Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I was very struck by the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who, not surprisingly, is not in his place at this late hour. It seemed to me that there would be circumstances in which his prescription for the mix between on-the-job and off-the-job learning was exactly right. Unfortunately, there would be many other circumstances when his prescription would not be right because of the variables. What continues to concern me is that the Government will inevitably have a tendency to think that they are the masters of the variables. Throughout the proceedings on this Bill I want to keep on trying to remind myself, and them, that that will not work. They will never be able to master the variables. The range and the diversity are too great. Any decision that a particular framework should fall into a particular sector is likely to be controversial. There are borderlines between one sector and another and as you get more and more frameworks there will be more and more borderline disputes. It is extremely difficult to get it right.

We then come to the subsection (2), which states:

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

In no circumstances will any Secretary of State of any party ever know the full range of skills, trades and occupations. It would be completely misleading to make it a duty of a Secretary of State to know that. In fact, I would say it was silly because it is an impossible task in today’s multi-faceted world, in a global economy and with the march of technology.

I want to give one or two rather naive examples. First, there is cheese. Noble Lords will remember that in the years after the war, French cheeses had complete dominance, particularly any soft cheese. We were quite good at hard cheeses—we had Cheddar, Stilton, Wensleydale, Lancashire and a few others—but we were not very good at soft cheeses. I also remember that de Gaulle said that it was impossible to govern a country which makes 96 types of cheese.

In subsequent years, what has happened? I do not know whether noble Lords eat Somerset goats cheese, but I thoroughly recommend it. I do not know whether they have come across Mrs Bells of Thirsk who makes a soft blue cheese which is sold in Sainsbury’s. That development of cheeses, which has gone on apace, very satisfactorily, is subject to a good deal of secrecy. The formulae are not known by everyone. The commercial considerations under which you brand a cheese—and in the case of Sainsbury’s, accept that Mrs Bells can brand a cheese—are quite complicated. The idea that the Secretary of State would ever know the full range of the needs of cheese apprenticeships is for the birds; it is not something that he could know or even want to know if he were conscious of his position.

That does not take us to matters digital, but if noble Lords think for a bit about the way in which matters digital develop and what that might mean for the needs of training and apprenticeships, they will see that it is just not sensible to give the Secretary of State

24 Jun 2009 : Column 1652

that responsibility. What will happen if we do? He will have to work on the convoy principle: he will have to come down to the speed of the slowest. He would be well advised by his civil servants that that is the only way in which he would be able to cope with that responsibility, so he would stifle innovation. Clause 37(2) should be deleted. I beg to move.

Lord De Mauley: Like my noble friend Viscount Eccles, we would all be very interested to hear from the Minister what the Government consider to be a full range of skills, trades and occupations.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on his imaginative analogy. My cheese-related concern is that the legislation does not resemble Gruyère in being full of holes. I am reliably informed that the Wensleydale factory had some apprenticeships when it was checked by my noble friend Lady Thornton. That is enough cheese for this evening. I reassure the noble Viscount that the self-employed can undertake apprenticeships.

Viscount Eccles: I did not mean that the apprentice could not be self-employed; I meant that a self-employed tradesman would not be willing to mentor an apprentice.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: There are examples involving companies with very small numbers of employees. Carillion ran an interesting scheme in which the apprentices went out to very small firms—I think that some of them were self-employed tradesmen. There are circumstances where this happens, usually involving group training associations and the like. I agree absolutely with the noble Viscount on the subject of government mastery of all the variables. If we tried to do that, we would inevitably fail. I will come back to that point.

The amendment would allow the Secretary of State to specify, by order under Clause 37(1), sectors for the purposes of Chapter 1, but he would not be required to cover the full range of skills, trades and occupations, as Clause 37(2) provides. It is important that the apprenticeship provisions of the Bill apply to sectors covering the full range of skills, trades and occupations. This will ensure the broadest range of opportunities for our potential apprentices and for employers, as well as a level of consistency in the provision of apprenticeships.

This clause requires the Secretary of State to specify apprenticeship sectors. This is necessary for the effective functioning of the apprenticeship scheme in the Bill. Clause 90 requires those meeting the eligibility conditions of the apprenticeship scheme to choose two available sectors when they elect to join the scheme. The commissioning of apprenticeship places by the local authorities, and the contracting of these places by the Skills Funding Agency, will be on the basis of apprenticeship sectors. As we explained in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the sectors will follow the footprint of the sector skills councils.

The noble Viscount raises an interesting question about how the Secretary of State could ever hope to fulfil this commitment and I am grateful for his concern.

24 Jun 2009 : Column 1653

The 25 sector skills councils, covering 85 per cent of the UK workforce, will be responsible for delivering a coherent range of apprenticeship frameworks across their sectors. For skills, trades or occupations that are outside their footprint, the sector skills councils have established strategic partnerships, and some less formal arrangements, with relevant bodies to ensure apprenticeship coverage across the full range of skills, trades and occupations. I prefer to aim wide in terms of coverage, rather than risk narrowing the breadth of opportunities for our young people.

I return to the concern of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that the Secretary of State will be personally responsible for identifying the full range of apprenticeships needed. That will not be the case. I return to the point that we agree on: this is a demand-led system and, if employers tell us that there is a need for apprenticeships, those apprenticeships will emerge. Employers will be in discussion with the sector skills councils, which have only one job—to make sure that those apprenticeships live up to the criteria defined in the specification and standards. We have not yet convinced people that this is a demand-led system, rather than the Secretary of State having to accurately determine what skills and apprenticeships are needed. These will emerge from what employers tell us is required. We feel that we have got the framing of the clause right. We need to have the widest possible range of apprenticeships available for the reasons that I have previously explained. I thank the noble Viscount for raising this issue because it gave us an opportunity to discuss it, but I hope that, on the basis of what I have explained, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Elton: In persuading us that this is indeed demand-led, can the Minister tell us the process by which a new sector could come to be recognised, as becomes necessary from time to time, such as with the development of IT, which used not to exist?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: That would probably be within the ambit of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which is the body that controls the sector skills councils and is conducting the audit for relicensing. If a new area emerges, we will see the demand coming from employers. We are now looking at low-carbon economies and trying to look ahead to see the skills requirements. The UKCES is also looking at the skills requirements. We have the bases covered not only for existing requirements but for future requirements.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I do not wish to embarrass the Minister, but could he explain whom he means when he says “we”? When he says, “We are looking at new sectors”, is it the department that is looking at new sectors?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Yes, in terms of what we have described as industrial activism. I gave the example of the low-carbon economy and green areas. The UKCES is also looking at skills requirements, so the “we” was a bit of a royal we. “We” is not just the Government, but also the UKCES.



24 Jun 2009 : Column 1654

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: The UKCES is not mentioned in the Bill, just as sector skills councils are not mentioned, because it could be a transient authority. In answer to the question about how new sectors get recognised, the Minister pointed to the UKCES as the body that will recognise new things. However, it may not exist in two years’ time, but this legislation states that the Secretary of State shall designate sectors. How will he know what sector to designate if he does not have that body to look to?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I am not quite sure that I can imagine the circumstances in which we would get rid of the UKCES, but let me return to the point about sector skills councils because I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, admires that group. The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils represents the group as a whole, so if it emerged that there was a new area that required a sector skills council, it would be participating in the discussion about an additional sector skills council. The sector skills councils evolve and change over time, but we have no plans to abolish the UKCES. To be helpful in this matter, I will examine that procedure in relation to the establishment of a new sector skills council and write to the noble Baroness and possibly clarify the situation.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister. He should not take it that I do not admire the UKCES. I think that it has done some extremely good work and I advocate reading its annual report.

Lord Elton: In support of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I say that I detect an anxiety in the Committee about the durability of some of the bodies that the Government are treating as if they were permanent. When we look at the bodies that the Bill will change across the whole front of government policy and at the huge range of apparently rock-like organisations that have been swept away and replaced by others, rather less rock-like and sometimes not so efficient, we feel that there is a need for assurance about the durability of these organisations. That is why there is some desire to see them on the face of statute, so that they cannot be eroded administratively but must be removed, if they are to be removed, with the sanction of Parliament.

9.30 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: We said that we were going to return to the question of sector skills councils. There has been a variation on that theme in relation to how a new sector skills council would originate for a new area of skills. We should address both those questions. Our view is that they are the bedrock of the apprenticeship scheme and without them we would have no means of being able to say that this is a demand-led scenario. We have said that we will write to noble Lords on the matter and give further consideration to sector skills councils. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Eccles: I am a member of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, a fact that will be known to the noble Baroness. How often will we expect to receive a statutory instrument revising the Secretary of State’s decision on the full range?



24 Jun 2009 : Column 1655

Lord Young of Norwood Green: It will be best if, when we write to the noble Viscount, we embrace that aspect as well.

Viscount Eccles: I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the discussion. On the basis of what has been said, I am inclined to bring this back at the next stage of the Bill and put down an amendment that questions whether it is wise for the Secretary of State to carry out either subsection (1) or subsection (2) of Clause 37. I cannot see why it is necessary. The pace of change is such that, if he or she is obliged to keep up to date with the full range, he or she will have to submit an order at regular intervals as a result of the advice and deliberations of the sector skills councils and the employers.

I end by reiterating what I said when I opened: I fully accept that there is a strong case for training and apprenticeships to be demand-led, but I hope that we will not forget that they can from time to time become supply-driven. In those circumstances, other solutions will be needed. That would be one good reason why we would want to be flexible about the proportion of on-the-job and off-the-job training. As I said at Second Reading, I have a concern that if we rely on demand and do not think at all about supply, we will probably miss a trick. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, although I will return to the subject at the next stage.

Amendment 73 withdrawn.

Clause 37 agreed.

Amendment 74

Moved by The Earl of Listowel

74: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—

“Public authorities to provide apprenticeships for care leavers

(1) Any of the public authorities listed in subsection (2) which provide apprenticeship agreements should, wherever possible, aim to ensure that at least ten per cent of all their apprenticeship agreements are made with care leavers between the ages of 16 and 25.

(2) This section applies to the following public authorities—

(a) a government department other than the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Head-quarters,

(b) a county council or district council in England,

(c) the Greater London Authority,

(d) a London borough council,

(e) the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority,

(f) the Council of the Isles of Scilly,

(g) a Strategic Health Authority established under section 13 of the National Health Service Act 2006 (c. 41), or continued in existence by virtue of that section,

(h) a Primary Care Trust established under section 18 of that Act, or continued in existence by virtue of that section,

(i) a Regional Development Agency established by the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 (c. 45),

(j) a police authority established for an area in England,

(k) a school.”



24 Jun 2009 : Column 1656

The Earl of Listowel: Amendment 74 stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. I shall speak also to Amendment 175 which, again, stands in both our names. I remind the Committee that in the Care Matters White Paper in 2007 one of the facts highlighted was that 30 per cent of care leavers are not in employment, education or training. It is a large percentage of care leavers. I hope that the Bill will go a long way to addressing that point, but I hope also that we may be able to go further, which is what my amendments strive to do.

The Minister spoke of the long summer break that we will be having. I hope that in the course of the summer break the Government might look carefully at the Bill and see whether any measures might be introduced into it specifically for care leavers and looked-after children and what more might be done in enabling more of those young people to have access to apprenticeships.

Amendment 74 would oblige local authorities and government departments, wherever possible, to prioritise care leavers when those organisations have apprenticeship agreements. My amendment would assist Her Majesty’s Government in their aspiration for improving outcomes for care leavers. The Care Matters White Paper highlighted the way in which many young people in care do not receive the support that they need in order to be successful in life. To remedy that failure on our part, the Government have introduced a raft of measures, including priority for looked-after children in school admissions. They have the first admission priority. These amendments follow the Government’s precedent in those other areas. My intention at this stage is simply to probe the Government, but I hope that the Minister will at least accept the principle behind the amendments. We have special duties to these children and I hope that the Minister will agree that we should take every opportunity to discharge them.

My amendment gives a priority to care leavers wherever possible. It is not my intention that care leavers should be shoe-horned into apprenticeships where they are likely not to do well. As your Lordships will be aware, many care leavers have experienced lack of stability in care and a disruptive education. They often still leave at the age of 16 and often find themselves placed in inappropriate accommodation. It seems wholly sensible therefore to extend this duty to the age of 25, which would allow them the extra time that they need to find their feet and to access employment and training.

By prioritising care leavers in this way, we are also protecting ourselves against the cost and harm of allowing these young people to fail. Care leavers are heavily over-represented in the criminal justice system. However, an apprenticeship may divert many care leavers from this route. The young offender programme developed by National Grid has reduced reoffending rates from 70 per cent to below 7 per cent by getting offenders into work. I declare my interest as having accepted hospitality from National Grid in the past. This amendment or something similar might prevent some care leavers from entering this vicious circle downwards.



24 Jun 2009 : Column 1657

Amendment 175 would allow the chief executive of skills funding to secure provision of facilities for suitable apprenticeship training for care leavers from the age of 16 to 25. It would give care leavers an extra window of several years. As I have said, many care leavers have experienced disruption in their family lives and education, and may come to maturity late. Often, they are given responsibilities too early and far beyond their capacities. This amendment would give them an extra chance to benefit from the Bill. Many care leavers will seize this chance once they have recovered from the early disruption I have described. This amendment reflects the precedent set in the Children (Leaving Care) Act, which gave local authorities responsibility to support care leavers in educational training to the age of 25. I should be grateful for the Minister’s comments on how these amendments interact with the Children (Leaving Care) Act. My wording may be faulty, but I hope that the Minister can accept the spirit of these amendments. I look forward to his response. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford:I gladly attached my name to this amendment when the noble Earl asked me whether I would be prepared to back it, because this is a very important issue. We know that the Government are putting a lot of pressure on public authorities to take apprentices. I believe that quite a number of them are now beginning to respond. Earlier today the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, pointed out that the University of Greenwich is thinking of taking on apprentices. I was delighted to hear that.

As the noble Earl has said, those who are leaving care are disproportionately not represented among apprentices at the moment. Many of them are found in the category of NEET; that is, neither in education, employment nor training. Last year, we put through this House the Children and Young Persons Bill. The noble Earl mentioned that a lot of priority was given to these young people in different ways. We discussed the lack of job opportunities for them and the need to provide more.

On looking at the wording, the thought that 10 per cent of these apprenticeships might go to young care leavers is perhaps a bit over the top. However, it is important to make the point that many of these young people come from chaotic backgrounds, as the noble Earl indicated. These are the kinds of young people that Rathbone and Barnardo’s are picking up and helping, but they need apprenticeships to go into. The types of training that Rathbone and Barnardo’s give to them are, in some respects, pre-apprenticeship training and, unless there are opportunities for them to go on to an apprenticeship, that will mean nothing very much. Going on from the pre-apprenticeship training given by Rathbone and Barnardo’s to a good apprenticeship in the public sector, where they are paid a guaranteed salary, would be a thoroughly good thing.

Therefore, in the spirit of the amendment, I hope the Minister will be able to give us some indication that pressure will be put on public authorities to make good on this, not only in terms of endeavours but in terms of being required to look at, measure and quantify how many apprenticeships should go to former care leavers.



24 Jun 2009 : Column 1658

Lord De Mauley: We fully support the intention behind these amendments. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, rightly brings to our attention the circumstances of young people in care and their transition from foster homes to further education and the workplace. At a time when we are discussing provision of education to a number of different groups, it is right that we should consider the inherent disadvantages faced by those in care and search for ways to address this imbalance.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page