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Mrs. Spelman: I have hung on the Minister's every word because this parliamentary occasion is a first for me. I have seen the Bill through Committee to Report and, as an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, I have articulated the need to amend the Bill to include further education. Therefore, I was interested to find out how the Government would handle the fact that the Opposition had previously drawn their attention to the need for such an amendment. In the human transactional way of things, I suppose that what the Minister has said is the closest that we will get to an apology.
The Opposition first brought the proposal to the Government's attention in Committee, where they rebuffed it but, on reflection, they have now accepted it. That is an important point for the Opposition. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that an Opposition make great play of an amendment being accepted in Committee. We go to the country and say, "Hooray, draft legislation has been changed because we brought something to the Government's attention."
Therefore, it is disappointing that the official Opposition have not been given adequate credit. The Minister spoke of those who had made him aware of the matter, but the word "those" refers to me. Others may have been involved, but the fact is that I and my hon. Friends tabled the amendment in Committee, and we should have liked to have heard about that. Obviously, the most important point is that the change has been made.
I rejoice at a parliamentary occasion on which, for once, we have achieved a change in the Bill. That is important because much of the Bill represents an empty box and the Opposition have had to depend on the guidance that is produced to understand its implications. We welcome the amendment because the label on the box will be clear to everyone.
For the benefit of hon. Members who were not present at the initial debate in Committee on the need to include further education, let me emphasise that only 1.1 per cent. of care leavers enter higher education and, therefore, the requirement on the local authority or the corporate parent--the term that we chose to use--to provide vacation accommodation will be taken up by a small percentage of care leavers. Of course we should like more care leavers to enter higher education, but the reality is that a far larger percentage enter further education. The Minister said in Committee that 40 per cent. do so.
The amendment represents an important change in the Bill, which is why we welcome it strongly. As I said, this is the first parliamentary occasion on which I have had such an experience, but I should have preferred credit to be given in the right quarter. I have no doubt that other organisations brought to the Minister's attention the need to include higher and further education, but the official Opposition tabled the original amendment, which was rebuffed in Committee. It would have been nice if the apology had been fulsome, but I welcome the change. It was certainly part of our policy ambition that further education should be included and there is no doubt that a much higher percentage of care leavers will benefit from the provision than would have been the case if the Bill had not been amended.
Dr. Brand: I certainly welcome the amendment and share the delight of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) in having had some output from the many hours that we spent in Committee. It is important to make residential provision available not only for particular courses but for people living in isolated or rural areas. I gave specific examples in Committee, as did the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). Therefore, I totally support the Government's change of mind. I hope that it will achieve a tremendous amount; it is probably the one proposal that will make a real difference to the life chances of young people leaving care and help to encourage them into the further education that they need.
Mr. Shaw: I very much welcome the amendments. It will be quite a challenge for local authorities to implement plans before a course starts for a young person who will need accommodation during a vacation. In order to complete a course, one certainly needs to know where one will live during the summer. We do not want a young person to approach the end of term saying, "I've nowhere to live; I'd better ring the council." With the best will in the world, no council would say, "There's the accommodation; we've sorted it out immediately."
The remarks of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) were not particularly fair to my hon. Friend the Minister. On a number of occasions during proceedings in the Committees considering this Bill and the Care Standards Bill--the hon. Lady and I served on both Committees--my hon. Friend conceded points, sought further information to reassure her and the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), and changed the Bill as a result of amendments that they had tabled. For example, during proceedings on the Care Standards Bill, the hon. Gentleman made a point about including residential schools, and my hon. Friend immediately responded and made the necessary changes.
We ought to recognise that, as has been said, further rather than higher education is the principal route at the moment for most of the young people about whom we are talking. We hope that, as a result of the Bill, more such young people will enter higher education.
In July, my hon. Friend the Minister met a young man, Mark Kane, who was a care leaver, in further education and a member of the board of management for Kent county council's 16-plus service. He was a strong and passionate voice for care leavers throughout the county. He had not always received the best deal in services but, rather than be angry for himself, he chose to channel his energy into something positive to bring about changes for young people. He was very much a positive role model for many young people leaving the care system in Kent.
Sadly, on 26 September, Mark Kane took his own life, leaving his friends, social workers and all those who were associated with him devastated. He was a young man who had great hopes and someone to whom we thought we could point as a success of the care system. Despite his confident persona, that articulate young man clearly had difficulties and problems, which resulted in such a tragedy. He would very much have welcomed the amendment, as he would the whole Bill. I had a couple of opportunities to discuss the Bill with him. I hope that its powers will serve as a campaign in Kent in his memory. The amendments are very welcome.
Mr. Simon Thomas: I shall be more generous in my thanks to the Minister than the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) was correct in saying that she and the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) tabled in Committee the original amendment, which the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) and I were delighted to support. The Government have listened and tabled the necessary amendments, and that is welcome. They do not have an excellent reputation for listening to rural voices at the moment, but on this point they have done so.
The point that I made in Committee was not just about vocational courses, such as those offered in Aberystwyth, where the foremost agricultural college happens to be located, which I know many students travel some distance to attend. If rural-based students are to access the best courses, including vocational ones, they will need to travel. Some of my constituents travel 60 miles to Carmarthen, for example, in order to undertake the right vocational course, which means that they must stay there during the week. There are obligations to provide vacational accommodation for such people, and I am pleased that the Government have listened on that point.
In Committee, the Minister had the unenviable task of trying to defend shades of difference between further and higher education, when his Government are in fact increasingly blurring the distinctions. Certainly in Wales, with the abolition of training and enterprise councils and the establishment of a new sixth-form system of education over the next few years, we shall see the difference between further and higher education alter greatly.
Care leavers' access to such education will change too. I would imagine that one aim of the Bill is to encourage more care leavers to access both further and higher education. We must acknowledge further education as the route, on occasions, into higher education, particularly for care leavers who may have fewer GCSEs, and so forth, to start with.
The amendment is essential, and I am pleased that the Government have listened. The Bill will be seen, certainly in rural areas, as stronger as a result, ensuring that there are not more examples of rural social exclusion about which, on occasion, we must argue.
Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken on the amendment and for the support that they have expressed for the changes that we are making. Obviously, I am less than pleased with the comments of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), but I dare say that I will get over that. I say to her and her hon. Friends that this is probably not one of those occasions on which we should worry so much about who should take credit for the changes. The important issue is that the Bill will be amended.
I acknowledged the comments and arguments put to us. We have listened to those observations, and changed the Bill accordingly. That is the right, responsible way for Governments to act. We have tried to discharge our responsibilities seriously and fairly, and I hope that, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) said, the Bill has been strengthened as a result.