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I know that some noble Lords have questioned why, if that is the case, we did not simply name the sector skills councils as the issuing authorities on the face of the Bill. We heard that understandable request today. There are two reasons. First, the sector skills councils are a dynamic group of organisations that have evolved and will continue to evolve and improve over time. They are not fixed in concrete. They will change as the demands of the industry change in that particular sector. The legislative structure in the Bill is intended to allow and encourage organic change over time, without the need to wait for legislative change.

Secondly, there is a technical reason—that as many of the sector skills councils are private companies limited by guarantee, to refer to them directly would render the Bill hybrid, which would require more complex and time-consuming parliamentary procedure. That is a real concern. The power included in Clause 11(1)(a) to designate a person to issue apprentice frameworks generally, rather than relating to a particular sector, was included for use only in exceptional circumstances. For example, if it becomes clear that there are frameworks that do not have a natural home in a single sector skills council, it might be better for a

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single body to issue such apprenticeship frameworks while a home sector skills council is identified, so that potential apprentices are not disadvantaged.

I can assure the House that this power would only be used following close consultation with, or in response to representations from, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, which is the representative body of sector skills councils. Indeed in all likelihood, it would be the alliance that we would naturally turn to, to take on this role. I also reassure noble Lords that the intention behind this clause is not to issue a generic apprenticeship framework—that would run counter to our policy and anyway Clause 10(2)(b) makes it clear that the framework must relate to a particular skill, trade or occupation in an apprenticeship sector.

That said, I understand the concerns that this clause has caused among the sector skills councils and standard-setting bodies. Those concerns have been expressed most eloquently by noble Lords, and I want to reflect further on today’s debate. I want the dialogue that has started today to continue, and in particular I want to reflect in advance of Report on whether there is another way through the Bill, in which we can ensure that the sort of disadvantage to apprentices that I have described does not arise. Amendments 30 and 31 would require the Secretary of State to consult FE colleges, other training providers, employers, sector skills councils and other key stakeholders before providing by order that existing vocational specifications are to be treated as if they were an apprenticeship framework issued under Section 12(1).

Clause 15 is a necessary transitional measure to ensure that when the requirements of the specifications and standards for England are brought into force, an apprentice who is already undertaking an apprenticeship is not disadvantaged. I am happy to confirm to the House that our intention is that all existing frameworks will be deemed to be recognised under Clause 12 until they are revised or replaced to ensure compliance with the new specification of apprenticeship standards for England. That really is vitally important—there will be a whole group of apprentices who will be completing their apprenticeships within today’s standards, as defined under the blueprint, and we do not want those apprentices to be disadvantaged in any way, or for what they are doing to be called into doubt. However, all those frameworks will have to, in the end, comply with the new specification of apprenticeship standards for England. Any deemed framework still remaining will cease to be recognised on the day after the school leaving date for 2013. There is a cut-off date, and it is purely a transitional arrangement.

Throughout this transitional period, the SSCs will continue to lead on the development and issuing of apprenticeship frameworks. It is neither practical nor desirable to consult the range of institutions that may have some involvement in delivering existing frameworks, when determining whether they should be available during the transitional period. They have already been consulted on in the past, and they are existing apprenticeship frameworks. Given these assurances, and my firm commitment to reflect further on the question of Clause 11(1)(a), I hope that noble Lords would feel able to withdraw their amendments.

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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for his reply. I find it slightly odd, when he says that we cannot establish apprenticeships without sector skills councils, that he then says there is not a place for them in the Bill. There is a subtle difference with what the Bill itself says. Clause 11 says:

“The Secretary of State may designate a person ... to issue apprenticeship frameworks generally, or ... to issue apprenticeship frameworks relating to a particular apprenticeship sector”.

“A person” is, in this context, the National Apprenticeship Service, which, as I say, is already set up as a shadow authority and is doing good work. So the National Apprenticeship Service both designates the general guidelines for frameworks and then specifies them within each sector skills council. Sector skills councils, according to the current wording of the Bill, play no part whatsoever.

We took on board the Minister’s point about it being a hybrid authority and so forth, so we have carefully used exactly the same wording used in the Bill—

Lord Young of Norwood Green: The sector skills councils will play that role. I pointed out in my contribution that they will determine the framework. We have indicated that the most likely person or organisation would not be the National Apprenticeship Service, but the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. They are the people with the experience in determining apprenticeship frameworks. With all due respect to the National Apprenticeship Service, which does a wonderful job, that is not its sphere of operation. The employers represented on the sector skills councils in consultation with their employer bodies know what is required. There is no way that we are going to undermine the role of the sector skills councils.

Lord Elton: If I may make the noble Baroness’s anxieties a little more understandable to the noble Lord, the difference seems quite simple. If the sector skills councils are mentioned in the Bill, their position is secure. If they are not, their continuance depends on the whim of central government, which cannot change them without legislation. The noble Baroness wants more than a ministerial assurance from a member of a Government which, whatever their fortunes, will not last very much longer. She would prefer something on statute, which would give some reassurance to people in the—I was going to say “the trade”—profession, that things would continue as the noble Lord says that they will, even when he is not there to guarantee it.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thank the noble Lord for his prescience in the matter of the next election. We will have to wait and see whether his crystal ball is as accurate as he predicts.

On the concern expressed, we cannot conceive of a scenario where we will determine apprenticeship frameworks without sector skills councils. We genuinely believe that there is a problem with making the Bill hybrid, but we want to address the concerns. I have indicated that we are prepared to offer more dialogue and consideration prior to Report, and that is a genuine offer.

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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I listened to what the Minister said, and am grateful. It would be appropriate if we could find some way of designating the role of the sector skills councils within the Bill.

On Amendments 30 and 31, it struck me that the wording is such that the Secretary of State may by order provide for existing vocational specification to go forward. It is surely common courtesy that he should consult those who have set up those specifications, and that was why we felt that it was appropriate that he should consult in those circumstances.

Coming back to Amendment 15, I will withdraw it for the moment, and will talk further with the Minister to see if we can find some way around this dilemma of incorporating the concept into the Bill in some form or other. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Amendments 16 to 20 not moved.

Clause 11 agreed.

4 pm

Clause 12 : Issue of apprenticeship frameworks etc.: England

Amendment 21

Moved by Lord Elton

21: Clause 12, page 6, line 32, leave out “the specification of apprenticeship standards for England” and insert “the Chief Executive of Skills Funding”

Lord Elton: This is a small and unassuming amendment. It came upon me rather by surprise, as if I had been walking on a pavement in an otherwise well conducted borough and suddenly found myself tripping heavily over a raised paving stone.

I made what was, to my eye, the natural assumption when reading the passage referred to, that the word “specification” referred to a process. No, first, I assumed it was a verb. I ask your Lordships to note that I am speaking also to Amendment 32, which addresses a similar problem. I shall read the passage:

“The English issuing authority may issue an apprenticeship framework that the authority is satisfied meets the requirements specified, by the specification of apprenticeship standards for England”.

It goes on. If it had read “specified in the specification of apprenticeship standards for England”, it would have been clear that I was looking for a theme rather than a process. However, when we get to Clauses 22 to 26, we find that the people doing the specification are, in England, the chief executive of skills funding—with the endorsement of the Secretary of State—and, in Wales, the Welsh Ministers off their own bat. It would be convenient to name them here and get around that little difficulty. If you try to pass the sentence as I first saw it, there is a perfectly clear object in the requirements, but no visible subject for the verb. That is the maze that I got myself into. I am suggesting a way out of it that does not do violence that I can see to any of the Government’s principles, and is, by three or four syllables, a fraction shorter.

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It also postpones conveniently the question of what this crucial document is going to be called, which I hope your Lordships will allow me to raise when we get to Amendment 36. I beg to move.

Lord Rowlands: I take the opportunity to make some observations on Amendment 32. Before doing so, I draw attention to my interest as president of the National Training Federation for Wales and as an adviser to a south Wales charity, Tydfil Training. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, seeks in Amendment 32 to make a modest amendment to Clause 17. This is one of a number of clauses that devolves authority and responsibility to Welsh Assembly Ministers. We should take this opportunity to discover a little more about the nature of this devolution because it has some history.

The original draft apprenticeship Bill that was the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny ran into considerable confusion, if not difficulty, over the issue of what was being devolved. There was considerable confusion in the Welsh Assembly’s deliberations in committees. As I recall, a Select Committee of the other House made some tart observations about the lack of clarity over what was and was not being devolved. My first question for my noble friend is: are the clauses, including Clause 17, now fully agreed with the Welsh Assembly? Have the problems and difficulties that were thrown up by the original draft apprenticeship Bill now been resolved? Is there now a clear distinction as to who will be responsible for what?

Secondly, Clauses 16 and 17 envisage a situation where apprenticeship frameworks in Wales could differ from those in England. That is how I read them and, I think, how the noble Lord, Lord Elton, reads them. Welsh Ministers, through the designated persons, whoever they might be, may indeed come up with variations on the frameworks, which would differ from those devised in England. I do not know if that will be the case, but it seems inevitable, unless it is a pure formality. I suspect that it is not and possible variations may well occur in the way that apprenticeship frameworks are developed in Wales and England.

I want to draw the attention of the Committee to that issue. Like many other noble Lords, when I thought of apprenticeships in my youth, I assumed that an apprentice was someone who was between 16 and 19 years of age who had left school, having got his O-levels or GCSEs, and did not choose to pursue the A-level route. In Wales, the average age of an apprentice is now 25 years and three months. The large majority are no longer 16 and 17-year-olds, but adults in employment who want to upskill in different ways. It is a very different scene from the traditional view.

Can my noble friend say how that compares with the English scene? Are the average English apprentices still 16 to 19-year-olds, or are they adults in work, seeking to upskill, as in Wales? If so, we can see how the changing demands and needs of adults as opposed to 16 and 17-year-olds would have to be met in the workplace. I shall not press this further but there needs to be a degree of conformity. It is an interesting revelation on the nature of apprenticeships, so is the pattern of apprenticeships different in England? That is my first question.

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Secondly, I suspect, although I have no reason for that other than an instinct, that another reason why there may be differences and variations in apprenticeship frameworks is that a considerable difference has now opened up between the Welsh and English education scenes. The Welsh Assembly Government have not pursued the line of extending the compulsory learning age to 18, so there will perhaps not be the same demand as that which may emerge in England. Apprenticeship programmes in England may take some of the strain of the additional demand created by the compulsory learning age being increased to 18. The Welsh Assembly Government have refused to adopt the English model. We could debate the respective merits, but it might mean that a different pattern of apprenticeships will emerge between Wales and England. Under this clause, is it possible to have different apprenticeship frameworks because of a different response to a different demand?

Whatever variations may or may not occur, I trust, hope and pray that there will be a way of mutually recognising them. We need portable skills. We do not want to draw boundaries across skills, especially as people may be required to work in different environments and different geographical areas. I hope that that can be accommodated if and when variations occur. We can see from the Explanatory Notes that in England it is likely that the skills council will fulfil the role. There is just a designated person in the case of Wales; the Explanatory Notes are silent on who may or may not fulfil that role. I hope that my noble friend can illuminate who might be that designated person. The noble Lord has given us the opportunity to explore the variations that may take place as a result of the devolution of responsibility to Welsh Assembly Ministers.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: Perhaps I may assist my noble friend in some of his questions, although I obviously do not want in any way to circumvent what the Minister will be saying. I simply want to clarify matters, speaking as someone who is heavily involved in sector skills councils. These councils go across all four nations and will have the same role in Wales as they do in England. I shall not comment on the statistics. My guess is that the figures will be very much the same, but I am sure that my noble friend will have those in detail. In Wales, individuals will receive a certificate of completion for a modern apprenticeship, exactly as happens in England, but in Wales not only will it be written in Welsh but it will also define where in Wales the apprenticeship has been completed. That is the only difference.

Lord Rowlands: I remind my noble friend that, although the skills councils go across the four nations of the UK, there has been considerable pressure from Welsh Assembly Ministers and from the Welsh Assembly itself for a meaningful presence of such skills councils in Wales. Again, there might be variations as a result of that.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: Almost all sector skills councils have a presence in Wales, and that is certainly the case with the main sector skills councils that deal with apprenticeships. They have an office in

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Wales and an executive member of the sector skills council is present in Wales, and their relationship with the Welsh Assembly is extremely good. If anyone is worried, they should not be, because I am sure that all that is already being dealt with in Wales.

Lord De Mauley: We agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that it would be helpful to tidy up the Bill—or, as he might have it, the pavement—in this and probably many other ways. Several noble Lords spoke at Second Reading about the complexity and convoluted nature of the Bill. The purpose of amendments such as these is to help us to avoid the Bill passing into law with its current ambiguities. Anyone reading the Bill for the first time would have to read until Clause 22 to gain a definition of the specification of apprenticeship standards. The British Chambers of Commerce have referred to the shifting complexity of the further education system as encouraging the disengagement of employers. It is thus doubly important to ensure that the Bill is tidied up and that it does not become a further cause of employer disengagement. Therefore, I strongly request the Minister to give the amendments of my noble friend Lord Elton the consideration that they deserve.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I think I can safely say that this has been a rather wide-ranging debate—somewhat wider perhaps than even the noble Lord, Lord Elton, intended. I hesitate to engage in a sort of syntactical analysis with the noble Lord because I have a horrid feeling that his expertise in that area is superior to mine, which did not even extend to an O-level in English language. However, I shall endeavour to answer the point that he makes because I generally pay respect to his concerns in trying to ensure clarification and order in a Bill.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, we would not want employers to have to pore over the legislation to find out their rights and responsibilities; I genuinely hope that guidance and other documents will do that job. However, that is not to avoid the main issue of ensuring that what is in the Bill is as clear as we can make it.

The references to the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England, or SASE, in Clause 12 and its sister document in Clause 17 come earlier in the Bill than the relevant clause that explains what the SASE and its sister document are, but that is an unavoidable consequence of the interlocking nature of the four key elements of the statutory apprenticeships programme which the Bill develops.

Although I understand the problem that the noble Lord’s amendments seek to correct, Amendments 21 and 32 would give the chief executive of skills funding and Welsh Ministers the power to determine the requirements that an apprenticeship framework must satisfy without recourse to the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England or its sister document for Wales. These are designed to safeguard minimum entitlements and requirements to ensure that all apprenticeships offer the individual a well balanced and high-quality programme of training. They have been the subject of a huge consultative process. We think it is right that these consistent standards should be set out in the SASE, which will ensure that these

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matters are subject to full consultation and subject to the normal parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will reflect on that and consider withdrawing his amendment.

I turn now to—

Lord Elton: As the noble Lord is embarking on a separate point, perhaps we could dispose of this one first. I did not quite follow his argument. He said that by substituting the chief executive for the document, I would enable him to do things which he would not otherwise be able to do without consulting a further issue. That appears to be the three blocks of his argument but I could not understand how they work together. Perhaps he could repeat it a little more slowly so that I can follow what he is saying.

4.15 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My apologies if I went through that too rapidly. I shall reiterate the advice that I have been given. Although I understand the problem the noble Lord’s amendments seek to correct, his Amendments 21 and 32 would give the chief executive of skills funding and Welsh Ministers the power to determine the requirements that an apprenticeship framework must satisfy, without recourse to the SASE or its sister document. Those documents are designed to safeguard minimum entitlements and requirements to ensure that all apprenticeships offer the individual a well balanced and high-quality programme of training. We think it is right that these consistent standards should be set out in the SASE, which will ensure that these matters are subject to full consultation and to the normal parliamentary scrutiny.

Lord Elton: I have got the point.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: To endeavour to address the concerns of my noble friend Lord Rowlands, perhaps I can reassure the Committee about the discussions with the Welsh Government. During the development of the draft Bill, we worked with all the devolved Administrations, including the Welsh Assembly Government, as part of the devolution settlement to allow the devolved Administrations to decide for themselves how they want powers to be exercised in the devolved areas. The Welsh Assembly Government Ministers are keen that the statutory apprenticeships established under Part 1 of the Bill cover Wales. The Bill includes provisions in respect of the operation of statutory apprenticeships in Wales, requested by Welsh Assembly Government Ministers. We are already working with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure a coherent approach in both countries and qualifications that are recognised on both sides of the border. That is fundamentally important. I thank my noble friend Lady Wall for her partnership approach and I am glad that she made the very relevant point that sector skills councils operate across the United Kingdom.

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