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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, perhaps as regards the Nonsuch ward it would be better if I wrote to the noble Lord giving him further information. I understand that the code applies to all parties involved in ballots--
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the Minister give way because this is a very important point? An independent third party with no links whatever with a grammar school or even another school in an area may perhaps with a group of people feel particularly strongly about the continuance of grammar schools in an area. CASE, which operates quite legitimately but does not have a physical or formal link with schools in an area, will be moving around the country. What happens to free speech under the law? What prevents them from gathering together and taking a view about whether grammar schools should be part of the tapestry of education? What in law would they be guilty of if they came together in a village hall to discuss the Government's proposals? There is nothing in the Act as I understand it. If the Government are going to give answers in this fairly cavalier way, it would be helpful if the Minister could explain the matter. It is a most important point.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my understanding is that anyone may campaign in relation to a ballot which is held, but that LEAs and school governing bodies may not use public funds to do so. Everyone who wishes to give information to parents should take account of the ballot information code.
Lord Carter: My Lords, the Companion states that the interruption of speeches should be brief questions for clarification. We have already had two speeches and the noble Baroness in winding up took 24 minutes, as against the 20 minutes suggested in the Companion. If there are to be interruptions they should be brief questions for clarification in accordance with the Companion.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am entirely happy to live within that constraint. I have a brief question. Tomorrow I am going to Birmingham to talk to a group of people about the continuation of grammar schools there. Will I fall foul of the code? The noble Lord said that the code will apply to quite independent third parties. Would he like to explain what that means?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I really must rise. The noble Lord has impugned my integrity and my intentions. I am not asking questions in order to be able to go out and tell lies. And I am certainly not asking questions in order to underwrite anyone who wishes to go out and campaign in a way which would be illegal or illicit. I am asking whether any third party who believes strongly one way or another about the future of selective education in this country is bound by the code and, if so, in what way.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Minister will seek to abide by the recommendations in the Companion and to reply within the recommended time. I am sure that there will be questions he may wish to answer in writing. Further interruptions will make it more difficult for him to answer the questions that have already been asked.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a genuine question for clarification on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tope. Would the noble Lord, Lord Carter, accept that the rule which he quoted from the Companion perfectly correctly might allow for an exception to enable information to reach the Minister by what the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, once described as that "curious process of osmosis" by which information reaches Ministers in this House?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is what I said earlier. I am afraid that I did. Everyone who wishes to give information to parents should take account of the ballot and the information code. The significance for third parties of the code is that if it is breached the ballot can be voided if it significantly affects results.
Perhaps I may press on. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised the issue of whether there would be too much uncertainty about the future of grammar schools and she said that this would allow too much disruption for pupils and teachers currently at the school. The regulations make clear that petitions and
The Government believe that that will allow a period of stability for grammar schools which have had ballots. We recognise that grammar schools which have had no ballots may have concerns about the issue remaining open. However, it is important to balance their desire for certainty against giving parents the chance to express an opinion.
The issue of non-viability of grammar schools was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, if parents vote for change. There is no reason to assume that an end to selection must lead to large-scale organisation and school closures. There will still be the same number of children and the same number of places. It is a question of what needs to be done to adjust the different ability mixes. If wider changes are needed there will be time to develop and implement properly considered proposals as comprehensive intakes work their way up through the school. Of course, it is also important to recognise that the reorganisation of school provisions will have to be based on extensive consultation and co-operation between LEAs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about the costs flowing from the likely reorganisation of provision. The ballots impact only on the admission arrangements for the grammar schools concerned. They place no automatic requirement to consider reorganisation more widely. When the ballot is in favour of the removal of selection, LEAs and other admission authorities in the area will wish to consider the implications for their own arrangements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, quoted a senior government figure in the Financial Times on 6th November. The article in question got its facts slightly confused. The Secretary of State does have the power under Section 105 of the School Standards and Framework Act to declare a grammar school ballot void but he can do that only when a complaint has been made to him by one or more of the parties listed in that section. It is not the case, as the article may lead readers to believe, that all decisions are referred to the Secretary of State for final approval. In addition, any ballot which is declared void must be re-run.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about the definition of a parent who is not an individual. That has puzzled me too but I am advised that that would apply to children in care and to a local authority acting as the parent. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be glad that such bodies do not have a vote on behalf of those children in such elections.
I remind the House that the arrangements for grammar school ballots are specified in considerable detail in the School Standards and Framework Act, which, as I said before, were debated very thoroughly in this House and in another place. There are those who feel strongly that selective entry to grammar schools should end; others feel equally strongly that it should continue. Grammar school ballot arrangements are set
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I shall speak also to the Jobseeker's Allowance Amendment (New Deal) Regulations. Both relate to the help we will offer people aged 25 and over: one supports the pilots we wish to introduce later this month and the other will allow refugees to qualify earlier for the employment and training opportunities of the New Deal for those aged 25 and over which we introduced in June.
I shall deal first with the employment and training opportunities regulations. The amendments to the JSA regulations address a specific issue affecting refugees and those with exceptional leave to remain--a group who are in a unique position and for whom we want to do the right thing. The amendment regulations will ensure that people in that position do not miss out on opportunities available under New Deal for those aged 25 plus as a result of spending time on income support while their asylum application was determined. For refugees and those granted exceptional leave to remain in the country, periods on income support as an asylum seeker will be counted towards the two-year qualifying period for access to the New Deal 25 plus education and training opportunities.
I want now to focus on the pilot regulations. For over a year now the Government have been putting in place their welfare to work strategy. We are here today to debate regulations that will support another element of that strategy. At the end of this month we intend to introduce, in 28 parts of the mainland and across Northern Ireland, pilots which will help people aged 25 and over who have been unemployed for at least 12 or 18 months.
Those pilots build upon the New Deal which we introduced in June for people in this age group. We are running them to find new and effective ways in which to help people aged 25 and over back into work. Consequently, the pilots place a heavy emphasis on innovation and flexibility for the partnerships and organisations which are delivering them. We have also sought a diverse range of delivery arrangements: 10 of the 28 will be delivered by private sector organisations. The remainder will be delivered by the New Deal partnership set up to run our 18-24 programme. These range from partnerships led by the Employment Service, through joint ventures involving ES and other local organisations, to partnerships led by local authorities and TECs. We will be evaluating the impact of the
The pilots will include all those in the pilot areas who reach, or have at the point the pilot starts already passed, a certain threshold of unemployment. In nine pilots, those unemployed for 12 months or more will be included. In the other 21, those unemployed for 18 months or more will be targeted. We also want to measure the impact of offering help before the 12- or 18-month point to people who are at a special disadvantage in the labour market. In certain pilot areas, therefore, early entry will be possible for people in this position. The information we gather from these pilot areas about the demand for early entry will help us to make decisions about future provision.
The pilots will all follow a basic framework design which will encompass a gateway period, based on the lessons learned from the development of the 18-24 New Deal; a period of intensive activity to tackle barriers to work; and a follow-through period for those who have not found work by the end of the intensive activity. The pilots will begin with an initial gateway period, during which participants will attend a series of interviews with a personal adviser, who will give advice and help to identify the barriers a person may face to finding work.
Those who do not find work during the gateway will be required to attend an employment programme for 13 weeks, which will consist of individually-tailored help which could include work experience, job-specific training, and help into self-employment. During this time they will receive a grant of up to £200 paid over and above their JSA and other benefits. The pilots will emphasise the focus on the individual, and will provide help aimed at meeting individual needs. In return, people will be expected to participate actively in the help they are offered during this period. This Government believe it is important that people fulfil their responsibilities while claiming benefit, and that they are fully committed to and active in their jobsearch as a condition of them continuing to receive JSA. For those who do not find work during the period of intensive activity, or who do not stay in work for any length of time, there will be further help and advisory support.
A feature of those pilots is the focus on moving people back into work as early as possible. These are, after all, older jobseekers, most of whom will have experience behind them and some skills to offer. The aim should be to build on that experience and skill in order to return them to paid work as soon as possible. We also want to help people to stay in work, once they have found it. Too many people achieve the difficult task of getting a job after a prolonged period of unemployment, only to end up back on JSA again for lack of continuing support.
We are encouraging partnerships and private sector organisations to propose adaptations, within the general objectives of the pilots, to this basic model, to take account of local circumstances and individual need. We have asked them also to consider innovative ways of using the employer subsidy.
The regulations I am proposing today support the pilots in four ways. First, they identify those people whom the regulations will cover, in accordance with the piloting powers in the Jobseekers Act. Secondly, they prescribe the employment programme so that it falls under Section 19 of the Jobseekers Act. That means that if, without good cause, a person refuses a place on the programme, fails to attend it, gives up his place or loses his place through misconduct, he or she may lose JSA for two weeks for his first offence or four weeks on second and subsequent occasions. However, the regulations ensure that individuals cannot lose benefit for leaving the pilot after they have completed 13 weeks on the employment programme. Individuals who are sanctioned retain the usual entitlement to apply for reduced payment on the grounds of hardship; that is, this right will, as usual, be available to those people who fall into the categories in Regulation 140. It includes people with children. People will also have the usual recourse to an appeals procedure.
Secondly, the regulations will ensure that the steps people take to become more employable and the financial support the pilots give them will not affect their entitlement to benefit. The JSA regulations already treat people as actively seeking work for any week in which they are participating for at least three days on an employment programme. I believe that during the pilots it is sensible that the other labour market conditions be applied in the same way.
We have made a similar provision within the regulations to treat a person as available while they are undertaking an employment-related course for at least three days as part of the employment programme. I hope noble Lords will welcome the measures which go some way to ensure that people do not lose entitlement to JSA and are left without financial support.
Finally, as I said before, participants in the intensive activity period will receive an additional top-up grant of up to £200 while on the employment programme. Participants may also receive payments to cover work clothing, fares, training or job search expenses incurred whilst on the employment programme. Regulations make provision to disregard all of those payments for the purpose of assessing their benefit. I believe that the pilots will offer the most effective ways of helping people back to work and I commend the regulations to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29th October be approved [46th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)
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