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6 July 2009 : Column 749

My hon. Friend also highlighted one of the great tragedies of the present Administration: the funding crisis in FE colleges. As he pointed out and as I was going to point out myself, only 13 colleges have been given the funding that they requested—13 out of a huge number which in good faith made claims out of determination to improve their facilities so that young people, and not-so-young people, could be trained and retrained. The Government’s response is shocking.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) made a short but very effective and powerful contribution, and I am sure that we will all want to pass on our congratulations to her daughter on the success that she heard about today. My hon. Friend spoke with real concern about students who drop out of courses and about the depression that students on inappropriate or ill-advised courses or those worried about finance—a matter of real concern for young people today—might experience. She also highlighted, as did the hon. Member for Bristol, West, that another result of the recession is fewer job opportunities for those coming out of college or university this year. That, too, is a matter of great concern.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings, despite the Minister’s attempt to gloss over it, the number of adult and community learning places has been cut dramatically in the past four years by 1.4 million—at the very time the country was heading towards recession. The Government have cut those places with the result that young people are not getting opportunities to train or to learn new skills.

We heard, too, that FE enrolments have plummeted, despite increases in the budget of the Learning and Skills Council. The LSC has effectively delivered less for more money. It is no wonder that the Government want to get rid of it and replace it with three quangos.

The time left for debate is very short, but I would like to deal with the crisis in higher education, particularly for those who want to go to university. The Minister said that everyone will get a place and that there will be no problem— [Interruption.] Yes, he did. He said that there would be no problems for anyone getting the qualifications. He glossed over the problem, as he does so well and so regularly. Well, I thought that it was lamentable Lammy[Hon. Members : “Oh!”]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member may wish to withdraw that remark.

Mr. Evennett: Of course I do, Madam Deputy Speaker, but when one is being barracked from a sedentary position— [Interruption.] Well, Conservative Members believe in reasoned debate.

The Government must start a new approach to ensure that young people have a better future. As our motion highlights, we have put forward proposals to try to alleviate the recession and its effect on young people. We look to the Government to take some of our suggestions on board. Today we have discussed, for instance, funds for adult and community learners, the Government’s “equivalent or lower qualifications” cuts, and the reduced opportunities for those who return to work and
6 July 2009 : Column 750
for older people. The aim of our fund is to encourage further education enrolment and help people to acquire new skills.

The young people of our nation face a bleak situation because of the recession. We need a Government with vision, ideas, and proposals to alleviate the current crisis and build for the future. Our motion is a positive start. The Government are decaying, out of touch and incompetent. It is time for them to go, and for us to have a new Government who can do something for our young people.

6.50 pm

The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): This has been an important debate, to which there have been excellent contributions from Members on both sides of the House. I greatly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), who, as ever, was passionate in putting his side of the argument. In emphasising the importance of now, he did not explain how cutting £5 billion now from Government spending and not matching the September guarantee now would help our young people through the recession, but no doubt he believed what he said.

I commend the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) for his speech. He pointed out—interestingly, I thought—that there were fewer unemployed people in his constituency now, at the height of the recession, than there had been in 1997. Notwithstanding the seriousness of the economic downturn and the issues that we have debated this evening, that is testament to the Government’s efforts to create jobs.

Stephen Williams: Will the Minister give way?

Kevin Brennan: Time is very short. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am usually delighted to spar with him. It is, I think, testament to the strength of job creation over the past 10 years that even now, when a recession is upon us, the employment rate is higher in his constituency than it was back in 1997.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) called on us to have some hope, and I think that she was right to speak of hope for young people. One of the things that has emerged from the Government’s 50 per cent. target is that more than 50 per cent. of young people from all socio-economic backgrounds now say that they want to go to university. There has been a big change in recent years, and it contrasts with some of the archaic attitudes taken by some, although not all, Opposition Members. In January 2006, when the present Mayor of London was shadow Minister for higher education, he said:

That typifies the attitude that is sometimes displayed by the Conservative party.

The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies)—whom I like immensely; we are colleagues from Wales—made what I would describe as a proper Tory contribution to the debate. He told us what he thought university and education should be all about, but rather down-played the importance of the creative sector of the economy. That is not the only part of the economy, of course, but
6 July 2009 : Column 751
the hon. Gentleman’s speech showed that creativeness and entertainment are an important part of our national life, even if his comedy was sometimes inadvertent.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) made a serious point when he spoke of the need for local authorities to take more responsibility for 16 to 18-year-olds. That is exactly what the Government are doing through some of their further education policies. I agree that we should try to cut red tape for small businesses when it comes to apprenticeships, but I do not think that cutting Train to Gain is a very good idea if businesses are to be helped to improve the skills and aptitude of their work force. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford mentioned that. I hope that he will ask his Front-Bench colleagues to revisit that policy, because I do not think it would be wise to take £1 billion from Train to Gain at this time.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Learning and Skills Council. I have acknowledged in the House the mistakes made by the LSC in the capital programme, but I can tell him that there is a capital programme. There has been record investment in recent years, the LSC has announced a further half a billion pounds of investment, and the Government have a forward programme of capital investment in further education, which his party has not guaranteed to match. I urge him to talk to his Front-Bench colleagues about that.

Christopher Fraser: Will the Minister give way?

Kevin Brennan: I have very little time, but I will.

Christopher Fraser: Will the Minister give me a guarantee that he will meet the consortium from Norfolk to discuss the issue at the earliest possible opportunity before the recess?

Kevin Brennan: I shall be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and a representative from his constituency, although as I have inherited a large backlog of meetings from my predecessor, it may not be possible before the recess.

I, too, offer my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) and to her daughter on her success in obtaining her degree. The hon. Lady expressed the view that a number of people should not be taking up university places, because of the drop-out rate. Her party’s motion calls for us to provide more university places this autumn although we have already achieved a record level, but I accept the sincerity and seriousness of her contribution. What she said about the American system of credits was important, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property is dealing with the issue.

A number of issues raised by both Front Benchers and Back Benchers deserve further discussion, not least that of apprenticeships. Despite the impression given by the Opposition Front-Bench team, the Government have rescued apprenticeships from oblivion. In 1997, the number of apprenticeships was dwindling to next to nothing and only 23 per cent. of that small number were completed, but we have trebled the figure. In January the Prime Minister announced a further £140 million package providing 35,000 additional places this year, which will allow us to deliver more than 250,000 apprenticeship
6 July 2009 : Column 752
starts. As I said, in 1997 the equivalent number of apprenticeships was 75,000, with fewer than a quarter being completed. I do not think that we are about to take a lesson on that from the Opposition. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) mentioned level 3. In fact, the level 3 proportion of starts for 16 to 18-year-olds is rising, and the overall number has risen this year as a proportion of the number of apprenticeships being taken.

The subject of NEETs was also raised. We should bear in mind that people are not always in that position through no choice of their own. Some young people on gap years tend to be included in the count, as do young carers, people with disabilities, and people who volunteer. The fact is, however, that almost 80 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds were in education or training at the end of 2008, the highest ever rate. Six million are now working or in full-time education—the figure was 5.2 million in 1997—and the proportion of 16-year-olds not in education, employment or training is 5.2 per cent., the lowest rate for more than a decade. Obviously, because of the recession, the picture is serious. However, it is not entirely negative. As a result of the Government’s commitment with the September offer and their commitment to apprenticeships, the number of 16 to17-year-old NEETs will fall, and more people will stay in education.

Time is short. Let me end by saying that there was a time when it was said that unemployment was a price worth paying, and that there was no such thing as society. That is no longer the case. This Government are committed to helping young people and helping people through the recession, and we will continue to do that.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided: Ayes 190, Noes 287.
Division No. 181]
[6.59 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick

Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howell, John
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
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
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rogerson, Dan
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Sir Peter
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. John Baron and
Mr. Philip Dunne


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
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
Cohen, Harry
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
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
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, rh Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Michael, rh Alun
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, rh Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew

Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spink, Bob
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Vaz, rh Keith
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Waltho, Lynda
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
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
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Dave Watts and
Kerry McCarthy
Question accordingly negatived.
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