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Others have stated that, as the EU Select Committee has recommended to the House, we need closer links now that we are moving into a period in which the European Parliament influences more of the legislation that we, too, consider. The proposal is disproportionate because all British MEPs are to be deprived of privileges in order to exclude a very small number of them. I do not object to that narrower objective being pursued, although one could argue that not much is to be gained by locking that particular door shortly after the BBC has let the horse bolt, but there must be better ways of achieving it than wielding a sledgehammer and landing it on our own foot. The proposal is untimely because the proposed exclusion would take place just when the Lisbon treaty is about to give the Parliament more powers. Finally, does it make any sense at all for us meekly to allow the other place to impose on us a decision that I regard as aberrant and about which it did not even consult us in advance?

For all those reasons, I hope that we will not need to put this matter to a vote but that the Chairman of Committees will look further into this matter, as he very generously offered to do in his introduction, before any action is proposed. That would surely be the best option.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I speak as a member of the House Committee, partly because the Chairman of Committees often complains that, when he has a tough job to do, he is left to swing on his own. From what he has said and the mood of the House, there is a desire for the House Committee to look at this again, but we cannot do so on our own. I hope that, if the report is referred back to the House Committee, the Leader of this House will talk to the Leader of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker will speak to Mr Speaker. We cannot run security and issue passes in this place on the basis that one end of the building does one thing and the other end of the building does another; we must have proper co-ordination. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, said when he read out his letter, the leaders of parties in the European Parliament have made suggestions, will he submit that letter to the House Committee so that we can see whether one of those suggestions actually works?

Lord Plumb: My Lords, it is rare to speak from these Benches in support of an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, but I do so in a spirit of general support from this House for everything that he said and everything that everyone else has said in the context of the threatened withdrawal of passes for Members of the European Parliament. It is obvious to all of us that this is a knee-jerk reaction to the BBC's "Question Time" production and the decision taken then in the other House that certain people should be prevented from coming into the Houses at Westminster. It was a bad decision, and I was delighted when the Chairman of Committees said in his introduction that, given the support for the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, he would reconsider the decision that has been taken.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said, it is perfectly obvious that Members of the European Parliament should be allowed to come to this House

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to give an account of their stewardship, but perhaps more importantly to listen to those of us who have certain positions and views in this House on matters European. That being so, liaison is more important now than it has ever been, so I hope that everyone will support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, and that the decision will be reversed so that MEPs can come here, as they should, as directly elected people from this country.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, the decision of the House of Commons not to make parliamentary passes available to British Members of the European Parliament prejudiced the recommendation of our House Committee and the House Committee has followed the House of Commons. This is easily understandable, but, like all those who have spoken, I could support the relatively mild amendment to refer the issue back to the House Committee and I hope that the Chairman of Committees will follow it.

Whatever the outcome of the discussion today, it is important that we should maintain close relations with the European Parliament. Sometimes I think that public and parliamentary opinion simply has not caught up with who makes laws in the European Union, particularly where many people repeat the error of stating that most important laws are now made by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. In any event, changes in treaties and in practice now mean that almost all significant primary legislation in the European Union, apart from certain competition issues, is made in codecision between our representatives in the Council of Ministers and the representatives of the public in the European Parliament.

The European Parliament has become much more important for Britain. Although our work here in this Parliament is completely dominated by national legislation, contrary to the impression sometimes given, it is none the less true that what comes from the European Parliament is important. I hope that a way can be found to improve our contact with the British Members of the European Parliament.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, during my six years as chairman of the European Union Committee, I travelled to about 17 or 18 of the national Parliaments in the European Union. I was always struck by the degree to which their Members of the European Parliament were integrated into their national Parliaments. In some countries, such as Denmark, there were even seats reserved for them in the Chamber so that they could be summoned there to answer questions from the national Members of Parliament.

If any progress is going to be made in trying to bring the citizen closer to the European Union and the European Union closer to the citizen, particularly in this country where there is a major problem about that, it would be utter folly to deny the right of Members of the European Parliament to come and commune with our national parliamentarians.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, will be surprised that I support his amendment. I do so on the basis that the proposals

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from the House of Commons are absurd and make no sense at all. One of the reasons given by the House of Commons is that there will be pressure on the services. But how can that be? The number of Euro MPs has dropped to 78 from its previous total of 84. The reason given by the House of Commons is nonsensical. I have not always believed but I now believe that it is right that we should allow Members of the European Parliament to come to this place to meet Members of both Houses and to attend party meetings with ease, and not to be blocked and have to go through the public entrance. It is correct that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, has proposed this amendment, which I hope will be agreed. I hope that the House of Commons will be sensible and not penalise all the British Members just for the sake of two new Members of the European Parliament. If they are a security threat, that is another matter, but that should be dealt with separately and not by a blanket ban on the legitimate Members of the European Parliament.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I think I can honestly say that I have heard enough. Seldom have I heard such unanimous opposition by noble Lords on all sides and of all political complexions to a House Committee report. I can say that the committee should indeed reconsider this matter, taking into account what has been said today, and we will therefore do just that. Perhaps I may say that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is absolutely correct to refer this matter back to the House Committee, so I recommend that the House should agree with his amendment.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Amendment agreed.

Motion, as amended, agreed.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes

Third Reading

3.30 pm

Clause 1 : Meaning of "completing an English apprenticeship"

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Young of Norwood Green

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 7, leave out "principal" and insert "competencies"

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 1 to 20, 38, 41 and 42. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have listened carefully to the points that noble Lords have raised. I hope that your Lordships will agree that as a result we have a much improved Bill. During the Report stage my noble

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friends Lord Layard and Lady Blackstone raised concerns about the use of the term "principal qualification" with regard to apprenticeships. This was never intended to suggest a hierarchy of qualifications within an apprenticeship. Amendments 1 to 15 and Amendment 19 replace the term with "competencies qualification" for both England and Wales, which will ensure that this interpretation does not arise. I can confirm that the change will also be made to the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England and for Wales.

My noble friends also pressed us to be more proactive in our ambitions to raise the bar so that all those who benefit from taking up their apprenticeship offer at level 2 should aspire also to achieve a level 3. Amendment 20 places a duty on the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, which will be delegated to the chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, to promote the progression to a level 3 apprenticeship where a person has completed a level 2 apprenticeship. Noble Lords might recall that the Skills Commission published its report Progression throughApprenticeships in March. We welcome this report and have given full consideration to its recommendations. We hope that this amendment, together with our imminent response to the commission, will provide the House with the assurance that we are committed to promoting and supporting progression through apprenticeships. We believe strongly that increasing technical and intermediate skills at level 3 is important to our economy and therefore agree that it is important to reflect that the National Apprenticeship Service in England will encourage progression to level 3 on the face of the Bill.

Noble Lords also asked how the apprenticeship offer will be delivered. We are all clear that we need to attract and encourage many more employers to offer apprenticeship places and noble Lords have suggested that directly funding employers for their apprentices might help in this respect. The current arrangements already allow for this, but relatively few employers take up the opportunity. The National Apprenticeship Service tells us that there are currently 140 directly funded employers which are employing around 40,000 apprentices. However, we believe that there is more work to be done, so we will ask the National Apprenticeship Service to develop and publish an apprenticeship offer delivery plan in 2010-11. In preparing the plan, the National Apprenticeship Service will also review direct employer funding arrangements in England and work with the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network and others to identify and better understand the disincentives for employers, and work out how these barriers can be addressed effectively.

Finally, Amendments 38, 41 and 42 reflect the commitment we made on Report that the power to make regulations setting out the alternative completion conditions for England and Wales respectively will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I beg to move.

Lord Layard: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I welcome the Minister's statement. Both he and the Bill team have laboured mightily to meet our

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concerns and we have made real progress, both today and on Report. It is extremely welcome that the Government have dispensed with the idea of a principal qualification, which would not have served the interests of young people and their acquisition of knowledge. It is also welcome that he has introduced an explicit duty to promote progression.

It is extremely important that we now have the published plan of the National Apprenticeship Service showing how it intends to deliver the apprenticeship entitlement. If we have a real plan and carry it through, the Bill will go down as a landmark in the social and economic history of our country.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we on these Benches also welcome the amendments, particularly Amendment 20. I am pleased to say that throughout the different stages of the Bill we have supported the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in his amendments. I did not think he would get as far as he has got and I am delighted to see Amendment 20.

I declare an interest as a member of the Skills Commission, which put forward the report on progressions for apprenticeships. Can the Minister clarify the leaks coming out about the funding of apprenticeship places in the next few years? Today, the BBC website contains a report entitled "Training places face spending axe" which claims that there will be a substantial clawback in the spending on training places. Can he assure us that this will not affect adult apprenticeships?

The Minister indicated that some funding has been devoted to this-indeed, last year there was an increase in the funding devoted to adult apprenticeships-and, as he will know, the number of people looking for apprenticeships has been increasing rapidly. Employers are anxious to take on more adult apprentices but their efforts are limited by the amount of funding available.

We also welcome the Minister's statement about funding for employers which, as I understand it, will be as much for the 16 to 19 year-olds as it will be for others. However, it would help if he could clarify what the spending plans are. We are expecting a statement on skills strategy. Can he tell us when that statement is due and whether it will include clarification on funding?

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, last week the Minister accused me of being prey to a conspiracy theory. Therefore, on Sunday morning, when I was shown a copy of the Observercontaining the headline, "Secret Labour plan to axe spending on training for young. Leak reveals cuts of £350 million", it led me to think that the Minister was no more privy to that conspiracy than I was.

Many of us have been concerned on numerous occasions during our discussions on the Bill that although plans are being put down for what we would like to happen, the resources to back them up are not likely to be available. There is an enormous amount of damage in holding out a promised Nirvana to the young only for it to be made unavailable or dashed away. The article referred to a document dated 12 October which circulated within BIS. Headed "Protected-Funding

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Policy", it announced the cutting of an initial £100 million which would be found by identifying savings in quangos and administration and a further £252 million which would fall on key government programmes such as Train to Gain, Adult Apprentices and Skills for Life. That would mean a cut of some 335,000 people from the baseline of learners in the 19-plus age group who want either to join courses at further education colleges or with independent training companies or to become apprentices. Not surprisingly, the British Chambers of Commerce has stated in response to this leaked document:

"This is the latest in a series of fiascos that have hit the skills budget. Companies were actively encouraged to train their employees and they have done this. It will be business that gets the country out of this recession and to do this it will need highly skilled employees".

Therefore, despite the euphoria at the various amendments that have been mentioned, I must ask the Minister whether we are discussing something that is going to happen or something that people would like to happen, with the Government already realising that those hopes will not be realised.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, this is the worst education Bill that I have seen in my 40 years in the two Houses. It is being revised even at Third Reading. It is charming to receive letters every day from Ministers explaining the Bill, but the explanations of its full ramifications are usually left to the Commons stages.

I support entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has just said. The one thing that has been missing from all these debates on the Bill is any confirmation of the expenditure behind it. That expenditure has not been made evident by the Government. Indeed, they started the debate by slashing the programme of the Learning and Skills Council which has given the greatest boost to further education that it has had in the past 25 years.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is absolutely right. This is a Bill that is full of pious intentions but very little practicality. He referred to a report. It was not a leaked, trivial report; it was a report from the Commission of Employment and Skills, a quango set up by the Government and headed by Mr Chris Humphries. He has made far-reaching proposals to merge the myriad bodies charged with improving the performance of the UK's 430 further education colleges-which is what the Bill is about-into a single organisation, cutting its combined budget by 50 per cent. That is the Skills Funding Agency. So the proposal from that quango is to cut the spending power of the Skills Funding Agency by 50 per cent. I am not saying that the Government are going to accept that willy-nilly, but we should hear from them whether they are going to accept or reject the proposal entirely, and whether they want to cut expenditure on the agency and give all that money to FE colleges.

Now, the Skills Funding Agency is fundamental to the Bill. Moreover, it is not the only body that is to be cut. If there is a change of Government, the regional authorities will go, too. Again, they are fundamental to the Bill. So what one is creating with the Bill is an elaborate bureaucratic structure that cannot survive irrespective of who wins the next election. It is a clumsy way of reforming further education and bringing

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schools into it, and it is fundamentally flawed as a Bill. Many Members will know where I think it is flawed-I spoke to the issue several times in Committee. If there is not to be a further commitment of money not only to this part of the Bill but also to its apprenticeships side and the provision of teaching for offenders in jail-which has been irrationally removed from the Prison Service and given to two authorities: the host authority and the home authority-it will not work.

This is a Bill of adjectives-of hope and piety-and the bureaucratic structure is so complex. I deal with FE colleges and other parts of the education system every week, and they say that the system that the Bill creates will simply not work. At the moment, FE colleges have one funding agency, while as a result of the Bill they will have four, all of which will be under pressure to cut money over the next four years. The Government are not giving a great encouragement to further education in this Bill but creating a system that will lead to inevitable restrictions on funding in further education. That cannot be right when we should be creating a skills-based economy. If we are going to build all these nuclear power stations, Crossrail and the rest of it, we need technicians at all levels, from the basic technician level to graduate engineers. This Bill does nothing to improve that.

3.45 pm

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I second what my noble friend Lord Layard said, in thanking the Minister and his colleagues in the two departments concerned with this legislation for listening and for improving the Bill by taking out reference to a principal qualification. This is a huge improvement, since there is absolutely no reason to believe that a technical element in the learning that young people taking apprenticeships undertake should be in any way less important than competency-type skills.

I am very grateful, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for Amendment 20. The principle of progression from level 2 to level 3 apprenticeships is enormously important if we are to have the levels of skills that we need in an advanced knowledge-based economy. The duty to promote this progression is fundamental.

The third issue that my noble friend Lord Layard and I have been concerned about in our discussions on the Bill is how we attract more employers. I am grateful for what the Minister said in arguing that we need a better direct funding system. However, I had understood that he was going to commit the Government to asking the National Apprenticeship Service to develop and publish an apprenticeship offer delivery plan in 2010-11, and that in preparing this plan the service would review direct employer funding arrangements and work with various employer organisations such as the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network. I may have missed it, but I do not think that he said that in introducing the amendments. When he replies, will he confirm that that is the Government's intention, so that we can have a better understanding of the current disincentives for employers and how we can address more effectively the barriers and difficulties that they currently face?

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on what they have achieved. I applaud Amendment 20 to Clause 104, because that is the one that many of us in this Chamber were very concerned about. It takes us back to Lord Dearing's points-all those months ago, alas. I am sure that he would be particularly pleased to see this direction. Having said all that, I think that some of the points about funding raised by Members from all sides of the House are very important. In view of some of the stories that have been in the press recently, we should have some reassurance from Ministers when they come to reply that there are satisfactory funds to enable the wishes in this Bill to go forward-whatever we think of it, whether we think that it is totally flawed or has some points to it.

Lord Elton: In view of the powerful interventions by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lord Baker, and the realities of the economic climate, I wonder whether what we want from the Minister is a promise not that she cannot give that lots of money will be available-which will not be-but that in Clause 263, the commencement clause, there will be an undertaking that none of the provisions of this Act will come into force until such time as funds are available for them to be discharged. The clauses dealing with the provision of education in non-maintained schools and the provision of children's centres come into force within two months of the passing of the Bill, whatever we do. The remainder is left to the discretion, as far as I can see, of the Welsh Ministers and the Secretary of State-who is an also-ran, oddly enough, in this part of the Bill. An undertaking that, as far as the Government are concerned, nothing is implemented until the funds are available to carry it out fully would be extremely welcome.

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