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Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I should like to say a few words in support of both new clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) sends his apologies as he is unable to attend. He was immersed in the detail of the Bill and supported its broad outlines. I will deal with the Bill's final stages but, as a newcomer, I lack his depth of understanding.
The new clauses deal with an issue that my hon. Friend raised on Second Reading in several interventions and in his speech. How do we define the boundary and the limits? Who should be included and who should be excluded? As the hon. Member for
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Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) helpfully summarised, the Government had two broad choices. They could have opted for universal inclusion of everyone on unwaged training. The widest possible provision is very much in the spirit of Bill, but clearly there were problems with enforcement and cost, so the Government adopted a much narrower and specific definition based on Government-approved schemes. That enables the Government to give a precise figure80,000and, hopefully, to be reasonably precise about the cost of £105 million. I suppose that that is why they have chosen the narrower route.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh made the case for breadth or inclusion. I saw some of the submissions from the voluntary organisations, particularly Barnado's, which stressed that many young people on training schemespresumably, the Bill is trying help themare difficult to reach as they are not on approved schemes, so they will be excluded. We should therefore try to find ways of including them as much as possible. As the hon. Gentleman has made the basic arguments, I shall try to anticipate the Government's objections to the widening of the measure. The first, presumably, is cost. Having read the debates, although I did not attend them, I found it unsatisfactory that I could not gain any handle on the total number of people who are included or excluded. A rough approximation would help us to understand the parameters of the debate.
The Bill is bound to change behaviour so, in any event, there will be a migration from unapproved schemes to approved ones as people take advantage of the benefits that become available. The costs will probably be larger than the Government estimate, and some of the people whom the new clauses are designed to include will be paid for as a result of that migration. As for enforcement, I understand the Government's nervousness. After the problem with individual learning accounts, we know how easy it is for fraud to proliferate on the fringes of the training industry. I therefore understand why the Government do not want to get their fingers burned again by using loose definitions. The authors of the new clause have thought about the problem and have tried to devise sensible mechanisms that provide standards.
To be slightly mischievous, the hon. Member for Rayleigh rested his case rather heavily on the ability to promote the schemes through advertising. I do not know whether he has read the James reportit has kept me busy for many eveningsbut the section on advertising is particularly enlightening, because most of that budget would disappear and the scope for the activities that he described would be circumscribed. Fundamentally, however, that mischievous point aside, his remarks were helpful. He could have pointed out that it would be useful for the Government to make more use of trade associations of electrical contractors, plumbers, builders and so on, as they are active and effective in many areas and could help to identify acceptable, quality training schemes that are not necessarily supported by the Government. In general, we should be moving in the direction of statutory self-regulation, rather like the medical profession, whereby professions and trades set their own training standards and identify acceptable schemes in their remit. Much
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could be done at that level without direct Government involvement. None the less, if the Government were proactive and talked to the trade associations, they could identify a wide range of schemes that, while not necessarily Government supported, were reputable.
On the point about volunteering raised under new clause 2, we all know as MPs that volunteering and work placements are an important entry route into employment for young people who are learning our trade. The practice is common outside this place and we hope that it is supported in much the same way. I acknowledge, however, that there is a problem, which has been pointed out to me by people in my constituency. There is an underground world in which some disreputable companies hire a growing number of volunteers, keep them on for one or two years, encouraging them to believe that there will be a job, but then lay them off and start again with a new round of volunteers. In effect, such employers are getting labour without paying for it. It is not at all clear how that practice could be policed or stopped, but exclusion from the current schemes means that such young people are doubly disadvantaged: not only do they have no job security and employment, they have no access to the child benefit provisions either. New clause 2 would be helpful in bringing those young people within the remit of the Bill.
The new clauses are constructive and well worth supporting. There are some practical difficulties with them, but if the Government were constructive they could help to find a way through those difficulties. I happily support the new clauses, especially if they are pushed to a vote.
The Government consulted on a number of issues in the review on financial independence for 16 to 19-year-olds. Some were short-term, and some were for long- term solution and consultation, precisely for the reason given by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). It is one thing to want to achieve an objective, but quite another to find the route that delivers it.
The first set of consultations, which deals with the proposals in new clause 1, was specifically with regard to defining the courses that would be covered and the training for unwaged trainees. To pick up the point made by the hon. Gentleman in his closing remarks, two real issues emerged from the consultation. The first was the complete lack of proper information about the number or type of so-called unwaged trainees who were outside the Government schemes. That has real dangers, on which he touched. Unwaged training should be properly accredited; that is, it should be training with a resulta skill.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am attracted by the apparent intent of both new clauses. Will my right hon. Friend address directly the point made by the hon. Member for Twickenham in relation to the parallels with the ILAs? That was a sad and sorry saga that I am sure we shall not repeat.
I was coming to that point; my hon. Friend anticipates me. If the Government are to sponsor
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schemes and allocate entitlement on the basis of training, we have to be sure that the training is delivered to the standard required. Indeed, the consultation process made it clear that the Government could have approached unwaged, approved training in two ways. The first approach would involve trying to articulate in legislation the principles that must be followed. People would then measure their training to find out whether it met that standard. Of course, that would require regulation and enforcement, and all that goes with that.
The second approach, which was favoured during the consultation, was that the Government should clearly define the approved training and education. In fact, regulation 2 includes a complete list at paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of those unwaged training courses that the Government consider fall within the meaning of "approved training" in the Bill, thus ensuing a quality-controlled outcome. On that basis, following the consultation I decided to define unwaged training in the regulations by reference to a list of named courses, precisely to satisfy the second point that the hon. Member for Twickenham raised in respect of transparency and clarity, to ensure that people do not have to make a judgment against principles; such things would be specified by their inclusion in the list.
Of course, a wider issue remains to be settled in relation to unwaged trainees who may be elsewhere in the labour market. They may be called unwaged trainees, but they may be young people who are being exploited for a number of reasons. They may not be receiving any recompense and certainly not any training, and a great deal of work still needs to be done on that.
David Taylor: I am most grateful to the Paymaster General for being so generous in giving way. Is she certain that the Bill, when implemented, will reduce to an absolute minimum the chance that the collusion and coercion of young people on low wages will decant them into unpaid work, so that the value of that work must be met directly by the taxpayer and the Inland Revenue? Can she reassure the House on that point?
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