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In the light of concerns expressed here and in another place that the power might appear to damage the independence of Ofqual, and the perception of that independence, we have proposed amendments to introduce extra safeguards for its use. Clause 138, which hon. Members will recall with affection, is therefore replaced with four new clauses. It remains the case that minimum requirements can relate only to the minimum
11 Nov 2009 : Column 315
knowledge, skills or understanding required to pass the qualification, but these amendments introduce two further requirements.

First, amendment 122 states that minimum requirements must relate to a qualification that will be or will probably be used by young people studying in publicly funded institutions. Secondly, it would have to be necessary to specify minimum requirements to ensure that the curriculum is appropriate for those of an age likely to be taking the qualification. The House will therefore recognise that that narrows the types of qualifications that are potentially in scope. There is now only one reason why the Secretary of State could intervene: if there is a gap in the curriculum that Ofqual needs to fill through its qualifications criteria.

In addition, we have two new process hurdles to jump before specifying minimum requirements. Amendment 123 inserts a new clause that states that the Secretary of State will have to consult, including consulting Ofqual, and to publish a document explaining his thinking. Amendments 159, 162 and 164 insert clauses on the minimum requirements, which must be set out in an order subject to an affirmative resolution in both Houses.

Finally, we have created one further and absolutely fundamental safeguard. Amendment 124 inserts a new clause to the effect that Ofqual would not be bound to implement the minimum requirements if doing so would mean that the level of attainment indicated by the qualification would not be consistent with that of comparable qualifications. In effect, that provides a standards veto for Ofqual.

That leads me to the Opposition's disagreeing with amendment 124 and their amendment (a) thereto. Amendment (a) would water down the standards veto by allowing Ministers to alter the standards of qualifications through specifying minimum requirements. The Government disagree strongly with that proposal for three reasons. First, it would undermine the fundamental principle, on which I believe there was strong consensus, that Ofqual should be directly accountable to Parliament for maintaining qualifications standards. If Ministers could meddle in such a way, Ofqual's independence-and certainly its credibility-would be shot.

Secondly, the Opposition's proposal implies that changing the qualifications standard from year to year is somehow acceptable. It is not. That could mean that last year's students would have an easier ride than this year's. It could mean that employers or universities comparing students with qualifications from different years, or qualifications in different subjects, would not know who was the strongest. Qualifications rely on understanding and transparency and that change would bring confusion and therefore unfairness to students.

Let me use an analogy from the world of athletics. We all want to be Usain Bolt-from listening to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), one would think that he wants to be Ozzy Osbourne, Jackson Pollock or perhaps John Cleese, but let us talk about athletics-and let us suppose that we were measuring performance over 100 metres. Ministers could decide that they wanted to encourage students to run faster, and could put in place policy initiatives to help that objective happen-things such as better facilities, more nutritious food or improved equipment. Alternatively, Ministers could decide that they wanted to measure
11 Nov 2009 : Column 316
performance over 200 metres instead, but should they be able to force the regulator to redefine a metre as 105 centimetres? I do not think so, but that is what the Opposition's proposal seeks to allow.

Thirdly, the change is unnecessary. If a particular qualification had fallen out of line with other qualifications-as we saw with GCSE science earlier this year-it would be a regulatory responsibility to bring it back into line, which is what Ofqual is now doing with science. Ministers would not need to intervene. If Ministers decided they wanted different minimum content in a qualification, they could require that. The provision on minimum requirements establishes clearly in the Bill that it is Ministers who determine that aspect of content, and once Ministers have determined minimum content, it is for Ofqual to make sure that the qualification is assessed or graded in a way that maintains the standard.

Technology or the needs of society and the economy might change the curriculum, and the qualifications that assess that curriculum would need to change in a way that could impact on the standard. It would need to be down to Ofqual, as the guardian of the standard, to make sure that change could be made fairly and transparently, while respecting the interests of learners. It should not be something that Ministers could force through. The proposal would undercut the principles of Ofqual's independence. With the greatest of respect to those on the Opposition Front Bench, the proposal is poorly thought through and I urge the House to reject it.

We agreed in Committee that we would ask Ofqual to review the allocation of values to qualifications for the purposes of measuring performance in achievement and attainment tables. Following debate in another place, we concluded that we should go further and introduced amendment 128, which places a duty on Ofqual to review any system for allocating values to qualifications for such purposes.

Let me turn to Ofqual's reporting requirements. We have also made clear through amendments some specific aspects of the activities that Ofqual must include in its annual report. Amendment 130 modifies clause 164 to ensure that Ofqual must provide an assessment of the extent to which it has met its objectives. Secondly, it must provide details of information it has obtained on levels of attainment in school qualifications. Ofqual will also have to explain how it has taken this information into account when assessing how far it has met its qualification standards objectives.

Finally, we tabled four amendments in Committee to address a technical drafting problem with the paragraphs in schedule 12, amending the supplementary provisions that specify the arrangements for statutory assessments.

In summary, the amendments improve further the provisions establishing Ofqual in terms of its governance, its independence from the Secretary of State and its reporting to this House and to the other place. I urge the House to agree to Lords amendment 118 and to dismiss the Opposition's amendment if it is pressed to a vote.

Mr. Gibb: I want to test the House's opinion on amendment (a).


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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I must dispose of the other amendments first.

Lords amendment 118 agreed to.

Lords amendments 119 to 123 agreed to , with Commons privileges waived in respect of Lords amendment 119.

Before Clause 138

A mendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 124 .-(Mr. Gibb.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.


The House divided: Ayes 131, Noes 272.
Division No. 247]
[7.39 pm



AYES


Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browning, Angela
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Donaldson, rh Mr. Jeffrey M.
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gray, Mr. James
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Howell, John
Hughes, Simon
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Key, Robert
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lamb, Norman
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Main, Anne
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Ottaway, Richard
Penrose, John
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Rosindell, Andrew
Russell, Bob
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary

Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Tellers for the Ayes:

Bill Wiggin and
Helen Jones
NOES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Bradshaw, rh Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Bryant, Chris
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clelland, Mr. David
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
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
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Doran, Mr. Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, rh Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark

Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
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
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, rh Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond

Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Helen Jones and
Mr. Dave Watts
Question accordingly negatived.
11 Nov 2009 : Column 318

11 Nov 2009 : Column 319

11 Nov 2009 : Column 320
7.53 pm

More than three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No.83F).

Lords amendments 124 to 201 agreed to , with Commons privileges waived in respect of Lords amendment 177 .

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could assist me. I am sure that the House is fully aware of the absolute chaos on First Capital Connect train services, which are deteriorating enormously. It was a great shock when I was told this evening that, as of this evening, the timetable will reduce to a 50 per cent. permanent timetable, as there are not enough staff to man the trains. Will the Secretary of State for Transport come to the House and address it on that crucial commuter service?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady understands that that is not strictly a point of order for the occupant of the Chair, who cannot determine at the drop of a hat whether a Minister proposes to make any announcement to the House. It may still be open to the hon. Lady to make a request to Mr. Speaker to find out whether there is some way that the matter may be raised during tomorrow's proceedings.

Petitions

Equitable Life (West Chelmsford)

7.54 pm

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): I wish to present a petition to the House on behalf of Mr. Dudley St. John Holmes and a number of other constituents of mine. It relates to the residents of the constituency of West Chelmsford in the Essex region of the United Kingdom regarding the Government's response to the parliamentary ombudsman's reports on Equitable Life.

The petition states:

[P000413]

Equitable Life (Tiverton and Honiton)

7.56 pm

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I wish to present a petition to the House from Mr. Ron Holden and residents of the constituency of Tiverton and Honiton in Devon.

The petition states:


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