Education and Skills Bill

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Clause 25

Duty to enable participation: arrangements subsequently notified
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment No. 173, in clause 25, page 14, line 5, at end add—
‘(8) No part of this section shall have such effect as to compel a person to whom this Part applies to work in the evenings or at weekends where this is outside the conditions of the contract of employment.’.
I fear that we are touching on issues and concerns similar to those addressed by the previous amendment, but in a slightly different way. What if an employer who is not particularly enthusiastic about the Bill, which is quite understandable from my party’s point of view, recognises their education or training obligation, but says, “Fine, do it on Saturday. Do it at 9 o’clock in the evening”, when it is outside the conditions of the contract of employment? Will there be any protection, or will the backstop for that also be that the young person must simply give up the job opportunity or end up potentially working a vast number of hours both in formal employment and in education or training during the week?
Jim Knight: I have now found the relevant clauses to which I refer the hon. Gentleman. Clause 24(2) states that:
“The employer must permit the employee to participate in training or education in accordance with those appropriate arrangements.”
The appropriate arrangements are defined in clause 20. With regard to subsequent notification, clause 25(2) states that:
“The employer must, so far as is reasonable having regard to the matters mentioned in subsection (3), permit the person to participate in training or education in accordance with those appropriate arrangements.”
Therefore, there are clearly obligations on the employer. They cannot simply be unreasonable in that respect.
Obviously, there are working time regulations that also protect young workers from being exploited, which was a concern of the hon. Gentleman’s. Young workers may not work or attend relevant training in the restricted period, which is normally between 10 pm and 6 am. I hope that there are not too many young workers working in the Palace tonight. If the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Yeovil is intended to stop young people being compelled to work in the evening or at the weekend against the terms of their contract, it is unnecessary.
One course of action under the clause would be to allow the young person time off in normal working hours. If those hours did not already include evenings and weekends, that course of action could not have the effect of requiring them to work then. The other course of action would be for the young person and their employer to agree to vary the terms of the contract so that the course times were outside the normal working hours. If that course was taken, there would be a new contract, with new terms and conditions and the working hours would be within those.
If, on the other hand, the intention of the amendment is to prevent any changes from being made to the original contract, even by mutual agreement, that result in a young person working in the evening or at the weekend when they have not before, I would resist that, as it seems an unnecessarily restrictive amendment to the arrangements that employers and employees can make. It is certainly not the intention of the policy to encourage or require young people to work evenings and weekends if they do not want to, as I have stated. It is important that we retain the flexibility in the clause.
If necessary, and if the employer of the young person agrees, any contract that does not already cover evening and weekend working could be varied by mutual agreement. The clause does not require that, but we think that it is a necessary flexibility. We hope, on that basis, that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Laws: I am not sure whether I should be completely reassured by what the Minister has said. I think that I need time to read his rather hastily read comments and to establish whether I should be reassured or whether I should not be hoodwinked. As I need that deliberation time, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment No. 174, in clause 25, page 14, line 5, at end add—
‘(8) This section shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has published guidance.’.
I think that I can also deal with this amendment in a short time. The clause is quite significant. Subsection (3) specifies some elements that must be taken into account by the employer in relation to the needs of the person who is required
“to fulfil the duty imposed by section 2”.
They may also take into account
“the circumstances of the employer’s business”
“the effect of the person’s absence from work on the running of that business.”
Those matters are all potentially complex in terms of making judgments and it is not obvious to me how those judgments would be made.
Amendment No. 174 would require that the subsection shall not come into force until guidance has been published in relation to the clause. That would also give us a better clue to answering some of the questions posed by subsection (3). I wanted to find out from the Minister whether there is a plan to publish such guidance or whether it is already available somewhere and I have missed it.
7.15 pm
Jim Knight: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Yeovil for giving me the opportunity to clarify for the Committee that we intend to issue guidance to employers, so that they know how to fulfil their duties. I think that I mentioned that earlier. We do not believe that the duty will be an excessive burden on employers and we would not want there to be any suggestion that one of the employers’ duties might not come into force at the same time as all the other duties set out in the Bill, as that would reduce the impact of the policy. Naturally, as we are going to discuss in clauses 29 and 30, there are mechanisms to withdraw enforcement notices to ensure that employers are treated fairly. On the basis of that reassurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful for the reassurance, but is the Minister in a position to say when the guidance might be available? Having some idea of how the Government will view such matters would be useful to the Committee and to the deliberations of the House while we are debating the Bill. There are some complex judgments to be made, which will have an important bearing on how the clause, particularly subsection (3), is applied. Could we have some kind of date? If that date is a long distance in the future, is there any chance of having a helpful letter from the Minister to the Committee to enlighten us all?
Jim Knight: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to intervene again. As we said before, on guidance, we are some way away from the measure coming into effect, so it would not be appropriate for us to circulate draft guidance, which might then be superseded by events. However, I will certainly reflect on whether I can circulate some thoughts to the Committee in order to assist.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister and will press the matter no further. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 2 6 to 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]
Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Seven o’clock till Thursday 21 February at Nine o’clock.
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