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Amendment 74 lists public authorities in paragraphs (a) to (k) and we agree that these authorities should be strongly urged to have regard to the situation of those leaving care and the positive effect that an apprenticeship agreement could have upon their lives. However, we have some concerns about the amendment. While we agree with the sentiment behind it, we feel—indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, recognised this—that it is perhaps too restrictive to insist upon public authorities having to ensure that at least 10 per cent of all their apprenticeship agreements are made with care leavers between the ages of 16 and 25. This could have perverse, unforeseen and detrimental consequences for other groups which may be equally deserving of an apprenticeship agreement. We would be wary of supporting an amendment which might encourage discrimination against other groups.

Nevertheless, the idea behind the noble Earl’s amendment seems both sensible and well intentioned and perhaps a middle way can be found.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Listowel. Again, it carries through the intention of the Children and Young Persons Act in which, as noble Lords will remember, a duty was laid on schools to pay particular attention to the needs of these young people and not to move them too often—as we know, local authorities had tended in the past to move them from place to place—particularly when they are coming up to any kind of exam taking.

The amendment would be an extremely important extra nudge to all the local authorities and other organisations listed here. I would like to think that an even wider selection might be encouraged to do this automatically, including a number of companies. I would like to see an even wider age range because young people who have been in these kinds of situations tend to grow up even later than 25, but, being realistic, we have to consider only these ages at the moment.

I understand what other noble Lords have said about the 10 per cent and it may be that it is too large a specific sum. However, if the Minister who is going to reply could take aboard the intentions behind it, it might be possible to work out something appropriate which will meet the needs of everyone who has spoken.

9.45 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I add my support for the spirit behind the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we spent a long time during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill asking local authorities to be that pushy parent that children need in schools. If we are going to utilise the talents of all our young people, it is important that public authorities look to what young people may do in apprenticeships and be that pushy parent that we want them to be.

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Lord Elton: I, too, support the spirit behind the amendment. I have reservations about subsection (1) of the proposed new clause, which my noble friend on the Front Bench has made clear. It may be possible to tweak that, or to find another way. However, the aim of getting substantial numbers of and, if possible, all care leavers into apprenticeships is laudable, particularly as we spent a lot of this afternoon talking about foundation skills, which is exactly what care leavers normally lack. Therefore, since they tend to be overrepresented in the criminal institutions, it will pay the Government and society, as well as those children, to get them into training that can equip them with foundation skills. Those skills will be useful not just for the jobs that they go to but also for managing their lives.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thank the noble Earl for initiating this debate. The amendment would require, wherever possible, specified public bodies in England to ensure that a minimum of 10 per cent of their apprentices were care leavers between the ages of 16 and 25.

I assure the Committee that the Government are totally committed to ensuring that apprenticeship opportunities in both the public and private sectors—we should not ignore the private sector—are open to care leavers. We know that some young people in care have a complex set of problems that may mean that they take a bit longer to adjust to the demands of the workplace and so may not be ready by 18 to take up an apprenticeship place. That is why we have already made an amendment to the Bill in another place to extend the apprenticeship scheme to suitably qualified care leavers aged 18 to 21. That will extend to the age of 24 once an amendment made by the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 to Section 23CA of the Children Act 1989 is commenced.

I understand the intention behind Amendment 74, but we consider that its operation would be flawed. The 10 per cent target, as a number of noble Lords have commented, is unrealistic given the number of care leavers in relation to the number of public sector apprenticeships. I recognise that the public sector has an important part to play in ensuring that opportunities are available for care leavers, as for other young disadvantaged people. I also agree that the public sector does not yet provide enough apprenticeships. Currently, the public sector employs about 20 per cent of the national workforce but has less than 10 per cent of its apprentices. We are keen to address this imbalance, which is why we are looking for the public sector to provide at least 21,000 additional apprenticeship places in 2009-10.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, rightly extolled the work of Rathbone and Barnardo’s in relation to people with learning disabilities and preparing them for apprenticeships. We have said already that we shall consider how we can respond to the concerns around Rathbone and Barnardo’s and come back to them on Report. We can include a little of what we are discussing now as well.

Every secondary school has a designated teacher to promote the interests of looked-after children. To help care leavers to find apprenticeships, we are working with the National Care Advisory Service on a

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national employability initiative, which aims to develop and test models of support for care leavers entering employment and apprenticeships in local authorities across all nine Government Office regions in England.

Among other things, this initiative aims to develop a national career support model for young people leaving care, including a national network and register of private, public and third sector employers who will sign up to a commitment to develop employment support initiatives for young people in and from care. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that we need not just pushy parents but pushy authorities and corporates.

We have not yet modelled the apprenticeship demand for those young people entitled to care-leaving support under age 18. However, we estimate that there are around 500 care leavers a year aged 18 to 24 who would want and have the ability to undertake an apprenticeship. Many of them would be employed in the private sector. As your Lordships can see, there is a disparity in the relative numbers and it will be impossible for most public authorities to reach the 10 per cent target. I will certainly commit to draw it to the attention of public sector employers and the departmental ministerial apprenticeship champions that care leavers up to the age of 25 are eligible for a place under the entitlement and ensure that prospective care leavers have access to information about apprenticeship opportunities in both the public and private sectors.

In conclusion, we share the concern not just of the noble Earl but of all those who have contributed to this debate. It is in the interests of all of us—in society’s interests—to ensure that these care leavers do not become part of the NEET population, and that we make every effort to ensure that they get their share of apprenticeships. We encourage all local government departments to play their part in achieving this. I hope that in the light of those comments the noble Earl will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for his encouraging and helpful reply. Clearly, I did not read the Bill closely enough. It is extremely good news about the 18 to 24 year-olds and I thank him for that. It is also good to hear about the work of the National Care Advisory Service.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The notion of corporate parenting is so important. This is one area at which one might look a little more closely to see whether one might put a little more pressure on local authorities, as they produce apprenticeships, to prioritise. They should not only open up access to apprenticeships but reach out to young people leaving care and say, “This really is an offer and we will support you in succeeding in it”.

My noble friend Lady Howe spoke about going perhaps beyond the age of 25. I understand that in Denmark a young person can stay in a residential home until the age of 28 or 29. Nowadays, the average age of a young person leaving home is 24, so there is a lot to be said for going even further than the Minister has gone. However, what he said is extremely encouraging

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and I will read it with great care. I am grateful for the Committee’s sympathetic reaction to these amendments and I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 74.

Amendment 74 withdrawn.

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Clause 38 : Interpretation of Chapter

Amendments 75 to 78 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.53 pm.

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