[back to previous text]

Stephen Williams: I thank the Minister for his clarification. Clause 111 refers to adult apprenticeships. Will this provision that disabled people, whatever their disability, can access an apprenticeship also apply to young apprentices?
Mr. Simon: The clause in question will clearly apply to adults. I am answering for adults and we are dealing with the adult part of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners, if pressed or perhaps even spontaneously, may deal with children later on when we come to these points.
Annette Brooke: I am sorry to keep referring to the explanatory notes, but they appear to define clause 111 as assistance for adults with a learning difficulty. My amendment was suggested by the RNIB. We might have someone with a physical disability and no learning disability. I do not think that clause 111 answers my points.
Mr. Simon: In that case, I can only restate what I said to the hon. Lady earlier. Learners with disabilities will be covered under the existing Act. They will be covered in the future Act and they will be covered by the consultation that reports in May and to which disability groups have been specifically asked to contribute. In response to the hon. Gentleman, I am told that clauses 40 and 80 will cover 16 to 18-year-olds. I now realise, in response to the hon. Lady, that the definition of a learning disability in clause 111(3)(b) includes a physical disability.
Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for his reply. I appreciate that there was a bit of thinking while standing. This Bill offers us a real opportunity. We have just been through a very tough process, for example, with Remploy shrinking its factories when it had been moving towards expanding them. It is people who might have gone into sheltered accommodation whom we are particularly looking to support. Not only should the minimum be there, but there should be genuine opportunities. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment 20, in clause 10, page 6, line 4, at end insert—
‘(c) involve an agreement with an employer to train a person, using the practices, equipment and personnel of his or her enterprise in doing so,
(d) involve a mixture of on and off-the-job learning, and
(e) lead to a generally recognised level of proficiency in a trade, profession or occupation.’.
As I mentioned earlier, the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee criticised the draft Bill for not defining an apprenticeship, despite calling for the
“ambitious expansion and strengthening of the Apprenticeship Programme”.
The Government have yet to provide such a definition.
6.30 pm
I raised the matter with Ministers during the witness session this morning, because there is a line to be trod between being clear about what constitutes an apprenticeship and the impossible business of trying to specify all available apprenticeships in detail. One would not do the latter in guidance, still less in the Bill. However, the Bill could contain a core definition of an apprenticeship. Indeed, amendment 20 would go some way to providing such a definition. It is not an unreasonable definition, but if the Government believe that they can do better, they can refine it. Accordingly, I would be happy to hear from the Minister.
The Minister may say that it is the Government’s intention to tighten the Bill in that regard; following my searching questions this morning, Ministers may have put their heads together and agreed to introduce a Government amendment to define apprenticeship more clearly. However, in the absence of such an assurance, it is vital that we proceed with amendment 20.
The Select Committee provided a possible definition, drawn from the Cassels report on reforming modern apprenticeships, published in 2001. That is the inspiration for the amendment. Such definition would exclude programme-led apprenticeships and some level 2 apprenticeships—ones in which the employer has no involvement in training. The Committee argued that
“so-called programme-led apprenticeships could provide a useful preparation for an employer-led apprenticeship but they are not apprenticeships within the meaning of the proposals in the draft Bill”.
That is certainly in line with what employers expect and want. They want apprenticeships that deliver real competencies. To that end, they want apprenticeships that are carefully and clearly defined.
One reason for my scepticism—I would never call it cynicism, for I am not cynical in any element—is that we have heard much about the Government’s apprenticeship ambitions. In 2003, when he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister said that there would be 320,000 apprenticeships by 2006. In fact, there were about 239,000. In 2007, he said that he would double the number to 500,000, but the number fell by something like 13,000 in 2008.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness said earlier that the expansive targets that have peppered Government announcements on the subject have undermined faith in their determination to increase apprenticeship numbers. But more significantly, to do so with a product that is worthy of the name, apprenticeships should be in line with those in other countries, which are all at level 3, as that would be more in line with public expectations, too.
As I have argued, most people believe that an apprenticeship would be a serious qualification it if was pitched at level 3, if it was employer-based and mentored and if it was in line with learner demands that were truly seductive and that attracted more young people into a golden vocational route—a pathway of quality, leading to the opportunity of employment.
The Government should have defined apprenticeships more clearly in the Bill if they were serious about reinvigorating apprenticeships as a core element in the mission to skill the nation more effectively.
Mr. Stuart: In light of the data in this area, some of which my hon. Friend has shared with us, did he share my surprise when the Minister said categorically in this morning’s sitting that the Government had not missed any of their headline targets for the provision of apprenticeships? If we are to make progress with the Bill, we must do so on the basis of the facts—not the facts as we wish them to be, but as they are. Does my hon. Friend share my hope that the Minister will set the record straight when he responds to the amendment?
Mr. Hayes: There are targets, damned targets and the Prime Minister’s hyperbole. When he was Chancellor, his hyperbole led us to believe that there was an intention to create 500,000 apprenticeships. I know that it will shock you, Mrs. Humble, as much as it shocked me and that it will distress Committee members to hear that there is a realistic prospect of France achieving 500,000 apprenticeships. France—a country with no history of apprenticeships equivalent to ours—has leapfrogged us in this area. It is a nation with which we compete and with which we aim to compete still more effectively.
Stephen Williams: As the hon. Gentleman is so knowledgeable about the matter, will he tell us whether France has a statutory definition of an apprentice?
Mr. Hayes: All our principal competitors not only have statutory definitions of apprenticeships, but pitch them at level 3. An apprenticeship in France or Germany is what we call an advanced apprenticeship. As I mentioned earlier, all apprenticeships were level 3 before this Government came to power. That is why they are so fond of saying that there was a big leap in apprenticeship numbers after 1997. As the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee pointed out, that was due largely to the rebadging of much training that was already taking place as apprenticeships and the creation of level 2 apprenticeships accordingly.
We began debating apprenticeship numbers this morning. That debate is contentious because, historically, apprenticeship numbers have been measured using average numbers. The problem with that from the Government’s perspective is that it does not necessarily reflect increasing completion rates. Ministers have fairly argued that there has been some progress on completion—I freely acknowledge that—but starts matter too, because they reflect how attractive the product is to young people and to adult apprentices. I am concerned that the record for starts is not as rosy, partly because people do not perceive apprenticeships as having the value that they should have.
I am not saying that there are no great programmes, that great apprenticeships are not taking place in SMEs and major employers or that I do not celebrate people who achieve apprenticeships. I celebrate the young people and less young people who through an apprenticeship gain extra employability and get good jobs. However, problems remain. The main problem is the clarity of definition, the rigour and the Government’s willingness to be firm about what constitutes an apprenticeship. That is why we tabled the amendment.
The amendment is in line with the 2001 Cassels report and reflects the findings of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. It builds on the work of Select Committees that have looked into these matters and is inspired by the weight of academic evidence from people such as Lorna Unwin and Alison Fuller, whose work is broadly in line with my analysis. If we are going to get this right, let us be clear about it in the Bill. I can see the Minister becoming increasingly persuaded by my argument. As he looks at me across the room, I can see that my seductive oratory has begun—
Mr. Simon: I intervene because the ironic satire with which the hon. Gentleman speaks might not be apparent in the written record.
Mr. Hayes: I misinterpreted the Minister’s tiredness as my persuasiveness. No, I can see that he is up for it, so I shall keep going. [Hon. Members: “No.”] I have him on the cusp, and if I can push him over it, he might accept the amendment. Let us have clarity and certainty, and let us send a ringing signal out from the Committee that employers would recognise as a genuine rejuvenation of the apprenticeship system, a statement in the Bill of what we expect an apprenticeship to be.
Stephen Williams: Hon. Members will be relieved that I do not propose to dwell for long on the amendment. We have a lot of ground to cover before 7 o’clock. None the less, I congratulate the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings on making a reasonable fist of getting a definition of the triangular relationship between the employee, the employer and the training undertaken to complete an apprenticeship. I do not know whether all the words in the amendment are his or whether he had some assistance in the drafting, but the only word I would quibble with is “profession”. I think that to be in a professional someone must complete a qualification verified by a professional institute, so we should be careful about the language that we use and about whether we refer to apprentices or professionally qualified people. But on balance, if he wishes to press the amendment to a vote, we, or rather I as the only Member of my party left in the room, could support it.
Mr. Simon: I thank the hon. Member for Bristol, West for his brevity. My friend, the hon. Gentleman who leads for the official Opposition on the Committee said that he has no bone of cynicism in his body. Knowing him as I do and have done for a while, I was then minded to rise in agreement and to say that he is one of the less cynical people whom I know. People who know him would say that he is far more a romantic than a cynic, and good for him. But he then disappointed by going on to the most cynical set of disingenuities.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the Prime Minister’s moving targets, for example. He repeated the inaccurate statement about missing the Prime Minister’s targets, and in the oral evidence session, he said that the Prime Minister, while Chancellor, led us to believe that there was a real intention to create more apprenticeships. We have lots of real targets about which we are scrupulous, all of which we have either hit or are well ahead of hitting. For instance, this morning in the oral evidence session, the hon. Gentleman said clearly—he does this kind of thing often—that apprenticeship starts were higher in 2003 than last year. That is simply not the case. In 2003, they were at their highest level for a decade. Off the top of my head, there were something like 203,000 or 204,000 starts in 2003, and there were 225,000 in 2007-08. The truth is that completions and starts have gone up and up.
6.45 pm
Mr. Stuart: Can the Minister tell us a little about the numbers at level 3 over the past decade or so?
Mr. Simon: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the numbers at level 3—no, I cannot tell him, actually. Yes, I can—
Mr. Stuart: Are they up or down?
Mr. Simon: Numbers at level 3 are clearly up, and they were up last year from the year before. Level 3 as a proportion is also slightly up, although it has remained broadly stable for a long time.
This is the key point. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that what employers want is level 3 apprenticeships. If that is what they really want, why are almost 200,000 employers choosing voluntarily to recruit and pay for level 2 apprentices? Some employers want level 2 apprentices and some want both level 2 and level 3 apprentices. It is employers who lead this market and who determine the kind of apprentice that is employed.
Does the hon. Member for Bristol, West want to intervene before I move on to the substance of the amendment and away from the knockabout?
Stephen Williams: I can assure the Minister that this is not knockabout; I simply believe that factual information should be placed on the record and he said that he did not have that information. The House of Commons Library very helpfully gives us some statistics. The number of advanced apprenticeships is lower than it was 10 years ago, at 72,900 starts in 2007-08 as opposed to 76,800 in 1999-2000. Given that level 2 apprenticeships have risen over that period, as seems to be generally acknowledged, that means that advanced apprenticeships have also fallen as a proportion of the total. I am just putting this on the record to be helpful, but in both cases I do not think that the Minister was entirely accurate.
Mr. Simon: I am not going to continue the knockabout any further. I stand by what I said previously and I am happy to do the knockabout another time. I am conscious that I have only seven or eight minutes to deal with the substance of the amendment.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings clearly wants a very short definition of an apprenticeship in the Bill and the hon. Member for Bristol, West seems to want the same thing. The reason that there is not a short definition is that employers do not want one, because it is potentially constraining and inflexible. If it should happen that the 13th word of the definition does not fit with their slightly unconventional situation, all of a sudden their apprenticeship will not be deemed an apprenticeship.
The fact is that, as I said this morning, parts 1 and 4, as far as I am concerned, provide a definition of an apprenticeship. That is what the Bill does; it defines an apprenticeship in great detail, at great length and makes it absolutely clear. It does not define an apprenticeship in 14 words. That is because if we defined it in 14 words, we would hamstring the users and the employers and rob them of flexibility. There is no need to provide a short definition.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 11 March 2009