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Session 2008 - 09
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General Committee Debates
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, Mrs. Joan Humble
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Hayes, Mr. John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Knight, Jim (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Miller, Mrs. Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Sharma, Mr. Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Simon, Mr. Siôn (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol, West) (LD)
Chris Shaw, James Davies, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 17 March 2009


[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
AS 16 Andrew Wright (Central Training Group) and others
AS 17 Jamie Stevenson (Keeping Excellence in Training Standards Ltd)
AS 18 Rosie Ross (Key Training)
AS 19 Association of National Specialist Colleges
AS 20 Lindsay Jardine (Kent Association of Training Organisations)
AS 21 Eric Collis (Humberside Engineering and Training Association)
10.30 am
Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 40

Education and training for persons over compulsory school age: general duty
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I beg to move amendment 250, in clause 40, page 23, leave out lines 21 to 26 and insert—
‘(1) A local education authority in England must secure the provision of proper facilities for education and training (as defined by subsection 2) suitable to the requirements of persons in their area—
(a) who are above compulsory school age and under 19, and
(b) who are aged over 19 or over but under 25 and subject to learning difficulty assessment.
(2) Facilities are proper if they are—
(a) of a quality sufficient to meet the reasonable needs of individuals, and
(b) of a quality adequate to meet those needs.’.
The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following: amendment 251, in clause 40, page 23, line 22, leave out ‘reasonable’.
Amendment 252, in clause 40, page 23, line 31, leave out ‘to meet persons’ reasonable needs’ and insert
‘to the requirements of persons in their area.’.
Amendment 253, in clause 40, page 23, line 31, leave out ‘reasonable’.
Annette Brooke: This group of amendments probe the apparent contradictions between the wording in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the Bill. Clauses 40 and 41 replace provisions in that Act—in particular, sections 2, 3 and 13—which will be repealed. Clauses 40 and 41 do not follow the same wording as those provisions in the Act and it is not easy to judge whether the differences are necessary, or appropriate, in view of the shift in the Education and Skills Act 2008 from the entitlement for 16 to 19-year-olds to participate in education, to a duty for them to participate in education and training.
I would like to expand on amendments 251 and 253, because they both require that the word “reasonable” be omitted. With the previous legislation, there were two qualities required for education and training: that they must be suitable and that they must be enough to meet the reasonable needs of persons in the area. From the proposed new section, 157A(3), it is not entirely clear how the criteria for suitability is to be judged; there are criteria, but there is no guide as to what meets “reasonable” needs—that is the point that I am making. In particular, it seems to be left up to local authorities to decide whether the needs claimed by persons in their area are reasonable. The clause uses the phrase
“reasonable needs of persons in their area”.
Does that refer to the reasonable needs of each person, or the reasonable needs of the collective of persons? It is a significant question. Judged by a reference to each individual, that might be entirely reasonable. However, it might be considered unreasonable to have to meet the similar needs of a large number of people all at the same time. That problem of interpretation does not appear to arise in the wording currently used in the Learning and Skills Act, which makes it clear that it is the reasonable needs of the individual that must be satisfied.
Removing the word “reasonable” from subsections 1 and 3 would not have the effect of obliging local education authorities to make absurdly over the top provision; the danger is clearly checked by subsections 4(e) and 5, which re-enact similar provisions of the Learning and Skills Act. The significance of the word “reasonable” in the Bill is very difficult to understand and could be dangerous when the Act comes to be interpreted. The amendments are probing amendments, but they reflect important concerns, particularly on whether we apply reasonable needs to individuals, or to the collective individuals in a particular community.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): It is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Chope. After a brief respite in our rigorous scrutiny of the Bill, we return to our work with renewed enthusiasm and consider the amendments that stand in the name of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends.
Amendment 250 is the key amendment in this group. As she argued, it seeks to amend subsection (1), which states that local education authorities must secure that enough education and training is provided to meet a person’s reasonable needs, by qualifying that requirement further and referring to proper facilities for suitable education and training, married to the requirements of the individual. That is further underlined by a proposed subsection (2), which stipulates that facilities are to be considered proper if they of a quality sufficient and adequate to meet those needs. Amendments 251 and 253 follow on from that and would leave out the word “reasonable” when referring to needs. Indeed, the hon. Lady has reinforced that in her brief contribution today.
Although I entirely endorse the sentiments that lie behind the amendments, I think that the difficulty with them is that though it is not easy to define what is reasonable, equally, it is not particularly easy to define what is proper, sufficient or adequate. The risk is that we would be laying down three concepts on which local authorities have to come to a conclusion, rather than one. I have said before in earlier considerations that “reasonable” is frequently used in legislation as a catch-all for “proper, sufficient and necessary.” Although I entirely understand their purpose, my concern is that the amendments might further complicate a Bill that is complicated enough already.
If the hon. Lady wants to intervene, it might be helpful if she could say a little more on what exactly is meant by “proper, sufficient and adequate” and perhaps cite other examples of where those terms have added greater clarity to legislation than the word “reasonable.” That might be a tall order, and I emphasise that I am not trying to be difficult, but I just wonder whether the hon. Lady might say something further on that.
Annette Brooke: The important point is that that is a cross reference to previous legislation that does express that differently. The whole point is to go back to the legislation of 2000, which, as I understand it, expresses that differently from the Bill. There are concerns that the Bill’s provisions could be inferior to how it has been expressed in the past. That might unwittingly be bringing a change we are not aware of, so we need to hear the Minister’s response.
Mr. Hayes: That was a most helpful intervention. The hon. Lady referred to that point in her earlier remarks but has now made it absolutely crystal clear. In that sense, it will be interesting to hear what the Minister will say. Far be it for me to lead him down a path he does not want to go down, or indeed to anticipate imperfectly his contribution, but he might say that such details could be enforced in guidance and that “reasonable” could be supported with a further definition of how provision is to match learner needs. He might offer us such an assurance, and that seems to be critical to the hon. Lady’s amendments. There is an argument that putting those words in the Bill would tie the hands of providers, but if they were in the guidance, that would ensure that what the hon. Lady fears, that the requirement set out in previous legislation will be diluted, are not realised.
I just wonder whether an amendment is the right way forward in regard to that concern, and whether the Minister has another way of ensuring that proper, sufficient and adequate provision is made, tied to the needs of the learner, because that is what we all desire. Perhaps he can come up with reassurances, or perhaps he will disappoint us. I hope that he does not. This is the beginning of a new week in our considerations, and I do not want him to be disappointing, but to exceed our expectations.
The duty has been carefully crafted to reflect the new duty on young people to participate, for which we legislated last year. All young people will be required to participate in some form of education and training up to age 17 by 2013 and to age 18 by 2015. The Bill places local authorities in the lead for the outcomes of all young people aged 0 to 19 and those more vulnerable adults up to the age of 25. With those responsibilities, local authorities will, for the first time, be able to take a multi-agency and integrated approach to providing targeted support for the educational and wider needs of those for whom they are responsible.
At first glance, amendment 250 seems to be not much more than a stylistic change to include a reference to facilities. As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole has explained, the amendment uses the language used to express the core duties, as set out in legislation in 2000, of the Learning and Skills Council. I understand the concerns that lie behind the amendment, namely that the clause somehow imposes a lesser duty upon local authorities than that currently imposed upon the LSC, but I emphatically reassure the Committee that that is not the case. The new duty will be every bit as tough as the duty on the LSC; it is juts a different expression of that duty and one that is better focused on the needs of learners. The new duty also has the advantage of fitting better with other local authority duties under the 1996 Act into which section 15ZA has been inserted.
Local authorities will have a duty to secure enough suitable education—as opposed to facilities—and the clause applies a series of tests to ensure that that provision is of the right quality and meets the aptitudes and abilities of young people in their area. Provision of facilities implies that they would meet all learner demands locally, rather than securing provision for learners, wherever it is appropriate, which is, in effect, the core difference. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 refers to a national organisation and its requirement to secure facilities nationally for all learners; the provisions under discussion apply to the need for local authorities to secure the needs of learners, rather than securing facilities in their local area. I hope that that clarifies the issue.
We have already heard that amendments 251 to 253 would make the duty in section 15ZA an absolute duty requiring local authorities to meet the individual needs, whatever they might be, of every learner within their authority area when securing learning opportunities. I accept that these are probing amendments, and are therefore not an attempt—not at this stage, anyway—to amend the legislation so that, for example, if a learner in Northumberland wants to study a course in Cornish literature, or another in Derby wants to pursue a course in maritime engineering, a local authority would have to provide for them in its local area. I am sure that the Committee agrees that that is not a reasonable request, but an equivalent request for either course in Cornwall, where there may be greater demand and a greater chance that at least one institution could provide such courses, would be more reasonable. Amendments 251 to 253, however, would remove any flexibility for local authorities to make a judgement as to what is reasonable.
Clause 40 contains a reasonable—I should probably use the word genuine instead—attempt to offer some guidance on how subsection (1) should be interpreted. Subsection (3) notes:
“In deciding for the purposes of subsection (1) whether education or training is suitable to meet persons’ reasonable needs, a local education authority must (in particular) have regard to”
four things. Subsection (4) then states:
“In performing the duty imposed by subsection (1) a local education authority must”
comply with five further things, such as acting in accordance with diversity, which effectively offer the legislation’s definition of reasonableness. As we have heard from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, reasonableness is a familiar concept to us in legislation and as a term that is ultimately interpreted in court.
10.45 am
On the fundamental question that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole raised about whether reasonableness applies to the individual or the collective, there is a duty to look at the needs of all young people in the area. The needs of every individual in the area need to be addressed by the local authority. That is fundamental to making a success of raising the participation age, which we legislated on in the 2008 Act.
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