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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, Working Together to Safeguard Children was issued jointly in December 1999. It sets out how all agencies and professionals should work together to promote children's welfare and to protect them from abuse and neglect. Within that context, it is entirely appropriate for local authorities to review their own policies in relation to FGM.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, when in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, the Minister said that money from the Government was being paid to various groups, he did not say what those groups did. Do they merely try to treat women in distress after the operation or do they try to suggest that the operation is illegal and should not take place?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the groups to which we give funding do excellent work in that area. Much of their work involves education and literature, bringing home to those who may be involved in the practice both its dangers and its illegality.

Rover Car Company

3.29 p.m.

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no intention of undermining the Alchemy offer. However, we are naturally interested in the best possible outcome for Longbridge and its employees. I am unable to comment on the proposed sale of Land Rover as that will be subject to consideration by the relevant competition authorities.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. On 16th December 1999, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, in the context of the take-over by Vodafone of Mannesmann, stated:

Did Her Majesty's Government concur with that philosophy and do they still concur with it in the BMW/Rover/Alchemy context? Was it not an irresponsible "spun" smokescreen for Her Majesty's Government to raise the hopes of those at Rover by implying that the Government could, would or should intervene in what is entirely a commercial matter?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have not indicated that they could, would or should intervene in the issue of BMW and Rover at Longbridge. The Government have never said that. Naturally, the Government were disappointed at the speed and lack of notice with which BMW came to its decision. However, the Secretary of State, Stephen Byers, has been with Professor Milberg in Germany this morning. He has been pleased with the response of BMW to the urgings of the Government that BMW should seek to minimise the job losses and should co-operate with the task force that has been set up in the West Midlands to deal with potential problems.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords--

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, there is probably time for both my noble friends to ask their questions. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Stoddart will allow my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis to ask his first.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend. Does the Minister agree that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who at present is in Germany, should be allowed to enter into discussions with the German company free of the rigours of any Questions that may be asked in this House? In regard to Land Rover, is it not a vitally successful company in all respects and, therefore, easy to dispose of?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in no way do I want to imply that noble Lords should be restricted in Questions that are put to government Ministers. The visit of the Secretary of State this morning to BMW in Germany has been relatively encouraging. It is proper that I should say that to the House. Land Rover is, of course, a very successful company--and that refers not only to those who actually produce Land Rovers, but also to other companies that produce parts for Land Rover. That company is of great importance to the economy of this country.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may express my sympathy to the noble Lord that in addition to the Financial Services and Markets Bill, he is sent here also to answer this difficult Question while the Minister responsible for such matters who ought to be here is not. Can the Minister tell me how his right honourable friend from the Department of Trade and Industry is getting on with BMW today after he was so insulting to that company last week? How can the department have been surprised, given that weeks ago it was told that the company was making a loss of £2 million a day and that five months' back-production of Fords were lying in an airfield in Oxfordshire?

Noble Lords: Rovers!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not believe that there would be five months' back-production of Fords lying anywhere. This morning the

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Secretary of State had a constructive meeting with Professor Milberg. I have attempted to tell the House as much as I can of the results of that meeting. It has been agreed that BMW will do all that it can to protect jobs and to minimise job losses. It has also been agreed that BMW will co-operate and work with the task force that we have set up. The task force has been in existence for only five or six days, so it is not yet clear what assistance BMW could give, but from the reports that I have I believe that it was a productive meeting.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the present debacle at Rover shows how unwise and wrong it was for the previous government to support the buying of Rover from British Aerospace by BMW, so reneging on a perfectly good working agreement that it had with the Honda motor company? Does the Minister agree that Honda UK should be praised as it has just announced that it is to extend its factory at Swindon, provide 1,000 jobs for my former constituents, and increase production to 100,000 cars? That company has not whined about the strength of the pound; it is getting on with the job of building cars.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is dangerous, with hindsight, to criticise past decisions. This week in the press I observed that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, regretted that he had not sold BMW to General Motors. He said that he was prevented from doing so by his own Back-Benchers. I should have said "Rover". The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and I are now quits! Of course, there are those who say that British Aerospace should have sold Rover to Honda rather than make a bilateral deal with BMW without considering other offers. We are way beyond that and we have to look at the future now.

Business of the House: Whitsun Recess

Lord Carter: My Lords, for the convenience of the House I shall make a brief statement to announce the Whitsun Recess. Subject, as always, to the progress of Business, the House will sit at 11 a.m. on Thursday 25th May and rise for the Recess at the end of Business on that day. The House will return on Monday 5th June.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip for giving us those dates, which the House will greatly welcome. Perhaps he could now give us the dates for the Summer Recess.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I fully expected that question. If my memory serves me rightly, last year the noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked me for the dates of the Summer Recess in February. Today is 23rd March so we are making some progress! It may surprise your Lordships to know that in the past few days I have not given much thought to the dates of the Summer Recess.

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Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

3.38 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 2 [Education and training for persons aged 16 to 19]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 2, line 8, at end insert--

("( ) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1), the Secretary of State may require the Council to extend the duty set out in that subsection to persons aged over 19 who meet conditions which he may specify.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in tabling this amendment, I shall cover ground that was explored in some detail in Committee and on Report.

This amendment seeks to comprehend the misgivings expressed by ourselves and other noble Lords on all sides of the House at the sharp divide created by the Bill between the treatment of those under the age of 19 and those over it and to take account of the reservations expressed at that time by the Minister.

I stress that this amendment is a permissive amendment. The duty laid on the learning and skills council under Clause 2 of the Bill is to provide "proper facilities" for education and training for those aged under 19. This amendment will give the Secretary of State powers, under certain circumstances, to extend that duty to those aged over 19. As we know from earlier debates, the distinction between proper facilities for those under the age of 19 and the reasonable facilities for those aged over 19--the distinction between Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill--is that the under-19s have an entitlement to education and training up to the level three qualification, whereas the over-19s have no such entitlement. What is "reasonable" under Clause 3 is a matter of taking account of the council's resources. In other words, such a provision will be made available for the over 19 year-olds where and when the council can afford to make it, whereas the under-19 provision will be provided free of charge. In most cases the over-19s will be expected to find ways of meeting the costs of their tuition.

The purpose of this amendment is not to extend that entitlement in blanket form to the over-19s, but to write into the Act a power for the Secretary of State to extend it to specific categories of people, if he so wishes. It is a mild amendment, but it does allow for a degree of flexibility.

In the debates that we have had on this issue, there have been discussions on the number of different categories of people who might qualify for such an extension. The Minister was particularly sympathetic to those with learning difficulties and disabilities, and to some degree has met the concerns that were expressed in her amendment to Clause 114, which extends the right of assessment up to the age of 25.

From these Benches, our concern has focused not only on those with learning difficulties and disabilities, but also on those who, for one reason or another, miss

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out on their opportunities to participate in mainstream education and training between the ages of 16 and 19--indeed, often between the ages of 13 and 19--but then seek to make good these omissions at a later stage in life. If we are prepared to pay for expensive sixth form education for 16 to 19 year-olds who stay on at school, it is not unreasonable that we should be prepared to spend a similar amount on those others who do not use their entitlement at that time, but who wish to return later to education and training.

The National Skills Task Force, an advisory committee set up by the Secretary of State to advise him on the skills needs of the nation, recommended that such an entitlement be extended to those up to the age of 25. In its second report, it recommended that,

    "All people should be entitled, up to their 25th birthdays, to publicly funded education and training up to a level of capability up to and including first Level III qualifications".

This recommendation echoed that of the Kennedy report, commissioned prior to the election by the Labour Party when it was still in opposition, to help develop its policies on further education. At the time, the report was widely endorsed by the Labour Party.

As the Minister has made clear time and again, that while accepting that the needs of older age groups who have lost out on educational opportunities should be met, priority must at present lie with the 16 to 19 year-old group, and that there are not sufficient resources to meet the needs also of the older group at this time. In his reply to my noble friend Lord Tope on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, stated that,

    "We are clear that the LSC's priority must be the 16 to 19 age group and nothing must detract from that. Let us get that right and then focus the increasing resources devoted to adults on enhancing and developing higher level skills ... To extend the entitlement has substantial resource implications. Although it is attractive in many ways, that point must be taken into account".--[Official Report, 13/3/00; col. 1332.]

I do not dispute the Government's priorities. The Social Exclusion Unit's report, Bridging the Gap, highlighted the horrifying statistic that some 160,000 young people aged 16 to 19 have dropped out of education and are now neither in employment nor continuing with any further education or training. That is a scandal and a start has to be made--as indeed the Government have done both with the New Deal and in this Bill--to tackle that situation. But--and this is the point of this amendment--we should not forget those who are now older and, having perhaps whiled away their youth, come to realise later that they need qualifications and are therefore keen and motivated to learn, but cannot afford to fund themselves through the relevant courses.

As the Minister has said, extending the entitlement is attractive in many ways, but is too expensive at the moment. This amendment does not extend that entitlement, but it does make provision, on the face of the Bill, for the Secretary of State to extend the entitlement to specific categories of people aged over 19 as and when he has the resources and wishes to do so. As I have indicated, in not extending the entitlement now, the Minister is neglecting the advice of his own appointed advisory group. He is also

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neglecting the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, whose report was welcomed by his party when it was published.

We recognise that resources are limited and that priorities have to be defined, but we are of the opinion that an element of flexibility should be written into the Bill so that, in the future, the Secretary of State may be able to extend the entitlement without further legislation. I beg to move.

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