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19 Jun 2007 : Column 419WH—continued

Let me clarify the Government’s current position on temporary event notices, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. He will no doubt be aware that the independent fees review panel under Sir Les Elton said that we should consider a modest change—from 12 to 15—in the TEN limit for village halls. The maximum aggregate number of days would be unchanged at 15. We are still considering the recommendation, but I would be concerned if such a change were to undermine the incentive to obtain full premises licences, which may be more appropriate for those who wish to hold more than 12 events, and
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which would constitute a more sensible approach for those who wish to hold 20 or 30 such events.

The hon. Gentleman will know that there was no clear consensus when we sought views on the TEN limits in 2005. Village and community halls wanted larger numbers, but residents, the police and local authorities—they, too, are affected by such events taking place—generally did not want an increase above the 12 events allowed by the 2003 Act.

Les Elton encouraged village halls to apply for full premises licences and to reduce their reliance on temporary permissions. His panel, which included a representative from the Commission for Rural Communities, believed that there were clear advantages to doing so in terms of cost, bureaucracy and risk. We have recommended that position since the Licensing Bill was first debated.

Sir Paul Beresford: Perhaps the Minister could remind me whether a hall that applies for a full licence needs to have a designated, named person. For a tiny hall in a tiny village, such people are not forthcoming. The requirement is not realistic.

Mr. Woodward: If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for a moment or two, I anticipated his wanting to ask me that question and will be happy to come to that and to the proposals that we intend to pursue.

A 2006 survey by Action with Communities in Rural England suggested that 91 per cent. of halls had a premises licence covering entertainment, but most had not applied for a licence to allow the sale of alcohol. As a result, if they wish to host events that include the sale of alcohol, they have to rely on TENs. Those choosing not to get a licence are constrained by the limits of the TEN system, but that, of course, is their choice.

Let us be clear about this. For most halls, the costs of securing a licence that includes alcohol sales are little different in the long term from the £252 annual cost of 12 temporary events. The total cost of securing such a licence might be in the region of £600, which includes the cost of the licence, advertising and training a personal licence holder. However, for most village halls, the costs in subsequent years should fall to £70 or £180, depending on the size of the venue. The hon. Gentleman made that point, which, obviously, is relevant.

Some hon. Members have made comparisons with the old system, whereby the courts would accept applications, in one batch and for a single £10 fee, for numerous occasional permissions to sell alcohol. That illustrates why the fees paid to magistrates were some £25 million a year short of the costs of administering the licensing system. Part of the purpose of the new regime is to ensure that the fees reflect the cost of licensing so that the general taxpayer is not forced to subsidise the sale of alcohol in this way.

Village halls were previously able to rely on hirers or a local publican to obtain occasional permissions and licences to sell alcohol, and to take the responsibility for events. We believe that it is not unreasonable to expect the committee to take some responsibility for activities in their hall. Under the new regime, if a hall wants to allow more than 12 licensable events a year, it can apply for a premises licence that is held by the committee. In addition, if the licence includes alcohol sales, an individual has to obtain a personal licence and be designated as
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the premises supervisor. The alternative is to allow no more than 12 events under TENs where the hirer takes responsibility.

We know that one of the barriers to getting alcohol licences has been the reluctance of volunteers to obtain personal licences and to act as designated premises supervisors for village halls. We accept that they would prefer the committee to share collective responsibility for allowing alcohol sales. That is one reason why I agreed to consult on proposals to remove the requirement for village halls to have a personal licence holder. That would help to reduce some of the up-front cost of getting an alcohol licence.

However, there is not universal agreement to the proposal. I say this to the hon. Gentleman because I think that it is important. The police and the local authorities in some locations—not in his constituency, I am sure, but in other locations—say that they have genuine concerns about public nuisance from some activities in some village halls, including, critically, problems associated with under-age alcohol sales, and disturbance and antisocial behaviour from certain private events. I am sure that he understands that.

Residents have objected to some village hall licence applications. That is not to suggest that all village halls are running operations in which there is endless under-age drinking, and mayhem and antisocial behaviour afterwards, but it would be unwise of us not to consider carefully the representations that have been made by the police and others. We want to tackle the problem of under-age drinking, and part of the purpose of the 2003 Act was to enable us better to do so. The hon. Gentleman somewhat traduced the Government at the beginning of his remarks, but I believe that, in true spirit, he recognises that we all want to tackle problems related to the abuse of alcohol.

If the police and others are providing evidence to indicate that we should carefully consider what we may be enabling before we move away from the proposal, there is a proper onus not only on the Government but on Her Majesty’s Opposition not to ignore their representations. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, it is sometimes unwise to cherry-pick what one wants and does not want from the police.

Sir Paul Beresford: I understand where the Minister is coming from, but could I ask him to look at the issue the other way around? Why not have a de minimus level, particularly for rural village halls, whereby application of the change of rules and licensing and so on will apply to village halls if the police or the committee of the local council feel that it is appropriate? In the case of my village halls, I suspect that most of them would never be noticed by either the police or the committee.

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. As he knows, there is a consultation, and I am more than happy to encourage his village halls to make representations as part of it. As I said, I would be more than happy to meet him and a delegation to discuss the matter. I genuinely believe that the spirit that the Government want to prevail is
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one of reason and balance, and it would clearly not be reasonable or balanced if I were to say anything to him other than that I would be more than happy to meet a group of his constituents to talk about the issue. The consultation process matters considerably and it is important that hon. Members make and encourage their constituents to make representations. We need to achieve a balance in the safeguards for those who might be adversely affected, if there were to be any change. I still intend any changes made to be implemented by spring 2008.

The hon. Gentleman referred to bureaucracy. Under our simplification plan that has been published, we will consider making the application forms simpler, which is why I welcome his delegation. We will also examine ways of reducing the costs of advertising in relation to applications and, indeed, we will continue to press to introduce a lighter-touch system for such variations. We will also—I hope that this will please him—consider whether we can apply a complete or partial exemption from licensing where de minimis activities are self-evidently low risk.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the requirements for plans. They were set following consultation with experts in public safety and they exist for good reason. It may be of benefit to remind him that we have clarified that plans do not have to be put together professionally. We are introducing proposals for a light-touch variation process to allow changes to be made to plans while imposing as little burden or cost as possible.

In the next few weeks, we expect to receive the live music forum’s report, which may raise relevant considerations about the impact of this issue on village halls, and we will want to bring those into the consultation. When the independent fees panel considered village and community halls, it also considered whether charities and not-for-profit organisations should benefit from further exemptions or exceptions to fees. The panel took a view on that, but, again, I am open to representations from the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, if they wish to make them.

I am glad that we have had the opportunity to air some of the issues because they are important. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that our policy is not inflexible, but is one that we wish to improve on, and if we can improve on it, we will. We intend to introduce not a more bureaucratic system, but a less bureaucratic system, and we intend not to introduce a system that encourages alcohol abuse, but to introduce one that discourages alcohol abuse.

We recognise that a balance needs to be struck between those providing entertainment and alcohol and those who live in the communities where that takes place. In the 2003 Act we ensured that the views of local communities, residents and the police play a significant part in determining whether licences are given to village halls or any other licensed premises. That is an important component of the 2003 Act and it has been very successful. Under the legislation, some licences have been withdrawn and suspended, which proves that it is working. I hope that the actions that I have outlined will be recognised as part of a proper, consistent and flexible process of monitoring the 2003 Act and ensuring that it continues to be successful and fit for purpose in 2027 and beyond.

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Modern Apprenticeships (Women)

12.53 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I am grateful to have the chance to raise this important subject, which is vital not only to the lives of women and their children but to the functioning of the wider economy. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope) will be responding—we share a county in common so I am pleased to see him.

The subject of the debate is a YWCA campaign to ensure that young women get more equal opportunities in their working lives. The campaign also aims to ensure that they have the chance to work in a wide range of different jobs, trades, and professions, to better their own position, and to increase their earning potential. I strongly believe that this issue is also about improving the workings of our economy. I do not believe that we can have an efficient economy unless all members of the community are able to play a full role in it. We must tackle disadvantage among the poorest families and children. Many of the young women associated with this issue quickly become parents and their ability to provide for their families will in large part depend on their ability to get a well-paid job. If, either directly or indirectly, half the population are excluded from certain categories of work purely by virtue of their gender, it is unjust and economically inefficient.

The YWCA’s “More than one rung” campaign has brought together some powerful advocates for improving modern apprenticeships, including people from different industrial sectors, the world of training, the educational sector and from inside government. The campaigners want five key changes. They want a duty to be put on local authorities and key local players better to assess and meet the skills, training and apprenticeship needs of disadvantaged young women, and to dramatically increase and sustain their skills and achievements. They also want women to have access to better-paid jobs at the end of the scheme and for businesses to replicate models of good practice that recruit and employ more disadvantaged young women. Seven out of 10 employers agree that recruiting more young people of the non-traditional sex would help to solve skills shortages.

The campaigners also want governments and employers to improve disadvantaged young women’s access to skills and apprenticeship training, which means improving planning to increase the number of disadvantaged young women who take part in better-paid apprenticeships and skills training with better-paid jobs at the end. As part of that, the campaigners want the ministerial apprenticeships steering group to conduct an inquiry into the gender pay gap in apprenticeships—I will provide some quite dramatic figures on that later—the impact of low pay on disadvantaged young women’s entry and retention in apprenticeships, and sector segregation by class and gender. I add ethnic origin to that, as there is clear evidence of differential access to apprenticeships by ethnicity.

The YWCA wants children’s trusts to ensure that all disadvantaged young women have support from an inspirational adult to increase their confidence and broaden their horizons. YWCA research has shown that self-esteem and confidence are as critical as
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qualifications when making choices about work. The point is not to undervalue women’s work or say that this area of work is less important than another or that it should be less well rewarded. We should also ensure that work and skills in, for example, social care are properly valued and paid. At this point, the focus is on ensuring that young women have a wider range of skills and more choices, so that they can get into areas of work that, so far, have been largely closed to them.

The reasons for the campaign are clear when we consider access to different skills and the differential access of young men and young women to diverse levels of training in various sectors of the economy. Before outlining some of that in detail, it is important to recognise the enormous success of the modern apprenticeship scheme overall and the potential of the scheme for dramatically improving our economic performance. For a long time, people bemoaned the loss of apprenticeships and said how important it was for young people who did not want to pursue an academic path to a career to have access to high-quality training that could lead to a well-paid job and perhaps later to other routes of learning. The modern apprenticeship scheme has provided a lot of those opportunities. At present, there are a quarter of a million apprenticeships in England and Wales and the target is to double that by 2020.

The old apprenticeships were private and often opaque arrangements between the individual and the employer, and sometimes included very poor training and excessively poor pay and working conditions. The modern apprenticeships, however, are Government-sponsored and regulated, and cover a much wider range of skills—over 90 sectors, including some emerging sectors of the modern economy. They constitute one of the unsung success stories of this Government and the economy, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will have a lot to say about them later on.

There are some very dramatic differences in access, however, for people from black and other ethnic minority communities who are from a half to a third as likely as their white counterparts to gain an apprenticeship. If we look at the demographic and ethnic and age breakdown of people, the disparities become much more evident. There are clear and dramatic differences in access for young people. I want to concentrate on the latter.

The figures show that, although young women are almost as likely as young men to access apprenticeships overall, they are confined largely to certain sectors of the economy. I shall run through that list. In 2007, the electrical industry had 1,749 standard-level apprenticeships, but no women apprentices, which is surprising, given that women can often be found doing detailed wiring work in factories producing electrical items such as televisions. It is very surprising that the industry does not seem to have been able to attract women on to apprenticeship schemes. The most dramatic differential is in construction, which had 22,755 apprentices, only 1 per cent. of whom were women. Out of 1,988 apprenticeships in the automotive industry, only 1 per cent. were filled by women, and in engineering, 3 per cent. of just over 8,000 apprenticeships were filled by women.

The segregation was equally marked at the other end of the scale. In hairdressing, 92 per cent. of apprentices were women, and out of 8,261 apprenticeships in the
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early years and education sector, which is an emerging and very important area of work, 97 per cent. were filled by women. In health and social care, 89 per cent. of apprentices were women. The one area with a roughly equal gender balance was hospitality, in which, out of 10,679 apprenticeships, about 49 per cent. were filled by women, which is a bit more even. The pattern was much the same at the more advanced level of apprenticeships: engineering had 2 per cent. women, construction 1 per cent., the automotive industry 1 per cent., the electro-technical industry 1 per cent., health and social care 90 per cent., early-years care and education 98 per cent. and hairdressing 95 per cent.

Those figures feed directly into the pay differentials, which are very marked in apprenticeships. A 2005 survey of 5,500 apprenticeships—monitoring is done locally so the figures had to be collated by local surveys—showed that there was a 26 per cent. weekly gender pay gap, with young women apprentices receiving, on average, £40 a week less than their male counterparts. In hairdressing, which is the lowest-paid and most female-dominated of the industries, the average take-home pay was £90 a week compared with the electrical industry, which of course is 100 per cent. male, and in which take-home pay was £183 a week. Of the one in five apprentices receiving less than £80 a week, over 70 per cent. were young women.

The different access that women have to bonus schemes and overtime is another factor. Young women apprentices were less likely to be paid for overtime and more likely to be in programme-based schemes, which meant that they were less likely to have an employment contract with an employer and, therefore, less likely to have a secure job at the end of their apprenticeship. Will my hon. Friend say a bit more about that as well because it comes down to the different types of apprenticeship scheme? In addition, women were in apprenticeships that were less likely to lead to a higher-level NVQ, which is necessary for access to higher education and professional programmes. I would argue, therefore, that those differentials will have a profound impact on their economic position at the start of their adult lives and on their opportunities to improve their pay and position at work later on.

A key part of the YWCA campaign is focused on the fact that about 1 million women between the ages of 16 and 30 are living in poverty in the UK; the campaign is aimed at ensuring that those women can find a way out. As I said, many of those young women will get into parenthood very quickly and so be less likely to have the kind of skills needed to find work with decent pay and support their children. We know that the Government have done a great deal to lift families with children out of poverty, and I would argue that one of the key ways to continue to do that is to ensure that parents with young children have the skills to find well-paid work when their children are older and they feel ready to go out to work.

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