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We have to accept that these voluntary bodies are much more successful than schools or colleges at helping young people get back into employment and education. They stressed what a long-term exercise it is. This is where Amendment No. 5 comes in. It provides that if young people are engaged in voluntary work for more than 20 hours a week, which might well be under the auspices of one of these organisations, they should not be involved in the compulsory element. Amendment No. 5 puts forward a fourth option: there is a way forward that does not have to be within the education sector or training for accredited qualifications, an issue we shall pick up later. These are important issues and broadly speaking we support the amendment introduced by the Opposition.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My name is attached to some of the amendments in this group. I wish to relate some personal experiences that underline the reasons for my support. Some years ago I was asked by a local education authority to run a course for young teenage mothers. In its wisdom, the authority provided a crèche for the children while the mothers attended the course. It did not lead to accredited qualifications of any kind, but I hope that it was helpful to them. Indeed, I have kept in touch with some of those delightful young women and they still

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say after so many years that they found coming together and talking through aspects of their situation enormously helpful.

I recall most vividly one young woman of only 17 who already had two children by different fathers. She lived in very unsatisfactory circumstances. Her mother had thrown her out and would have nothing more to do with her. She was grey-faced and looked about 90 rather than 17 when she said to me, “I’m not getting any sleep and I simply have no time to think. All I want is to look after my babies properly”. She was very tearful as she said that. To tell that young woman that she had to sign up for some form of accredited qualification because she would be criminalised if she did not would go way beyond any kind of sensible thought or reason. Young people who are already caring for small children need help and guidance. If they are lucky enough to have access to something like the provision made by the local education authority I mentioned a moment ago, then of course they should take up some form of supported educational help—but not, for goodness’ sake, studying for qualifications, writing examinations and taking practical tests. Those young women are vividly in my mind when I support strongly the concept that women with small children should not be forced into education leading to qualifications.

My second thought, when looking at the many good things here, concerns voluntary work. Last week a young man, now in his 20s, told me that at his parents’ insistence he stayed on at school for a term after he had finished his very mediocre GCSEs. He said to me, “I was in deep depression. I hated education, my school and my teachers. I knew that I was not academic and I did not want anything to do with it. So I begged my parents to let me drop out”. He did drop out of school. His parents had the good sense to send him along to the Community Service Volunteers. He signed up with them and worked for, I think, six months in a school for young deaf children. He was transformed. He loved the work and being with the young children. He showed me a collection of the cards they sent him when he was leaving, which said “We love you”, “Please come back” and so on. They are a treasured possession.

The point of the story is that voluntary work turned the young man around. If you had asked him to go back into formal education, he would have found it impossible and would have run away. The good end to the story is that, at the age of 24, having been very much helped and turned around by two long periods of voluntary work, one of them overseas, he decided to study for a degree.

A few categories of people should be allowed to leave education. They grow up at different rates and feel differently at different ages. Some 16 and 17 year-olds are simply not ready for formal education. They have other interests and concerns in life. If they can be helped through this period in ways not strictly leading to formal qualifications, it is my firm belief that the majority will come back later. I do not think we should be forcing such young people into an educational experience that to them is anathema.

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Lord Lucas: I entirely support what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has just said. A number of these young people just need space. They have been in education from age five to 16. For one reason or another, they have had a hard time of it or it just has not suited them. They just need some room in their lives; they do not need to be beaten over the head for the next two years.

Instead of rigidity, we need flexibility. Later in the amendments, we will come to some ideas on how that might be achieved through local authorities. Personalised learning should be offered, suited to the needs of each young person. That may mean postponing things for a while or going out in the world to get some experience and coming back later. It is not about shrugging off the obligation but perhaps postponing it. That is proposed in one of the amendments in this group and seems a good idea. Above all, there must be something directed at the needs of the person.

To quote a fairly obvious example, the BBC website says that Sir Alan Sugar left school at 16 and started selling aerials from the back of a van. That would see him in jug if he tried that under this Bill, but it is what many people who are destined to be entrepreneurs need to do at that age. They need to get out. They have had enough; they need to use the talent that has been burning inside them, get out there and make something of themselves and of the world.

The situation is common all over the world. I remember talking to the Minister of Education in Singapore, who said that their schools focused on the bottom 20 per cent because it included half of the entrepreneurs who would really make it and who would make great businesses. We have to make sure that those people are looked after. To keep these people in school for another two years doing something that they find pointless will not give them a constructive future. The same applies to all sorts of young people who are just not right for education at a particular moment, as my noble friend Lady Perry said, and who need to do something else constructive.

I hope that when we come to the amendments about what responsibilities local authorities can have, the Government will become more flexible in their approach. I hope that they are prepared to trust local authorities to take decisions, particularly about young people, that can never be taken through a centralised, rigid system as set out in the Bill. I hope that we will be allowed to make that improvement to this Bill.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the intentions behind these amendments. It is quite clear that all of us have grave concern about what appears to be a compulsory system, possibly resulting in a criminal offence if there is failure to comply. Everything that noble Lords have said about the different stages, not ages, of development, including the very moving story of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is extremely relevant, as is the full horror and dislike of formal education felt by some students who have been failed. No doubt, to some extent they contributed to their failure, but with the handicap of having left primary

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school unable to read and then having failed for however long they stayed in secondary school, it is not surprising that they have no empathy with what was going on.

I very much look forward to the Minister’s reply and hope that he has recognised the concern apparent in the stories we have been told.

Lord Dearing: The intention of the Bill is absolutely right. However, Members of the Committee are equally right in arguing that it must not be a case of “one menu suits all” and people will obey.

The one thing I know about education is that one menu does not suit all, and we must have room for flexibility. I could tell the story of a young man of 16 who, on work experience, was the best the company had ever had. It wanted him to take an apprenticeship but, although he was absolutely fitted for it and would enjoy it, he would not take it because it meant compulsory attendance for half the time at an FE college, which he hated. We are therefore destroying an excellent opportunity.

Therefore, while I warmly support what is intended for the vast majority, I think that there must be room for flexibility in the treatment of people for whom it is not at all right.

The Earl of Listowel: I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for being absent from the Chamber when she introduced this important group of amendments. I heard only the last part of her introduction and I look forward to reading the rest tomorrow.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Dearing that the principle of a firm approach to ensure that young people are in constructive activity as far as possible, to keep them out of trouble and to enable them to achieve their potential, is right; but there must be the flexibility that we are discussing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and others spoke on the amendment concerned with teenage mothers having access to parenting programmes. It is so important not to inhibit these young women in their mothering. They may lack confidence when someone says, “We know what’s best for you. We’ll look after your children through one means or another, perhaps through childcare, while you go and study”. As far as possible, we should be encouraging them to engage with their children and to enjoy them. The child will then thrive and both mother and child will benefit from the positive relationship that they have with each other. That was a particularly important amendment to bring forward.

Perhaps I am jumping the gun a little, but can the Minister comment on one scenario I can envisage in, for instance, a children’s home? If a 16 or 17 year-old is saying, “I don’t want to do a course. I don’t want to spend two days a week in training”, it might strengthen the hand of residential childcare workers if they can say, “You’ll be acting against the law if you don’t go to college just for two days a week”. On the other hand, it may be that in the judgment of the residential childcare worker that young person is too depressed to benefit from such training, that they will seek to evade it in any way, or just simply that it is not right for them.

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Therefore, how much discretion will people such as residential childcare workers, social workers and perhaps foster carers be given? How much input will they have in the process of deciding whether a child is criminalised? I can see some benefit in strengthening a concerned carer’s hand in encouraging a young person to do what is good for them. On the other hand, carers also need to be able to decide whether the provisions should not apply to a particular child. I hope that that is clear, and look forward to the reply.

Lord Elton: The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has raised the important question of discretion without addressing who should have it. He cited a case where there was an obvious person to have that discretion, but in the Bill we are dealing with the whole 10 per cent of the relevant group of society, and there will be many different cases. We had the grey-faced teenage mother from my noble friend Lady Perry; we had the volcanic Sir Alan Sugar from my noble friend Lord Lucas; now we have the young person whom the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, described.

It seems to me that there is no discretion in the Bill except to allow people to break the law—I am very, very glad to see the Minister shaking his head. I shall immediately sit down in anticipation of discovering where I am wrong.

Lord Adonis: I had not meant to bring the noble Lord’s remarks to such an abrupt close. It is kind of him to greet my remarks with such eager anticipation; they are not always so regarded.

I welcome the fact that, in all parts of the Committee, there has been general support for the measures in the Bill to promote higher participation among 16 to 18 year-olds. The issue before us now is whether whole groups should be exempted from a requirement to participate. Our argument here is simple. While we believe that there should be elements of flexibility—I will say more about those in a moment—we also believe that the expectation and opportunity to participate in education and training should, in principle, apply to all young people and that, far from being kind and considerate to whole groups of young people by seeking to exclude them, the amendments would be the opposite. They would deny opportunity and expectation to some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people. In fact, irreparable harm would be done to those young people’s life skills and future social and economic success if we were to exclude them in the way proposed.

That is not simply the view of the Government; it is the view of many reputable organisations that have made representations. In its representations on the Bill, Barnardo’s says that it welcomes,

On compulsion, Barnardo’s says that,

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the flexibility of provision to meet their needs is a vital requirement—

The Special Education Consortium takes the same view, saying that it,

The Equality and Human Rights Commission says the same. It says that,

We, of course, endorse all that. However, it also states:

5 pm

That is also the position of the Government. The proposals in the Bill need to be seen in the context of what we are providing for, which is a flexible, one-day-a-week or 280-hours-over-a-year training requirement for those who are in work, and a 16-hour work-based learning requirement or education course for those who are not. This is on the basis of a considerable increase in provision for 16 to 18 year-olds in areas that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, rightly said, have been underprovided for in the past, notably vocationally oriented courses delivered by schools and colleges—hence, the new diplomas, which are starting this September, and the significant increase in apprenticeships, which will enhance the work-based training routes.

I turn to the additional area of flexibility called for by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and mentioned by other noble Lords in the debate. Decisions on enforcement in individual cases depend on the officer responsible for enforcement in a local authority having regard to Clause 39, under which they must be satisfied that there is not a reasonable excuse for the young person in question not to be participating in education or training. That is a crucial aspect of the Bill, too. It will deal with some of the cases within the whole cohort of 16 to 18 year-olds that are extreme and exceptional and to which noble Lords have referred.

My honourable friend Jim Knight, the Minister for Schools and Learners, followed up extensive debates on this issue in the other place with a letter to David Laws, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education and skills. The letter is dated 13 February 2008. Noble Lords may have seen it, but I shall circulate it to all Members of the Committee. It specifically sets out our view of how the Clause 39 requirements, which local authorities must implement where there is not a reasonable excuse, might work. The letter states:

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He then gives examples of what this might mean in practice. He says:

I think that that addresses one of the main concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about care leavers who may not have proper accommodation that enables them to lead a stable life. My honourable friend also referred to young people with,

That deals both with the point raised by the noble Earl and part of the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. He goes on to highlight other cases:

this responds directly to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry—

In the extreme and exceptional cases that we have discussed, Clause 39 gives the flexibility to local authorities—and we would expect local authority officers to be assiduous in undertaking their responsibilities—that has been sought in the Committee this afternoon.

I will say a few more words about the specific groups mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Sharp. The first group is young carers, who, as I completely accept, have onerous additional responsibilities. However, we see no general case for excluding young carer 16 to 18 year-olds from training or education, although there may be particular reasons in specific cases why it would be appropriate to do so. This position is supported by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, which, when the Bill was undergoing its Commons Second Reading, said:

That is a highly reputable body that deals with young people in this position and we agree with it.

Of course, it is important that young people with caring responsibilities should receive the support that they need to participate. There will be flexible learning options available to them to help them to participate in a way that could be fitted around their responsibilities. We also provide a range of financial support to young people, including EMA and carer’s allowance, both of which go to the young carers directly.

Furthermore, the Government are committed to continuing to improve the provision and support available to young carers. Earlier this month, on 10 June, the Government published the national strategy for carers,

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following a review of support for young carers. This sets out a range of additional provisions that we intend to make available to young carers, including support worth £6.5 million up to 2011. That includes more than £5 million to promote better prevention and a piloting of new, more effective models of support around the family and the person cared for; £850,000 to ensure that schools and other universal services have the additional support that they need to identify problems early and to encourage young carers to come forward; and £300,000 to embed best practice, ensuring that this feeds into and informs major new developments, such as targeted youth support and extended schools.

In that context, we believe that the general requirements on young carers to undergo appropriate education or training are correct. However, they need to be seen—I stress again—in the context of the Clause 39 requirements that local authorities must have regard to when deciding whether there is a reasonable excuse for a young person not to participate.

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