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This has been a very important debate. I should stress that there are two sides to the question. There are those who say beware of too much rigidity as that will have unintended consequences by deterring employers, and then there is the passionate plea from my noble friend Lord Layard, supported by others, that we must have standards that encourage people to develop so that they really will progress as a result of their apprenticeship. We are still in that consultative mode and will come back, for example, to the question of guided learning hours off the workstation. That is a genuine commitment and we have picked up the importance felt about mentoring. With those assurances, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.

6.45 pm

Lord Layard: I thank my noble friend for his helpful comments and some reassurance. We will have to come back to the issue. I want to read what he said carefully, and perhaps engage in some discussions on the individual items that were covered.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who has participated. It has been a deep debate. We have not avoided the issues; we have really gone for them, which I am sure will continue. The Minister went through all the items, and I want to comment on three of them. First, on the minimum hour item that we debated at such length, it is important to think about whether it is an arduous requirement. The old apprenticeships lasted much longer in terms of years and normally required day release and one or two evenings at night school. This is not an arduous requirement; it is an attempt to set some flaw against the total erosion of the intellectual content of the apprenticeship. It should not be thought of as hugely demanding; it is more like a flaw. It should be thought of as part of the reform of our educational system. It is a major part of the educational system for people who are not going to university, and we should be willing to stand up for the idea of a minimum. I would add that the minimum should be written into the Bill. I was worried by the Minister’s remarks about having it only in the standards.

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On the merging of qualifications, I would say that if there is one that will be separate, why merge them? That is a pretty obvious point, but if they are kept separate, they will remain brands that we know. If they are merged, we will have to relearn the system yet again and try to extract from it something that we could identify more easily otherwise. My noble friend’s remarks on functional skills at level 2 apprenticeship level worried me the most. I was not quite sure whether we really are committed to ensuring that there is a serious attempt to raise the functional skills of everybody who comes in.

I shall read very carefully what the Minister said, for which I am most grateful. My main reservation, which I think will probably be shared by my fellow proposers, is the idea that this will not be in the Bill. That is a very serious aspect of the Minister’s reply and I think that we will have to come back to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 56 withdrawn.

Amendments 57 to 58A not moved.

Clause 25 agreed.

Amendment 59 not moved.

Clause 26 : Specification of apprenticeship standards for Wales

Amendment 60 not moved.

Clause 26 agreed.

Clauses 27 to 29 agreed.

Clause 30 : Meaning of "apprenticeship agreement"

Amendments 61 and 62 not moved.

Amendment 63

Moved by Lord Elton

63: Clause 30, page 13, line 32, leave out from beginning to “in” and insert “The Secretary of State may prescribe the form of apprenticeship agreements so as,”

Lord Elton: I shall speak also to Amendment 64. Amendment 63 strikes in Clause 30(3). That subsection infers that a power is contained in subsection (2)(b)—it refers to it as such—as does subsection (4) of Clause 34 at line 19 on page 15. We then look at subsection (2)(b) and find that, supported by the introduction to that subsection, it reads that the conditions are,

By any normal reading of the English language, that does not confer a power. It refers to a power which must exist elsewhere. My amendment seeks to locate that power as close to this point in the Bill as possible by rewording subsection (3) so that it reads, “The Secretary of State may prescribe the form of apprenticeship agreements so as, in particular ... to”. That is a power conferred. The reference to that power in Clause 34 needs to be amended from a reference to subsection (2) of Clause 30 to a reference to subsection (3), and that is what Amendment 64 does. I hope that I

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have said that slowly and clearly enough to make clear my interpretation and how I seek to remedy what I see as an unintentional slip. I beg to move.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I shall endeavour to address the noble Lord’s concerns. I can only praise his tenacity and determination as he examines the Bill line by line and clause by clause to ensure that it is clear in its intention.

The amendment seeks to make it clear in Clause 30 that the Secretary of State may prescribe the form of apprenticeship agreements. As I said, I place on the record my recognition of and appreciation for the indefatigable nature of the noble Lord’s crusade to make our legislation more accessible. It is an objective that we share. At the same time, I am sure he agrees with me that there is a virtue in brevity, where we can achieve it with clarity. The Secretary of State is already granted the power to prescribe by order the form of the apprenticeship agreement under Clause 30(2)(b). As such, the amendment would introduce unnecessary duplication.

Lord Elton: I agree with what the Minister says are the words in the Bill but I do not agree with what they mean. They do not seem to me to confer a power. If you say that the conditions are that the agreement is in the prescribed form, you are not conferring a power but describing it.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Perhaps the next bit may help. As is standard practice in legislation, “prescribed” is defined in Clause 256(1), dealing with the general interpretation of the Act. I would humbly submit that, while it may be laborious to have to root through the Bill to find a particular definition—we recognise that—so it would be tedious for the reader to have to read time and again in the legislation that that was the case. The legislation is trying to set the general rule once, and then explain only the exceptions to that general rule in the body of the text. We believe that “prescribed” is defined clearly in Clause 256(1) and that that is the best way to do it. We do it once and then explain only the exceptions to that general rule in the body of the text. I hope on that basis that the noble Lord would be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Elton: I am much obliged to the noble Lord for directing me. I was looking for an interpretation clause at the end of the part, but he has directed me to an interpretation clause near, but not at, the end of the Bill, where I was not expecting to find it. Of course, at this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, but I am somewhat loathe to concede him the victory because I like to know what I am reading when I read it. However, there are years of convention at the Minister’s elbow to encourage him in what he says. I suppose my laborious task must be to see how many times there will need to be a change in the Bill to obviate that definition at the end. I suspect I shall fail in the task, so, sadly, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 63 withdrawn.

Clause 30 agreed.

Clauses 31 to 33 agreed.

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Clause 34 : Crown servants and Parliamentary staff

Amendment 64 not moved.

Clause 34 agreed.

Clause 35 : Careers education

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen): Before I call Amendment 65, I have to inform the Committee that if Amendment 65 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 67 to 78 inclusive due to pre-emption.

Amendment 65

Moved by Lord Layard

65: Clause 35, page 16, leave out lines 2 to 6 and insert—

““(2C) For the purposes of subsection (2B), it shall be in the best interest of all pupils to be informed about GCE A Levels, diplomas and apprenticeships.””

Lord Layard: I will move the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris of Yardley. It concerns careers guidance, an extraordinarily important issue, which many Members of the Committee raised at Second Reading. It would help to set this in the wider context. From 2013, we will have compulsory participation in education or training up to 17 and up to 18 from 2015. That is a huge task. For that compulsion to work, it is essential that students receive good information and guidance so that they make choices which work for them, otherwise we will have a very bad situation.

7 pm

There is the danger that schools will try to keep the maximum number of young people in school. I have heard of one school—other noble Lords may have heard of others—that has already told parents that the law will say that children have to stay at school until they are 18. That would be the worst possible outcome—to have too many children staying on in school and then dropping out without having made sensible choices.

We are all agreed that apprenticeship must be presented to all children as a real option to be considered. However, Clause 35 does not do that. I will remind noble Lords how it sounds. The clause states:

“Any consideration for the purposes of subsection (2B) of what advice would promote the best interests of the pupils concerned must include consideration of whether it would be in their best interests, or in the best interests of any of them, to receive advice which relates to apprenticeships”.

The intention cannot have been to make it sound the way that I have made it sound—but if noble Lords read it, they will see that it does sound like that. I understand from the Bill team that the intention was totally different from the impression given. Existing laws establish the requirement for information to be given about all routes, and this clause is meant to reinforce the requirement to give advice about apprenticeships. However, that is not the impression that is given; the impression given is that advice about apprenticeships is required only if it is in the child’s best interests.

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I will give an example of what that can lead to. It is another extraordinary story that I heard the other day, which relates to the huge hostility in many schools towards apprenticeship. A careers service was producing documents called young person’s action plans, which included a description of available options from which the young person could make their plan. Two versions of the same document were produced by the careers service. One, which was given to the young person, mentioned apprenticeship. The other, which was given to the school, did not, because the careers service was so frightened that if it was seen by the school to mention apprenticeship, the school would physically not let the service into the building to meet the young people. That is the problem that we are up against. It is no good saying that the guidance is very clear if we then put into law a clause that gives such an unsatisfactory impression.

I think that the department understands that this is not satisfactory, so I will not go on about it. However, if there is to be such a clause in the Bill, it should be self-standing; it cannot have a perhaps benevolent meaning that can be understood only by going back to something else. It must state that there should be a level playing field with regard to advice about all the possible avenues that a young person can take. I hope that the Minister will be willing to reconsider the existing clause. I beg to move.

Baroness Garden of Frognal:The amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp appear in the next group but, with the leave of the Committee, I will speak in this debate, as it covers the same issues. That is why we have great sympathy with the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Layard.

The amendments very much reflect the feeling of the House at Second Reading, when there was widespread surprise that the apprenticeships that were supposed to be so strongly supported by the Bill were effectively being written off. As the noble Lord explained, that was apparently not the intention of the Bill team—but we all read the clause as suggesting that apprenticeships were not worthy of being pressed on all young people. We hope that pupils will be informed not only of the qualifications, which is the way that the noble Lord’s amendment reads, but of the range of opportunities to which those qualifications lead. In some other amendments in this group, that sense is there. It is not the qualifications per se, but the opportunities that lead from them.

Our amendments stress that careers information, advice and guidance would be entirely impartial and given by people who are experts on it. They would have no temptation to lean towards the sorts of qualifications that might be most readily available in the schools and colleges or—perish the thought—look best in league tables. They would investigate and explore each young person’s best interests, enthusiasms and where his or her skills would lie.

The report Apprenticeship: a key route to skill by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs stated that,

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Our feeling, which I think is widespread in this Committee, is that the Bill should provide an opportunity to put that situation right.

We also suggest that careers guidance should extend beyond school leavers to well into adult life. We heard from experts from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. For instance, Professor Alan Tuckett, who has great authority in respect of adult education, described the Bill as a missed opportunity because it will feed through to adult learners for follow-up in careers advice and guidance. The Bill could put in place an independent, all-age career service that would work with Connexions, be accessible in schools and colleges and play a key part in promoting the value of apprenticeships by setting out the variety and rewards of skills-based employment. They are the very skills that the nation needs to be building in a competitive global society and will be in the best interests of each pupil as well as of the nation as a whole.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in reply to these amendments.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I support Amendment 66, to which the noble Baroness has just spoken. It is a model description of what good careers education should be, with provision in every school. Clause 35 amends the 1997 Act. I am sure the Minister will say that the section in the 1997 Act that is being amended already requires information about apprenticeships to be given to all young people and that the words in the Bill are only an addition to the requirement. However, I point out to her that 11 noble Lords have put their names to amendments that in one way or another ask that Clause 35 repeat the requirement that information about apprenticeships should be given to all young people, not only those for whom it is in their best interests. With due respect, if 11 of us who are used to reading the rather arcane language of parliamentary Bills have all felt the need to add this, I feel it would be important for others who will read the Bill when it becomes an Act, if it does, to understand that the requirement relates to all young people.

Is the Minister prepared to take away the provision with the requests of several members of the Committee, including myself, to make sure that people do not have to go back to the 1997 Act to find out what is being required, but that instead the Bill will contain a clear requirement for all young people to be given information about apprenticeships? As has been said powerfully by others, if it is left to the schools, many will not mention apprenticeships, particularly to the brighter children. They will tell only those whom they feel are going to fail academically. That is not the kind of apprenticeship information that we want provided.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I support the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Layard. It is entirely laudable. He wants advice given to youngsters at schools about

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the possibilities that they will have beyond the age of 16. In his subjects he hints at GCSEs and A-levels, at sixth-form colleges or sixth forms, diplomas to FE colleges or possibly sixth forms, apprentices to businesses and individual students. There should be good career guidance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, said, but—here I am repeating my plea for the colleges—if there was a network of practical and vocational colleges for students between 14 to 19—the Government support that, because I am promoting them and we are slowly getting them started—that takes the trick of practical and vocational education in our society and we will support entirely the extension of the school-leaving age to 18. We should have colleges with 600 to 800 pupils taking two courses of entry, young apprentices at 14 and students, sponsored by a university where they will study the diplomas, which I strongly support. The only way in which the diplomas will effectively be delivered will be in an institution.

If at 16 those youngsters have a sense of belonging to that institution, they will not just leave their school; it will continue. They may become an apprentice, but they will go back to their alma mater, as it were. That is not quite the right term, but the Committee will know what I mean. Practical and vocational education will be in their bloodstream and their lifestream. They will automatically know all the different routes available to them post-16. I hope that if I keep on saying this in various debates during the passage of the Bill, one Minister will say that this is a good idea and should be extended more widely, because it is the answer to most of their problems. I am happy to pioneer it by persuading universities to set up the colleges, but I am really being used by the Government as one of those people who went out in front of Roman armies to stir things up. Many of the answers to these debates will be solved by having technical vocational colleges for 14 to 19 year-olds, sponsored by universities.

Baroness Morris of Yardley: I support the amendment to which I have added my name. Noble Lords have already said why it is important, but I should like to add my voice. The Bill does not make sense in terms of consideration, and the notion that anyone should have the legal power to consider whether someone should receive factual information is not realistic in an internet world, let alone a civilised society. If we consider the opposite of that situation, with someone deciding that an individual was not entitled to receive factual information, it shows that the Bill gives an inaccurate impression.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in his plea for technical colleges for 14 to 19 year-olds—whatever we call them. What makes sense is that we have a school system that goes from ages five to 14 and 14 to 18. I would not want it to be five to 11, 11 to 14 and 14 to 18. The Government missed a trick in abolishing key stage 3 assessment tests. They should have abolished key stage 2 and boosted key stage 3; then we could have had a strong 14 to 19 system, part of which was vocational technical colleges. However, that is probably not in the amendment that we are considering.

We worry about careers education every time we talk about it. No matter what the legislation says and no matter what our efforts, there is a feeling in the

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House and in our nation that children are not always in a position to make the right decision about their careers. I suppose we arrive at that conclusion because we see the consequences of inadequate decisions or of opportunities missed.

7.15 pm

We try to put into legislation factual information which children need to receive. In this debate, we have spoken a lot about the importance of the careers education service being the outside body which does not have a vested interest in children taking any one pathway and in giving them information. I support that wholeheartedly. That is the importance of the Careers Service. I am supportive of some of these amendments, although not all of them are in great detail other than the one to which I have put my name. I worry that they are not sufficient.

There are two parts to the process of what ends up with the child; namely, the young person who receives the information and the young person who makes a decision. Receiving information is not the same as making a decision. On sex education, obesity, health and safety or whatever it may be, you can hear members of the public say, “Haven’t they been told about that at school?”. Of course children have been told, but they have not absorbed it and it has not led them to make the decision we would wish them to make.

On the whole of this agenda, including children and young people making decisions about their future, I would like some acknowledgement that, as important as these amendments are, children and young people have a right to impartial information. The real thing that we do not do effectively is enable them to make a decision. The Careers Service essentially is one careers officer going into a school now and again to give information and then often leaving the school. Other people are left with the children and young people while they make their decisions. Schools have a vested interest in making them stay on, although we should not give inaccurate pictures of the behaviour of teachers. Most head teachers act in the interests of young people. There are parents who do not know about apprenticeships or other options and some of them do not have aspirations for their children.

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