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The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, felt that Clause 87 was poorly drafted. I say to him that Clauses 85 to 87 re-enact, and are lifted straight from, the Education and Skills Act 2008, so have already been approved by Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked about prisoners' special needs. I concur with his view that, since we have at long last made progress with the LSC, we should not have to go through that process again. We will endeavour to ensure that that work is carried forward. We have had a number of debates here about young offenders and I agree with the noble Lord that the provisions do not apply just to them. I hope in the light of those assurances that the amendments can be withdrawn.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I have to admit that, in laying Amendments 186 and 187, I had not fully taken in the fact that the provision was restricted to those who were in detention. I fully take on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I was trying to argue-and the Minister took it in that sense-that, in terms of adult education, the term "proper facilities" should be appropriate. In those circumstances, it is probably an inappropriate amendment to have laid and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 186 withdrawn.

Amendments 187 and 188 not moved.

Clause 84 agreed.

Clause 85 : Learning aims for persons aged 19 or over: provision of facilities

Amendments 188A and 189 not moved.

Clause 85 agreed

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Schedule 5 : Learning aims for persons aged 19 or over

Amendment 190

Moved by Baroness Sharp of Guildford

190: Schedule 5, page 175, line 18, at end insert-

"( ) an apprenticeship training"

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I laid this amendment on behalf of the roofing contractors and the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. There is considerable concern at the fact that, these days, many adults come forward wanting apprenticeships. Many businesses are anxious to provide such apprenticeships but they find it difficult to do so because so little finance is available. My three amendments seek to add adult apprenticeship training to those listed in paragraph 1 of Schedule 5, which relates to Clause 85. It defines post-19 training with the SFA. We have already discussed the distinction between the words "reasonable" and "proper", and proper facilities should be provided for those listed in Schedule 5, which amounts to those looking for basic adult literacy and numeracy training, those who do not have a level 2 qualification and those up to the age of 25 if they have no level 3 qualification.

It is a very sad fact that the number of young people signing up for apprenticeships has fallen over the past two years. Only 3.8 per cent of 16 year-olds are signing up for a level 2 or level 3 apprenticeship and only 6.3 per cent of 17 year-olds are signing up for level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships. There is a dearth of places for apprenticeships offered by employers. Yet employers are anxious to take on adult apprentices at a time when many people are trying to reskill, which picks up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on the previous batch of amendments. At a time when many people are trying, and wanting, to reskill, it seems inappropriate to put barriers in their way. I beg to move.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, taken together, Amendments 190, 191 and 192 would mean that all training costs for adult apprenticeships at level 2, where this is the first level 2 qualification, and for those aged from 19 up to 25 at level 3, are met from the public purse, and would preclude employers contributing towards these costs.

Apprenticeships offer an excellent route for adults aiming to improve their skills and employability. That is why we lifted the age restriction in 2007 to allow people aged 25 and over to access and benefit from apprenticeships, which was a first. This change enabled 27,200 people aged 25 and over to start an apprenticeship in 2007-08, which was up from 300 in the previous year. We are delighted that that trend has continued. As has been said, it has enabled a number of people to reskill.

But there is a balance to be struck. We are trying to ensure that as many apprenticeships as possible are created for 16 to 18 year-olds, and I make no apology for that. It is vital that we get as many young people of that age range as we can on to a career path that we know will have a profound impact on their lives. I have described every one of those apprenticeships as a small beacon of hope for young people.

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Again, with our finite resources, we have recognised that investing in skills is a shared responsibility and we should not signal to employers that they should not be making an investment in skills. From all the feedback we receive we know that investment in training is positive; we know that firms that do not invest in training during a recession are 2.5 times more likely to fail; and we know that an investment in an apprenticeship is worth while in terms of retention and the contribution that people make to the company that they are employed in.

As compared to the 16 to 18 year-olds, it is interesting that adult apprentices who have experience of the workplace typically complete their apprenticeships much faster than young people, in some cases at half the rate. Adult apprentices make a much more immediate contribution; that is why our policy requires that employers should contribute to the training costs of apprentices aged 19 and over. Currently employers make a contribution of around 40 per cent of the training costs for adult apprentices, increasing to 50 per cent in 2010-11. It is a reasonable proposition to make to an employer to take on an adult apprentice or to convert one of their existing employees to an apprenticeship, which happens in many cases, and we will meet 50 per cent of the training costs. That is a real bargain.

We intend to use the regulation-making powers in Clauses 85 and 86 to reinforce this position by excluding persons who are studying for a level 2 or 3 qualification as part of an apprenticeship from these provisions and to ensure that we can continue to require employers to contribute. It is a fair and reasonable contribution and there is still a positive encouragement and inducement for employers. The figures speak for themselves. Even under the current funding arrangements there has been a significant increase in adult apprenticeships.

Perhaps I may point out a slight correction to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who I know is a stickler for accuracy. There has been a slight decline in the number of 16 to 18 apprenticeships, but not for two years; it is only in the past year. But if we look at what has happened to apprenticeships overall, I regard it, as I said, as a renaissance, from a situation in 1997 where the apprenticeship scheme was practically dead on its feet, with something like only 65,000, to the current situation where we have more than a quarter of a million, with over two-thirds completing. With that explanation and assurances, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for that reply. There is an anomaly in that at the moment we have a large number of young adults over 19 who are anxious to move into apprenticeships but find that the financial barrier stops them from doing so. We need to remove that barrier for some of those young people and perhaps Amendment 196, which is to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, will find a half-way house on this. Both employers and young adults want to go forward in this way but we do not seem able to find a way for them. I shall withdraw the amendment, but I will think again about this issue and we may possibly return to it on Report.

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Amendment 190 withdrawn.

Amendments 191 and 192 not moved.

Amendments 193 and 194 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 195 had been retabled as Amendment 215A.

Schedule 5 agreed.

9.45 pm

Clause 86 : Learning aims for persons aged 19 or over: payment of tuition fees

Amendment 196

Moved by Baroness Perry of Southwark

196: Clause 86, page 58, line 12, leave out "25" and insert "30"

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, Clause 86 refers back to the provisions in Schedule 5. I want to move the debate on from the issue of adult apprenticeships to the specific area of paragraph 1(2) of the schedule, which provides for the very basic qualifications: basic literacy, basic numeracy, level 2 qualifications and A-levels. These are the fundamentals. As the Minister has just said, these are the gateway to employment and a decent adult life. We know from the statistics that, sadly, a lot of our adult population is not literate, and an even larger proportion is not numerate.

I know well the arguments against any kind of commitment to increased expenditure, but it is not necessarily increased expenditure to provide free basic education in literacy and numeracy. I would have liked to have put down an amendment saying the limit should be 99 rather than 30, because I would like to think that any adult who was not literate or numerate could be provided with free education in that area. There is a long and proud tradition in adult education of providing free literacy and numeracy training for all adults of any age. Many local authorities have provided it for free for many years through their adult education services, and it is a great sadness to me that in recent years that has ceased and people have had to pay for it.

This is a modest amendment, saying simply that it would be a very slight increase in public expenditure because the courses are already being offered to the under-25s, so to add in another couple of adults who are over 25 would not cost a penny more. It would be an important contribution to the employability of a lot of the population. I beg to move.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, from these Benches we support this amendment. The whole purpose of the education is to provide people with second chances, and funding only up to the age of 25 seems to be a curious limitation on this. Thirty would be a slightly more generous age to have in the Bill, while still affordable.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I also support the amendment. It is a step in the right direction. I would rather that there was a lifetime opportunity, but I will certainly support this slight move towards lifetime.

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Lord Elton: My Lords, I am a bit more ambitious. The illiterate are debarred from almost every form of progress. Literacy is a key that opens so many doors, and if it can be opened later in life, it should be. I do not see why, for what must amount to pence compared with the national budget, we should limit this to 30. I would put it to 45.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, while I agreed with the Minister when he said on the previous group that resources are finite and that a balance has to be struck, his words would have somewhat more force if, when speaking on an earlier group today, he had not boasted of how much money the Government had spent on a particular issue, as if the amount were the only measure of success. The Government still have not got the message that it is not just about how much they have spent but about how effective that spending is.

On the matter of the age range in my noble friend's amendment, how was it decided that the age restriction would be between 19 and 25? What were the reasons behind that?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: While I sympathise with Amendment 196-that is always the prelude to disappointment, is it not?-I believe that it is right to focus resources where they can have the greatest economic impact. Waiving fees for those aged 19 up to 25 gives a second chance to those individuals who, for whatever reason, did not succeed at school. This second chance will enable them to gain their level 3 qualification and progress on into higher education or careers. Learners in this group are more likely to study full-time and less likely to have an independent source of income. Information on average wages suggests that adults under 25 without a level 3 qualification are in greater need of help with the cost of learning than those over 25. That was one of the criteria.

When deciding which fees to waive, we must prioritise; level 3 courses in particular are expensive to provide. I cannot help pausing in this debate to think that the ghost of Lord Dearing should be haunting us. We all acknowledged his commitment and passion, and this was one of his objectives. To extend the duty to include adults aged between 25 and 30 would require an additional £70 million over the next two years.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on this age range, I think that we would be damned if we did and damned if we did not. Of course, spending money is no guarantee of success but, if we wanted to improve the skill base, we knew that we had to make a huge investment. There have been some 2.8 million adult achievements in basic skills since 2001, and more than 5.7 million have engaged in skills for life since then. I am advised by my officials that, unless I have misunderstood what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was saying, with literacy and numeracy qualifications there is no age barrier. Free literacy and numeracy courses will continue; that is the purpose of Clauses 85 to 87. That is backed by £1 billion of funding in the next year.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: What the Minister has just said is very worrying, if it is the case that this Bill for the first time restricts free literacy and numeracy

14 Oct 2009 : Column 315

courses to those over 25. The duty on the chief executive to provide free education in literacy and numeracy level 2 and A-levels is restricted to people between the ages of 19 and 25. If that is actually a first restriction, it is very serious and concerning.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Unless my officials have misadvised me, I am being told that there is no restriction or age barrier on literacy and numeracy skills. I am looking towards the Box to confirm that, but nobody is paying any attention. I am told that it is up to level 3 on literacy and numeracy; that is the confirmation that I have had. So there is no age restriction on basic literacy and numeracy skills up to level 3.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: Perhaps the Minister could be kind enough to explain the disparity. The schedule refers to,

Clause 86(4) says that the chief executive has a duty to provide this for free only to people,

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I am advised that there is no age restriction on literacy and numeracy skills. The 19 to 25 age restriction applies to level 3 only. I will confirm that in writing because I do not want there to be any dubiety or ambiguity on this matter. I share the noble Baroness's view that this is an important issue. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness can agree to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I am extremely grateful to the Minister and to noble Lords, including my own Front Bench, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for their support. I hope very much that I am wrong and that the Minister's officials are right and that this is not a necessary amendment. In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 196 withdrawn.

Clause 86 agreed.

Clause 87 : Sections 85 and 86: supplementary

Amendment 197 not moved.

Debate on whether Clause 87 should stand part of the Bill.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 316

Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend rightly asked about the difficulty of providing to national standards. The noble Baroness will answer, so I am looking at the wrong person. My noble friend made the point that you cannot provide to people in prison the same level as to people in other places. I assume that that is the reason for Clause 87(5), which excludes Sections 85 and 86 from applying to people in prison. To abandon all aspirations like that is a pity. I hope that, at the next stage, there may be something in this clause to show that there must be a standard provided, even if it is not the same standard as for people in other accommodation.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I have in my hand a piece of paper which appears to be an explanation about Clause 87, but I may be about to disappoint the noble Lord because the briefing I have here does not answer his question. The advice I have is that Clause 87 is about making regulations that will allow for circumstances where somebody has gained certain levels of qualifications but lost the skills. Therefore, I am not able to answer his question properly. If the noble Lord will indulge me, I will have to write to him.

Lord Elton: It was not a question: it was a request that at the next stage the Government would consider adding something to modify the effect of subsection (5) of this clause, which is totally to exclude aspirational targets for prisoners.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I appreciate the noble Lord's point. When I read the clause it seemed to mean several different things at once and I have had to read it several times. I would be grateful if I could have the opportunity to clarify it for the noble Lord in the terms that he requested.

Clause 87 agreed.

House resumed.

Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [HL]

Returned from the Commons

The Bill was returned from the Commons agreed to with amendments and with a privilege amendment. It was ordered that the Commons amendments be printed.

House adjourned at 9.59 pm.

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