Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

In relation to Pakistan, I am sure the Statement does not wish to put an over-rosy view on the situation but it is important, as the noble Baroness will agree, to consider both Afghanistan and Pakistan together. As I understand it, the Opposition in Pakistan are now working together with the Government to ensure that there is much more consensus in the country in favour of doing what has already happened in the Swat Valley and what is happening in other places-that is, beating the Taliban.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, while expressing our condolences and paying tribute to our soldiers and to the soldiers of our NATO allies, can we also pay tribute to the Pakistani soldiers, who have suffered heavy losses recently?

Support is needed by the Pakistan Army. There is considerable support and determination within Pakistan to fight with the Tehrik-i-Taliban and the Taliban in the Swat Valley and the north-west frontier, but there has to be more financial support for Pakistan. We have to remember that NATO and the allied forces of 40 countries are paying for the war in Afghanistan, but Pakistan alone cannot do it. The multi-donor trust fund has not realised much money other than from our Government and the Americans. What pressure are we putting on our European friends to give financial support to the Government of Pakistan and, particularly, the Pakistan army? I can assure my noble friend that with financial support for the Pakistan army-I have recently come back from Pakistan-there is a huge determination that it will fight on.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, especially for his last comment, which is proof that there is determination in Pakistan for the army to fight on. We will continue to put pressure on our EU friends and colleagues to support Pakistan. The Kerry-Luger Bill, which is currently going through in the United States, will provide $7.5 billion-worth of aid for Pakistan which, when it is disbursed, will be a major boost for Pakistan.

My noble friend was right to bring to my attention and the attention of the House the deaths of Pakistani soldiers and Pakistani civilians, who have been sorely hit by terrorists in recent times.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 239

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, in Devon we are very proud of our long association with Her Majesty's forces and are deeply aware of their level of professionalism and selfless service. We are also deeply aware of the costs borne by service families. I am glad that mention has already been made of that because it brings me to my question. Every further deployment of British forces brings an increased pressure on marriage and family life and, sadly, in some cases, consequential marriage and family breakdown. Will the Minister assure the House that this increased deployment will be without an increase in back-to-back overseas tours of duty? What resources are being put in place to support service families and to ameliorate the effects of long-term overseas deployment?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, 24 months is the harmony period that we should and must respect when troops go into different theatres. We and the military are doing everything possible to respect that period, and in the vast majority of cases it is being respected. We realise the immense pressures on the troops and their families. Recently, we released a Command Paper that dealt with the very issue of support for families. I have recently been with families myself and many of my colleagues are going out to talk to families, to find out what their real needs are and to try to ensure that the various government agencies work together with the military. The military is working with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health to ensure that there is proper support, not just for the soldiers when they come home but for the families, and to ensure that there is childcare so that the wives and partners can go out to work and so on, if they wish to.

I pay tribute to the way in which the military itself works with the families. It provides fantastic support, as do organisations such as the Royal British Legion.

Lord Soley: My Lords, I have a question about public support for this conflict, but I would like to put it in a context that relates to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord King. If we go down the road of having a party-political divide on this-he did ask us to compare the current situation to his record as Secretary of State for Defence-we will end up in a party slanging match, and that would not be beneficial to him. I could start talking about the housing provision at that time; he will know how much damage that did to morale in the Armed Forces. His question was inadvisable because if we go down that route, the only people who will gain will be our opponents in Afghanistan and the surrounding area.

My specific question is this: there is a lowering of support for this conflict in Britain, Europe and north America. Part of the reason is obviously the increase in the number of deaths, but we really have yet to match our opponents in our ability to convey what we are doing there and why and how we are doing it. Given the problems within NATO in terms of delivering fighting forces, there is a very real role for it here, particularly using the internet and other means, to convey a much more powerful message about what it

14 Oct 2009 : Column 240

and the United Nations are doing, how they are doing it and the linkage between the military and civilian roles. That is immensely important.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, with regard to my noble friend's initial comments, I think it is right that at this Dispatch Box I am closely questioned about what the Government are doing. However, I know that the clear message from this House as a whole is that we are in support of what the Government are doing in Afghanistan, and that we are behind our troops and their families.

On communication, my noble friend is right: support for the conflict is being lost. That is why it is incumbent on us as Government, Opposition, NATO and the UN to explain that this is a conflict that the UN has asked us to engage in. Not a lot of people understand or know that, so we have to get out there and use all the tools at our disposal to try to ensure better understanding and more support for our troops.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I invite the Minister to return to the question that has already been raised about the presidential election held on 20 August this year in Afghanistan. She will recollect that President Karzai claims to have attained more than 50 per cent of the vote, but the United Nations-backed independent body, the Elections Complaints Commission, is of the view that some 1.5 million votes-in other words, about one-third of the totality of votes received by the President-are very suspect. I appreciate that the Minister says that the Government will soon come to a conclusion about this matter. In view of the independence of this distinguished body, and indeed of the considerable work in which it has already involved itself, will the Government be prepared in principle to accept that body's verdict in this connection? It is essential, if there is to be credibility for an Afghan Government, that validity and legality should be established in relation to that matter.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, naturally, we support the ongoing IEC and ECC investigations into the elections. They have not reached their conclusions yet, but the noble Lord is right about what President Karzai said. However, we have to wait until those bodies have concluded their investigations. Once they have been concluded, we will accept what they say.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, could we have greater clarity about this 9,500 force level? Our commanders have asked for it, but my noble friend has just established that the Prime Minister is saying that the force level will be achieved only when those conditions have been met. The Minister said that if they have not all been achieved the troops will not go, which must naturally follow. In what timescale do the Government estimate that the conditions will be met? In answer to questions this afternoon, the Minister said, "We are trying to encourage our allies, and we think one or two of them are ready to do so". It does not sound like a very immediate timescale. Can she help?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not have a timescale and cannot give the noble and learned Lord one. We just have to wait until those conditions

14 Oct 2009 : Column 241

are met. However, I am confident, because of the conversations that have taken place between the Prime Minister and his counterparts and between the chiefs of staff and their counterparts that, unless we were confident that those conditions would be met, the Prime Minister would not have made this Statement today.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explainatory Notes
8th Report Delegated Powers Committee
14 Report Joint Committee on Human Rights

Committee (7th Day)

4.31 pm

Clause 61 : Performance assessments

Amendment 154

Moved by Lord Hunt of Wirral

154: Clause 61, page 45, line 19, at end insert-

"( ) The YPLA must consult with the following when adopting or developing schemes as set out in subsection (1)-

(a) the Skills Funding Agency;

(b) a local education authority in England; and

(c) Ofsted."

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, we have tabled these amendments to draw attention to yet more problems which we see as being inherent in the Government's desire to replace the Learning and Skills Council with at least two different bodies. We discussed the matter on Monday at some length. I do not want to occupy the Committee for any great period of time on this amendment, except to say that the Association of Colleges has expressed concerns that further education colleges will have to respond to different bodies.

Clause 61 enables the YPLA to carry out performance assessments on colleges, but Clause 100 allows the Skills Funding Agency the same privilege, alongside, rather than in co-operation with the other. These amendments were raised in the other place, where discussion centred around the desire to ensure, first, that colleges do not have to deal with more bureaucracy than is strictly necessary and, secondly, that assessments are carried out in a consistent and co-ordinated fashion so that there is no duplication of work, but also that nothing is left uncovered.

Amendment 154 would mean that the YPLA,

the relevant local education authority in England and Ofsted when undertaking performance assessments which will help inform funding decisions. Amendment 212 would place the same duty on the SFA, which in addition would have to consult the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Given the Government's desire to create these new bodies, it seems sensible that every effort should be made to ensure that they communicate effectively to ensure coherence across the education administration. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer these questions directly. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, earlier I indicated to the Opposition that we were not too happy with this amendment, but I misinterpreted it

14 Oct 2009 : Column 242

and I apologise to the noble Lord. In fact, we have a lot of sympathy with what he is suggesting. It is quite clear that, as the LSC has in its role set targets and assessment schemes for colleges, the YPLA will be doing that not only in relation to the providers of education and training, it will presumably be judging local authorities as well, and it is appropriate that they consult. I was slightly surprised that the amendment mentioned,

because the YPLA should be in consultation with all local authorities rather than just a single one.

We spoke at length on Monday about the need for the YPLA to be seen to be a co-operative authority working in partnership with local authorities as well as with the subregional groups. We want to see that sense of partnership and we have tabled a series of amendments that we hope the Government will look kindly on to give the YPLA a greater sense of co-operation within the terms of the Bill. These two amendments fit in very well with what we are asking for.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I hope that I can offer the reassurance that the noble Lords opposite are looking for. As we have heard, Amendments 154 and 212 would place a duty on the YPLA and the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to consult specified bodies. We would all agree, because we have debated it before in Committee, that that is an extremely important principle. The YPLA and the Skills Funding Agency should work in partnership. BIS and DCSF are already developing a new performance assessment scheme in the post-16 education and training sector for introduction in 2010. That is being done, as this House would expect, in consultation with key sector partners.

This initial consultation has involved a wide range of stakeholders, noble Lords will be pleased to hear, including the Association of Colleges, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children's Services. The dialogue has taken place already without a specific statutory requirement, although I appreciate noble Lords' concerns. The expertise of our partners has been invaluable in helping to shape the new arrangements. I can reassure noble Lords that the end result will give the coherence sought by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It will also give a common assessment approach for all types of provider, which will enable us to make valid comparisons of performance across the post-16 sector, and bring greater transparency to commissioning decisions, which will be extremely important. That will ensure that providers are treated fairly and understand the basis of decisions.

The Secretary of State will be able to set out in his grant letter, or in guidance under Clause 74, what schemes he expects the YPLA to be involved in and who should be consulted. We can be clear to the YPLA and all those concerned-all our partners-what the performance assessment tools will be. Importantly, the Secretary of State may issue guidance to the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency under Clause 155. I may have signalled to the opposition parties, with

14 Oct 2009 : Column 243

some help from officials, that we will commit to using these powers to ensure that the bodies that noble Lords are obviously concerned about will be consulted. I can make a commitment that we will be using this guidance to ensure that the consultation takes place and the coherence that noble Lords are looking for will be made possible. I do not want to detain the Committee now but it would be helpful for me to write to noble Lords about the framework for excellence that is in development, so that noble Lords opposite can have further background on what the programme will be like.

Lord Baker of Dorking: Before my noble friend speaks, I applaud him for moving the amendment. It touches on the grave weakness of the Bill, namely the administrative system that will be set up after it has been enacted. At the moment FE colleges have one funding agency, the Skills Funding Agency. In the future, they will have four funding agencies-the Skills Funding Agency, their own YPLA, HEFCE and the apprenticeship body. It will not be a dialogue but a trialogue or a quadrilogue. There will be constant consultations and discussions; it is a recipe for jungle warfare. Each of those bodies will be under severe financial constraints and none of them will want to be very supportive of what is being done. In my discussions over the recess with members of the FE world and, indeed, the education world, they all looked on this as a total nightmare.

I cannot believe that there has been a guiding ministerial hand behind the Bill from Ministers from two departments. Nobody seems to have considered the administrative turmoil that will be inflicted on the whole area of 14 to 19 training and education. It is extraordinary. I have never known a Bill that has needed so many Ministers' letters to explain parts of it. There was a letter before the House rose to explain the system that I have just outlined. Not only are there four bodies, there are regional assessment committees, local assessment committees and a national assessment committee, all replacing the Learning and Skills Agency. I do not know whether Ministers have totally taken on board how complex this will be. I only hope that the shadow Ministers have because I do not believe that this system will work. I do not suppose it will feature strongly in our manifesto to say that we will overhaul all this, but we will soon find, when in office, that this system will simply break down and not do the job that is needed, which is enforcing the 14 to 19 curriculum.

The 14 to 19 curriculum is at the heart of the Bill. The Government were right to identify a 14 to 19 curriculum, but to deliver that curriculum there must be 14 to 19 institutions, not some in FE colleges and some in schools. Until that matter is resolved, there will be confusion, jungle warfare and a great deal of ill will and non-performance. I only hope that Ministers will take this to heart. It goes to the very heart of the Bill. We are setting up the most complex administrative regime that has ever been inflicted on any part of our education system. Can Ministers think of any other part of the education system which is as complex as the system that they are creating? I shall answer for

14 Oct 2009 : Column 244

them, since that was a rhetorical question. There is no part of the education system that is as complicated as this. It does a disservice to the area that we are all most interested in, which is improving the training and skills base of many young people in our country.

Lord Elton: I add a grace note to what my noble friend has said with such trenchancy. The children and young adults involved in this are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives. The transition, particularly for those who are in care or depend on benefit, from 17 to 19 is a time when they have to learn to stand on their own feet, when they been accustomed to having their hands held all the time. If their educational programme is going to be thrown into chaos, then, in addition to having to learn how to do that, they will have to struggle with the ropes and strings attached to their education. If they fall foul of that, I am afraid that there will be more young people lost to society.

4.45 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, would it not be better to have just one body that is responsible for designing these assessments? It seems to me that it ought to be Ofsted, which actually knows how to do these things, rather than a couple of newly created bodies which are going to have to find their own way. If one body was responsible for creating these assessments and had, naturally, to consult with the many created agencies which have an interest in these things, at least it would get done simply and consistently, and once it was done it would not be subject to endless argument and tussling.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, what has been said illustrates the real concerns that everybody has with this Bill. Will the Minister answer the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the wording of the amendment-namely whether,

is right, or whether it should encompass a much broader concept? However, my main point is that I hope the Minister will take back the real concerns about the way that this is being set up.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I agree with much of what has been said about the detail and complexity of many Bills, not just this one. The first Bill on which I worked was the Welfare Reform Bill, which was incredibly complicated. Part of the complication in this Bill arises from the fact that we are talking about the machinery of government changes. Regardless of how complicated the back-wiring is, it has to be described in the Bill, which means that Ministers have to devote time to writing letters and circulating them. That is certainly the way that I like to work. I shall continue to write letters and I apologise if noble Lords find that too burdensome.

We expect colleges to have two conversations: a conversation with their local authority on pre-19 provision and a conversation with the SFA on post-19 provision. Our aspiration and commitment is to simplify for institutions and learners the experience of engaging in 14 to 19 and post-19 education. I cannot answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about the amendment because it is not my amendment. However, as regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas,

14 Oct 2009 : Column 245

on assessments, the framework for excellence is being developed by BIS and DCSF in partnership with providers. Through the performance management arrangements we aim to reduce the number of inspections that institutions have to have so that Ofsted can move towards its lighter touch approach. This is about providing practical tools, but as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as regards the guidance, we are happy to give a commitment that we will be explicit about the consultation that he wishes to see.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, as I think the Minister will be aware, I detect a general view on all sides of the Committee that this is not a simple system. As my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking put it, there is great worry that it will be a rather complicated system which a lot of people will find very difficult to operate within. However much guidance you supply, the more bodies you create, the more complex the structure automatically becomes. In a way, there is a demand-we should just have one main body, instead of trying to divide responsibilities. That has come across in a number of these debates.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page