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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I support the very important amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Howe.

Underlying both this and the previous amendment is the fear that unless the duty is stated in the primary legislation, local authorities will not deliver the support needed to these young people. The noble Earl was correct when he said that they were "damaged" on occasion. They are people who have had none of the advantages; quite often they have to take their opportunities rather later in life than many who have had a simpler and more straightforward family background.

We were fortunate to have the noble Earl, Lord Russell, contribute to our deliberations during the Grand Committee stage. He said:

He meant that we cannot possibly say that at the moment we have a situation where care leavers have educational opportunities open to them purely on the basis of merit. He went on to say:

    "According to the DETR study on that, a very large number of those simply cannot meet the shortfall by which their rent exceeds their housing benefit. A great many rely on family and friends to get them through".--[Official Report, 10/2/00; col. CWH 4.]

He is talking there about the generality of students. If that is the case for the generality of students, then of course care leavers are in a far worse position. Students quite often can fall back on their families; care leavers have no such benefit. What they have to do--and what they should be able to do--is to fall back on their corporate parents. That is what the amendment is designed to do. It seeks to have that corporate parenthood survive through until the age of 24 in terms of education opportunities.

It is important to ensure that these young people--many of whom start their education rather late in life--have the full benefit of a proper higher and further education. The amendment is extremely important in the context of this Bill.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, as the House will know, many children in care are often moved

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about and foster placements often break down. Education is the most important insurance policy to fit them for adult life. It is very important.

When I visited a drug rehabilitation centre yesterday, I was very heartened to discover that it was encouraging young and not so young people--some of them were over 30--to go to colleges, to take courses and to be rehabilitated. I was pleased to hear that the local authorities were going to pay--or at least they hoped they were going to pay.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, these young people lack emotional security. When they are seeking an education, the least one can give them is financial security. With a lack of emotional security it may be difficult for them to concentrate, but at least they can give it a go.

As my noble friend Lord Laming pointed out in Committee, the implementation of the amendment may not involve a great deal of resource. Experience suggests that, sadly, relatively few young people from this group will choose to stay in education until the age of 24.

The figures underline the importance of the amendment. Nearly 4,000 of the 5,000 young people leaving care each year have no educational qualifications whatever. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made that point very strongly. In the 21st century, young people simply cannot afford to be without an education. I strongly support the amendment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I recognise that the amendment runs in parallel with Amendment No. 3 and that it is as important. I have a great deal of sympathy with the substance of what all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate have said. We know that education and training is crucial to all young people, but how much more important is it for this particular group of people who have been so let down by both the care and the educational system in the past?

However, for the reasons I discussed in our debate on Amendment No. 3, I am not in a position to support the amendment because of the funding consequences. I shall say a little more about that in a moment. I want to assure the House that this is a case of "when" and not "if". As soon as they are able, the Government will seek to extend provisions in relation to education and training to young people formerly in care up to the age of 21.

I should also like to inform the House that on Third Reading I shall be bringing forward amendments which will clarify a local authority's duties in respect of education and employment for relevant children aged 16 and 17. They will also cover assistance with employment, education and training.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the statistics which we discussed at Second Reading and to the quite awful statistic that as many as 75 per cent of children leave care without a single educational qualification as against the national average of 6 per cent. That is such a striking statistic that it has to be

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addressed. As noble Lords will know, this has been picked up within the Quality Protects agenda, which has set targets for the educational outcomes of children in care. We certainly intend to build on that initiative and follow it through for young people who leave care.

Perhaps I may turn to a particular aspect of this discussion. As the Bill has gone through the House, we have realised that there is a lack of clarity about local authorities' duties on education and training for relevant children aged 16 and 17. It is important to be clear that this should be a normal part of the support to be provided by the responsible authority. I shall bring forward an amendment at Third Reading to ensure that there is the power to make regulations about assistance with employment, education and training for this group, as well as about advice, assistance and befriending.

With regard to the arguments for providing assistance with education and training, I have already said that we are determined that that should happen, but we run into the same problem as we have for general assistance for young people aged 18 and over. We cannot impose a new duty on local authorities without the funding to back it. I take the point of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who said that the funding would be relatively small because so few young people would get through to that stage of education. But I must enter a note of optimism here. We must build what we do in the future on the hope and expectation that, as a result of the changes both in the Bill and in the Quality Protects programme, more and more of these young people will be able to get access to education. That therefore means that the funding consequences will probably be more than the noble Earl suggested.

Although I cannot accept an amendment which would place a new duty on the face of the Bill, I can tell the House that I will be bringing forward amendments at Third Reading covering assistance with employment, education and training. We shall introduce a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations imposing a duty on local authorities to assist prescribed groups with the costs associated with employment. These regulations will be used to prescribe former relevant children up to the age of 21. We shall introduce a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations imposing a duty on local authorities to assist prescribed groups with education and training. Those regulations will be used to prescribe former relevant children up to the age of 21.

In addition, there will be a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing circumstances in which that assistance should continue beyond the age of 21. Those regulations will be used to ensure that a former relevant child will continue to receive assistance to the end of a programme of education, even if it takes him past the age of 21. That means that if a young person's pathway plan envisages that he might read for a first degree and then follow it up with a postgraduate degree, he would be assisted to the end of that entire programme.

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The effect of the amendments that I will bring forward at Third Reading will be to make duties, though of course the crucial question then will be when those would come into operation. I am not able to give a specific date for the very reasons that we discussed both on this amendment and in relation to Amendment No. 3, but the Bill as amended will allow that to take place in the future.

These are significant commitments. I hope that they reassure the House of the seriousness with which we take this issue and our determination to address it.

9.15 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for an encouraging reply and an encouraging statement of intent on the part of the Government. He has provided us with a great deal more reassurance today than he was able to provide in Committee, particularly with regard to what he said about when and not if. I agree with him that at present there is a lack of clarity in the duties of local authorities. The provision of support for the purposes we have been debating should be a normal part of their activities. It seems that there is little between the Minister and myself and other noble Lords on this issue. We therefore look forward to the amendments that he has said he will bring forward at Third Reading and we shall examine them carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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