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New Part 6A is very detailed and prescriptive. We would all agree that there are difficult employers, if I can put it that way. If an employer is "difficult", that is usually someone's opinion of the case. Is the opinion to be that of the unmentioned sector skills councils, where presumably the problem would lie in not enough training being done or in its being done badly? There are many possible reasons for an employer to get into that situation. There may be financial problems; it might not have been a wise decision to take on new employees just starting out on their careers when the bank is saying, "We give you six months and no more". The company might be in the process of being sold or taken over, the managers could be nearing retirement or there could be a major reorganisation under way. Indeed, I wonder how the Learning and Skills Council is getting on at present in terms of taking on new recruits. In that context, I point out that there have always been problems about who is doing sufficient or insufficient training, as well as who feeds into and who takes out of the pool. Over the time I
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Another worry that I have about this new part is that the psychology is wrong. While I can see the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it puts responsibilities on to apprentices, I would be wary of loading too many on to them. That would go against the grain. In the process of putting duties and responsibilities on employers, quite a lot of this part assumes that there will be conflict and sets out the ways in which those conflicts can be solved. A lengthy list is set out in new Section 63F(7), on which we will debate amendments in due course, but do we really expect there to be a balanced and productive discussion between an employer and an apprentice on "planned structural changes" in the company, or indeed under paragraph (j) on,
Over what I see as the positive and worthy efforts of both employers and apprentices is the brooding presence of the Secretary of State, who has the power to change the rules at any time, as well as that of the tribunals.
Much of this complex system is arguably unenforceable, at least against apprentices. For my part, I am happy that it would be unenforceable against them because there is no way that a responsible employer would seek to go to law or even look to a tribunal hearing against an apprentice. That is simply not a sensible way of spending time and money and, indeed, the level of emotional involvement might get completely out of hand.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I point out to the noble Viscount that my reading of this part of the Bill is that it applies not just to apprentices but to all employees. The Minister may correct me on this, but I think that this right is going to be introduced for all the employees of a company.
Viscount Eccles: I apologise, because I have always been in the habit of talking about people being trained rather than apprentices, but on this occasion I have fallen into error in confining my remarks to apprentices. I accept fully that this would apply to all employees.
My third issue is that of regulations. These make 12 appearances, which is not bad in eight clauses. How many statutory instruments would they generate? I suggest that there might be eight of them with some consolidation. At around five pages each, they would come to up to some 50 pages. This mass of secondary legislation goes directly contrary to government policy. Where in all this is the Cabinet Office with its policy of less and better regulation, its policy towards reducing burdens and its regulatory reform programme? It takes a long time to see the regulatory reform of one statutory instrument, but here we are to have another eight, or even 12. This proposed new part needs to be thought through again because it is overly detailed and prescriptive and could turn out to be very costly in its regulatory impact. We need to support my noble friend's amendment and so relieve good employers, and their good apprentices, from this nightmare entitled, "See you at the tribunal".
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): We must invest in our nation's talent to succeed in the highly competitive global economy. There is consensus in this Chamber on that point, which flows from the Leitch report. I was disappointed when the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said that we would be bullying employers, because nothing is further from the truth. Indeed, we applaud those employers who, as he rightly drew to our attention, invest significant sums of money in training. They do a very good job, whether it is for apprentices or for a whole range of other workers in their employment. However, they are not the group that we seek to impact on.
Despite the progress that we have made in the past decade, our nation's skills base has not yet met our aspiration to be the best in the world. Too many adults struggle with low or out-of-date skills. Perhaps the most depressing statistic is that one-third of employers do not train their staff at all, which seems absolutely astonishing. Eight million employees in England go without training every year. We cannot allow that situation to continue. We have to change the culture and the attitude towards training, certainly with those employers and with some employees as well.
Successful employers see investing in the skills of their workforce as one of the most powerful things that they can do to drive their businesses forward. They know that it makes sense for the bottom line. They understand that those businesses that do not invest in training are 2.5 times more likely to fail in a recession. We are seeking to create a culture in which every employer takes that view and in which individuals see improving their skills as one of the most powerful things that they can do to help them to realise their career aspirations. It is not our view that we in any way need to bully, because there are so many employers doing the right thing; it is the ones that are not embarking on any training at all whom we need to influence. We are giving employees a right to a serious conversation with their employer about their skills development. That will help to encourage and support adults and young people to develop their skills and rise as far as their talent will take them.
Time to train goes with the grain of what the best employers are already doing. They are having serious conversations with their employees. It may be in an annual appraisal or in a separate discussion on training. This will help others to follow that example and support their employees to develop the skills that their business needs to prosper in the 21st century.
I want now to address some of the points that have been made. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the rights and responsibility approach. We hope that we are giving more rights to employees. This is a fairly cautious, but nevertheless important, step in that direction. Yes, it will require people to exercise those rights responsibly. We are trying to ensure that there is real flexibility. I endorse the point made by my noble friend Lady Wall in relation to union learning reps, who, as I think is universally acknowledged, play a terrific part in encouraging employees to develop their skills and in encouraging employers to focus on the importance of training.
I, too, was somewhat puzzled at the focus given by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, to apprenticeships. Apprentices are not the group that we have to worry about, as their training will be laid down. We do not believe that we have made this structurally unenforceable. I do not expect apprentices to have to go through that kind of debate. Neither do we believe that there is a mass of regulations that make this impossible to work. Indeed, we consulted on that matter and we are modelling this on flexible working in order to use a system with which employers and employees are familiar. Our current intention is to have only two or three sets of regulations.
Amendment 79 would prevent those employees whose employers have in place systems for considering training needs from being able to make a request for time to train. It would, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, get rid of the flexibility that will exist. I appreciate the aims of this amendment-the need to recognise within the new statutory scheme what good employers are already doing to assess their employees' skills and training needs and to reduce the burden on business. I assure the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that we do not want to increase the burdens on business. We are at one with him on that. We believe that those employers who are doing the sorts of things that he drew to our attention will not be faced with additional burdens.
However, we do not feel that the proposal put forward by the amendment is the right way to go about it. The amendment risks, by introducing an element of qualification, complicating the eligibility provisions and creating a landscape that is perhaps confusing. For example, it is not at all clear from this amendment what exactly "acceptable arrangements" are or how they would be judged. An employee would not know whether they could make a request unless they knew whether or not their employer's systems were of the required standard. That could put off employees from making requests, including potentially a great many who are in greatest need of training.
Our preference, therefore, is to leave the right open to all employees who satisfy the basic eligibility criteria. They will be able to judge whether or not they need to use the right to gain access to training. As I said, it is our strong expectation that, where an employer has good systems in place, they will be unlikely to receive many, if any, requests under these provisions. They will already have had a serious discussion on training with their employees.
In Committee in another place, an alternative proposal was put forward to provide employers with an additional reason to refuse requests where they have already invested time and effort in considering their staff's training needs and acted on meeting those needs where necessary. We said at the time that we could introduce such a reason via regulations using the power at new Section 63F(7)(j) if it was supported through consultation with stakeholders. However, our initial discussions have revealed mixed views and it is not clear whether it is actually needed.
None the less, in the light of the views expressed today, principally by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I am happy to commit to the Committee that, after the
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Lord De Mauley: I thank the Minister for his remarks, which seemed in fact to include a rather better case for my amendment than I made myself. He seemed to say that two-thirds of employers provide very good and proper provision. The amendment would limit the effect of the clause to those employers who do not have acceptable arrangements in place.
I thank my noble friend Lord Eccles for his contribution and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for expressing her sympathy with this amendment. My next amendment, Amendment 79A, will tackle some of the responsibilities of the employee-a matter that she raised. Like my noble friend, I worry about bureaucracy being piled on already compliant employers. I will read the words of my noble friend and of the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Wall, as well as of the Minister, and consider his helpful offer, to see whether I feel the need to return on Report with a better form of wording. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord De Mauley: Our Amendment 79A is designed simply to seek assurances that the burden for filling out the form to make a request for time to train must fall with the employee, not the employer. The Bill states:
Surely if as an employee you are given this great right, the least that can be expected of you is to take responsibility for completing the application. We simply want to hear from the Minister that this would be the case. I beg to move.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: Amendment 79A seeks to make it clear in the Bill that a qualifying employee wishing to make a request in relation to study or training under new Section 63D must complete an application. We do not think that it is necessary to make this change. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will understand why when I make it clear that we have built in the safeguards and precautions that he rightly sought.
New Section 63D(1) establishes the right of qualifying employees to make an application, and subsection (3) requires that the application is made for the purpose of enabling the employee to undertake study or training. We define a key element of the policy, that requests have to be for training that will improve the employee's effectiveness and improve business performance, at new Section 63D(4). New Section 63E then sets out in more detail what an employee must do to make an application-which lies at the heart of the noble Lord's concern-including what information must be included in the application at new Section 63E(4).
If the principal concern behind the amendment is around how exactly an employee would make an application, I am happy to confirm that regulations made under the power at new Section 63E(5)(a) will make it clear that employees must make applications in writing. We have sent copies of the draft regulations to opposition spokespersons, Cross-Bench liaison Peers and noble Lords who have spoken in debates prior to today. I shall also place a copy of the regulations in the House Library.
We agree that it is important for employers that an application is made in a clear way, so that the consideration process is as simple as possible. I shall make sure that these concerns also are addressed in the guidance. I hope on this basis that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.
Lord De Mauley: I am grateful to the Minister, who is correct in his understanding of the effect of the amendment and for his confirmation that that is what is intended, but I simply do not understand why it cannot be placed at the beginning of the new section, where it will be most effective. For that reason, I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.
Viscount Eccles:I shall be brief. I would still like to make an argument for the loosening up of Part 6. On the question of who is doing enough training and who is not, there is an element of chicken and egg. It is easy to say that it is those employers who are not doing enough training who go under in this period of very rapid change, but it could of course be because they are going to go under and do not have a market position that is going to last for much longer that they find themselves in the difficult position of not being able to do enough training.
I should also like to come back to the regulations under Part 6. I am not sure how many there will be, but it is possible that there will be 12-that is the number of times that regulations are mentioned. Either there should be more in the Bill, so that there is less need for regulations, or some of the powers should be reconsidered and dropped. We already have a very rapid increase in the amount of law and much of it is achieved by the weight of secondary legislation. The Government should have another look and see if they really need all these regulations. If they decide they do not, I, for one, will be very pleased. I beg to move.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I give some support to the noble Viscount's view that the number of references to regulations in this small section of the Bill is quite excessive. It gives the impression that you cannot do anything without reading a lengthy screed of regulations. I read it through with a young person who is working with me as an intern and we were both rather appalled by the degree to which the really very simple notion that an employee has the right to ask his employer if he might have time off for training-he has the right to ask, he does not necessarily have the right to take it-will become very complicated if he actually wants to do it. He will clearly have to have a special 63D form which he will have to fill in in the right way, and then there are all the complications about appeals, if he wants to appeal.
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