and is not consistent with accountable government of the kind described by him and, actually, of the kind that is dear to the hearts of all good parliamentarians, regardless of party affiliation.
In the other place, my noble Friend Lord De Mauley put the argument persuasively when he pointed out the different constitutional bases of the YPLA and the SFA. There are real doubts about the different personalities of those two organisations and the resulting difficulties of their relationship. He said that the SFA is an agency under the aegis of the Secretary of State, whereas the YPLA is a non-departmental public body. He went on to say:
“we express our opposition to”
“would allow the YPLA the power to appoint its own chief executive, albeit subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. If the YPLA is to exist, it should be held to account in the same way”
“the SFA as an agency should be held to account. The principle of democratic accountability must hold fast”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. 89.]
Part of the confusion that is likely to be created by the Bill will result from the different mechanisms by which those bodies are answerable to the House and to Ministers.
The Government are planning an immensely complicated system and it is not, frankly, widely welcomed in the sector. When I speak to people in the sector, they tell me that they too feel that it is going to be convoluted and may be difficult to navigate. The lines of accountability are not as they should be, as I have described. As a result, the new structure is not regarded as likely to be better than the LSC, which is quite an achievement; suddenly, the LSC has friends! The LSC was rather like the red army— though big, insensitive and expensive, it was at least predictable. The new system is anything but. Actually, it is less like Soviet Russia and more like Byzantium.
I am surprised, because the Minister is a good Minister, a diligent Member of the this House, a proud member of the Government Front-Bench team, and perhaps Hartlepool Sixth Form college’s finest. I am surprised that he can, in all conscience, defend this indefensible cacophony, this awful blurred picture, this Jackson Pollock, Heath Robinson, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Shostakovich structure. Perhaps he thinks it is better than a system that is streamlined, sensitive and responsive to need, and a system that could and would be understood by both learners and employers. I certainly do not.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you and everyone else will be relieved that I do not have any musical, theatrical, cinematic, artistic or any other analogies to make in my short remarks.
I am pleased that the Minister is so delighted by the capital investment in Hartlepool sixth-form college—he may indeed be its finest product—but that delight will not be shared by many of his Labour, let alone Opposition, colleagues, who have seen FE and sixth-form colleges in their constituencies starved of the funds they expected to receive following their capital programme bids over the past 12 months.
My only concern about this group of amendments is essentially what the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) alluded to—how long is the arm’s length between the Ministry, the Minister and the quango or non-department public body? The hon. Gentleman mentioned the soon-to-be-lamented Learning and Skills Council. Whenever things are going right in the sector, Ministers are keen to crow and take the credit, but when things go wrong, it is someone else’s fault. For instance, when the capital programme went wrong, it was all the fault of the poor chief executive of the LSC, but the same could happen to the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority or any body.
I would like the same clarification as the hon. Gentleman. What is the nature of the relationship between the new chief executive of the YPLA, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills? How accountable is that individual and his or her successors to this House, directly through the Minister, or through other parts of the House, such as the Public Accounts Committee? In my first two and a half years as a Member of the House, like the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), I was a member of the Education Committee, to which the head of Ofsted essentially reported. The head of Ofsted could be scrutinised directly by members of that Committee on how it was implementing policy—the Government were genuinely at arm’s length. It would be good if the Minister could clarify how he sees the relationships to which I referred developing.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). It was a remarkable achievement to mention Jackson Pollock, Iron Maiden, Shostakovich, Black Sabbath and Monty Python in the space of about 30 seconds. I imagine that that feat is unequalled in the history of the House.
I was pleased with the hon. Gentleman’s agreement to the amendments on clarifying the role of the YPLA and local authorities, the governance of sixth-form colleges and other matters. His comments and questions, and those of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams), were essentially about the new architecture of the machinery of government and how the YPLA will rightly be accountable to this House.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that the system for funding should be dynamic and responsive. I agree, and that is what we are moving towards. At the moment, colleges have a variety of different funding streams. If they are entrepreneurial, they will be approaching businesses in their area and providing bespoke training courses. The proposed machinery of government changes will provide much greater clarity, and that has been a constant theme throughout the Bill’s passage, here and in the other place.
Local authorities will be in the driving seat, commissioning services from birth until the age of 19. They will be responsible for strategic planning, for commissioning for 16 to 19-year-olds, for sub-regional and regional working, for financial assurance and audit, and for provider performance management. The YPLA will be responsible for providing the framework, development and maintenance; for funding and allocation on a national basis; for direct commissioning and procurement; and for enabling informed commissioning to take place. Local authorities will have a strategic role in their areas, because they know what is important for their local vision in economic and social terms, and they will be in the driving seat. There will be a clear demarcation between provision up to the age of 19 and then post-19, and the Bill will provide important clarity on that point.
Providers on the ground will see significant benefits in terms of better informed and integrated commissioning of services and through streamlined performance management and data arrangements. For post-19 learners, there will be one account management system, as opposed to the current nine or 10 systems, and an automated settlement system that will pay colleges and providers in line with the choices made by learners and employers. Learners’ decisions will drive the system: money will flow from the learner, which will provide the dynamic and responsive system that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
The hon. Gentleman also said that the YPLA should be accountable to the House. It will be. As I said before, I have taken legislation through the House on the appointment of other non-departmental public body chief executives—for example, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Tenants Services Authority—and this provision takes the same approach. NDPBs are accountable to the House—chief executives can be called to the relevant Select Committees and the Public Accounts Committee. The YPLA will be required to publish its annual report to the House each year and the Secretary of State will still be accountable in terms of debates and questions. The accountability line is clear and is consistent with other NDPBs.
I am grateful to the Minister for his glowing tribute.
The point is that the legal personalities of the YPLA and SFA are very different. We were told at an earlier stage of consideration that a different model had been considered. Why did the Government come to the conclusion that those two organisations should have very different legal personalities, despite the relationship between them?
Certainly with regard to the YPLA and the national funding framework that will be introduced, we thought that it would be best to have an arm’s length role so that Ministers would not be accused of interfering with specific funding allocations. That degree of impartiality is important. As I have said, the YPLA will have a clear line of accountability to the House through the Secretary of State, because its representatives can be called here by Select Committees and because of the annual report requirement—
The Minister always brings immense charm to these proceedings, but he has not answered the question. We were told earlier that a different model had been considered by the Government for the legal personality of the SFA and the YPLA, and the relationship between the two. Why was this model adopted in preference to that one? Can he give me a straight answer?
I think that I have answered that question. The two organisations will serve two different constituencies, for want of a better phrase. The YPLA and the SFA will do different jobs and have different functions, so we thought that it was appropriate that they should have different funding models. It makes sense for the work to be done by two organisations. The structure provides a clear, coherent focus for young people on the one hand, and for employers and adults on the other.
The chief executive will be accountable to the Secretary of State, so matters of delivery and performance management will be a matter for the YPLA board and the Secretary of State. Clear lines of accountability exist and, by the same token, the Secretary of State can also answer questions on that issue in the House. We think that it is right to make a distinction between the YPLA and the SFA because they provide two different approaches for two different customers. The clarity and responsiveness will be embedded in the system. On that basis, I hope that the House will agree with the Lords amendments.
Lords amendment 34 agreed to.
Lords amendments 35 to 42 agreed to.
Provision of education for persons subject to youth detention
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 43.
It is a pleasure to contribute, even at this late stage, to what is an important Bill, and on these important amendments. The provisions in this Bill concerning the education and training of young people in juvenile custody are an important step forward. This Bill ends the disapplication of education law to this group of young people, something which has been called for by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Furthermore, it paves the way for joining up education in juvenile custody with education in the mainstream, by giving commissioning responsibility to local authorities. This is an extremely important area, concerning the education of some of our most vulnerable young people. It is an area that many of my hon. Friends in this House, as well as colleagues in the other place, have expertise in and a passion for. It is right, therefore, that we have listened carefully during debates and amended the Bill where necessary to ensure that it delivers what we want for these young people.
The most significant change that we have made concerns literacy and numeracy assessments for offenders on their entry into youth custody in a young offender institution, a secure training centre or a secure children’s home. These assessments will provide a vital mechanism for informing the learning young people receive in custody, and we are grateful to those in the other place who urged that this existing practice be reflected on the face of the Bill. Similarly, it is important that educational progress made while in custody should inform planning for the young person’s resettlement. Amendment 49 places a clear duty on the host local authority to share information about the young person’s education with the home authority to inform their education and training on the person’s release.
Amendment 46 is a change to the new power in section 562A of the Education Act 1996 to clarify that the power cannot be used to disapply the other young offender provisions in the Bill. That was always our intention, and again we are happy to make it explicit. Amendment 115 clarifies that the chief executive’s duties in respect of persons with learning difficulties extends specifically to people in adult detention, including those aged 18 or below. Amendments 43, 50 to 55, 170 and 174 are minor and technical drafting amendments.
The amendments deal with a most important part of the Bill. We would all agree that the discussion and debate that have taken place on this section of the Bill are extremely important. The Bill has been immeasurably improved. A consequence of that will be a better educational entitlement for some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.
It is a pleasure to face the Minister across the Dispatch Box for, I think, the first time, although we are old friends from Nottinghamshire days. He always approaches these matters with diligence and insight. I have seen off the first two Ministers to speak in this debate—the first has left the Chamber and the second wishes that he never left Hartlepool. We shall see what the third Minister can do this evening.
We tabled an amendment to introduce a reading assessment for people when they enter and leave youth detention centres. The Minister is right that those are important matters. Bluntly, this was another important victory for Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers in the Lords who united in their determination to improve the Bill. Once again, that illustrates that the Bill has improved during its passage, as the Minister generously acknowledged. The Government have moved an amendment to include an assessment of literacy and numeracy skills, and that is the amendment that we are debating today. It will be a requirement that the information from the assessment be used to determine whether young people in custody get education or training.
That is important, of course, because of the link between poor education and recidivism, which is also linked to the inability of young people to gain employment when they leave custody. Lord De Mauley welcomed the Government’s
“intention to expand the requirement that the information from the assessments be used to help determine suitable”
subsequent provision. He agreed that
“if a recent assessment is available, then a further assessment should not be required.”
He also argued
“it remains important to have an assessment in place for when the person leaves youth accommodation, as well as when he enters it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. 73-74.]
Lord Ramsbotham, in the other place, said that the assessment should be made available to the home authority, which would facilitate a coherent approach to education, meaning that the progress made while in detention can be carried forward thereafter.
The Government’s own assessment of their progress in respect of the education of people in detention suggests that a lack of consistency and coherence is not only a feature but a problem with much of what is done in attempting to train, educate and skill those in detention. We share that analysis, but we understand the difficulties, particularly in respect of young people who might not be in one place for long. Indeed, they might be moved around, might not be taught by one person for long and might move between courses. Trying to build greater consistency and coherence into the system that we employ to give people, while in detention, the necessary skills to do better later depends on a good analysis of their needs, and these amendments essentially focus on that process.
A key part of the Bill is to raise standards in youth offender institutions, helping to educate and skill young people in those institutions, so that they have a second chance and an incentive to turn towards a career away from crime and other deviant behaviour. Aspiration is vital in that respect. Ensuring that education matches an assessment is important in feeding aspiration. We are glad that the Government are finally on the same page as us on this matter. It would be less than generous, and certainly less than courteous, to quote Edmund Burke, who said that
“the concessions of the weak are the concessions of fear”.
I prefer, in this context, to assume that these are the concessions of a sinner who has learned to repent.
We, too, welcome the amendments greatly. The proportion of young people in custody with low standards in literacy and numeracy and—often—with speech impediments has long been known, so it makes sense finally to address the situation. I note the Minister’s reference to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, the 20th anniversary of which is coming up. It might have taken us a long time to get to this point, but I sincerely hope that we can now move rapidly on what should be enormously important changes.
There are two aspects to the assessments. We will be identifying young people who might have just missed schooling and others with specific educational needs, and both processes need a proper plan and checks on progress. We are all concerned about the enormously high rate of reoffending. I said in Committee that we have the right divide between the home authority and the host authority, but it is important to ensure that we have information sharing and full responsibility in respect of both authorities. The amendment passed on Third Reading will make a big contribution to that.
I note the firm commitments given by the Minister on Third Reading that the services of the Communication Trust will be brought into play. That is really important and is welcomed. In particular, it must be recognised that many of the young people will have some form of dyslexia, so the employment of specialist teachers was an important move forward.
We support the amendments, want to see action taken and sincerely hope that a big contribution is made to the lives of some vulnerable young people.
With the leave of the House, I thank the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke). As I was trying to say, none of us wants there to be difficulties in prison in educating young people. Admittedly, they are in prison because they have offended, but as everybody points out, one cannot help but be moved when visiting young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s homes by the fact that so many young people there have learning difficulties or low levels of numeracy and literacy.
Ofsted’s 2007-08 annual report stated:
“Nearly all children and young people enter institutions with levels of literacy and numeracy well below those found nationally for their ages. There has been an appropriate emphasis on improving basic skills and children make very good progress when opportunities for improving literacy and numeracy are linked to subjects across the curriculum. Most young people leave custody with some form of accreditation in these essential skills and, more generally, levels of accreditation are now at least satisfactory in most of the institutions inspected.”
However, the fact that there will now be both a numeracy and literacy assessment of young people going into custody and the sharing of information on young people leaving custody and returning to their home authorities will make a considerable difference. We have worked with a large range of stakeholders, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, and the proposals will be a tremendous step forward.
I recently visited Feltham, Hassockfield in the north-east and Huntercombe, which is a young offenders institution near Henley. Notwithstanding the improvements that we are trying to make through the Bill, which have been generally welcomed, I want to put on record my tribute to the people who work in education in our young offenders institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s homes. Whatever we say, it would be remiss of us not to point out that things are difficult and that there are challenges, irrespective of the changes that we are making. At the end of the day, we should also remark on the quality of those people and their determination to try to help the young people in such places.
I would want to be associated with the Minister’s remarks on behalf of the Opposition. The Bill deals with young people, but it is important that the lessons that we learn about such matters are consistently applied. How will the measures in the Bill dealing with young people be mirrored for other offenders? As the Minister knows, the analysis of how the Government are doing that I mentioned earlier suggests that some problems repeat themselves across young offenders institutions and prisons.
Some of the provisions in the Bill dealing with the sharing of information on young offenders are about improving the information that is shared between somebody leaving custody and their returning to their home authority, because sometimes that sharing has not been of a standard that we would want. That will help those young people and perhaps tackle some of the repeat problems that we have seen.
To look briefly at the adult world, part of the problem is that many of the people in adult prison were previously in young offenders institutions. If we can deal with some of the literacy and numeracy issues that arise in youth custody, it will help to prevent reoffending and, I hope, prevent people from going into adult prison. We always look to improve what we do, whether in youth custody or the adult sector. Many additional measures have been taken to try to improve the quality and quantity not only of basic literacy and numeracy, but of the skills training available.
I am grateful for the remarks of the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, and for their association with my thanks to those staff working in difficult situations. Literacy and numeracy assessments are also made of those entering adult prisons, so both sectors need to learn from each other.
I was asking a slightly more technical question. In as much as the legislation establishes a set of protocols, assumptions and structures, can the Minister give us an assurance that they are consistent with legislation that deals with other areas of custody? We need to know that we are learning the lessons and that they are being applied consistently.
Yes, they are consistent, which is why I said that an assessment is made of those entering adult prison. The fact that we are saying that we all want to ensure, in a Bill in 2009, that education is properly applied with respect to young offenders and that it complies with the UN convention on the rights of the child shows that progress is sometimes a bit slower than we would all want. We are taking a major step forward, with a major piece of reform that will improve the education entitlement of some of the most vulnerable young people in our society and our communities.
Lords amendment 43 agreed to.
Lords amendments 44 to 55 agreed to, with Commons privilege waived in respect of Lords amendment 48.
Before Clause 52
We have listened to the debate, both here and in the other place, and to the opinions of key stakeholders, and we have amended the Bill to give reassurance on some key areas of concern.
The original Bill as drafted contained new measures dealing with complaints in relation to the sixth-form transport duty. We introduced a new clause on Report in another place to replicate those complaints measures for adult learners aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities. It has always been our intention that the new complaints measures, designed to ensure improved responsiveness, should apply to young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. The new clause introduced by Lords amendment 56 ensures that that intention is clear in the Bill.
We have amended the Bill to introduce a power to issue statutory guidance to accompany the adult transport duty. The Bill already included a new guidance-making power to cover the new transport policy statement for learners aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities. Government amendments extended the scope of the guidance, so that it would cover the adult transport duty as well. That will support local authorities in carrying out their transport duties in respect of adult learners and ensure that they are absolutely clear about their responsibilities under the duty, including for those with learning difficulties and disabilities.
We brought forward Government amendments to link the adult transport duty in clause 55 and the new local authority commissioning duty in clause 40. Those links will ensure that local authorities do not carry out their transport duties without considering what they have to do under the commissioning duties, including with respect to the location of the education and training provision that is commissioned.
We have listened to the concerns of stakeholders and to hon. Members in this House and the other place, and we have tightened the Bill with this important group of amendments.
I am grateful that the Minister has conceded that the Bill has been improved in this area too by consideration in Committee and in the other place.
Lords amendment 56 inserts a new clause, entitled “Provision of transport etc for persons of sixth form age: duty to have regard to section 15ZA duty”, which says:
“In section 509AB(3) of the Education Act 1996 (provision of transport etc for persons of sixth form age in England: matters to which LEAs must have regard)…insert…what they are required to do under section 15ZA(1) in relation to persons of sixth form age”.
In other words, the Bill places a new duty on local education authorities to set out in a transport policy statement the arrangements that they will make for those learners aged 19 to 24 inclusive who may have a learning difficulty. The amendments will allow the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance to cover not only the new transport policy statement for learners aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities, which is introduced in proposed new section 508G of the 1996 Act, but the wider adult transport duty to which the Minister referred.
The amendments are also intended to make a link between the local authority commissioning duty outlined in the Bill and the sixth-form and adult transport duties, so that local authorities do not consider their transport arrangements—particularly their arrangements for those aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities—in isolation from their new responsibilities for commissioning education and training provision. In essence, this is about linking transport to the rest of the provision, and that is critically important. When the Bill was first discussed in Committee here, we felt that that link had not been sufficiently well made, and we argued—here and in the Lords—that the Bill needed strengthening in that regard. We are happy that the Government have accepted the Lords amendments to ensure that students with disabilities have the same rights of complaint about transport issues as 16 to 18-year-olds. That is a practical and sensible change to the Bill. It is not a matter for partisan debate or a matter of contention, so I shall not detain the House any longer.
I have a couple of questions about the operation of the provisions in Lords amendment 64, which will give the young adult learners that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) has just mentioned—as well as their parents and, presumably, carers—the right to complain. Will the Minister explain in what circumstances he or his successor would seek to intervene to direct a local authority to amend its transport provision? As I understand it, the amendment does not mention a mechanism by which the learner, or their parent or carer, can appeal if the local authority does not respond in a positive way to their concerns. How does the Minister envisage the amendment working in practice, if it is accepted?
With the leave of the House, may I say that I am pleased with the tone of the responses from the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams)? The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings rightly said that he wanted to see the linking of transport with other provision, and we absolutely agree with him. That was always the intention, as I think he knows, but we just needed to make it explicit in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West made an important point about complaints. We want to become more responsive to local complaints, in relation not only to transport duty but to a whole range of other local authority activities, in order to ensure that local authorities improve the services that they offer to the people they serve. We think that that is best achieved by going through a local process before going to the Secretary of State.
Clause 54 creates a new power for local authorities to amend their transport policy statements in-year, in response to complaints or direction by the Secretary of State, and to publish updated statements and a description of the change. However, we shall require complaints to go through a local complaints process first, before they can be considered further. During the passage of the Bill, we were lobbied by the Association of Colleges and by Skill, and we think that the amendments will help to address their concerns. The key point is to ensure that local authorities are accountable to the people they represent, and we believe that it is important for these complaints to go through a local process, so that the authority has an opportunity to respond to them and to react to any concerns. If the person concerned—either the person with learning difficulties or disabilities, or the person charged with their care—is not satisfied, however, the escalation process, which should be a common feature of all complaints procedures, will give them recourse to the Secretary of State. To give the hon. Member for Bristol, West a direct answer to his question, we do not want to dictate the point at which any escalation takes place; we want to give people the opportunity to resolve any problems locally, as that is the best way to ensure that services are better locally on the ground.
I assume that what the Minister has just said will be set out in guidance. Will he make a commitment to the House on that? The point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) clearly resonates, not least with the Minister himself. Also, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of these measures on different kinds of local authority? I represent a rural constituency in a very rural county, and the impact of this legislation will be quite different there from the impact on an urban area. I am always very concerned for my constituents’ welfare, particularly those who are most vulnerable. What assessment has he made of that impact, and what representations has he received on it?
The hon. Gentleman has raised two important points. I can certainly make a commitment that the Secretary of State will issue guidance on the complaints procedure and on the escalation of complaints to the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman also made an incredibly important point about different locations having different needs and transport requirements. The most obvious difference is that between rural and urban communities.
With regard to the new 14-to-19 offer—including people with learning difficulties and disabilities—and particularly with regard to diplomas, which are sometimes not taught in a single place and might involve students going to different places and work-based providers, the collaborative approach that we are trying to achieve must be taken into account. The hon. Gentleman is making my point for me: local authorities are the best placed to ensure that their local circumstances are best served by their own strategic proposals and operational arrangements. In that way, local authorities in rural areas will know what the concerns are, and will be the best placed to deal with them locally on the ground. I hope that I have addressed the concerns that hon. Members have raised, and on that basis, I hope that they will support these important amendments.
Lords amendment 56 agreed to.
Lords amendments 57 to 71 agreed to.
Although we are all in agreement that it is not sustainable for a Government Department to continue to support and fund an increasing number of academies, there has been some concern about placing this duty within the Young People’s Learning Agency, which will carry out academies functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. We have heard what the House has said, and we have also been talking to sponsors. We will continue to consult sponsors and principals, as well as the Independent Academies Association, on the proposed arrangements through the academies reference group that will look at how this new way of working can be developed.
Asking the YPLA to exercise academy functions has benefits. The regional network of YPLA offices will allow much better awareness of the local context that the academy is working in. Also, it will guard against the fragmented system that could result if one of the key providers—academies—were working elsewhere, other than within the YPLA framework. Once the YPLA is up and running, we will issue a remit letter every year, after consultation with sponsors, principals and other interested parties, which will enable the YPLA to develop the way in which it works with academies. We have also tabled two amendments that will build in the safeguards that I hope will reassure hon. Members that the YPLA is the most appropriate organisation to carry out academies functions.
Government amendment 178 makes it clear that the Secretary of State will have a duty to ensure that the YPLA board reflects the sectors and young people it serves. It would not be appropriate for any one sector to dominate the board, as is being proposed by amendment (a). That includes local authorities as well as academies. However, we will ensure that members of the board will have direct experience of academies. There is already significant academy representation on the Learning and Skills Council committee that is working to establish the YPLA, and our amendment should send a clear signal of our intention to ensure that academy interests continue to be well represented. In addition, the recruitment of a director of academies, reporting to the chief executive of the YPLA, will further strengthen academy representation.
Government amendments 72 and 73 will prevent the YPLA from entering into a funding agreement to create an academy and from making subordinate legislation. Lords amendment 72 will also ensure that there is a 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.
We are trying to make it clear in the Bill that the YPLA will not be able to enter into a funding agreement to create an academy. A further concern that was raised with us related to its ability to make subordinate legislation. We are making that absolutely clear in response to the points that were raised.
As I was saying, amendments 72 and 73 also ensure that a procedure is 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.
With those brief opening comments, I urge the House to agree to Lords amendment 72.
During the Bill’s time in the other place, a number of amendments were tabled, as the Minister has explained, to the clauses relating to the YPLA, but none of them has answered our fundamental concern about its suitability to carry out academy arrangements—that is, for the YPLA to be used as the oversight body for academies. This is very important. The Government have amended clause 75 to make it clear that the academy functions being transferred to the YPLA do not include the body’s ability to take the Secretary of State’s place in signing a funding agreement with an academy or its ability to make or confirm subordinate legislation. That clarification is certainly welcome, but it does not address the central issue of the YPLA’s suitability for this role; nor does it deal substantively with the very serious concerns of academy providers.
There is now a growing consensus that the Secretary of State does not understand or believe in the importance of academy autonomy. He professes to support academies when it is politically convenient to do so, but the policy detail belies those expressions of support. When he was an adviser at the Treasury, he used his influence to undermine reforms in the public services that promoted autonomy or choice, both in health and education. Since his appointment as Secretary of State, a clear trend in policy has become apparent. He has required more involvement by local authorities in the sponsorship, establishment and operation of academies. He has reduced their freedoms over the curriculum; their autonomy has been steadily eroded.
It is this very autonomy that is the crucial decisive principle behind the success of these schools and it is the reason why they are improving faster than other types of school, giving pupils from some of this country’s most deprived areas an outstanding and rigorous education. This year, for example, 85 per cent. of the pupils at Mossbourne academy in Hackney—one of the most deprived parts of London, with half its pupils qualifying for free school meals and with 40 per cent. having English as a second language—gained five or more GSCEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. Last week, Ofsted reported that the Harris city academy at Crystal Palace in south London was the first to receive a perfect Ofsted report under the new reporting regime. Before the school was taken over by Lord Harris in 1991, it managed to get just 10 per cent. of its pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C. As Lord Harris said:
“When we took over this school no one wanted to come here. Yet in our first five years, we increased the number of GCSE pupils getting A to C grades from 10 per cent. to 54 per cent. Since then, we’ve gone on improving and that figure is now 99 per cent.”
The school receives 2,000 applications for 180 places each year. That is what academies can achieve, yet it is an approach that appears not to have gained the genuine support of this current Administration.
Academies do not need to wait for authorisation before attempting an innovation. They are free to focus on their core work—the education of pupils—without being distracted by a welter of Government advice and guidance. They place teachers firmly in control of the school, and the freedoms, the ethos of transformation and the high aspirations they create are the reasons for academies’ success. That is why it is so important that those freedoms are not undermined.
The frustration and anxiety of academy providers over the Government’s direction of travel was accurately summarised in a letter to the then Minister on 23 February from Mike Butler, chairman of the Independent Academies Association. He wrote:
“It appears that with every consultation, each missive and even new legislation from the DSCF there comes further erosion of the independent status of academies.”
I just want to be clear about the hon. Gentleman’s high praise for academies, much of which I share. Is the hon. Gentleman’s message to Conservative local authorities that they should work with the Government to have academies in all situations in their authorities? It would be extremely helpful to me to know if that was his advice to those authorities, so that I could speak to one or two of them about the provision of academies in their areas where there have been problems of negotiation.
Our advice goes way beyond local authorities; it goes to livery companies, parent groups, co-operative teachers, educational foundations and Church groups that want to set up a school. If there is a Conservative Government after the next election, we will make it much easier for any of those groups to set up schools in any area they choose—regardless of the attitude of the local authority.
I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to academies, or his commitment to them if he were fortunate enough to take my position. My question, however, was about his advice—precisely what he is saying—to Conservative local authorities up and down the country regarding the Government’s academy programme. Is his advice and message to them that they should co-operate with the Government in order to establish academies in their areas? In one or two cases, I am not sure that that is totally clear. It would be very helpful to me if he would make his position clear—that his advice to Conservative authorities across the country is to work with the Government to establish the academies—because whatever they think, that is the best solution for them.
I am quite sure that all local authorities in this country, whether they be Conservative authorities or not, work closely with the Government, but the thrust of Conservative policy on this issue is very clear to all local authorities. It is that the impetus for creating a new academy will come from those groups that I have identified. That is where the impetus will come from, and a Conservative Government will make it much easier for those groups to establish academies, particularly in the areas of greatest need.
Whenever I have had discussions with academy providers, the same issue has arisen again and again, as the autonomy of the academies programme is being undermined. There is a strong sense that although the Secretary of State may pay lip service to the movement and has a Minister of State who is clearly passionate about academies, the Secretary of State himself does not fully embrace the principle that professional freedom brings higher standards and better schools.
The Bill unquestionably continues that trend by transferring academy arrangements to the YPLA. The Minister is going to give a quango, whose primary responsibility is the funding of 16-to-19 education, a position of authority over academies. We have consistently argued that this is inappropriate because it will transfer management of these schools to a body whose primary responsibility lies in a largely unrelated area. As my noble Friend Baroness Verma said in the other place:
“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.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. 53.]
tab="yes">>Why should we assume that an organisation designed to provide funding for 16-to-19 education will be an effective supervisor of academies that educate children from the age of 11 or even three? The issues at stake and the expertise required will be very different. The autonomy of academies is essential to their success, which means that any oversight function needs to be arranged so that this principle is not threatened. Why, therefore, has this function been given to a body that has not been specifically designed to discharge it?
There is a very real danger that the YPLA will interfere in the work of academies, particularly if members and component local authorities are ideologically opposed to the academies movement. In my experience, that tends to be Labour, not Conservative, local authorities, as intimated by the Minister. That is why we and many academy providers have consistently argued that the YPLA should not be able to enter into academy arrangements. Dr. Daniel Moynihan of the Harris Federation said in evidence to the Bill Committee in March:
“We want to be fully accountable and fully in the daylight for our performance, and for that we need to be responsible for decisions about services and how they are used, and not have them forced on us.”
In response to a question about moving academies back to local authority control, Dr. Moynihan said:
“My answer would be that local authorities have called in academy sponsors because the various mechanisms that they have deployed in the past to improve the schools that they offer us as academies have not worked… It does not make sense to return those schools to local authorities.”––[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 48, Q126.]
Dr. Moynihan’s major concern relates to the attitude that the YPLA would take to academies establishing sixth forms, and whether it would try to prevent them from doing so because of the competition that that might create with established sixth forms. As he said:
“In one local authority, we were told… that we could not open sixth forms in two of our academies. It was a particularly poor part of London in terms of the staying-on rate, and the reason why we were told that was that it did not fit with the plan. Four years later we have 400 sixth-formers and an outstanding sixth form, but nothing else has changed in the area. As in that case, we would want to be sure that we had a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, and that it was clear that we could not necessarily be blocked by whatever the local plan was if it was not an entirely sensible and objective one.
We have experienced difficulties on other occasions when local authorities have not wanted an academy to open for political reasons and in order to protect underperforming local provision.”
The response from the Minister in another place, Lady Morgan, was sympathetically expressed but ultimately unhelpful.
I know the hon. Gentleman will agree that Dr. Moynihan is a fantastic advocate of academies and has done a tremendous job. Let me, however, quote from the same session from which the hon. Gentleman quoted. Dr. Moynihan said:
“we support the establishment of the agency. It makes sense for the Department to have an agency to take care of academies. Clearly the Department was never meant to be a local authority, so we are perfectly happy with that and we think it will work well.”––[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 43-48, Q107.]
Can the hon. Gentleman clarify whether that latter aspiration is the policy of the Conservative party—which, essentially, would mean displacing the existing YPLA with something purely academies-based—or whether he envisages the powers returning to the Department, as has been the case?
When we debated the issue in Committee, I tabled an amendment to enable a different organisation to be established to run the academies. The question is whether the academies should be run from within the Department or whether they should be overseen by a stand-alone non-departmental public body. There are arguments on both sides. We are considering them, and the hon. Gentleman will be the first to know what we decide.
In another place, Lady Morgan said:
“we cannot accept a situation where academy sixth forms are funded automatically”.
She went on to say:
“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”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. 58.]
Administration by judicial review is the not the way to proceed. The very real concerns expressed by Dr. Moynihan, which are shared by the rest of the academies movement, have not been properly addressed by Ministers. Indeed, none of the changes made in the other place that we are debating today has expressed those concerns in any substantive way. That is why we tabled an amendment to Lords amendment 124 which would insert a requirement that a majority of ordinary members of the YPLA must be currently serving principals of an academy, thus ensuring that the YPLA will take into account the needs of academies and will have an understanding of the approach that makes the movement so successful. The minority members will be able to deal with the other duties and responsibilities of the YPLA—
You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I mean the amendment to Lords amendment 178. It does what I have just described, however.
The minority members of the YPLA could then deal with the YPLA’s responsibilities. At least our amendment would enable us to be sure that this body would understand the issues facing academies, and would be sympathetic to them. It is not a matter of one sector dominating the YPLA; it is a matter of trying to undo the mess that the Government have created by transferring all the academies in the country to a body that is unsuitable to be the oversight body.
We have had an interesting debate, and more light has been shed on the Conservatives’ position on academies. I shall return to that shortly, but let me begin by welcoming the more straightforward amendments: Lords amendments 72, 73 and 178. I think that some of my colleagues in another place contributed to them.
Lords amendment 72 touches on an issue that we raised in Committee. It would introduce a measure preventing the Secretary of State from making arrangements under which the YPLA can sign funding agreements or make subordinate legislation on behalf of the Secretary of State. The Minister was slightly ambiguous earlier in regard to whether the Government had had a change of heart during the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons. I had thought that it was previously the position of Ministers that they had never intended the YPLA to have these powers. The amendment simply seeks to include in the Bill the assurances made during the House of Commons Committee stage, but it would be useful to hear clarification from the Minister in a moment.
We obviously welcome the measure in any event. We also welcome Lords amendment 178, which would ensure that the experience that YPLA members have covers the full range of the responsibilities that the YPLA will have to cover. That seems an entirely sensible proposal.
I am grateful to the Minister for correcting any ambiguity so swiftly. We are reassured by his comments.
Let me turn to the most important part of the debate, and deal with amendment (a) to Lords amendment 178. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) is always extremely candid in this place—perhaps more candid than is always good for politicians—and he responded with typical candour when I asked whether this was Conservative party policy by acknowledging that it might or might not be.
It was indeed another ambiguity. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was making a point rather than a serious proposal, although his response a moment ago suggests that there may be a serious proposal behind it.
I understand that the previous position of the Conservative party was that it wanted academies to continue to be under the oversight of Westminster and the Minister. We do not believe that that is sustainable. It might have been sustainable with one Minister who was very engaged in the programme when the Government were running 20 or 30 academies, but it is surely not sustainable when there are 100, 200, 300 or 400, and it certainly will not be sustainable if the vision for the education system set out by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in his speech on 5 November comes to fruition. He made it very clear that the Conservative party’s long-term goal was for academy status to become the norm not just for secondary schools but—I assume from the thrust of his comments—for primary schools as well.
If the Conservative party, or Members of Parliament in general, really think that the Department would be capable of holding to account 3,500 secondary schools and 23,500 primary and secondary schools from Westminster, it and we will be making a grave mistake. I do not see how that could possibly be consistent with many of the criticisms made by the Conservative party of big government and the system of running everything from Westminster and Whitehall. I would also say gently to the hon. Gentleman that if he is concerned with political interference in the academies movement, there could not be a better guarantee of uncertainty in that regard than putting the Secretary of State and the Department in charge of the oversight of academies. That is because whenever there is a Minister or Secretary of State who is unenthusiastic about academies, they might easily and rapidly implement changes to undermine the academy movement. Therefore, those who support academies might want some elements of their oversight or freedoms to be at a greater distance from Secretaries of State. I would have thought that this might be a concern that the hon. Gentleman would have in respect of the current Government. It does not appear to me to be at all obvious that we should stick with the existing system, and it appears fairly obvious that we should move towards a different approach.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting this in amendment (a). I assume the amendment is not a serious proposal, but that it has been tabled to make a point. If implemented, however, it would either make the YPLA entirely responsible for the oversight of academies or lead to the appointment of so many principals to it that the YPLA would become obsessed by academies and would pay little regard to many of its other responsibilities. It would therefore effectively end up being a regulator of academies.
Because we do not think that that is a satisfactory approach, my party has not been able to support the Government or the Conservative party on this matter. Such an approach could leave some parts of the country with regional branches of the YPLA that have oversight of a tiny number of academies and that would duplicate the oversight that is already supposed to be in place from local authorities. From my understanding of what happened in Committee, it would also leave us with a deeply unsatisfactory situation in which the Government essentially set up a YPLA to take on the oversight of academies because they do not trust local authorities with the oversight and performance management of schools, and particularly of those schools with high levels of disadvantage and poor levels of overall performance. It seems to me pretty astonishing that the Government might put in place a system of oversight for these schools that suggests that they have no confidence in the other mechanisms that are used for the oversight of the vast majority of schools in this country.
If there are problems with local authority oversight of either academies or existing schools, it seems more appropriate to deal with and address the deficiencies in that oversight than to seek to set up a separate organisation such as the YPLA to do the job or perhaps to end up—this could be Conservative party policy, depending on which branch line it takes in its current review—with the oversight of 23,500 schools from one ministerial office in Westminster.
Many of the concerns about academy oversight and independence—which I think are shared by all three Front-Bench teams—could be met by addressing three separate issues. First, the freedoms of academies need to be protected, and could be effectively protected by legislation. Secondly, there should be support for the establishment of academies where it may not be sufficient to rely on local authorities providing that support if they feel those schools are competing with the existing local authority family of schools. Authority for that could rest with either the Department or a much smaller agency of the type that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton suggested. In our view, that ought to leave the oversight of academies and all other state-funded schools with local authorities, and they themselves should be under very rigorous oversight from an independent educational standards authority of a type that, frankly, we do not have at the moment. That lets down not only those schools that could come under the oversight of local government, but the thousands of other schools that have to rely on a performance management mechanism, which the Government seem to feel is so defective that they are having to set up a separate body to do this for the academies.
We therefore believe that amendments 178, 72 and 73 offer some welcome tweaks from another place, but we believe that the fundamental issue of the oversight of academies has not been dealt with. We certainly do not believe that the right way to go forward is through amendment (a), which seems more of a probing amendment than a serious proposal.
Our brief discussion on this group of amendments has been useful and interesting. Let me repeat and put on record that academies are an essential part of the Government’s educational reform programme. They play a significant role in the improvement of educational standards in many of the poorest areas of our country and they have been, in most part, very successful. The fact that we now have 200 academies across the country with a commitment to extending that to 400 academies by 2011 is an extremely important statement of what the Government are seeking to achieve.
I regularly meet academies and speak to the sponsors. I, along with the Secretary of State and other members of the DCSF ministerial team, do all we can to expand and develop the programme. I referred the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) to the argument about the need for academies to be developed more quickly as though they are the answer in every situation, because one or two Conservative authorities across the country—or perhaps more—are not following the policy that he has just articulated. If it is, indeed, Conservative party policy that every school should be an academy and that they should be the answer to educational deprivation and underachievement all across the country, he needs to speak to one or two local authorities and tell them that. I have to tell him that in one or two cases where we are seeking to provide an academy solution to a problem, it is not Labour authorities, the DCSF or me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who are preventing that from happening; it is one or two people from his own party.
The point I am making is that we want academies to be the solution where that is appropriate, and we need to overcome any obstacles to that. The only point I am making to the hon. Gentleman is that it is not just Labour authorities that are sometimes standing in the way of the academy solution. The Secretary of State has been very clear that academies are an important solution to the problems of educational underachievement. They are an important solution to some of the problems we have seen when social deprivation and educational achievement remain linked despite the efforts that have been made, but they are not the only solution. That is the difference between us. The Conservatives see academies as a solution in every single situation—in every single secondary school and every single primary school—whereas we say that there may well be other solutions, including the national challenge trust. Locally, an academy might not be the best means of improving educational standards in an area, but we will pursue an academy solution if we believe that it is appropriate.
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) mentioned local authorities. We might go to the local authority and ask it to come to agreements about educational transformation in its area and develop a strategy for change, perhaps using Building Schools for the Future money. It is up to the local authority to determine how to do that. The difference between us and the other parties is that we want local authorities to come forward and tell us what the solution is—and that may well be an academy, or it may well be a national challenge trust or another sort of federation. We will not tolerate, however, local authorities who will not come forward to grasp difficult issues, but we will work closely with local authorities on the school reform programme.
We have introduced the YPLA simply because, as the hon. Member for Yeovil said, it simply is not sustainable for the Department to run academies from the centre and to become, in essence, a national local authority for hundreds and hundreds of them. If there were only a few academies, such an arrangement might be appropriate, but as we expect to have 400 of them in a couple of years’ time, it simply is not in this case. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has said:
“There is a general consensus that the administration and oversight of academies should, because of the growing number of academies, be performed by some form of agency acting for the Secretary of State”.––[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 19 March 2009; c. 427.]
He may not accept the YPLA, but he accepts that some form of agency, aside from the central DCSF, would be the appropriate body and that suggests that he accepts the need for another body to help run the academy programme, rather than to have the whole programme run centrally.
In our discussions, local authorities constantly talk to us about the performance of schools in their areas. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have said just recently that what he suggests is not acceptable for the academies in the national challenge or for the one or two that are in an Ofsted category. However, we will work closely with them and with local authorities to do all we can to ensure that academies are held to the same stringent account for performance as other schools.
Performance management, ultimately, will be done by Ofsted; it will draw problems to the attention of local authorities, Ministers or the sponsors. Indeed, some academies welcome Ofsted and conduct Ofsted-type inspections of themselves to see how they are performing, and how their improvement programmes and strategies are working.
We have said that the YPLA will provide better value for money and that a dedicated agency would help to save nearly £1 million. The existing regional infrastructure will allow quicker, more focused support resulting from better knowledge of the local context and more regular contact. Academy funding functions fit in with the YPLA’s main remit: the funding of education and training places for 16 to 19-year-olds. We are working and will continue to work with academies to make sure that they are supported in ways that work best for them.
We have built in safeguards. The Secretary of State will remain legally responsible for all the academies’ functions, including negotiating and signing the funding agreements, as I have said. The Secretary of State will be directly involved in key decisions, such as terminating a funding agreement or appointing new members to the governing body. Academies will have the same legal remedies available to them as now if they are unhappy with how they are treated. There will not be a loss of academy autonomy. The YPLA will not have the power to impose new duties on academies and it will be required to exercise its academy functions in accordance with arrangements and guidance set out by the Secretary of State’s key principles.
I do not see that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton is appropriate or necessary. We have said that the YPLA board should represent all the responsibilities that the YPLA has, so we would expect significant—not “majority”, as his amendment proposes—academy representation. Also on that body would be sixth-form colleges, local authorities and further education colleges. We have set up an academy reference group, and we regularly meet academies and academy hosts. We have a director of academies who will now work within the YPLA, so we are trying to address what the amendment is getting at: the need to ensure that the YPLA, important as its work will be, does not have an adverse impact on the autonomy of academies, does not slow down the real progress that academies are making in tackling educational underachievement and does what we want.
In opposing the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but in supporting the Lords in their amendments, may I say that academies are and will remain a fundamental part of our educational reform programme? We believe that their autonomy within a collaborative framework is important, and that importance is shown, as he pointed out, by the excellent results being achieved in many of those academies in areas where that excellence simply did not exist before—all of us, whatever the type of school we wish to see introduced, want to see that. This evening’s debate, as well as the one that has taken place alongside this Bill, will help all of us to bring about the educational transformation that we all wish to see.
Lords amendment 72 agreed to.
Lords amendments 73 to 117 agreed to, with Commons privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 87, 91 and 105.
The establishment of an independent regulator for qualifications and assessments is an important part of this Bill, and I think that there is a strong and welcome consensus behind the establishment of Ofqual. We are all sick and tired of clichéd, lazy and untrue accusations of the dumbing down of standards in exams. By making Ofqual truly independent from the Executive—it will report directly to Parliament, not Ministers—this reform provides the opportunity to ensure that qualifications standards are maintained, and that the public can have well-founded confidence in those standards.
A large number of amendments have been tabled in response to concerns raised in this House and in the other place regarding Ofqual. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to group my speech around four main themes: the governance of Ofqual; the powers that the regulator has and, within that, the crucial relationship between Ofqual and the Secretary of State; Ofqual’s reporting requirements; and minor and technical amendments.
It is, of course, of paramount importance that Ofqual is, and is clearly seen to be, independent, and its governance arrangements are crucial to establishing that independence. We listened carefully to concerns raised in both Houses and were grateful for the support for the amendments that we tabled in another place. Lords amendments 188, 192 and 193 amend schedule 9, so that the power to appoint and dismiss Ofqual’s deputy chair lies with Ofqual, rather than the Secretary of State. We agreed that there should be a duty on the Secretary of State to consult the chief regulator before appointing or dismissing members of Ofqual, and Lords amendments 190 and 194 allow that to happen. The provisions also allow for circumstances in which it is not practicable to consult the chief regulator or their deputy. The Secretary of State can appoint or dismiss before consulting only in exceptional circumstances—where it is considered necessary to do so.
Under clause 126(6) the Secretary of State can require Ofqual to have regard to specified aspects of Government policy. It is important to stress that Ministers cannot use that power to force Ofqual to do anything; it is only a requirement for Ofqual to “have regard”, but the regulator must at least consider the policy in question. Again, we listened to the concerns of those in another place and we tabled an amendment—Lords amendment 118—requiring the Secretary of State to publish any such direction given to Ofqual, in the name of transparency. These amendments all help to reinforce Ofqual’s independence of governance, and ensure the transparency of its relationships with Government.
We need a regulator that can protect standards and ensure that qualifications provide value for money. It is therefore important that Ofqual has the ability to cap fees and to withdraw recognition, for example. Those powers are absolutely essential if Ofqual is to be the robust and effective regulator to which we are all committed to having. They enable it to deliver its efficiency and standards objectives. However, we have recognised and appreciated concerns about the extent of the powers and whether there is sufficient accountability over their use, and we have tabled amendments to increase the safeguards around their use.
I turn to amendments 119 to 121, and in particular the capping of fees charged by an awarding body for a qualification. The amendments do two things. First, Ofqual may now impose a fee-capping condition only if it is necessary to do so to ensure value for money. Secondly, any reviews of fee-capping decisions must now be the responsibility of someone independent of Ofqual with relevant skills. In the interests of transparency, we have also placed a new duty on the Secretary of State through amendment 121 to publish any fee-capping guidance given to Ofqual, paralleling the requirement to publish any directions on Government policy that I mentioned earlier. We are similarly proposing to amend clause 146 through Lords amendment 127, so that any reviews of a decision to withdraw recognition must be carried out by someone independent of Ofqual.
The power of the Secretary of State to determine the minimum requirements of qualifications is important: it reflects the fact that Ministers—not Ofqual—are accountable for the curriculum, even though the curriculum is often, in part, specified through Ofqual’s qualifications criteria. Ministers have a perfectly legitimate interest in the content of qualifications and are accountable to Parliament in doing so.
In the light of concerns expressed here and in another place that the power might appear to damage the independence of Ofqual, and the perception of that independence, we have proposed amendments to introduce extra safeguards for its use. Clause 138, which hon. Members will recall with affection, is therefore replaced with four new clauses. It remains the case that minimum requirements can relate only to the minimum knowledge, skills or understanding required to pass the qualification, but these amendments introduce two further requirements.
First, amendment 122 states that minimum requirements must relate to a qualification that will be or will probably be used by young people studying in publicly funded institutions. Secondly, it would have to be necessary to specify minimum requirements to ensure that the curriculum is appropriate for those of an age likely to be taking the qualification. The House will therefore recognise that that narrows the types of qualifications that are potentially in scope. There is now only one reason why the Secretary of State could intervene: if there is a gap in the curriculum that Ofqual needs to fill through its qualifications criteria.
In addition, we have two new process hurdles to jump before specifying minimum requirements. Amendment 123 inserts a new clause that states that the Secretary of State will have to consult, including consulting Ofqual, and to publish a document explaining his thinking. Amendments 159, 162 and 164 insert clauses on the minimum requirements, which must be set out in an order subject to an affirmative resolution in both Houses.
Finally, we have created one further and absolutely fundamental safeguard. Amendment 124 inserts a new clause to the effect that Ofqual would not be bound to implement the minimum requirements if doing so would mean that the level of attainment indicated by the qualification would not be consistent with that of comparable qualifications. In effect, that provides a standards veto for Ofqual.
That leads me to the Opposition’s disagreeing with amendment 124 and their amendment (a) thereto. Amendment (a) would water down the standards veto by allowing Ministers to alter the standards of qualifications through specifying minimum requirements. The Government disagree strongly with that proposal for three reasons. First, it would undermine the fundamental principle, on which I believe there was strong consensus, that Ofqual should be directly accountable to Parliament for maintaining qualifications standards. If Ministers could meddle in such a way, Ofqual’s independence—and certainly its credibility—would be shot.
Secondly, the Opposition’s proposal implies that changing the qualifications standard from year to year is somehow acceptable. It is not. That could mean that last year’s students would have an easier ride than this year’s. It could mean that employers or universities comparing students with qualifications from different years, or qualifications in different subjects, would not know who was the strongest. Qualifications rely on understanding and transparency and that change would bring confusion and therefore unfairness to students.
Let me use an analogy from the world of athletics. We all want to be Usain Bolt—from listening to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), one would think that he wants to be Ozzy Osbourne, Jackson Pollock or perhaps John Cleese, but let us talk about athletics—and let us suppose that we were measuring performance over 100 metres. Ministers could decide that they wanted to encourage students to run faster, and could put in place policy initiatives to help that objective happen—things such as better facilities, more nutritious food or improved equipment. Alternatively, Ministers could decide that they wanted to measure performance over 200 metres instead, but should they be able to force the regulator to redefine a metre as 105 centimetres? I do not think so, but that is what the Opposition’s proposal seeks to allow.
Thirdly, the change is unnecessary. If a particular qualification had fallen out of line with other qualifications—as we saw with GCSE science earlier this year—it would be a regulatory responsibility to bring it back into line, which is what Ofqual is now doing with science. Ministers would not need to intervene. If Ministers decided they wanted different minimum content in a qualification, they could require that. The provision on minimum requirements establishes clearly in the Bill that it is Ministers who determine that aspect of content, and once Ministers have determined minimum content, it is for Ofqual to make sure that the qualification is assessed or graded in a way that maintains the standard.
Technology or the needs of society and the economy might change the curriculum, and the qualifications that assess that curriculum would need to change in a way that could impact on the standard. It would need to be down to Ofqual, as the guardian of the standard, to make sure that change could be made fairly and transparently, while respecting the interests of learners. It should not be something that Ministers could force through. The proposal would undercut the principles of Ofqual’s independence. With the greatest of respect to those on the Opposition Front Bench, the proposal is poorly thought through and I urge the House to reject it.
We agreed in Committee that we would ask Ofqual to review the allocation of values to qualifications for the purposes of measuring performance in achievement and attainment tables. Following debate in another place, we concluded that we should go further and introduced amendment 128, which places a duty on Ofqual to review any system for allocating values to qualifications for such purposes.
Let me turn to Ofqual’s reporting requirements. We have also made clear through amendments some specific aspects of the activities that Ofqual must include in its annual report. Amendment 130 modifies clause 164 to ensure that Ofqual must provide an assessment of the extent to which it has met its objectives. Secondly, it must provide details of information it has obtained on levels of attainment in school qualifications. Ofqual will also have to explain how it has taken this information into account when assessing how far it has met its qualification standards objectives.
Finally, we tabled four amendments in Committee to address a technical drafting problem with the paragraphs in schedule 12, amending the supplementary provisions that specify the arrangements for statutory assessments.
In summary, the amendments improve further the provisions establishing Ofqual in terms of its governance, its independence from the Secretary of State and its reporting to this House and to the other place. I urge the House to agree to Lords amendment 118 and to dismiss the Opposition’s amendment if it is pressed to a vote.
Order. I must dispose of the other amendments first.
Lords amendment 118 agreed to.
Lords amendments 119 to 123 agreed to, with Commons privileges waived in respect of Lords amendment 119.
Before Clause 138
Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 124.—(Mr. Gibb.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
More than three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No.83F).
Lords amendments 124 to 201 agreed to, with Commons privileges waived in respect of Lords amendment 177.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could assist me. I am sure that the House is fully aware of the absolute chaos on First Capital Connect train services, which are deteriorating enormously. It was a great shock when I was told this evening that, as of this evening, the timetable will reduce to a 50 per cent. permanent timetable, as there are not enough staff to man the trains. Will the Secretary of State for Transport come to the House and address it on that crucial commuter service?
The hon. Lady understands that that is not strictly a point of order for the occupant of the Chair, who cannot determine at the drop of a hat whether a Minister proposes to make any announcement to the House. It may still be open to the hon. Lady to make a request to Mr. Speaker to find out whether there is some way that the matter may be raised during tomorrow’s proceedings.