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The fact is that the employers will lead this country out of the economic situation that we are in. One of the things that all of them are faced with is the problem of skills shortages. It is therefore highly important that everything should be done to identify where those skills shortages may be and to make certain that they are filled by those who have the relevant training and skills to fill them. It is therefore no good leaving aside the decision as to which apprenticeships are going to be available. All of us are aware that, despite the wish and intention to have all people of this age able to get an apprenticeship, there will not be enough apprenticeships available for all those on the market. It is therefore essential that those that are filled are filled in a way that is relevant to the future, which must be the employers’ future. Merely mentioning it in the context of something is not good enough, so I hope that the Minister will agree to put employers in the Bill.

5.15 pm

I would like to raise one other small aspect of this because I could not see another opportunity of doing so. There is already one apprenticeship scheme in Her Majesty’s Prison Service, run by Toyota, in Her Majesty’s young offender institution at Aylesbury. Unfortunately, we have in this country a number of long-term young prisoners, but they do not lack ability. It is therefore absolutely essential that their future and ability to contribute to the life of the nation should be

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considered as well. I therefore hope that, in deciding where the resources will go, the Prison Service will not be left out.

In that connection, I once had an interesting long conversation with the managing director of Leyland Trucks at Preston, who told me that he had had a skills shortage. One way he found of getting over it was to go to the prison to identify those who had the necessary ability and start training them so that they came out not just with a job to go to, but a job with a future. That was thinking ahead, but was of course only possible if the prisoners themselves lived in Preston; he could not do it for someone who came from Cornwall. I suggest that if you look at that right across the country, you will find that employers everywhere will be able to engage in that sort of process if they are dealing with their own. That of course brings me back to the point that employers are looking for their own in their own area with the right abilities. That is why it is so essential that it should be included in the Bill.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: The noble Baroness, Lady Wall, has already said that we have a series of other groupings in which we will talk about consultation. It will come back time and time again.

I pick up on her point. It is of course true that the sector skills councils are employer-led, and have been created expressly to be able to co-ordinate activities within each trade and sector of the employers. This is one of the reasons why, in the earlier debate about sector skills councils, I was so anxious to see that they were consulted. I felt that, having created them to express the will of employers, it was important, as I said, that we give them the courtesy of consulting them on these occasions.

Time and again one gets in legislation, as we have here, things like,

It is always tempting to put in a long list of all those that the chief executive should think appropriate. Equally, the point of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is there: the CBI and the employers have been lobbying us all, saying, “Our voice must be heard”. There is a feeling that we are creating this bureaucracy, and the employers will be carried along by it and not really be able to make their point on it.

There has been extensive consultation on the apprenticeship specification. One of my responses to the employers was, “Have you replied?”. They have, and that is one reason why the Government had 400 responses. However, it is important that, since we want the system to be employer-led—and nobody disputes that—they are given the courtesy of being involved in the consultation.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: At the heart of these amendments is a recurring theme: a concern about the need for a commitment to consult fully with employers, sector skills councils and other key stakeholders in setting and developing apprenticeship standards for England. We unreservedly share that commitment to ensuring that all who have an interest in apprenticeships have a say in developing the standards

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that will deliver the highest quality apprenticeships for our learners and employers. That is why we have just completed a full-scale, 12-week public consultation on the specification of apprenticeship standards for England—the SASE—which drew almost 400 responses. It was not some kind of fictitious veneer of process. It was a genuine consultative process, which embraced a wide range of employers. If it had not, it would be irrelevant. They are the people who will provide apprenticeships. Unless they are convinced that the standards that we are setting are both necessary and relevant, we will not get their co-operation. The consultation included not only employers but the HE and FE sectors, training providers, sector skills councils, trade unions, and at least one apprentice who responded.

I was interested in the comment that was made in relation to Germany. I agree. I wish that British employers had the same attitude as German employers. We would be in a slightly different situation, but we are where we are. Where I part company is over the idea that, somehow, in the UK, it is not employers who are driving the design of apprenticeships. They most certainly are and we cannot arrive at an apprenticeship framework without the co-operation and collaboration of employers; it would be impossible. The system may not be perfect and is capable of improvement, but it is driven by employers.

I have also met representatives of the CBI, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, the Association of Training Providers, the Association of Colleges, representative employers from the LSC’s national employer service and other organisations to hear their views on the specifications and standards. As always, I found meeting employers an enlightening and important experience. I am not theorising about what I think employers’ requirements for apprenticeships are; I hear their concerns and needs directly. I give an absolute assurance that we will take careful account of all the views expressed as we finalise the SASE, and then issue it formally by order.

At this point I will address the concerns that have been expressed about the importance of employers in this process, which was raised by several noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, drew our attention to the part of the clause that refers to the Secretary of State designating those whom he thinks appropriate. We will take that point away and see whether we can address it.

Like Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, which we will come to in a moment, Amendment 42 would require further consultation on the same document. I hope that the noble Lords will accept that this is unnecessary. Both the requirement in the Bill and the very wide consultation that has already taken place demonstrate our commitment to the widest possible consultation. Should we need, at some time in the future, to modify the SASE—say, as a result of the changing needs of sectors and their employers—we will expect the chief executive of skills funding to undertake similarly wide consultation before the modified version of the SASE is put to Parliament for scrutiny. In anticipating the passing of the legislation

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and having had a consultative process, we have tried to ensure that we can launch these new standards as speedily as possible. If we introduce another consultative round, that will delay the introduction. We talked about speeding up the approval process, so delaying the introduction will not help the situation.

Where consultation with persons likely to be affected by a decision or policy is required, the Government’s code of practice on consultation recommends that consultations will normally last for a minimum of three months. That is the very least that Parliament would expect, and I am sure that noble Lords on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee would be quick to draw it to the attention of the Committee if no such consultation had been undertaken. I know that some noble Lords may have concerns that we are somehow diminishing the role of sector skills councils. I have said repeatedly that nothing could be further from the truth. They are key to a successful apprenticeship strategy. As I have already made clear, sector skills councils will, together with their key partners, have an absolutely central role through their responsibility for developing and issuing apprenticeship frameworks.

We recognise fully the need to have employers on board; they are central to apprenticeships. If we do not carry employers with us, as I said, they will vote with their feet and not take on any apprentices. To that extent it is self-evident that they must be consulted and so must other key stakeholders. That is one of the reasons why the National Apprenticeship Service has established a key stakeholder forum.

In addressing the heartfelt plea of my noble friend Lady Wall, who asked us to reconsider having sectors skills councils on the face of Bill, my current information is that there is a real danger that by doing so we would introduce a hybrid nature to the Bill that would make it an even more complex and lengthy procedure. Given the concern expressed by all noble Lords who have contributed, we will take away that question of the sector skills councils to establish beyond any doubt whether there is an impediment to putting them in the Bill. I give my noble friend that assurance, although I cannot say what the outcome will be. Obviously, we take it seriously and do not want to introduce an unnecessary difference between us about the role of sector skills councils.

My honourable friend the Minister responsible for further education made it clear in another place that the key stakeholder forum will include strong employer, as well as union and training provider representation. The group includes the following employer bodies: the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce—already referred to in this debate—and the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. It—the key stakeholder forum—will also ensure that the views of colleges, other providers and other interested parties are heard. The Association of Learning Providers, the Association of Colleges, the Local Government Association and the Trades Union Congress will be consulted and will help inform the development of apprenticeships. The stakeholder forum also has representation from the National Learner Panel to represent the interests of learners.

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We believe that the National Apprenticeship Service stakeholder group will provide a mechanism to ensure that the views of employers as well as those of their representatives and sector skills councils are taken into account in apprenticeships and that the chief executive of the NAS will be responsive to the needs of employers in the provision of high-quality apprenticeships. That said, I understand the strength of feeling on this issue. While I do not think that any of the amendments would quite work as drafted, I would like to give the matter further consideration before we come back on Report and continue the dialogue with noble Lords about how we can ensure that the Bill reflects the strong views on all sides that the requirement for consultation with employers and their representatives could be made more explicit.

Before concluding, I shall respond to a couple of points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about access to apprenticeships for young offenders. They can train against apprenticeship frameworks while in custody, but they clearly will not have an entitlement under the apprenticeship scheme as they cannot be available for work within the agreement. The important point made by the noble Lord about getting young offenders prepared and ready for apprenticeship and work is vital and we concur with it.

On the basis of my comments, I hope that the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Lord De Mauley: First, I thank my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for their powerful words. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wall and Lady Sharp, for their contributions. I am unsurprised by the Minister’s response. He is of course right about the central theme of these amendments being the involvement of employers, and I am grateful to him at least for saying that he will think further about the issue. For that reason, I shall not press the amendment today. I, too, would like to think further about the whole issue but I particularly want to reserve the right to return to this matter on Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 38A withdrawn.

Amendments 39 and 40 not moved.

5.30 pm

Amendment 41

Moved by Lord Elton

41: Clause 21, page 10, line 18, leave out subsection (4)

Lord Elton: I shall speak also to Amendment 60. These amendments address the same issue that caught the eye of my noble friends on my Front Bench. We are addressing the question of the preparation of the first draft specification. Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his seat, I am reminded of the process by which the first model of anything is produced and of the great importance of taking everyone’s views before it is produced.

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When I did my National Service, I was in a regiment equipped with the Centurion tank mark 1, which had a magnificent 600-horsepower Merlin Rolls-Royce engine to power it. However, people had forgotten that the tank was not always being moved around by this massive piece of machinery. It had to stay still in one place for a long time and, when you started that piece of machinery after a long time, it produced a large puff of smoke, which told the enemy where it was. Also, while you were in that place, you had to listen on your wireless to your superior officer—who, if you were extremely fortunate, was someone like the noble Lord—and that took electricity. In order to charge a 12-volt battery about once every four hours, you had to start the main engine, again emitting a little puff of white smoke and telling the enemy where you were. One would not want the same process to befall those who were designing the first draft that we are discussing here. I am sure that the noble Baroness will tell us the very good reasons why the requirement to consult is specifically excluded in both the English and Welsh sections of the Bill, and I look forward with great enthusiasm to hearing those reasons. I beg to move.

Lord De Mauley: I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for tabling these amendments and, indeed, for his lesson in armoured tactics. The credibility of the apprenticeship qualification will hang on the rigour of the specifications. If, as we agree, great care must be taken over the preparation of the draft specification of apprenticeship standards—such care that the chief executive must consult such persons as he thinks fit in preparing the draft—we need the Minister’s help in understanding why it needs to be set out in the legislation that he does not have to consult such persons in relation to the first draft to be prepared after the commencement of the section. In our experience, the first draft, in particular, benefits from consultation with other people. Perhaps I am missing a point here, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.

In addition to the questions that my noble friend has posed, I should like to press the Minister a little more on how often the Government anticipate that modifications might have to be made. Of course, as the business sector changes and new skills become needed, some modifications will be required, but I hope she will agree that too many modifications will be counterproductive. Not only will constant modification impose significant costs on providers, as well as cause great difficulty for teachers in keeping up with the changes, but it will also call into question the credibility of the certification. Therefore, it is very important that the Government take care to get it right the first time, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give us some assurances on that.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I should send up a puff of white smoke, I think, and give my noble friend Lord Young a chance to recharge his batteries. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is absolutely right when he says that much of the credibility of the quality apprenticeship system that we have been talking about rests on the effectiveness of the consultation concerned with this document. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, points out, this clause is extremely important going

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forward. Perhaps I can attempt to explain why a second consultation on the document Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England and the equivalent for Wales is not necessary.

Clause 21(2) requires the chief executive, as noble Lords are aware, to consult fully on the draft SASE. Clause 21(4), which removes this requirement in respect of the first draft, was written to reflect the fact that this consultation would already have taken place by the time the section came into force. As noble Lords are aware, we have had a draft apprenticeships Bill and we now have this Bill, so the consultation on the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England has closed. The amendment would require a further consultation on the first draft of the specification. The Committee will know, as we have just discussed it, that the draft specification was out for 12 weeks’ consultation, which ended on 29 May. The draft specification for Wales is out for a 12-week public consultation period, which will end on 17 July.

As noble Lords are aware, we drew both consultations to the attention of key stakeholders, a number of whom have been involved in its early development. The SASE consultation attracted many responses: 34 per cent were from training providers; 14 per cent were from FE institutions; 12 per cent were from sector skills councils and standard-setting bodies; almost 10 per cent were from employers; and 2 per cent were from trade unions. As my noble friend has just explained, we have also had meetings with national employers in the apprenticeships programme, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils and the Association of Learning Providers. I shall not reiterate what my noble friend has just said. The SASE and its Welsh sister document will be revised to take account of the consultations and will be published on a non-statutory basis this summer. Of course, noble Lords will have an opportunity to see the document in plenty of time before Report stage. That will enable the sector skills councils to work on adapting their existing frameworks to bring them into line with the SASE and its Welsh equivalent when, subject to the passage of this Bill, they come into force in 2011.

The Bill was drafted to reflect the fact that the consultations were already taking place and the amendment would require a further round of consultation on the same document. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked how often modification would be needed. The advice that I have received tells me that it would be needed from time to time, in response to employer feedback. My view is that this is not something that would need modification frequently. Given the amount of consultation and work involved, it is important that we get it right so that we do not have to tweak it all the time. In view of these remarks, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Elton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for putting on the record what I expected her to. I am reassured and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.

Amendment 42 not moved.

Clause 21 agreed.

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Clause 22 : Order bringing specification of apprenticeship standards for England into effect

Amendments 43 to 45 not moved.

Clause 22 agreed.

Clause 23 : Modification of specification of apprenticeship standards for England

Amendment 46 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendments 47 to 52 not moved.

Clause 23 agreed.

Clause 24 : Replacement or modification of specification of apprenticeship standards: recognised English frameworks

Amendments 53 and 54 not moved.

Clause 24 agreed.

Clause 25 : Contents of specification of apprenticeship standards for England

Amendment 55 not moved.

5.45 pm

Amendment 56

Moved by Lord Layard

56: Clause 25, page 11, line 26, at end insert “, subject to the requirements in section (Requirements of apprenticeship frameworks),”

Lord Layard: I shall speak also to Amendment 59. Both amendments are in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris of Yardley. They relate to the contents of an apprenticeship. This is such an important matter that broad standards must surely be laid down in the Bill. We propose a new clause with five subsections.

The first subsection concerns the requirement for a specified minimum time for off-the-job learning. This is crucial for two reasons. First, an apprentice must learn why he is doing what he is doing, not just how to do it. There must be systematic learning of the knowledge that underpins the trade that the apprentice is learning. That cannot be acquired in the hurly-burly of the workplace; it requires stepping back in the company of an instructor and other students.

Secondly, we are preparing young people for a world in which often they will not continue to work in the same trade but will change their trade. Therefore, they are required to build up general skills, not ones specific to their original trade. These include functional skills in maths and English, as well as analytical habits of mind that they can acquire through their study of underpinning knowledge.

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This is very important when we make international comparisons. At 15, our children have functional skills that are as good as those of French and German children but, by the age of 20, they are way behind. We are not paying enough attention to their development between the ages of 15 and 20. That has to change. Again, this requires a standing back from the workplace.

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