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24 Jun 2009 : Column 1578

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, granted that the pupils to whom this Question refers could be the most significant beneficiaries of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, what steps are the Government taking to deal with the fact that these individuals will be conscripts rather than volunteers under the new provision?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. We have to keep these 14 year-olds engaged because the historic Act we passed last year, which increased the minimum age at which a young person can leave learning for the first time since 1972, will offer a huge choice of different sorts of learning for those young people, including apprenticeships, diplomas, the foundation learning tier; and young people will be able to get a job and continue their training part-time.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I do not believe that this Question has anything to do with university places. My noble friend mentioned Nacro, of which I was chairman for a long time. This is about young people who do not feel loved, who do not love themselves and who have lost their way totally in life. It requires a very imaginative approach if we are going to deal with this. Are we examining just why that is and who these people are?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we are examining precisely the point that my noble friend makes. We are in the middle of an 18-month research programme into exactly those problems with this particular cohort. We know that some of the issues will be to do with special educational needs and the children’s chaotic backgrounds. We have to find out how we can keep them in school and support them, and put the resources in to do that.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that although absenteeism among 14 year-olds may be reducing generally, that is not the case in the Gypsy and Traveller community? I declare an interest as president of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers. What proposals does the noble Baroness have for improving access to education of teenage Gypsy and Traveller children?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I have notes in relation to looked-after children, boys and children with special educational needs in my brief, but I confess that I do not have anything on the children of the Gypsy community. I know that such information exists, and I undertake to send it to the noble Lord.

Afghanistan: Improvised Explosive Devices


3.30 pm

Asked By Lord Astor of Hever

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The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Major Sean Birchall from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan this past week. Our thoughts are also with the families and friends of the five Britons taken hostage in Baghdad in 2007, particularly those of Jason Creswell and Jason Swindlehurst.

On the Question, the safety of UK personnel serving in Afghanistan is of paramount importance. We constantly monitor the evolving threat, including that from improvised explosive devices, to ensure that our personnel have the protection that they need to operate effectively. We use a range of skills to detect, dispose of and exploit improvised explosive devices and to prevent them from being laid, and we keep these under constant review.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, our thoughts are obviously with the families of the five hostages taken in Iraq and our condolences go to the families of the two who were killed. We also send our condolences to the family of Major Sean Birchall of the Welsh Guards, who was killed by an IED. Indeed, IEDs have killed 10 of the last 11 soldiers to die in Afghanistan and have left many other soldiers with life-changing injuries. In the light of that, is the Minister satisfied with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s programme and budget to counter urgently this ever increasing problem? Do we have sufficient community outreach programmes in Afghanistan to encourage locals to report IEDs to the coalition forces?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Lord raises significant points about how to deal with these threats because it is not the case that just one solution is available. We take seriously and appreciate the work of the DSTL, which has done a great deal to advance our knowledge of the IEDs that are being used and, indeed, in some cases to anticipate future developments. The issue is difficult, ever changing and challenging, but a lot of good work is done on it domestically and, indeed, in theatre. On the reporting of IEDs by people in Afghanistan, we try to get information from and we try to build bridges with local communities. People are fearful of giving information, but we try to establish a situation where, if it is at all possible, such co-operation will exist.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, against the background that seven out of every 10 British and coalition troops killed in Iraq are killed by Iranian-made roadside explosive devices, with Iran training the people to deliver them and smuggling them across 58 routes into Iraq, of which the MoD has details, can the noble Baroness give an estimate of how many of those devices are now beginning to be used in Afghanistan?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, my noble friend is correct to say that many of the devices—and, indeed, some of the training—may well come from Iran. This concerns us greatly and is one of the reasons why we have to maintain our efforts on all fronts and

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be very alert to the sophisticated threat, which does a great deal of damage. We are aware of those concerns and we try to act on them wherever possible.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute and condolences. Apart from service personnel killed and injured by IEDs, my understanding is that around 86 per cent of those killed are Afghan nationals, so it is a serious problem. Given that the Americans apparently spend about £4 billion a year on working on countermeasures to IEDs, will the Minister assure the House that there is maximum co-operation between us and the US in the exchange of information on countermeasures to these ghastly devices?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, is quite right that the Afghan population has suffered significantly because of the IEDs that have been laid. This shows the callousness of the insurgents, who are quite willing to kill their fellow countrymen and to disregard the needs of local communities. He is right also that the United States is extremely concerned about IEDs and has suffered casualties because of them. It invests a lot in the development of counter-IED work, as do we. Both countries regard this as a high priority. We co-operate a great deal both inside and outside theatre.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how much per annum the war in Afghanistan is costing and when she expects that British troops will be able to withdraw?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I remind the House that the cost of operations is met from the reserve fund and not from the MoD; we should bear that important fact in mind. Setting a date for withdrawal could be counterproductive. We all have an important task and responsibility in Afghanistan, because unless we tackle the problem of insurgency there, it could well become a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents as it has done in the past, which is directly relevant to the security of people in this country.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, our time is up.

Registered Foreign Lawyers Order 2009

Registered Foreign Lawyers Order 2009

Legal Services Act 2007 (Registered European Lawyers) Order 2009

Legal Services Act 2007 (Registered European Lawyers) Order 2009

Probate Services (Approved Bodies) Order 2009

Probate Services (Approved Bodies) Order 2009

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Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2009

Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2009

Companies Act 2006 (Part 35) (Consequential Amendments, Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2009

Companies Act 2006 (Part 35) (Consequential Amendments, Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2009

Registrar of Companies and Applications for Striking Off Regulations 2009

Registrar of Companies and Applications for Striking Off Regulations 2009

Overseas Companies Regulations 2009

Overseas Companies Regulations 2009

Limited Liability Partnerships (Application of Companies Act 2006) Regulations 2009

Limited Liability Partnerships (Application of Companies Act 2006) Regulations 2009

Companies Act 2006 (Accounts, Reports and Audit) Regulations 2009

Companies Act 2006 (Accounts, Reports and Audit) Regulations 2009

Motions to Approve

3.37 pm

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 22 April and 5, 6, 14 and 18 May be approved. 12th,13th,15th and 16th Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 16 and 17 June.

Motions agreed.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explainatory Notes
8th Report Delegated Powers Committee
14 Report Joint Committee on Human Rights

Committee (2nd Day)

3.38 pm

Clause 11 : English issuing authority

Amendment 15

Moved by Baroness Sharp of Guildford

15: Clause 11, page 6, line 14, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) The Secretary of State may—

(a) designate a person to issue general guidelines in relation to the apprenticeship functions; and

(b) designate a person to issue an apprenticeship framework relating to a particular apprenticeship sector.”

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I shall speak also to Amendments 30 and 31, which are in the same group. The amendment would give designation in the Bill to sector skills councils. Sector skills councils were set up after the passing of the Learning and Skills Act 2000

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to take over from the national training organisations and, over time, have acquired both status and function. Employer-led and essentially working with the assessment bodies such as City and Guilds and Edexcel, they have developed frameworks for different vocational qualifications, including apprenticeships, which play an important part among those qualifications. Recently, they have also been given an important role in the development of diplomas and, hence, are increasingly recognised by the Government as bodies to talk about the training needs and qualifications in specific sectors.

Although SSCs are recognised by the Government as having an important role, they are not recognised in the Bill. The reason, I suspect, is that the parliamentary draftsman never likes writing into Bills the names of bodies which may be transient. In the past 30 years or so, we have had quite a number of transient bodies in this area, such as the Manpower Services Commission, the sector working parties, the national training organisations, the TECs—and now we have the sector skills councils. Perhaps, rightly, the parliamentary draftsman thought, “What next?”. So instead of writing them into the Bill by name, they are written in by description. Clause 37 states:

“The Secretary of State must by order specify sectors of skill, trade or occupation for the purposes of this Chapter”—

the chapter being Chapter 1, which is all about apprenticeships. It then states:

“The sectors ... must in the opinion of the Secretary of State encompass the full range of skills, trades and occupations”.

Although the clause effectively describes sector skills councils, it does not say who they are or what they should do. Amendment 15 seeks to fill that gap, referring to Clause 11(1), which, as it stands, states:

“The Secretary of State may designate a person”—

which in parliamentary speak means a body—

I am concerned about the phrase,

What does that mean and what does “generally” mean in this context? It is a very general phrase and not at all explicit. The amendment tries to make the issue very much more explicit, first by saying:

“The Secretary of State may ... designate a person to issue general guidelines in relation to the apprenticeship functions”—

functions that include issuing apprenticeship frameworks, but also in relation to other features of the apprenticeship system set up by the Bill. Secondly, it picks up the terminology of Clause 37, which empowers the Secretary of State to,

and says that the Secretary of State shall “designate a person to issue” frameworks for specific sectors—not necessarily the same person as in subsection (1). It can be a different body or person that issues the frameworks for specific sectors.

Amendment 15 sets up on the one hand the concept of the National Apprenticeship Service. Perhaps we will come back to and vote on at Report stage my amendments from the previous occasion when we debated the Bill, which were about the service being

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set up on its own as an NDPB. It is already being set up and is a shadow authority; it is actually doing some extremely good things. We have the National Apprenticeship Service as the general overseeing body under the Skills Funding Agency and the sector skills councils as the specific bodies responsible for issuing the frameworks in their own specific sectors, as they do at the moment.

Amendments 30 and 31 relate to the transition arrangements spelt out in Clause 15 and say that the Secretary of State should consult the sector skills councils, which, after all, have set up the existing qualifications frameworks for apprenticeships, if they are to be treated as substantive frameworks, as specified in Clause 12. We are asking the Secretary of State to consult the appropriate authorities before making this move and defining those appropriate authorities to include the sector skills councils. Using the terminology of the amendment, we refer to those persons designated to issue frameworks in relation to a specific sector and the representatives of those involved in vocational education and training—the colleges, the alternative learning providers, City and Guilds and so forth.

I have four questions for the Minister. In subsection (1)(a) there is the phrase,

What is meant by that? Why is no role specified in the Bill for sector skills councils, which the Government have spent so much time setting up? They have been doing quite an effective job, so why are they not incorporated specifically in the Bill? Why do the Government think it unnecessary to consult such organisations over the transitional arrangements? I beg to move.

3.45 pm

Lord De Mauley: I will confine my remarks at this stage to saying that we on these Benches agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it is important for sector skills councils to be represented in the Bill. They are a helpful intermediary to represent the needs of industry. It is crucial that they are involved in producing apprenticeship frameworks to ensure high standards and apprenticeships that stay in line with the needs of employers, making them better and more effective. The Government may claim that they already intend sector skills councils to be issuing bodies—indeed, the Explanatory Notes say that—but if so, why not put that in the Bill?

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and emphasise the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. The Government have assured us that sector skills councils will play an essential role in all of this. But that is hard for people to understand. I am not saying that people will not believe it, but the Bill does not appear to reflect the tremendous role that the Government themselves recognised when they set up the sector skills councils.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): The amendments relate to the sector skills councils and the standard setting

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bodies. Amendment 15 would limit the Secretary of State’s powers so that he can designate a person to issue frameworks only in relation to a particular sector and not to issue frameworks generally. However, even where a designated person—to answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—issues frameworks generally, the frameworks still have to relate to an apprenticeship sector.

I join noble Lords on all sides who have paid tribute to the work of the sector skills councils and standard setting bodies. They are absolutely right: they have played an integral part in our apprenticeship strategy. They have worked with employers, who after all make up the sector skills councils, to ensure that when we talk about a demand-led approach we really mean that. They have created 180 different apprenticeship frameworks, which show what viable bodies they are. That is not to say that they have necessarily reached a state of perfection, as the recent relicensing process shows, but nevertheless, by and large, they have been doing excellent work. They come under the ambit of the UKCES. I am happy to confirm again for the avoidance of doubt that sector skills councils remain absolutely central to our plans for apprenticeships moving forward. We cannot establish apprenticeship frameworks without sector skills councils.

Last year, we set out in World Class Apprenticeships our commitment to streamlining and reducing bureaucracy in the process of developing and approving apprenticeship frameworks. That is a vital thing that we need to reform. It has taken far too long—sometimes years—to establish a new apprenticeship framework and we definitely need to improve performance in that area. We made it clear last year that we would designate the sector skills councils as the issuing authorities for apprenticeship frameworks. I am happy to reiterate that commitment now. There is no dubiety or equivocation on our part. They lie at the heart of determining new apprenticeship frameworks.

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