Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords. We forget any aspect of our history at our peril. Like many noble Lords, I lived through the years when we

2 Nov 2009 : Column 35

were, in a way, outcasts in the European Union at meetings of the European Commission and at various Council meetings. We simply could not have our voice heard, because people did not respect us and because we would not listen to the arguments about the European Union. Like my noble friend I am deeply worried that, in withdrawing from the mainstream of the European right, the Conservatives would not be listened to or respected in the European Union. That would be to the detriment of all the people of this country.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who has served at least as long as any other Minister since 1972 on the Budget Council of the European Union. This afternoon's exchanges have included those supporting the Front Bench opposite saying how well the Front Bench is doing and how poorly the leadership of the Opposition are doing. Why does the Leader of the House think that, at the moment, 67 per cent more people in the United Kingdom are proposing to vote for the Opposition rather than for the Government?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I believe that we probably have six months or so before a general election, and I would not wish to prejudge the views and voices of the British people at that election. Like the noble Lord, I am acutely aware of what the polls say. Quite honestly, however, I do not think that we give enough space in this country to talking about European issues. Perhaps that is one lesson that we should all have learnt earlier.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I do not want to get involved in the party political bickering that is going on this afternoon, but I have one question. We have heard throughout the weekend, and before the weekend, that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been lobbying for Mr Blair to be made the president of the European Council, and they have been supporting that view by saying that what we want is a strong man who can stop the traffic in his motorcade. That puzzles me a little, because, of course, I took part in the debates on the Lisbon treaty. We had a big debate about this position, and we were assured by the Government that the position of president of the European Council was merely about presiding over the Council meetings. That was the assurance that we were given, and those of us who predicted that it would become a much bigger job than that were derided and scorned and told that we were talking nonsense. Now, which is it? Is he going to be a great man on the world stage, representing the EU? Or is he just going to be the president of the European Council who will preside over its meetings? I think we are entitled to know.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the president of the European Council will certainly preside over meetings of the European Council, but it is also widely recognised that we need someone who is able to bring greater coherence and consistency to the actions of the EU and the European Council. I think that that is why we talk about the need for a strong man-someone who can drive forward greater progress on the global

2 Nov 2009 : Column 36

issues that we face, issues such as climate change, which we have been discussing today. No one is saying that the job will be a huge amount greater than perhaps the noble Lord was anticipating. As I say, however, I think that it is widely recognised that we need a strong man in the chair-I am sorry: a strong woman or a strong man-who is able to assist the European Union in taking forward its policies. I think that that is what the majority of people in this Chamber and the majority of people in this country would wish.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, does my noble friend share my puzzlement at the lack of interest regarding this important Statement on the opposition Benches-with one noble, albeit eccentric, exception-particularly given that the Liberal Democrats pretend to have a huge interest in Europe and its development? Perhaps they believe that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said everything that has to be said.

Following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, does my noble friend not agree that we are at a crucial crossroads regarding the future of Europe? Those like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and those on the Conservative Front Bench, who want to see an ineffective Europe playing second fiddle on the world stage, would perhaps opt for someone like a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg-or even a current Prime Minister of Luxembourg-as president of the European Council. However, those who believe that Europe must play an important part in the world, standing up and speaking with a strong voice to China, to the United States of America, to Russia, and to all the other powers in the world, think that we need someone with strength, ability and experience, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. However, there is one ideal candidate. I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who I represented for 26 years in the other place: there is one person who, if there were to be a popular election, would actually get elected as the president of the Council of Europe. That person is Tony Blair.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I like to think that there have not been many participants from the opposition Benches because everyone agrees that this is an excellent Statement and that the outcome of the Council was absolutely as good as it should have been. As for the president of the Council, I agree that Europe is at a crossroads-but it always seems to be at a crossroads. However, these are critical times globally, so they are critical for the European Union. We need a person of strength, ability and experience. If the treaty is ratified and if Mr Blair were to put forward his name, of course he would be an excellent candidate. But there are two ifs. Let us wait until the treaty is ratified and we have seen the list of those who have put forward their names as candidates.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, is it not rather sad that, apart from the three Front Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, the only comments that we have heard on this issue from the government Back Benches have been snide remarks about the opposition parties? Is this not rather similar to what some of us knew down the corridor when new Members came into the other place parroting the latest publicity documents

2 Nov 2009 : Column 37

from their party headquarters, typified this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who appears not to know the difference between the Council of Europe and the Council of Ministers of the European Union?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is not for me to comment on what happens in the other place, but I will reflect on the comments that have been made from the Benches behind me. I think that my noble friends' concern is that the Opposition's policy on the European Union does not do justice to the needs of the people of this country. I think that that is what they have been wishing to express.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, after listening to the contributions so far, I am beginning to wonder how many noble Lords have actually read or remembered what was in the Lisbon treaty itself. Does the Leader of the House agree that there is a danger that those who support a particular candidate might be trying to create the perception of a job to suit a person rather than looking for a person to fill the job described in the Lisbon treaty? We must be very careful about that. My own perception of the job is tending not to the minimalist view but certainly to the smaller view-which is that it is chairman of the Council. However, I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, when he says that that is the only function of the job. The treaty makes it perfectly clear that that man or that woman will need to drive forward the agenda. However, in driving forward the agenda the chairman can do only what the Council wants him to do. Let us not try to erect a huge, great job out of what is clearly intended in the Lisbon treaty to be a facilitating job to make sure that the agenda of the Council is properly set, that the business of the Council is properly dispatched and that what is decided is implemented. That is what it is all about.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing us back to the realities of the Lisbon treaty. We are at a crossroads, as another noble friend said earlier. It is possible that the Lisbon treaty will be ratified this week. I hope that that will ensure that, for the foreseeable future, we will not be talking about all these institutional issues. When we have a president and high representative in place, and a new Commission, I hope that we can move forward and that the European Union can address itself to the issues that concern the people of this country and can be a strong force for good in the world.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that, in a House that prides itself on being different from the other place-playing a different role in a different way-the regular repetition of Statements made in the other place leads to scenes that make us much more like the other place than we want to be; and that this is something that we ought to discuss in relation to how the House conducts its business?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have a deal of sympathy with the noble Lord when it comes to Statements. Perhaps it would be useful for the Procedure Committee, the usual channels or the most

2 Nov 2009 : Column 38

appropriate body to consider the matter in the not-too-distant future. A significant time is spent on Statements that some noble Lords might think is not always necessary. That is something that we will take forward.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes

Report (1st Day) (Continued)

4.43 pm

Clause 22 : Duty to prepare and submit draft specification of apprenticeship standards: England

Amendment 15

Moved by Lord Young of Norwood Green

15: Clause 22, page 10, line 31, leave out "such" and insert "-

(a) each person designated under section 12,

(b) persons who appear to the Chief Executive to represent-

(i) employers,

(ii) institutions within the further education sector, and

(iii) any other providers of training,

(c) any other persons or descriptions of persons specified in regulations, and

(d) such other"

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, I agree absolutely with the sentiments expressed in Committee and reflected in the amendments in this group tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden, to whom we are indebted. Employers must be consulted at all levels. I will take the opportunity, in moving the amendment and speaking to the others in the group, to set out precisely how that will happen. The most obvious place in which it is essential to engage employers is in the area of apprenticeships. In view of the overwhelming importance of the issue, noble Lords expressed a particular concern in Committee that employers and sector skills councils should be consulted on the specification of apprenticeship standards for England. Amendments 15 and 16 make it explicit that representatives of employers, further education colleges and other training providers must be consulted. While it has not been possible to refer directly to sector skills councils, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will accept that the formulation used encompasses sector skills councils and those sector bodies which issue frameworks.

On Amendments 90 and 91, we will expect the National Apprenticeship Service and the Skills Funding Agency, of which it forms part, to work closely with sector skills councils and other sector bodies to encourage participation in apprenticeships so that young people can have the widest range of apprenticeship opportunities possible. It will also be essential to consult employers across a far wider range of issues than apprenticeships. Amendment 91 would require sector skills councils to consult themselves, which I am sure was not the intention of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Clause 117 requires the chief executive of skills funding, in performing the functions of the office, to have regard to any guidance

2 Nov 2009 : Column 39

given by the Secretary of State. Subsection (2) makes it clear that this may include guidance about consultation, and there is a specific peg in subsection (3)(b) to include guidance with employers.

I would like to place on the record a clear commitment that we will use that guidance-making power to require consultation by the Skills Funding Agency and, by extension, the National Apprenticeship Service with employers, their representatives and the sector skills councils. Noble Lords will be interested to know that draft guidance is currently being prepared for consultation. This gives an indicative list of the organisations which includes these bodies. We are also committed to using the Secretary of State's mirror guidance-making power in Clause 76 to require the Young People's Learning Agency to consult employers, their representative organisations, sector skills councils and other partners.

Finally, we have reflected further on the strength of feeling with the House that in delivering their new responsibilities for 16 to 19 education and training, local authorities should engage closely with employers. We agree, and we accept that there was a gap in the Bill, which Amendment 81 seeks to address by extending the remit of the YPLA's statutory guidance to include, most importantly, the local authority's duty in Clause 42 to encourage employers to participate in education and training. This will mean that the YPLA can make it clear in its statutory guidance, to which local authorities must have regard, that they should consult local employers and their representative, where appropriate, in the exercise of their new duties.

I hope that, taken together, these amendments and commitments will mean that there is proper engagement with employers at every level right across the activities of the Skills Funding Agency, the National Apprenticeship Service, the YPLA, and local authorities. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will feel able to withdraw her amendments, which by and large deal with consultation in narrower areas of work. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for this very positive reaction to the amendments that we tabled in Committee and for the clarification that he has given on the functions of the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency and of the YPLA in relation to the role of local authorities. We tabled Amendments 32, 37, 38, 90, 91 and 94 because we did not find the response we had in Committee to be adequate. We felt that it was not clear that, as well as local education authorities under the YPLA being required to develop local skills strategies, it is clearly also vital that local employers are involved in their discussions. In order to identify where the skills gaps are, local education authorities need to talk to local employers. Our Amendments 37 and 38 seek to encourage participation by local employers. It is all very well encouraging employers to participate in providing education and training but it is also important that the local authorities talk to them and consult them. Although we knew that best practice existed, we felt that it was not always carried forward.

Similarly, on Amendments 90 and 91, the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency was asked, in

2 Nov 2009 : Column 40

conjunction with the sector skills councils, to encourage employers and their representatives and, in Amendment 94, to take account of the views of employers. That was very reasonable but in Committee those points had not been answered by the Minister. We are very pleased with Amendments 15 and 16. I do not mind the fact that to avoid hybridity you have to go in a roundabout way to describe sector skills councils. I am pleased that there is a reference to the Sharp definition of sector skills councils and am touched that that should be regarded as the Sharp roundabout way of doing it.

On the other issues, I am delighted to get on the record the clarification of the full role for consultation for the sector skills councils, for employers and for such organisations as chambers of commerce which, on occasion, are the appropriate representatives of employers. I am pleased about that and I very much hope that those organisations will note that the fact that they will be consulted is now on the record. I slightly regret that it is not written into the Bill but I think we have the next best thing: an explicit recognition on the part of the Government that they should be consulted and that that will be fully covered in regulations. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for those concessions.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, in Committee, we discussed the role of sector skills councils in some depth. We on these Benches believed, and still believe, that there was a place for the sector skills councils in the Bill. We agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on this matter. We believe it is crucial that sector skills councils are involved in the drafting and issuing of the specification of apprenticeship standards because they are an important intermediary which will represent the needs of industry. Their involvement would, therefore, help to ensure that apprenticeships are kept to the highest standard and are relevant to employers' needs. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, we think that the Minister may have a point when he suggests that to refer to them specifically in the Bill would render it hybrid. As he said in Committee, that,

We are delighted, therefore, that the Government have taken this opportunity to consider their stance and we welcome government Amendment 15 which would mean that the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency has to consult, among others, with each of the people under Section 12 to issue apprenticeship frameworks, whom we have been assured will include the sector skills councils. We welcome this amendment which encapsulates the desire of our Amendment 38A which was discussed in Committee. We welcome the Government's intentions here and we are most grateful for all the hard work which went into finding a way to incorporate the sector skills councils and to tie them, if not as far as we would have hoped, at least more clearly into the Bill. As the Minister said in Committee:

I am a little curious that the Government have chosen to expand the role of employers and their representatives specifically only in terms of the draft specification of

2 Nov 2009 : Column 41

apprenticeship standards. Perhaps, in due course, he could explain why he feels their role should be limited in that way.

We are also grateful that the drafting of the Government's amendments means that they include a wider framework. We think it is important, for example, that pan-sector skill organisations such as those to do with business or administration are not left out of the consultation and that their involvement is very important. Perhaps there are other ways of including them, even with a further defined role for the sector skills councils in the Bill. That deserves some thought.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would attempt to push that further. These amendments use the same formula to bring the sector skills councils, employers and their representatives into other areas of the Bill. We are in favour of a demand-led and employer-led approach to education, training and skills. To achieve that in the most appropriate and sensible fashion, employers must be involved in the process. I look forward to the Minister's response with interest.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I must admit that I am finding it difficult to cope with this cornucopia of welcome and delight. I only hope that it will continue throughout Report. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was a sharp amendment and the Sharp amendment. The noble Baroness takes my point. It is not only in the specification of standards in England that we see employer consultation as relevant. We have referred specifically to a consultation with the sectors skills councils and others on the specification of apprenticeship standards in England because of its overwhelming importance. They will be consulted, as I said, on all other aspects of the Skills Funding Agency, and on National Apprenticeship Service activities. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about the importance of demand-led apprenticeships. We are trying to convince employers about the vital importance of apprenticeships. I believe that I have answered all the questions raised by noble Lords.

Amendment 15 agreed.

Amendment 16 agreed.

Clause 26: Contents of specification of apprenticeship standards for England

Amendment 17 not moved.

Amendments 18 to 21

Moved by Lord Young of Norwood Green

18: Clause 26, page 12, line 7, after "them," insert-

"(aa) requirements for a recognised English framework to include, as an English certificate requirement, the requirement that an apprenticeship certificate relating to the framework may be issued to a person only if the person has received both on-the-job training and off-the-job training,"

19: Clause 26, page 12, line 10, after "held," insert-

"(ia) include, as an English certificate requirement, the requirement that the qualification, or the qualifications taken together, demonstrate the relevant occupational competencies and the relevant technical knowledge,"

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page