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The CBI argues that the process for employers wanting to develop their own qualification must be simple and that new legislation must encourage the participation of employers in apprenticeships. Do this Government intend to stop people carrying out training while frameworks are still in draft form? One feels that this might be a rather retrograde step.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: While I understand the desire behind the amendments to ensure that learners are not disadvantaged, sector skills councils as the issuing authority will not have the flexibility to issue draft apprenticeship frameworks. All frameworks must meet the Specifications of Apprenticeship Standards for England and for Wales respectively before they can be issued, and there is a good reason for that.

I admit that I thought that there was consensus within this Chamber about preserving the quality of apprenticeships, so let us think about what we are saying. Of course, we want flexibility. The fact that we have grown apprenticeships to 180 frameworks over a recent period demonstrates sufficient progress. I cannot comment on Australia having 500 while we have only 180; I can say only that we have responded to the demands of employers. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that we allow companies to go down the road of establishing their own self-accreditation, provided they meet standards. I reject the idea that we would wilfully obstruct the creation of apprenticeships with a process that would somehow delay it. We encourage sector skills councils in everything that we do. The UKCES, the body that examines them, is going through the relicensing process and looking carefully at how long the approval process takes. Were we to have a process whereby we laid down standards, reassuring one group of people that an apprenticeship was a quality product, while allowing another group to go ahead and say, “Well, it doesn’t matter. Actually, you submitted it. You didn’t actually meet the standards, but you can carry on doing it”, it would create horrendous confusion. Trying to make sure that the maximum number of apprenticeships is available is the first task that we face in convincing employers, parents and teachers that apprenticeships are a quality product—and we have not yet finished that task by any means.

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I would plead with your Lordships not to introduce a circumstance in which no one is sure about the status of a training programme—is it or is it not an apprenticeship? We ourselves were accused of creating uncertainty with programme-led apprenticeships, and we tried to eliminate it by ensuring that there was a work-based agreement between the apprentice and the employer and that there was a job tied to the apprenticeship. People want quality and standards, and we have ensured those in these specifications. The abandonment of those would be a retrograde step, undermining much of our good work. We have seen employees and employers beginning to appreciate the value of apprenticeships.

We do not want unnecessary bureaucracy in the approval process and we will take that point away to ensure that we do not introduce anything different. However, let us be clear about the demand for apprenticeship frameworks. It is a demand-led system that comes from employers. I do not want to get into the arcane nature of the debate at Kew about whether a qualification should be botanical or horticultural. No doubt people there agonised about that. We already have horticultural apprenticeships, but if employers demand a botanical apprenticeship, or if there is a specific need for one, there is nothing to prevent them going to the sector skills council to get that.

The noble Baroness is right that it is a question of control. However, it is also one of quality and standards, and reassuring the public that they are getting a genuine end-product. It must not be something that an employer can continue with, recognised or not, suggesting that there is an apprenticeship framework which has met the standard when clearly there is not.

We have an obligation to ensure that we do not obstruct progress and that we have a demand-led system that responds to the needs of employers. That is exactly what sector skills councils do because they are made up of employers. If the demand is there, there will be an apprenticeship framework. I will go away and investigate why Australia has 500 apprenticeship frameworks while we have only 180. We do not do much kangaroo rearing in this country, but I do not know what specific frameworks Australia has. I shall be interested to find out. The Leitch report was absolutely clear—we set ourselves some very ambitious targets—that by 2013 we will have in place the entitlement for all young people who want an apprenticeship to have one. That was clearly on the understanding that we were talking about a quality product.

I understand the laudable intentions of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, but unfortunately there may be an unintended consequence regarding the system of quality control. We believe that quality control is vital if we are to sustain the reputation of apprenticeships. I hope that in those circumstances he will feel able to withdraw his amendment, taking into account the assurance that I have given to all noble Lords who have entered into this debate—that we will be looking to ensure that we have not introduced any unnecessary bureaucracy in the approval process.

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Viscount Eccles: I am sorry that the Minister sets up the Government as the god of standards. There is always disagreement about standards. There is not just one answer to what is high quality and what is a good standard.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: We do not set ourselves up as a god of standards at all. If that was what we were trying to do, we would be woefully deficient and we would certainly make the wrong decisions. In arriving at standards, we have gone through a comprehensive consultation process in which we have involved employers, training providers and all the other relevant stakeholders. So it is not the Government who are laying down standards; this is what we have been told by employers, training providers and other relevant stakeholders are the standards required. It is not the Government; it is demand-led by employers and other relevant stakeholders.

Viscount Eccles: I have been an employer for quite a large part of my life and I remember that there are employers who join in these processes and ones that do not join in to such a great extent. I wonder about Lakshmi Metal and Bill Gates and all sorts of eccentric employers. Even the employers would say that there is no such thing as a single demand-led process, because they are in competition with one another. They would never believe as a total class; there are from time to time eccentric employers who do not join in any of these processes. I stick to my point. I do not want to damage the statutory system—may it work really well. All I was trying to do was to ensure that those who did not want to join did not lose any right to continue along the path that they had worked out for themselves and which they wanted to continue down. I may come back to this at the next stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 28 withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clause 15 : Transitional provision for apprenticeship frameworks: England

Amendments 29 to 31 not moved.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17 : Issue of apprenticeship framework etc.: Wales

Amendment 32 not moved.

Clause 17 agreed.

Clause 18 agreed.

Clause 19 : Submission of draft apprenticeship framework for issue: Wales

Amendment 33 not moved.

Clause 19 agreed.

Clause 20 agreed.

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Clause 21 : Duty to prepare and submit draft specification of apprenticeship standards: England

Amendments 34 not moved

Amendment 35 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 36

Moved by Lord Elton

36: Clause 21, page 10, line 12, leave out “specification” and insert “register”

Lord Elton: I shall speak also to Amendments 43 to 45, 47, 49 to 55, 58, 75 and 78. That is almost the longest part of what I have to say, as this is a very straightforward and simple amendment and your Lordships will either agree with it or not. The rather unwieldy term “specification” for the document to which we are referring is, to builders, naturally a theme, while to others it is often a process. I have no objection to the Minister, the chief executive or the Welsh Minister as the case may be specifying, but the document that they put that in is more easily referred to as a register. Of course, one could pick that up in the reference that we discussed under my earlier amendment, which would be a very elegant solution.

I do not want to detain your Lordships for long on this. It is really a case of either one likes it or one does not—and knowing the predisposition of the Government, I do not suppose that they will. I beg to move.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support this amendment. It is a word that is English and is understood by many more people to mean exactly what it describes—rather than specification, which seems to be repeated an awful number of times. The clearer it is in the Bill, the better it is for everyone.

Lord De Mauley: My noble friend Lord Elton is continuing to do his best to bring a level of precision and erudition to the Bill. We should remember perhaps that we are discussing a Bill whose name includes the words children and learning. It seems somewhat ironic therefore that so many of these amendments relate to a necessity for clarity, precision and the correct use of English.

I welcome his argument that one should not have to look some way further forward in the Bill to reach an explanation of what one is reading. The Bill is already infamously long and convoluted. The use of the word “specification” in Clause 21, therefore, when the term is not defined until much later, seems to add a further layer of unnecessary complexity. I hope that the Minister will consider my noble friend’s amendments favourably. The Bill will benefit from the close and dedicated scrutiny that my noble friend brings to it.

5 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I do not agree with this set of amendments. The term “specification” is, on this occasion, right. A draft specification has been

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issued for consultation at the moment, which sets out a set of guidelines as to what is required for an apprenticeship framework. It is not a register of the framework: it sets out what is required to be within the framework. In that sense, it seems to be more appropriate to use the word “specification”.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): I am delighted to have the opportunity to join the Committee stage of discussions at last on a very interesting amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing it and enabling us to have this discussion. It allows me to make a point about the reading of the Bill.

Throughout our deliberations so far in Committee, I have been impressed by noble Lords’ expectations about what they expect to understand from the drafting of a Bill. When you are wading through a Bill, as many noble Lords will know, piecing together its meaning is very difficult. Sometimes we have to go through the detail in Committee to flush these things out and share them with the House. When you read a Bill, you also have to read in previous pieces of legislation, so I understand noble Lords’ frustrations with the complexity of the drafting and the length of the Bill. I feel very strongly that we on the Government Benches must work harder to ensure that noble Lords have satisfaction as far as the interpretation is concerned.

Having said that, I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has made his case with customary verve, eloquence and precision, and I share his desire to ensure that our legislation, even when dealing with complex matters, is written in as plain, accessible and understandable language as possible and that the drafting is precise.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “specification” is the,

“Specific, explicit, or detailed mention, enumeration, or statement of something”.

Allowing for some flexibility in certain areas is essentially the role of the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England and its sister document in Wales.

As a Whip, I once told a Minister off for waving exhibits around, so I will probably get told off in a minute, but I have in my hand the specification document that has been circulated for consultation. It will set out the standards that all apprenticeships must meet. Although the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has made a tempting case for the title “register”, as he will be aware, our consultation on the draft Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England has recently closed. We have received 400 responses. During that process, the term “specification”, or SASE for short, has become widely used. It is a familiar term to those who have been involved in the consultation, who are clear about what it means.

I would be reluctant, because of that, to lose that meaning at this stage, or to risk confusing employers, colleagues, colleges and others around the country by changing the name now, particularly when the arguments for the choice of name perhaps are a bit finely balanced. I have listened to what noble Lords have to say. The document has a life now, and I hope that with that recognition, the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment.

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Lord Elton: It not only has a life, it has—as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has drawn to my attention—a parentage, and on those grounds I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 36 withdrawn.

Amendments 37 and 38 not moved.

Amendment 38A

Moved by Lord De Mauley

38A: Clause 21, page 10, line 14, leave out “such persons as the Chief Executive thinks” and insert “representatives of industry, employers, Sector Skills Councils, sectoral bodies, the further education sector and other persons the Chief Executive considers”

Lord De Mauley: Amendments 38A, 40, 42, 48 and 173 are designed to ensure the involvement of employers and the sector skills councils in the production of apprenticeship frameworks. Amendment 38A would ensure that when preparing the drafts, the Secretary of State consults not the persons who he thinks are appropriate, but more specifically the representatives of industry, employers, sector skills councils, sectoral bodies, the further education sector and other persons the chief executive considers appropriate. Amendment 40 would ensure that the chief executive of skills funding is required to consult employers regarding the self-specification and self-assessment parts of any apprenticeship scheme that employers provide themselves.

This is in order to provide flexibility, responsiveness to employer needs, and to ensure that standards are constantly driven up. Amendment 42 requires that this process of consultation with employers, representatives of industry, sector skills councils and any other person who the Skills Funding Agency considers appropriate, starts with the first draft specification. The Bill as it stands specifies that the chief executive does not need even to consult such persons as the chief executive considers appropriate on the first draft. Can the Minister confirm that this is because extensive consultation has already been carried out on the first draft? Otherwise, I cannot understand the reasoning.

Amendment 48 is consequential on these provisions and requires that representatives of industry, employers, sector skills councils and the further education sector must also be consulted if any draft modifications to the specification of apprenticeship standards for England are to be introduced. Amendment 173 requires that the person to whom the chief executive has delegated powers in order to carry out apprenticeship functions must also be responsive to employers’ needs with regard to the provision of apprenticeships.

We have tabled these amendments because it seems inappropriate that the Bill does not require stronger employer involvement when the draft specifications of apprenticeship standards are being drawn up. It is simply good sense to make sure that employers are involved in the process from the very beginning. This would have a twofold advantage. First, it would mean that employers, and those representing employers, would be able to specify standards that were appropriate to them. Secondly, it would mean that standards would not then constantly have to be revisited in response to the concerns of those employers.

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Important groups speaking for employers have voiced their concerns in this area, and it is vital that we take their views on board. The CBI recognised that the Government’s intentions are,

but it strongly recommends that—

John Lucas of the British Chambers of Commerce also stated that:

“We think that apprenticeships need to be employer-led and employer-focused”.

As the Bill stands, I fear that there is not a strong enough emphasis on the importance of employer input. Even the New Statesman—that great organ of the left—acknowledged this in an article in its edition of 8 June, entitled “The Art of Vocation”, in which it states approvingly, among other things,

Furthermore, our amendments take note of the importance of consultation with the sector skills councils. They are an important intermediary and we consider them well able to represent the needs of the industry. We would therefore strongly urge that their views are taken into account.

On Report stage in another place the Minister accepted my honourable friend John Hayes’ arguments for clarity in the inclusion of employer bodies in co-operation arrangements. We are grateful for this concession and the new duty on colleges to follow statutory guidance from the Secretary of State on co-operation, including with employers. That is a welcome concession indeed. Nevertheless, our fears are not yet adequately allayed and we would welcome a further statutory duty which included sector skills councils. We would like to see them incorporated into the Bill so that employers are fully represented and this two-way engagement can make apprenticeship standards higher and of even more value. I beg to move.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I am quite sure that the Minister will tell us that of course all of these splendid arrangements for consultation are already in place and there is no question but that that is how the Government intend that the legislation should be implemented. In my experience many amendments tabled by opposition parties are asking for things to be on the face of the Bill which Ministers assure us are there in intention and do not need to be on the face of the Bill. It would be very nice to say that this Bill, which as the Minister said earlier is quite difficult to follow and quite difficult to understand, nevertheless has some clear clarion principles which people can read and understand on the face of the Bill, and I think that one of them ought to be the involvement of employers, as in Germany, where the apprenticeship scheme is entirely employer-led.

I know the Minister will say, “Of course—that is exactly what we are trying to do here. We expect it to be employer-led”, and I do not doubt that his briefing gives him several paragraphs of assuring us that that is exactly the way it will be. But I repeat that it would be very good to have on the face of the Bill a very clear

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statement of the involvement of employers—and indeed of the FE sector, which has to play a large part in implementing these apprenticeship proposals—and the fact that they will be consulted in the preparation of the framework.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will bear in mind our earlier comments on the sector skills councils, to which he replied that he would take them into account but not let them alter the Bill. I think that we will be having this debate throughout our consideration of the Bill. He recognises the appropriateness of the councils and their status as defined by government, and it is crucial to bear that in mind when building them back in, but I still think that we will be having this discussion over and over again. We have raised the issue several times but I seriously wonder what the Minister is worrying about. He has given an explanation before. We are not looking for specific names for sector skills councils but for a collective, generic name. The important thing is not whether they are restructured or their numbers reduced; the important thing is to recognise their value, which the Government do, as well as their role. It would be helpful if we could quickly reach a real understanding of where the councils fit in under the Bill.

Lord Ramsbotham: I must admit that putting my name to these amendments was motivated partly by a close personal interest in that my elder son chairs the North East Chambers of Commerce. One of the things he pleaded with me when we discussed the Bill was that it should firmly recognise the position of employers, as the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, mentioned in an earlier debate.

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