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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister says that we need area planning to co-ordinate the whole of the 14 to 19 phase. Is he saying that learning and skills councils will in due course take over the funding and the planning of that phase?

Mr. Lewis: No.

To succeed, in terms of the new relationships between institutions that focus on the individual learner, we believe that there will need to be a new commitment from all those involved. We also acknowledge our responsibility to encourage collaboration by removing barriers to co-operation, rewarding good practice and providing some financial assistance.

We also intend to use pathfinders to assess different models of collaborative working and to develop best practice that will inform the full national development of the 14 to 19 phase. This innovative work is already taking place in institutions in a number of areas; because of their experience of the limited way in which they can allow all young people between 14 and 19 to achieve their potential, those institutions are collaborating and working together. We want to use pathfinders to focus attention on that good practice so that, in areas where it has not been the norm, we can bring institutions together and support closer working relationships.

The reforms will give us a more coherent 14 to 19 phase of learning, providing balanced programmes of learning that meet the individual's needs, interests and aspirations, offering flexible progression from age 14 to post-16 learning. That will lead to an education system in which young people want to keep learning throughout the 14 to 19 phase and beyond, and which directly improves young people's employability.

The solutions that we offer in the Green Paper are not set in stone. We are consulting widely on them, and for longer than usual—until the end of May.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): Will the Minister undertake to publish the consultation when it ends in May? It would be useful to hear what trade unions and others have to say about the implications for teachers and lecturers.

Mr. Lewis: We will publish the results of the consultation. Hon. Members will not expect to receive a

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copy of every letter and submission, but a representative summary will be published. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] It will be an accurate and representative summary. We are committed to consultation. The Green Paper could have been prescriptive on areas in which we have asked open-ended questions. In that respect, it is an important document. We want to hear from the widest possible variety of individuals, educationists and politicians on how we can raise the status of vocational education—something that no Government have ever achieved. There are no easy answers or quick-fix solutions. We want to listen to people who have practical experience of trying to make the system work day to day. I am sure that the Opposition will want to rescind their cynicism about our commitment to consultation.

The solutions in the Green Paper are not set in stone. Reform must be introduced over a reasonable period. We accept that that will require significant change to the status quo. It is important to introduce change in a measured way over a number of years and to get those changes right.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Will my hon. Friend consult with young people who are in education and listen to them more carefully than any politician has ever done before?

Mr. Lewis: I entirely agree with the sentiment behind my hon. Friend's comment. Last week, for what I suspect was the first time ever, we launched a Green Paper specifically for the young people who will be most affected by the changes that we propose. Before the end of May, we shall hold several consultation events to ascertain the views of young people. We should also ask young people who have gone beyond the 14 to 19 phase what worked and what did not, and how the system could be better.

We are committed to consultation and engagement with young people. That is not easy—it could be done tokenistically or superficially, but we want to do it in a genuine way. We want to reach not only articulate young people who are already well served by the system, but those who are disengaged so that we can find out their reasons for their disaffection and to see how our reforms respond directly to their concerns.

Mr. Chris Mole (Ipswich): Will the Minister share with the House his experience in front of several hundred young people at the UGC cinema in Ipswich when the Suffolk Connexions service was launched? There was a lively direct engagement between the Minister and those young people.

Mr. Lewis: It was a memorable occasion. The first speaker was the young and impressive leader of the local authority—little did I know that he would soon join us in the House of Commons. He was pelted with aeroplanes by the young people in the audience. The next speaker was hissed and jeered. I was due to speak next, and I can assure the House that I made probably the shortest speech ever given from a public platform. The young people then asked me whether I would meet a juggler who was performing elsewhere in the exhibition centre. He in turn asked me to lie on the floor, and when I did, he swapped his juggling sticks for knives. The face of the civil servant accompanying me was well worth seeing.

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During the few months in which I have had the privilege of being the first Minister for young people, that and many other experiences have told me that they are amazingly sophisticated and articulate, able to tell us exactly where the system is working or failing. In the past, we have ignored them at our peril. We have treated young people as passive recipients of services rather than seeing them as users and consumers. The Government are absolutely committed to changing that, as am I.

Mr. Willis: The Minister makes a powerful point. Does he accept that one of the things that young people find most disillusioning is being asked for their views, then having them totally disregarded? That may be why he was pelted in Ipswich. Does the Minister agree that the largest recent survey to be carried out with young people was the one on the future of faith schools? Young people gave expansion of faith schools a total thumbs-down, but the Government simply ignored them.

Mr. Lewis: No, I do not agree with that. When I asked the people who claimed to have undertaken extensive consultation how many young people had been consulted, the number turned out to be so small that the evaluation evidence was entirely meaningless. The hon. Gentleman should not make such a spurious point in support of an argument that he usually articulates in a way that I respect but do not agree with.

When one speaks to audiences of young people, it is important not to make promises that cannot be kept. We must be honest about the resource limitations within which politicians must work, although that would make it difficult for the Liberal Democrats ever to engage in constructive discussion with young people.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): Does the Minister agree that anyone who has experienced opinion polls run by the Liberal Democrats during by-elections would do well to be jaundiced about anything that arose from that method of gauging people's opinions?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. May I remind the House that we are debating education for 14 to 19-year-olds?

Mr. Lewis: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am delighted that the Bury consensus continues so far into the debate.

The credibility of our engagement and consultation with young people is important. Frankly, they expect us to fail to deliver and to let them down. Politicians in general—whatever their party—are not held in high regard by young people. Our work of engaging day after day in debate with young people is essential if we are to restore the integrity of democracy and do something about the low turnouts—particularly among young people—that are the biggest threat to that democracy. All Members of Parliament have a special responsibility to do something about the breakdown of the relationship between the political process and young people. I urge every hon. Member to make an effort in his or her constituency to engage with that by consulting young people on the 14 to 19 Green Paper. We shall receive favourably the results of any such consultation.

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Our reforms are important and we must take time to get them right. It is absolutely essential that we ensure that more young people achieve their potential. We are committed to seeing them attain good qualifications and to giving them the education that they need if they are to be successful in today's high-skilled economy. The Government are committed to rebuilding our country on the dual foundations of social justice and economic success. We want a fair society in which every young person has the chance to fulfil his or her potential and in which we no longer tolerate having far too many young people being consigned to the margins of society. We are committed to a successful society, with the skilled work force who are so essential in an increasingly competitive global economy and in which we bridge the competitiveness gap, which continues to hold our country back.

Our proposals for the reform of 14 to 19 education and training are an integral part of the society that we seek to build. I commend them to the House.

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