Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Seventh Report

1  Introduction

Draft Apprenticeships Bill

In January 2008 the Government published World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All,[1] its strategy for the future of apprenticeships[2] in England. The January 2008 report was the culmination of a process of reviewing apprenticeships[3] initiated by the Leitch review of skills in 2006.[4] In line with the recommendation of the Leitch Report, the Government's strategy rests on an "ambitious expansion and strengthening"[5] of apprenticeships with "aspirations for 400,000 Apprentices in England by 2020".[6] In January 2008 the Government confirmed its intention, announced in the Queen's Speech in November 2007, to legislate to implement the results of the review and that it would bring forward draft legislation.[7] The publication of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill in July 2008 fulfils that undertaking. The Government will not be producing an Apprenticeships Bill but instead it will include finalised provisions on apprenticeships in a wider education and skills bill scheduled for next session.[8]

Our inquiry

The purpose of pre-legislative scrutiny is to improve legislation. The publication of a bill in draft provides the opportunity for select committees, and interested parties, to review a government's legislative proposals and to make recommendations to government before a bill is finalised. We followed what has become a well-tested approach of select committees carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny. We announced an inquiry in July 2008 and invited written evidence focused on questions to assist our deliberations on the draft Bill. The questions were:

a)  Does the draft Bill meet the Government's policy objectives to set up a system of "world class" apprenticeships in the most effective way within a reasonable time frame?

b)  Is the draft Bill workable?

c)  Will the draft Bill lead to a renaissance in apprenticeships?

d)  What is the cost?

e)  What impact will the draft Bill have on current institutional structures?

f)  Is there anything missing from the draft Bill?[9]

We asked those submitting written evidence to submit their memoranda by 1 October 2008. We received 19 memoranda,[10] all of which are published with this Report. In parallel the Departments responsible for the draft Bill—the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)—carried out a consultation on the draft bill, the closing date for which was 8 October. The material they received—other than where permission to share the material was withheld—was copied to us and a summary was produced, which is on the DCSF's website.[11]

In the time available we were able to hold two evidence sessions. We started on 6 October with a three-part session: first, with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils; second, with the Association of Learning Providers, the Association of Colleges and the TUC;[12] and, third, with the Learning and Skills Council. The concluding evidence session was on 27 October and we took evidence from Rt Hon Jim Knight, MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, DCSF, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Skills and Apprenticeships, DIUS, and Mr Stephen Marston, Director General of Further Education and Skills, DIUS. Our special advisers for this inquiry were Professor Alison Fuller and Professor Lorna Unwin. We record our thanks to all those who have contributed to our inquiry.

The Children, Schools and Families Committee has carried out a separate inquiry and we arranged some division of labour based on the remits of the two Committees. The Children, Schools and Families Committee focused on those parts of the draft Bill concerned with people under 19 years of age and the provision of careers advice in schools, areas which we have not directly addressed. It was not, however, in the best interests of scrutiny to establish a rigid demarcation—for example, the question arose why certain provisions should apply to apprenticeships for those under 19 but not to those over 19.

Observations on the pre-legislative scrutiny process

We have adopted a two-pronged approach to the scrutiny of the draft Bill. First, we have addressed the policy decisions and the key provisions, including in some cases the absence of provisions, in the draft Bill in the main body of our Report. Second, we have explored the detailed operation of provisions in a series of written questions which we put to the Government, the answers to which are set out in Appendix 1. We hope that both our report and the Appendix will inform debate when the finalised legislation comes before the House. While we are grateful to officials and ministers in DIUS and DCSF for the speed of the replies to our questions and the care that they took in dealing with the points that we raised, we have two criticisms of the Departments' approach to pre-legislative scrutiny. While we were aware from the beginning of the year that a draft apprenticeships bill was in the pipeline and our staff had regular informal contact with DIUS about progress, the Departments did not agree a timetable with us for pre-legislative scrutiny. In the event the Departments published the draft Apprenticeships Bill on 16 July 2008, a few days before the summer recess, with the result that the deadline for written evidence fell at the beginning of October when the House was in recess. The Departments showed no appreciation that we had a programme of work planned for October but in the event we were able to arrange an evidence session on the day the House returned, 6 October, as well as a session later in October with ministers.

The other criticism is that in their foreword to the draft Bill, the Secretaries of State, Rt Hon Ed Balls MP and Rt Hon John Denham MP, stated that "the Children, Schools and Families and the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committees will [our emphasis] scrutinise the Draft Apprenticeships Bill".[13] Neither we nor the Children, Schools and Families Committee were consulted before this statement was made. We recommend that, when it decides that a piece of legislation will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government consult with the select committees likely to carry out scrutiny and agree a timetable and arrangements before publication of the draft legislation, in order to allow committees to plan their work.

Adequacy of the consultation documents

The draft Bill contains 31 clauses and runs to 16 pages. It was accompanied by Explanatory Notes[14] (which were seven pages in length) as well as an Impact Assessment.[15] These supporting documents had limited use for those carrying out scrutiny. The Explanatory Notes, for example, contained only one paragraph setting out the policy background to the draft Bill[16] and that referred to other documents: World-class Apprenticeships and the Leitch review of skills in 2006. There was no link to either of these documents on the Departments' websites setting out the consultation arrangements on the draft Bill. In our view the documents published with the draft Bill would have assisted with fuller background, in particular a comprehensive survey of the policy. So far as it was not possible to do this within scope of the Explanatory Notes, then the White Paper publishing the draft bill should contain this information. More significantly, we were impeded in our scrutiny by the shortcomings of the Impact Assessment—for example, it contained no costings for the establishment and running of the National Apprenticeship Service, a key component of the Government's proposals. (This is an issue we return to at chapter Error! Reference source not found..) We recommend that, when publishing draft bills for pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government provide comprehensive documents describing the policy behind the legislation and the detailed operation of the arrangements in the draft legislation. In addition, we recommend that it also publish a comprehensive impact assessment covering all the proposals in the legislation, including the costs of establishing and running new public sector organisations or arrangements.

Application of the draft Bill to Wales

Clause 29 of the draft Bill provides that the legislation would apply to Wales as well as England. So far as England is concerned the proposals in the draft Bill were the product of consultation culminating in World-class Apprenticeships, the Government's strategy for the future of apprenticeships in England, and we received no evidence that consultation in England was inadequate. The same could not be said of Wales.

As the legislation would apply to Wales, we wrote to the Welsh Affairs Committee and the National Assembly for Wales to invite their views. In reply, both the Welsh Affairs Committee[17] and the Enterprise and Learning Committee of the Assembly[18] asked fundamental questions about the application of the provisions in the draft Bill to Wales. The supporting documentation with the draft Bill did not explain how the proposed provisions would be implemented in Wales—the draft Bill would, for example, impose duties on the Learning and Skills Council but it has an England only remit[19]—and no reference was made to apprenticeships in Wales. The Enterprise and Learning Committee was of the opinion that the UK Government's legislative approach was "unsatisfactory and does not reflect well on the UK Government or the Welsh Assembly Government."[20] The content and tone of the representations from the two committees raised concerns that consultation on the application of draft Bill in Wales was inadequate and that it required further consideration. We therefore raised the matter with Ministers when they gave oral evidence. The reply that Jim Knight gave reinforced these concerns. He stated:

you could take more time in coming up with a firm draft where you have ironed everything out with Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, or you can publish the draft Bill and have this sort of scrutiny, while we carry on our discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government, and then once it comes into something that is then introduced into Parliament […] we will at that point have to be clear with our friends in the Welsh Assembly Government which bits they want and which they do not.[21]

We have grave concerns that the Departments have treated consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales as an afterthought. The consultation on the operation of apprenticeships in Wales and on the application of the draft legislation to Wales has clearly been inadequate and we recommend that the Government rectify this deficiency before the provisions in the draft Bill are finalised.

1   Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Department for Children, Schools and Families, World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All. The Government's strategy for the future of Apprenticeships in England, January 2008 (hereafter "World-class Apprenticeships") Back

2   In documents such as World-class Apprenticeships the Government has used initial capitals for "Apprenticeships" and "Advanced Apprenticeships". This Report does not follow this approach, except when quoting or drawing directly on material produced by the Government. Back

3   Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, World Class Skills: Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England, Cm 7181, July 2007 Back

4   HM Treasury, Leitch review of skills: Prosperity for all in the global economy-world class skills, Final report, 2006 (hereafter the "Leitch review of skills") Back

5   Department for Children, Schools and Families and Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, Draft Apprenticeships Bill, Cm 7452, July 2008, (hereafter the "draft Bill"), p 1 Back

6   World-class Apprenticeships, p 5 Back

7   World-class Apprenticeships, para 1.7 Back

8   Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, Preparing Britain for the future: The Government's Draft Legislative Programme 2008/09, Cm 7372, May 2008, p 15 Back

9   "Scrutiny of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill", Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Press Notice No.69 (07-08), 21 July 2008,  Back

10   Excluding those from DIUS and DCSF and select committees of the House Back

11   COI, "A report relating to responses to the public consultation on the Draft Apprenticeships Bill", 17 October 2008,  Back

12   Trades Union Congress Back

13   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, p 2 Back

14   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, Explanatory Notes, pp 23-29 Back

15   DCSF and DIUS, Impact Assessment of Apprenticeships Review Policies, including the creation of the National Apprenticeships Service, 14 July 2008, (hereafter the "Impact Assessment") Back

16   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, Explanatory Notes, para 3 Back

17   Ev 64; subsequently the Government supplied responses to the Welsh Affairs Committee's questions, which are at Error! Reference source not found. to Error! Reference source not found. of the Appendix to this Report. Back

18   Ev 74 Back

19   See Appendix 1, Error! Reference source not found.. Back

20   Ev 75, para 8 Back

21   Q 127 Back

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Prepared 5 December 2008