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Let me turn to the general points that Members have made. The hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) raised the question of colleges that have not received, but have applied for, approval in principle. There are currently 79 colleges that have received approval in principle and 65 that have applied for it and have not received it. The points they make about the great amount of work—and potentially of expenditure, as well as of investment of time and energy—that will have gone into reaching the stage of submitting the application, which is itself a huge, thick pile of documents, are very well understood. We have been very clear in our discussions with the new
5 May 2009 : Column 95
leadership of the LSC that the colleges in that position will be treated broadly in a single pool with the colleges that have already received approval in principle. All of them will be deemed to have a difficulty which the LSC, under its new leadership, needs to help them to deal with.

Several Members—the hon. Members for Bristol, West and for Isle of Wight come to mind—mentioned the £300 million of new cash that was announced in this financial year to enable us to put through some of the most urgent and high-priority cases. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight said that it glossed over the entire issue—I believe that the rich phrase he used was that it was a “sticking plaster on a disembowelment”—whereas the hon. Member for Bristol, West said that it was a political scorched-earth policy. Naturally, I cannot accept any of those colourful descriptions. None the less I am clear about the fact that £300 million will not solve this problem, whose magnitude is much greater. I am not attempting to gloss over the entire issue, and I do not pretend to have solved the problem or put the matter to bed with £300 million. What the £300 million will enable us to do is to put forward, this year, in decisions that will be made in a few weeks’ time—in the early summer—the most urgent and high-priority cases across the country. That will still leave many colleges needing certainty and clarity about their future.

Mr. Hayes: Interestingly, the Minister, at last, gives us some detail about this matter, for which I am grateful. We should have been given more detail sooner, but I understand the reasons why he has not been in a position to do that; as he says, this is not at his pay grade level. Will he tell us whether those high-priority cases will be drawn from colleges that have already received agreement in principle and colleges that are at an earlier stage of development? If not, what criteria will be used?

Mr. Simon: As ever in this evening’s debate, the hon. Gentleman congratulates himself on having extracted from me something that has been clear and on the record for weeks, if not months, and that I have said dozens, if not hundreds, of times. As I just said, the colleges that have received approval in principle and those that have applied for it but not necessarily received it will all be viewed in the same group when consideration is given to both the urgent and high-priority funding and the later down the line funding. It is probable that colleges that have applied earlier and secured approval in principle are more likely to be further down the road, and I would be surprised if more of them were not more urgent and high-priority immediate cases when compared with those that have yet to receive approval in principle. However, it is clear, and has been for some time, that both those categories will be eligible to be considered for the urgent and high-priority immediate funding, and to go into the second pool of cases that will go through the same process of prioritisation.

As for how those priorities were drawn up, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows—I am loth to say this, because I know that he will intervene in any moment to rejoice at having dragged this out of me, although it has also been clear for some time—the LSC, in partnership with the Association of Colleges, set up a reference panel and, between them, they have agreed, or are in the
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process of finalising within the next week or two, a set of criteria and processes that are to be open and transparent, and that I hope the whole sector can buy into, by which the prioritisations will be decided. The first criteria will be readiness, urgency and whether the case is high priority. In the second round, the same criteria will apply, but without the criterion of readiness.

Hon. Members have also mentioned the amount of money already committed in preparing bids. That is a problem for colleges and it is an issue about which college principals and corporation leaders feel worried and exposed. I am sensitive to that, and we have made it clear to the LSC that it will need to be sensitive to the difficulties in which its mismanagement of this programme has put college leaderships. It has retained an independent firm of property consultants, who are currently consulting all the affected colleges with a view to reporting back to them what level of support they could individually expect; again, that will take place within the next few weeks.

7.45 pm

I could go on talking about these matters indefinitely, but I am conscious of the fact that other hon. Members wish to discuss this new clause and others, and that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has to follow me so this matter is by no means close to conclusion. I am sympathetic to the desires of hon. Members to have a wide-ranging debate about this matter and I have tried to address some of the main issues in the time available, but I do not think it is appropriate for me to go on talking indefinitely. I am sympathetic to the intentions of new clauses 1 and 11, but both of them are dealt with in the Bill or within existing practice and are, therefore, superfluous. On that basis, I know that the hon. Gentleman, with his customary sagacity and courtesy, will be inclined not to press the new clauses to a Division.

Mr. Hayes: The Minister has done his best to deal both with these new clauses and with the crisis that is not entirely of his making, given that he is a newcomer to his Department. He will understand why Conservative Members and, indeed, Members from across the House, are so exercised about this capital funding crisis. Joseph Conrad said that “reality beats fiction out of sight”, and nobody could have made this up, could they? This is stranger than fiction. The Minister first says that colleges might be allowed to go bankrupt and then says that they will not be able to do so.

Mr. Simon rose—

Mr. Hayes: I shall give way to the Minister, although I was in the middle of my exciting peroration.

Mr. Simon: I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s peroration, but I should say that I never said that colleges might be allowed to go bankrupt—not on the “Today” programme or anywhere else.

Mr. Hayes: What the hon. Gentleman said on the “Today” programme, on blogs and on Twitter is probably not worth dwelling on now because to do so would not be in his interests or those of the House. We certainly know that Sir Andrew Foster, who was asked by the
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Government to look into these matters because they were so concerned about where things had got to, concluded in his report on the crisis that it had been “predictable and probably avoidable”. We know that 79 of the colleges that have had their capital bids frozen had already received agreement in principle and were simply awaiting agreement in detail, and we know that the £300 million that the Government have committed will not do the job.

These new clauses are as clear as crystal. They would help a Government to ensure that the circumstances in which this Government find themselves would be most unlikely to occur—I shall not say impossible, because incompetence can reign regardless of law. However, law must at least be in place to mitigate the results of the sort of incompetence, miscommunication, failure to act and lack of accountability that lay at the heart of this crisis.

We propose in our amendments that the House receive reports, with properly collected information from across the country, that match the state of the college estate to the bids for capital funding. It is remarkable that the Minister says that that information is already collected. He says that the Government have all the knowledge that they need about the state of FE colleges and the level of resources they enjoy. My goodness, if they have all that information but do not match it to bids for capital funding, what sort of organisation is the Learning and Skills Council and what sort of Ministers have we had who have not held that body to account? After all, it is a Government agency and there must be some sort of line of report, even if the Minister was not himself in office at the time.

It is essential for the good of our colleges that we avoid similar crises in the future. It is essential for good governance that we have the right information, and it is certainly essential for the further education and training needs and skills that our people deserve that we have better Ministers. I wish to press new clause 1 to a Division because I want to test the House’s opinion on whether this sort of thing is excusable or whether it thinks, as I do, that it is unforgivable.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 273.
Division No. 110]
[7.50 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baldry, Tony
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browning, Angela
Burt, Lorely
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davis, rh David
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorries, Nadine
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Field, Mr. Mark

Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
Mates, rh Mr. Michael
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rennie, Willie
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rogerson, Dan
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Sir Robert
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Sir Peter
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

James Duddridge and
Jeremy Wright


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Helen
Griffiths, Nigel
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoey, Kate
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser

Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Love, Mr. Andrew
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purnell, rh James
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Salter, Martin
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, John
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Tellers for the Noes:

Ms Diana R. Johnson and
Ian Lucas
Question accordingly negatived.
5 May 2009 : Column 98

5 May 2009 : Column 99

5 May 2009 : Column 100

5 May 2009 : Column 101

New Clause 2

Comparative study of qualifications

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall commission a comparative study, to be conducted by a person or body he considers appropriate, of the standards of—

(a) GCSEs, and

(b) A levels,

with comparable qualifications in each of the jurisdictions of the European Union, to be completed within a period of 18 months of the coming into force of this Act.

(2) The Secretary of State shall publish the results of this study.’.— (Mr. Gibb.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Gibb: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 72, in clause 126, page 72, line 25, at end add—

‘(f) the education standards objective.’.

Amendment 61, page 72, line 26, after ‘to’, insert

‘ensure that the standard of regulated qualifications is maintained and to’.

Amendment 74, page 72, line 30 , at end insert—

‘(c) indicate a consistent level of ability, including over time, between comparable regulated qualifications.’.

Amendment 62, page 72, line 31, after ‘to’, insert

‘ensure that the standard of regulated assessment arrangements is maintained and to’.

Amendment 75, page 72, line 37, leave out ‘and regulated assessment arrangements’ and insert

‘, regulated assessment arrangements, the consistency of educational standards over time, and in the independence and credibility of Ofqual.’.

Government amendments 21 to 24.

Amendment 63, in clause 126, page 73, line 10, at end add—

‘(7) Within 18 months of its establishment Ofqual shall publish a report on whether standards of qualifications have been maintained over the previous 20 years and the report shall include consideration of—

(a) A-Levels, and

(b) GCSEs.’.

Amendment 71, page 73, line 10, at end add—

‘(7) In pursuit of the objectives in this section, Ofqual shall lay before Parliament by 1 January 2011 an assessment of the impact of introducing modular GCSEs on the maintenance of standards and public confidence in schools.

(8) In pursuit of the objectives in this section, Ofqual shall seek to ensure that over time an age cohort with similar abilities shall be awarded qualifications at a similar level of indicated attainment.’.

Amendment 73, page 73, line 10, at end add—

‘(7) The education standards objective is to monitor, assess and report on the changes in educational standards and performance in England over time, including by using standardised sample testing for such purposes as Ofqual judges this to be of value.’.

Amendment 87, in clause 127, page 74, line 7, at end insert

‘provided that, in the view of Ofqual, these aspects of government policy do not undermine the objectives set out in section 126.’.
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