Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill


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Clause 23

Modification of specification of apprenticeship standards for England
Amendment made: 173, in clause 23, page 11, line 9, leave out ‘meets the requirements of’ and insert ‘complies with’.—(Mr. Simon.)
The amendment amends the drafting of clause 23 to achieve consistency with clause 22(2).
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: Clause 23 allows the Secretary of State to direct the chief executive of Skills Funding to modify:
“the specification of apprenticeship standards for England...providing that the specification...as so modified, meets the requirements of section 25.”
We will be debating that issue in a few moments. It would be useful, for the record, if the Minister could give some indication of the circumstances in which the Secretary of State would give such a direction. We have emphasised in our considerations so far that ministerial involvement in such matters is best when it is minimal, because the apprenticeship frameworks and standards and the responsiveness of apprenticeships will be best defined by teachers, employers and the agencies charged with that mission. In what circumstances and why, when and how might such a direction be given?
1.15 pm
Mr. Simon: The clause does not authorise or enable the Secretary of State to vary any of the conditions. Rather, it enables the Secretary of State to direct the chief executive of Skills Funding to modify the specification of apprenticeship standards for England and to make an order bringing the modified specification into effect, provided that the requirements in clause 25 are met. This clause is important in that it gives us the flexibility to change the specification of apprenticeship standards for England. Without such flexibility, we would be unable to make changes, to respond to employers’ needs, which might change over time, or to adjust the bar in the specification so as to better reflect the rising quality of the programme that we expect to deliver. We intend to consult on the content of any modifications, even though that is not a requirement for a statute.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 23, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24

Replacement or modification of specification of apprenticeship standards: recognised English frameworks
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: I have no desire to delay the Committee unduly, but these matters are important and it is useful to give the Minister the opportunity to put some of the detail on record.
Clause 24 makes it clear that if a specification of apprenticeship standards for England is brought into effect under clause 22, or an existing specification is modified under clause 23, frameworks that have been issued under clause 12 may not meet the requirements of the new or modified specification. Subsection (1) provides that a recognised English framework that fails to comply with a new or modified specification will not automatically cease to be recognised, and subsection (2) states that orders under clause 22, subject to the negative resolution procedure, may provide for such a framework to cease to have effect as a recognised English framework. My question is simple, and I know that the Minister will have the answer to hand. What is the timetable for that process? Clearly, if there has to be further parliamentary authority under the negative resolution procedure, there will be a time during which the framework still exists before it ceases. What is that time frame, and what issues need to be considered regarding frameworks that fall between the cracks and into that gap?
Mr. Simon: I will just talk through the provisions in this clause. In developing the statutory framework for our apprenticeships programme we have sought to ensure continuity of provision, even during transitions. We recognise that over time the specification of apprenticeship standards for England might need to change and the clause provides that when such change occurs a recognised English framework will not automatically cease to be recognised because it fails to comply with the new or modified specification. However, the clause includes provision for such a framework to cease to have effect as a recognised English framework. Those two provisions are essential to the smooth working of the specification of apprenticeship standards for England and of apprenticeship frameworks. Without them, a change to the SASE could invalidate many existing frameworks, without there being arrangements to replace them.
Equally, there must be the sanction of a framework not being recognised when it has ceased to meet the minimum criteria in the SASE. We intend to ensure that employers and apprentices who start a framework do so in the confidence that it will not change before they complete it, and to ensure that sector skills councils are given sufficient time to make the changes that are necessary to make their frameworks fully compliant. The normal period for consultation will be three months plus 40 days in the House for the negative procedure.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 24 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25

Contents of specification of apprenticeship standards for England
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): On a point of order, Mrs. Humble. Does the clause stand part debate take place after the vote on the amendment?
The Chairman: Yes.
Amendment proposed: 47, in clause 25, page 11, line 33, at end insert—
‘(d) must specify that these requirements include some element of supervised training in the workplace.’.—(Mr. Hayes.)
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.
Division No. 6]
AYES
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Stephen
NOES
Blackman, Liz
Butler, Ms Dawn
Ennis, Jeff
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Knight, rh Jim
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Question accordingly negatived.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
My question raises a matter in order to allow the Minister to put his response on the record. How does this differ from the existing arrangements? I am not clear how these matters are dealt with in law at the moment. Does this mark a significant change from existing practice? Before I speak of excitement too much, I remind the Committee of what Chesterton said about dull men and excitement.
Mr. Simon: The fundamental difference between these provisions and the position in law at the moment is that the provisions are not in law at the moment. It is fair to say that the specification of apprenticeship standards for England will have much in common with the existing apprenticeship blueprint. Obviously the SASE, as we all know by now, is currently out for consultation and one would not want to pre-empt that. But it is reasonable to say that there will be much common ground between the two documents. The difference is that this specification is being put on a statutory basis for the first time in 200 years: the current blueprint does not have statutory force.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 25 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26

Specification of apprenticeship standards for Wales
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: I have a brief question on this. We spoke earlier about consultation with Welsh Ministers and others associated with the Principality. What representations has the Minister received from those offices? What character and form do they take?
Mr. Simon: As I said, I personally have received no representations from Welsh Ministers. The Department has received much representation on various different parts of the Bill, which have been adjusted to accommodate the needs of the Welsh Assembly Government. No representations have been received on this clause. Ministers wrote to the Welsh Assembly Government and other devolved Administrations prior to the publication of the Bill and they made no attempt to amend the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27

Modification of specification of apprenticeship standards for Wales
Amendment made: 174, in clause 27, page 12, line 30, leave out ‘meets the requirements of’ and insert ‘complies with’.—(Mr. Simon.)
This amendment amends the drafting of clause 27 to achieve consistency with clause 26(5).
Clause 27, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 28 and 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 30

Meaning of “apprenticeship agreement”
Amendments made: 175, in clause 30, page 14, line 1, leave out ‘apprenticeship’.
176, in clause 30, page 14, line 5, leave out ‘relevant period preceding’ and insert
‘period of three years ending with’.
This technical drafting amendment reflects the fact that clause 30(4) is making provision about circumstances in which an agreement will be treated as meeting one of the criteria for being an ‘apprenticeship agreement’.
177, in clause 30, page 14, line 11, leave out ‘another’ and insert ‘an’.
This amendment is consequent on amendment 175.
178, in clause 30, page 14, line 16, leave out subsection (5). —(Mr. Simon.)
This amendment is consequent on amendment 176.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: We have raced through the last few clauses, but it seems unreasonable to deny the Minister the opportunity to contribute further to our deliberations, given his outstanding performance when he agreed with me previously and again today. I shall not offer any plaudits—he said earlier that he was seeking plaudits—unless they are fully deserved.
1.30 pm
The clause applies to both England and Wales. The apprenticeship agreement will be a contract entered into between the employer and the apprentice. The Government expect it to set out both the on-the-job training and the learning away from the work stations that will be delivered. My first question is a reprise of a question that came up in an earlier Committee sitting and is about the quantification of those terms. Are we going to measure or stipulate the time spent on the job? We have debated that briefly, but I would like it to be clear. The logic of the clause and this part of the Bill seems to suggest that we should. The contract will make clear what role an apprentice will be qualified to hold on completion, and it will stipulate the supervision that an apprentice will receive throughout the period of apprenticeship.
Subsection (2) sets out the conditions that must be satisfied by an apprenticeship agreement. The agreement must be in a form that is to be prescribed by the Secretary of State. Subsection (3) gives the Secretary of State power
“to specify provisions that must”—
or must not—
“be included in an apprenticeship agreement”,
which is precisely why I am asking these questions. Subsection (4) enables the apprentice to enter into successive apprenticeship agreements relating to the same framework, even where that has ceased to be a recognised English framework.
Given that the clause stipulates those powers, it is important that we know how they will be realised and what they will lead to in terms of quality and quantity, and the contractual expectations of an apprentice and of those who provide training for an apprentice. I hope that the Minister will be able to elucidate, and by so doing, illuminate these matters.
 
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Prepared 13 March 2009