Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I felt that the importance of Amendment 144AA was underlined by today's unemployment figures. UK unemployment rose by 80,000 to 2.51 million jobless, a rate of 7.9 per cent. The bit that caught my attention more than anything else, because it is germane to today's debate, was that youth unemployment rose sharply by another 78,000 to 973,000 unemployed young people. It was interesting also that public sector employment fell by 110,000, partially offset by a 41,000 increase in the private sector. I mention that because the public sector is an area where we look to a significant number of apprenticeships, so the impact of that is likely to feed through.

I shall mention our record on apprenticeships when we were the Government. I have said this before and make no apologies for repeating it: if apprenticeships had been a national health patient, they definitely would have been in intensive care. We had only about 65,000 of them and an appalling completion rate of something like 27 per cent. By the time we left office in 2010, there were nearly 280,000 apprenticeships, with a completion rate of 72 per cent. I am proud of that; it was a good record. Was the task completed? Clearly, it was not. But we had set a target in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act. We gave a commitment that by 2013 every person who wanted an apprenticeship would be able to have one, assuming that they had the requisite qualifications. We felt that that was a very important, albeit ambitious, commitment.

I want to pay tribute to the Government's commitment. The good news is that funding is being made available to support 437,000 apprenticeships in 2011-12, including 230,000 for 16 to 18 year-olds. I welcome that; it shows commitment. Further still, the Government are talking about 497,000 apprenticeships for 2012 and the funding to go with them, so I acknowledge that they are treating this issue as one of importance. The real question is: are they doing enough? The purpose of my amendment is to stretch that commitment. I make no apologies for that in the current climate.

Looking at what is being achieved at the moment, the figures for August 2010 to 2011 make interesting reading. The worrying area of the figures, for me, is

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC270

that in the 16 to 18 year-old group we see an actual decline in the number of starts. For 16 year-olds in 2009-10, there were 29,000 starts but so far in 2010-11, in quarters one to three, there are only 24,690. That is reflected in the figures for 17 year-olds, with 40,780 starts in 2009-10 and 34,500 in 2010-11. Similarly, with 18 year-olds, we see a decline from just over 46,000 starts to 43,000. I must admit that the 19 to 24 age group shows a healthy increase from 113,000 starts to 102,000, which I acknowledge is good progress.

The really startling increase has been in adult apprenticeships. A significant number in that was accounted for by switching people who were previously on Train to Gain to adult apprenticeships. Again, I do not deplore that. There is a need for people to reskill, but surely the major area of concern for us should be in the 16 to 18 age group. We know how important that is. I do not want to draw any glib analysis from the riots that have taken place recently, because somebody else will be looking at that, but youth unemployment certainly does not help the situation. For every young person who you can offer an apprenticeship to, we know that that is a beacon of hope for them, as I have described it. We know that many young people have turned their lives around by starting apprenticeships, which is why we attach so much importance to that particular group of young people. While the overall figures may look good, when they are disaggregated there are definite causes for concern.

Another bit that worried me was when I sought to look at what the Government's targets were. It was quite interesting because John Hayes, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, has explained:

I find that a rather curious statement. Therefore, I would welcome the Minister confirming whether it is true. If it is true, how do the Government arrive at the funding figures because presumably they relate to something? Presumably, somebody has decided that that is the funding we need for a certain number of places. As I say, I find the statement to which I have referred rather strange. Perhaps it has been taken out of context, but I hope not as I obtained the statement from what I hope is an unbiased source; namely, the House of Lords research department. I just asked for a statement of government policy.

6.45 pm

I refer to another statistic that has room for improvement if we are serious about our commitment to apprenticeships. The Employer Perspectives Survey 2010, which was published in January 2011, indicated the number of employers who offered apprenticeships. I do not know why but I had a totally different figure in my head in that regard from the one in the survey. Clearly, I had picked up an anecdotal figure from somewhere. I thought that roughly a third of employers

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC271

offered apprenticeships. However, the survey figures show us how much work we have to do in this regard. The survey states:

"5% of employers currently have staff undertaking apprenticeships, 4% offer apprenticeships but currently have no staff undertaking them, and a further 8% plan to offer apprenticeships in future".

So we have a long way to go in this regard. This situation presents us with a challenge and an opportunity to sell the benefits of apprenticeship programmes to employers.

The number of apprenticeship starts this year is good at 326,000. However, over the first three-quarters of this year the number of apprenticeships lasting longer than one year rose by less than 2 per cent while those lasting less than a year increased by more than 30 per cent compared with the figures for 2009-10. So although the Government can say that they have created a record number of apprenticeship places-I do not dispute that-it largely comprises courses lasting less than 12 months. I do not criticise those apprenticeships provided they are of good quality. The apprenticeship frameworks cover a range of different occupations from highly skilled engineering to areas such as retail and healthcare. We need the highly skilled traditional apprenticeships. They are vital for future growth, and we know that employers are crying out for them. That is another area where it is not enough just to look at overall numbers.

My amendment seeks to give the Government a target, although I know that the Government do not like targets. It was set originally at 2013. I have freely acknowledged in other apprenticeship debates that that was an ambitious target. I could not guarantee that the Labour Government could have achieved it were we still in power. However, nobody told us that we could not put it in legislation and that it was wrong to do that. In looking at giving something that was a reasonable target to aim for, I thought that if we set it at 2015 that would be a reasonable objective.

The question is whether we should do it. John Hayes says that apprenticeships are demand led and that it is the Government's job to respond to the demand. I argue that it is not just the Government's job to respond to demand. We have the highest youth unemployment that we have experienced in a long time. The situation fascinates me because we have changed the legislation relating to people aged 65 and over, and we now have more young people unemployed than we have in, I think, the 50-plus age group. So younger people-not that they would use the phrase "intergenerational compact", but we tend to think of that-ought to give us cause for concern. We are saying to people in that older age range that we want them to work longer. I can remember civil servants assuring me that I did not have to worry about changing the legislation relating to that because there would be enough job growth not to impact on youth employment. Whether or not it has impacted on youth employment, if you make that comparison, the figures at the moment speak for themselves.

I believe that it is absolutely right that we should be sending a signal to young-

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC272

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen): My Lords, I apologise, but there is a Division in the Chamber.

6.51 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

7.01 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I was trying to establish that I believe that this commitment on entitlement one by 2015 could be achieved. In the current circumstances, given the level of youth unemployment, it is something that we ought to go for. The Government should be sending a signal to the young generation that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that there will be an apprenticeship available, as was offered in the previous entitlement in the 2009 Act.

I talked about the small number of employers that are engaged. How can we improve on that? We started down a road which I think had lots of unexplored potential. There is the question of involving SMEs, especially smaller companies. If you talk to them, as I do whenever I meet them, you will understand that they worry about administration, costs and so on. If they have not been involved with apprenticeships before, they see them as a voyage into the unknown and cannot necessarily see the benefits.

Yet we have a brilliant scheme which has been around for some while now: group training associations. Significant numbers of small and medium-sized employers gather under that umbrella where a lot of administration and basic training takes place and when young people have achieved a reasonable level of expertise, they go out to companies. Once again, the Government have committed themselves on group training associations, but I do not feel that there is enough drive to ensure that we are maximising the opportunities available in them. If there were a really intensive drive on group training associations and ATAs, I think we could be confident that we could get more SMEs involved, which we desperately need to do.

The interesting thing about apprenticeships and demand is that I recall that when I was a young lad of 17 years old, I wandered down the road, rang the doorbell at Telephone House and managed to get a telecom apprenticeship. If a young person tried to get an apprenticeship with BT today, I do not think he would have that success. BT offers about 300 apprenticeships and is oversubscribed by something like 25,000. The demand is huge. Somebody said that it is harder to get an apprenticeship with BT than it is to get into Oxford or Cambridge. There is huge, unsatisfied demand, and we have got to make sure that we engage employers.

I am also speaking to Amendment 144AB, which is a key part of the Government's commitment. We made it clear that part of the condition of offering government procurement contracts was that there should be a commitment from employers to provide apprenticeships. We had significant success. I shall quote two large-scale contracts. They could have been better, but there were something like 300 apprenticeships on the Olympics and Crossrail has offered 400, so it

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC273

can be done. Surely it is wrong in this day and age that we should be awarding government contracts to companies that have no-

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I apologise, but there is a further Division in the Chamber. Therefore, we stand adjourned for 10 minutes until 7.16 pm.

7.06 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

7.16 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I shall round up as speedily as I can on the final couple of aspects of these amendments. I talked about the importance of procurement. Again, the Government have not seen fit to make apprenticeships a condition of government procurement contracts. I would welcome some reassurance on that. There is also the important question of government departments demonstrating that they do not just talk about the value of apprenticeships but actually recruit apprentices themselves. The latest figures show that 2,120 apprenticeships were started in government departments. From my brief experience as a Minister, I would say that this is an area where we cannot afford to take our eyeoff the ball. Making sure that government departments are held to account on a regular basis is vital. In current circumstances, when jobs are going but where nevertheless there is a commitment in government departments to apprenticeships-we can see from the figures that they are still going-we cannot afford to be complacent.

In answer to a parliamentary Question, the Minister for Further Education, John Hayes, said that no data were available on how many apprenticeships government departments were planning over the next three years, but that,

That is not good enough if we are serious about trying to ensure that the maximum number of apprenticeships are available to meet the entitlement.

Another area where we could give a good signal relates to Amendment 144AC, in which I refer to Investors in People. I was surprised, when I went to a presentation for a company that had won an award for best employer that year, that when I spoke to the CEO of the company, he said that they did not have any apprenticeships at all. I looked at the Investors in People website and could not find any requirement in it. There is talk about selection and recruitment being fair, but I could not find any explicit reference to that requirement.

I believe that the target year I have suggested-2015-is reasonable and achievable. It will take a significant effort by the Government, but in the current circumstances, given the importance of apprenticeships to young people and the figures for youth unemployment, it is surely a signal that this Government should give, and I commend the amendment to the Committee.

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC274

Lord Layard: I rise to speak to Amendment 144B. When the four of us tabled the amendment, we thought that it was very important, but since then the riots have shown that it is even more important than we thought. If you look at the situation in our country, it is clear that academic young people are offered a clear route to a skill and a useful role in society. They can see where they are going. That is not the case for less academic young people. There is no clear route that they can see they are entitled to go down. The result is low levels of skills and a degree of alienation. That is why in 2007 the Economic Affairs Committee, under the wonderful chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, supported the idea of an entitlement to an apprenticeship. Following that, the 2008 Act enacted that there should be an entitlement to an apprenticeship for 16 to 19 year-olds. The body charged with finding places was the National Apprenticeship Service, which was set up at the same time. However, no employer can be forced to take on an apprentice, and for that reason the present Government have judged that the entitlement is putting them into an unduly exposed position from a legal point of view. Therefore, the Bill repeals the entitlement. That is a very serious thing to do.

At the same time, the Government are doing a very welcome thing, which is introducing an automatic funding mechanism whereby any employer who wishes to take on a 16 to 19 year-old as an apprentice, and can find one, will get automatic funding. However, that is quite different from an explicit commitment to find enough places for all those 16 to 19 year-olds who want them. It is a laissez-faire mechanism that has a strength but also a serious weakness. Nothing is being said about the shape of the educational system that we are trying to create for our 16 to 19 year-old population. The purpose of this amendment is to construct that bit of the building block of our educational system for 16 to 19 year-olds by saying that for those who do not want to go down the full-time academic route, the apprenticeship route is open. It is making a statement and putting an obligation on the National Apprenticeship Service to bring it about.

If you look at this from a young person's point of view, we are raising the education participation age. It is quite difficult to see how we are going to be able to do that in a way that is acceptable to young people unless these apprenticeship places are available to them. We need legislation that states the main aims of our education system. For that 16 to 19 year-old group, we have a lacuna. We cannot fill it by ministerial statements and assurances, as Ministers come and go. We expect the basic structure of our educational system to be reflected in the laws of the country.

When we drafted this amendment, we leant over backwards to protect the Government against the threat of legal redress. The draft says that the National Apprenticeship Service shall,

16 to 19 year-olds who want one. So "all reasonable efforts" are to be made and those can be defined in guidance. This combines a clear statement of what we want with protection against judicial review. Some of us have already had useful discussions with Ministers about this. Of course, we would be happy to consider

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC275

alternative wording, provided it did not weaken the existing wording. I think that that is an extremely important point, because it is what we owe our young people.

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, I am here simply to add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who was a very distinguished member of the Select Committee which produced our report on apprenticeships. However, as I have sat here all afternoon, I could not help reflecting that it is probably nearly 40 years since I first sat on a parliamentary committee dealing with a Bill. I do not do much of that these days. Things have not changed very much, but I have had a very pleasurable afternoon listening to the way things seem to be going.

I do not have much to say about this, but one thing worries me about the report. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, said-certainly at the beginning of his speech. At the end I thought he was a little off key, but most of it was pretty good stuff. What staggered me about this exercise was how many of our kids leave school and get an apprenticeship but simply do not have the literacy or numeracy skills to enable them to take on an apprenticeship. You cannot leave that to officials. Someone in the Government must have responsibility for encouraging a move in the right direction.

Secondly, I thought that there was a failure by many schools to tell people about apprenticeships. Children who are likely to go down that educational route need to start thinking about it around the age of 14. In my experience on the Select Committee, one thing stuck in my mind. We visited an old people's home where girls were training to look after the old people. For many years as they grew up, those girls knew that they wanted to do this. They got there but no one had told them that unless you have a basic knowledge of arithmetic you simply are not capable of dispensing medicines to the old people. That failure of schools and of 16 to 18 year-old apprenticeships is at the core of many of our problems. The noble Lord spent longer talking about it than I am going to, although it is still very important. I am here just to give him support.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I add my support to Amendment 144B and I urge the Minister not to be misled into drawing any mistaken conclusions from the moderate language used. We say,

That is moderate language. We have already heard the figures. The Government are dependent on employers coming to the table, and it is not happening. One reasonable effort might be to approve Amendment 145, which would reduce the burden on employers who want to go down this route.

7.30 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, perhaps I might be allowed to draw the Committee's attention to Amendment 144C, which stands in my name. I hope that what I am about to say is not taken as cutting across the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Layard and Lord Wakeham.

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC276

This is inspired by a practice that has become apparent to me. It comes from a group of dyslexics who have discovered that as they cannot pass the English test, they are being removed from the apprenticeships process. I have raised this on the floor of the House, and I have raised it with the relevant Ministers. On every occasion I have received, shall we say, the general approval of your Lordships' House, and the approval of the Ministers. What is effectively happening is that you are saying to a dyslexic, "You can't pass a written English test-you can't get an apprenticeship".

Nick Gibb recently said in private to me before a meeting that a successful apprenticeship is as economically beneficial to you as a degree. Dyslexics cannot do this, but they can go to university. We have an established path. Indeed, I think I was one of the first people involved in it, actually going as a right. When you start to talk about yourself as part of a historical precedent-well, perhaps I am now a true Member of the House of Lords. It is an established path now. I have interests, both non-paid and pecuniary, in people who now provide these services.

Apprenticeships are probably more appropriate in helping many people who are dyslexic to actually get a job and maintain it, than, shall we say, an arts degree would be. They are more directly applicable. Fewer steps have to be gone through. However, because the English skills test here is one that you cannot pass, dyslexics are told, "No". The thing is, we thought we had cracked it. The noble Lord, Lord Young, is here; we had discussions about this when the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act was a Bill, and we thought we had an answer.

What has happened is that the Ministers had a private meeting. I agreed with the Minister, John Hayes, that I could use this in a previous speech, and as I referred to it then I think I am safe to do so now. We had a meeting, and the National Apprenticeship Service was told by the Minister, "Sort it out-this is ridiculous". The representatives were told to come to me, because they did not know what was going on about dyslexia and I would put them in touch with the relevant people. It did not happen, and in subsequent conversations I found myself talking to a person who said, "Our lawyers have told us that we don't have to do it, so we won't". Maybe we-the noble Lord, Lord Young, and I-are at fault because we did not pin this down hard enough. But something has gone fundamentally wrong. It may be corrected over time, but I hereby give the noble Lord, Lord Henley, the chance here to tell us exactly what is going to happen about this in the immediate future, and what is planned.

I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading and coming here today, but I hope that the Committee will understand why I have done this now, and why I suggest it is important that the Government give a definitive example of what they think should happen, given that I think we have unanimous support for the argument that dyslexics-10 per cent of the population-should not be excluded from getting a qualification that gives them a way of earning a living.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I would like to follow on from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to make one very brief point. On my way to my brief

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC277

point I will say that I very much support apprenticeships and the apprenticeships programme, and what this Government are doing to ramp that up, so I very much support the amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Layard.

I do not know quite how the Government intend to respond to that, but the brief point I will make is to express the hope that if the Government are on the way to resisting or qualifying the amendment in any way, I hope that they will not do anything that will detract from the priority category status of the apprenticeship offer, which is in legislation, for students with learning difficulties and disabilities in the age group 19 to 24. I think that the Government have recognised that members of this group sometimes take a little longer to reach the point when they can appropriately embark on an apprenticeship. With that in view, they have accepted that it is appropriate to make a priority offer to this group in a somewhat later age category. I hope that they will be able to give assurances that the offer to that age group of students is still in place.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I, too, have a great deal of sympathy with this set of amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Young, spoke to us about the unemployment statistics and the difficulties that young people in particular have in gaining apprenticeships at the moment. We have seen an extremely satisfactory increase in the number of apprenticeships over the past few years, but they have predominantly been in the older, 19-plus category. There is considerable difficulty for younger people. Employers are less anxious to take on young people. Indeed, those who go into apprenticeships are, on the whole, those who have already been employed by the same people-they move into an apprenticeship with the firm that they are already with.

We have had some discussion of the Select Committee report that was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I think I remember that report saying that apprenticeship is the most satisfactory route into a career for a young person who does not go through university. It is an extremely satisfying and satisfactory way of teaching young people, and for them to learn not only a skill but about jobs and living, and the world of work. It is therefore very important indeed that we should support the apprenticeships. In the current situation with the recession, can my noble friend Lord Henley tell us what the Government's response is to the Wolf report's suggestions that there should be some incentive to employers, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, in taking on young apprentices? We talk about it being demand-led but in some circumstances demand needs a little nudging. Are the Government inclined to nudge demand in this way?

Lord Monks: My Lords, speaking as an apprentice Member of the House, I also support these amendments to help the Government to meet the objectives that they have set themselves. My noble friend Lord Young complimented the Government on those. There are tough, ambitious targets and there is money being provided. The resources are there but we are short of

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC278

the means to carry through the action necessary to meet the targets. These amendments are part of the story that can at least fill the gap.

Apprenticeship, as my noble friend Lord Young said, has been in intensive care for a long time. When he was going down to British Telecom, 40 per cent-plus of boys leaving school at the minimum age were apprentices. Unfortunately, it was only 5 per cent of girls. That was 40 years or so ago but then the system collapsed. Traditional industries shrank, the new industries did not want the practice at all and employers poached rather than trained. With a little more money, they took staff from the employers who did train. The original attempt to stop that was the Conservative Government's Industrial Training Act and a levy grant mechanism, but the system did not stand up against that pressure. With the higher education expansion a little later and perhaps some faults in apprenticeship itself-being time-serving rather than competence-based-the whole thing shook and not much was left.

The result is pretty disastrous for Britain in terms of low productivity and a poor record in this area compared with some similar countries. It is much worse than anything in the higher education field. I was in Sweden recently looking at apprenticeships. Apprentices there are required to be able to speak a foreign language by the time they have completed their apprenticeships. Certainly, they are required to be competent in English and are now encouraged to become competent in German or French as well. Some of them are becoming competent in Chinese. This is a moving target and we are well behind. Reference has been made to the educational problems of some of the young people who we are trying to squeeze into the opportunities available.

I welcome the priority that the Government are giving to this matter but we need more ways of ensuring that progress will be made. I have been a big supporter of Investors in People from its inception. It is odd that its website does not refer to apprenticeships and that they are not a central feature of that website. We should be spreading this concept into newer occupations. As the noble Baroness has just said, this is a very good method of learning for people who do not feel comfortable with the traditional academic route. I hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic response to this group of amendments.

Lord Storey: My Lords, I, too, support the spirit of these amendments. It is good to create more apprenticeships but this matter also concerns the ethos behind those apprenticeships. There is a view in this country that unless people get academic results and go to sixth form and university, they have failed in some way. However, that is not the view in other countries. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Monks, made-that we need to look at the models followed in other European countries. Switzerland, for example, has an apprenticeship scheme. I know this from personal experience because I have a Swiss cousin. Her two sons were not academically able but she did not regard the fact that they did not go on to higher education as a failure. She was delighted that they undertook an apprenticeship scheme that was linked to higher education. Germany also has a very advanced system. This is

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC279

about not just creating more apprenticeships but making sure that other thoughts are borne in mind, such as learning a language or going back to basic learning needs.

On Monday I was lucky enough to visit BBC North in Salford, which has established an apprenticeship scheme. No qualifications are required to enter that apprenticeship scheme. The scheme is linked to what is called an ambassador scheme. They take young people post-16 from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Those young people have all sorts of problems. Once they have got over their fear of apprenticeships-some young people fear apprenticeships-a large number of them take them up. The BBC guides those young people as they go along.

For example, a young Asian lad spoke to all those on the visit. He was very articulate, had great presentational skills but came from a very disadvantaged background. I asked him what his apprenticeship covered and he answered, "Catering". He served us our lunch. I said to the director of human resources, "Given that lad's presentational skills, perhaps catering is not for him". The director of human resources replied, "Actually, you are right. He discovered that he has presentational skills and gets on well with people. He also has a great interest in football, so I am planning for him to be an assistant floor manager on 'Match of the Day"'. We should consider that ability to guide people as they go along and develop their skills. This is about not just creating apprenticeships but the whole wraparound that goes with it.

7.45 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I am very much in favour of this group of amendments. In particular, I remember the noble Lord, Lord Layard, talking about this on Second Reading. As has been said by others, he has phrased his amendment carefully because of changes that have been made and because, as we know, the situation is not quite the same as when the idea was being thought through. I am also very much in favour of a wider range of options, and agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said about people whose abilities are locked in, perhaps because of dyslexia. This is another area where we see young offenders who have not gone through the process of gaining from their education. There ought to be a much more flexible approach. I hope that when the Government look at this and do their best to incorporate the approach into their plans for the future, they will work out a series of apprenticeships.

Let us try to think about incentives for employers who might be able to help-a very good idea from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Young people might be able to do an apprenticeship over a slightly longer period of time while using their academic abilities, so that they do not just have to have God knows how many O-levels in order to qualify. There ought to be a range of ways in which these wretched young people, who could so easily go down the wrong routes, are encouraged to develop in the ways we heard about. The lovely BBC scheme for young people seems to be exactly what everybody should be thinking about.

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC280

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I am sure that it is out of order for me to speak at this point, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me. I was participating in a long-standing commitment to attend an awards ceremony for young people on the National Grid young offender programme. I heard about the success of four young men, one of whom left prison a year ago and is now moving into management in his firm. It was marvellous to see the enthusiasm of the young men and to hear their stories. It illustrates how important it is to find useful work that these men enjoy doing. I have been to ceremonies in the past and seen the young men with their partners and young children. They have shown that they can be fathers who are present for their children, who take an interest in them and who set them a good example. That is very much to be welcomed. I was sorry to hear at this event that Sir John Parker, the chairman of National Grid Transco, who has led the scheme over the past 10 years, is shortly to retire. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his leadership in taking forward the programme and recruiting so many other companies and businesses. Soon they will have trained 2,000 young offenders for work. I declare an interest: I have received hospitality from that company in the past. I apologise for speaking out of order, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me on this occasion.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I had better say to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that I will not move Amendment 145 because I had a wonderful e-mail from the Minister saying that he had done everything he possibly could and that all sorts of wonderful reductions in paperwork were on the way. All I can say is thank you.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, and I have been waiting rather a long time for our cameo role in this Bill. I hope that my voice lasts the course of this debate. It has been a very useful debate, and I hope that I can manage to answer some of the points and give an indication of where the Government are going and how we wish to continue to speak to all noble Lords involved with apprenticeships and address the concerns that have been expressed. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for saying that he welcomes what we are doing but wants, as I think he put it, to stretch out our commitment. That is the theme behind a lot of the amendments that have been tabled, and I would like to discuss them in due course.

However, if the noble Lord will bear with me, I shall start with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, supported by a weighty list of noble Lords from all sides of the House. I know they have been discussing their amendment with my colleague John Hayes, and I am very grateful for that. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, had a further useful conversation with my honourable friend earlier this afternoon and that he is willing to work with the Government on a government amendment that would come forward on Report to achieve the shared aim of promoting apprenticeships to young people in a way that fits in with the redefined apprenticeships offer.

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC281

I hope that after discussing this matter with my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the other noble Lords who tabled the amendment, the noble Lord will send his proposal to me or to my honourable friend. We have a reasonable amount of time because of the odd way this House is sitting and then breaking off so that we can all go off to our conferences. I do not know whether the noble Lord is going, but some of us are. There is certainly time for discussions to continue to take place on that. I give an assurance that doors are still open and that discussion will continue to take place.

I now return to the noble Lord, Lord Young, and congratulate him on his speech. I apologise for the fact that he was interrupted not once, but twice by Division Bells in the Chamber. I shall deal with one or two of the points that he raised in his amendment. First, he mentioned his concerns about the number of 16 to 18 starts. The figures the department has are that there were 99,400 starts in 2008-09, 116,000 starts in 2009-10 and 102,900 starts in the first nine months of 2010-11, and one hopes that there will be more. We hope that we will continue to see some sort of increase. I hope that the noble Lord will find those figures useful.

He also commented on targets. I note that the Government of whom he was a distinguished member were very keen on targets. I have always been less keen on targets and think that they can very often distort and end up producing the wrong result because people merely go for whatever the number is on paper. We do not want to have targets in this area, but we obviously have to work to planning assumptions modelled by the analysts based on previous years and future ambitions. That is where we get the figures that he was talking about. I think he should consider that targets in themselves can sometimes produce the wrong result.

I shall turn in slightly more detail to the noble Lord's three amendments: Amendments 144AA, 144AB and 144C. Amendment 144AA deals with the offer. I understand the noble Lord's concern, and I can assure him that the Government wholeheartedly share it. We also want to see many young people starting their careers on a sound basis through apprenticeship, as the noble Lord did himself. We differ only in our view about the most effective way to achieve that. That is why my honourable friend wants further discussions with the noble Lords behind that amendment.

The previous Government, of whom the noble Lord was a member, did much good work in building the apprenticeship programme. We accept that. They substantially increased the number of people undertaking an apprenticeship and put in place many of the structures and procedures that make the apprenticeship programme what it is today. We acknowledge that. However, the original offer set out in the 2009 legislation of an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified young people in specific groups would mean the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency having to find jobs with employers for all the eligible young people who wanted an apprenticeship, but neither he nor Government can tell employers whom to employ. I think the noble Lord will accept that point.

Our redefined offer in this Bill constitutes a more robust deal for those same groups of young people because we know we can deliver it. The duty on the

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC282

chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to prioritise funding for their training once they have an apprenticeship place sets the right balance between the employer-led nature of the programme and the need for support from government that young people can rely on.

In Amendment 144AB, the noble Lord suggests that procurement could be used as a vehicle for encouraging employers to take on a number of apprentices. Amendments 144AB and 144AC raise three issues: first, increasing the number of apprentices working on government projects, secondly, regularly publishing the numbers and planned numbers of apprentices in the Civil Service, and thirdly, linking apprenticeships and Investors in People status. I know my honourable friend recently met the noble Lord to discuss all those subjects and to explain the Government's fundamental belief in a voluntary rather than a regulatory approach. I have always believed that in government. It is a better approach to follow to avoid additional burdens, particularly on smaller employers and smaller businesses. I know that my honourable friend outlined the actions he is leading to drive up the number of apprenticeships in the public sector.

On procurement, the Government want to encourage more businesses to offer apprenticeships for the clear benefits they bring to individuals and employers, but we do not believe that the best approach is to impose this by adding to the mountain of rules and regulations that businesses face on procurement at the moment and which are really very substantial. Rather, we are committed to simplifying and streamlining the procurement process to reduce burdens for suppliers and public sector bodies. Within these parameters, I know that my honourable friend has reiterated to the noble Lord his intention to look again at our policies and the way they could encourage more apprenticeship places, without disadvantaging SMEs or, of course, breaching the law.

Turning to the noble Lord's amendment on Investors in People status, I am sure that he would agree that Investors in People is the mark of an employer that cares deeply about the long-term skills needs of its workforce and understands the business advantages of skilled and motivated staff but, because of the wide range of benefits of Investors in People status to staff and employers, we would not want further to discourage take-up of the standard. If we were to add extra conditions at this stage, such as needing to demonstrate a commitment to apprenticeships, we possibly risk inadvertently reducing employer engagement with the programme.

Amendment 144C, which was tabled by my noble friend Lord Addington, relates to apprenticeship specification and disabled people. I understand that he is seeking assurances that learners who demonstrate that they have the skills and experience to meet the requirements of an apprenticeship certificate should not be prevented from receiving a certificate on the basis of any recognised disability. I understand that we have written to the noble Lord to provide reassurances on this and to explain the steps that we are taking to ensure that apprentices with a disability are at no disadvantage in the certification process for an apprenticeship. If my noble friend feels that is not

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC283

sufficient, my honourable friend would be happy to have further discussions with my noble friend between this stage and Report.

8 pm

Lord Addington: I thank my noble friend. I should have said thank you at the time. I hope he will appreciate that this is based on the fact that something is going wrong, not on some theoretical idea. It is based on practical problems at the moment.

Lord Henley: I am very grateful to my noble friend for putting it in those terms. That makes it even more important that he talks to the department and to my honourable friend and tries to secure some sort of agreement. We now have a reasonable amount of time. I know the noble Lord will be heading off to wherever the Liberal Democrats hold their conference but, in due course, he will be back and then discussions can take place in the appropriate manner.

I want to deal with a couple of other points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, raised a question concerning people with disabilities and the offer. I can confirm that disabled people aged 19 to 24 are covered by the offer and that that group will be prescribed in regulations. There is also the commitment given by the previous Government during the passage of the ASCLA-as we now seem to call it-to take on an inclusive approach. They are also being advised on this by external disability experts. No doubt we will be able to let the noble Lord know a little more in due course.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford asked about the response to the Wolf report on incentives to employers. We accepted that recommendation in the Wolf report. The National Apprenticeship Service has recently run pilots looking at incentive payments and we need to consider these and other research into employer payments to ensure that we avoid dead weight when implementing this recommendation. That is work in progress.

Before my voice finally gives out, I say that we are all travelling in roughly the same direction. We might be going at different speeds and there might be tensions in how we do it, but I believe that much more can be done through further discussions. I believe that we are all committed to the same outcome, which is seeing increasing numbers of apprentices across both public and private sectors and increasing employer participation in the programme. With those assurances, I hope that all noble Lords who have put forward their amendments and spoken to them so eloquently will feel able to withdraw them and, where appropriate, I hope that conversations can continue between now and Report.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Perhaps I may make a few brief comments in relation to what has been said. I support the intentions of my noble friend Lord Layard in his amendment. I would like it to go a bit further but we are all travelling in the same direction. I was not exactly sure what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, meant when he said I had gone off key in the latter part of what I said, but I agree with him on his point about literacy and numeracy skills. Interestingly,

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC284

if you can get young people involved in the apprenticeship process, it refocuses them on the importance of learning. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I would want to do everything I can to assist in that process. We discussed a whole range of disabilities, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, will testify-he always makes sure that we do. I thought we reached some useful agreements. I am glad that the incentive to employers was answered and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her support, and likewise my noble friend Lord Monks.

On the status of apprenticeships, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey. One thing that we got slightly wrong was that, by focusing on getting 50 per cent of young people to go to university, we gave the impression that the vocational route was a second-class route. We need to do a lot more on that. Gradually, the tide is turning. On a lot of apprenticeship schemes, when the apprentices complete their training there is a graduation ceremony. We need to do more on this.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to targets. Whether or not we delete "target" and insert "planning assumption", we will still have to make calculations. Before the Government say that the 2015 commitment is not the right approach, it would be interesting to see the planning assumption for what the demand would be. I say that it could be done, and that it is absolutely the right signal that should be sent to young people and to the country.

The noble Lord said that he preferred a voluntary approach when it came to contracts, and that apprenticeships would place an additional burden. I wish that he would not use that term. Apprenticeships are not a burden on companies. They think that they are, but when they take on apprentices they frequently realise what a good investment they are. I do not see them as a burden. When we worked with the Olympic committee and Crossrail, we found that they understood the value of apprenticeships. The Government should take a long, hard look at making them a key part of government procurement contracts. I do not believe that it would disadvantage SMEs, but I will not go over the debate again. With IiPs, what disturbed me was that again there was no reference to apprenticeships. If we are to say that these companies invest in people, surely apprenticeships ought to be part of the investment. I do not know how we should go about it, but something should be done.

I will of course withdraw the amendment, because that is how we operate in Grand Committee. However, we will return to these issues on Report. I welcome the offer of further discussions because I, too, want to make progress. I thank the Minister, John Hayes, for our previous discussion. It was a worthwhile exchange of views. With those comments and caveats, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 144AA withdrawn.

Amendments 144AB and 144AC not moved.

Amendment 144B

Tabled by Lord Layard

144B: Clause 67, page 53, line 34, at end insert-

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC285

"( ) At the end of section 85(1)(a) of ASCLA 2009 insert "and, subject to guidance from the Secretary of State, make all reasonable efforts to ensure that an apprenticeship is offered to those of them who desire one and have at least 5 passes at GCSE"."

Lord Layard: Perhaps I may just thank the Minister for his reply and say that I look forward to ongoing discussions.

Amendment 144B not moved.

Clause 67 agreed.

Schedule 18 agreed.

Clause 68 : Apprenticeship certificates

Amendments 144C and 145 not moved.

Clause 68 agreed.

Clauses 69 to 70 agreed.

Clause 71 : Duty to participate in education or training: commencement

Amendment 145A

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

145A: Clause 71, page 55, leave out lines 16 to 34 and insert-

000: Clause 71, "In section 173 of ESA 2008 (commencement), after subsection (2) insert-

"( ) Part 1 comes into force in relation to England on 1 January 2012.""

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: First, I thank the Minister for his letter to my noble friend Lady Hughes. Our amendment concerns the raising of the participation age. The Minister's letter, as I think he will realise when I explain my reasoning, addressed one part of our amendment: namely, the date by which that might happen. It did not address the other part of it, which states that Part 1 of the Education and Skills Act should come into force on that day. We feel that we have had only a partial response so far. I hope that as the discussion goes on we will be able to explore the matter further.

Just to be clear about Clause 71, which, as I say, concerns the

and raises the training participation age, the relevant part of Part 1 of the Act sets out the duties: to whom the duty should apply, what the duty meant and the duties on schools and employers, for example, to promote and enable attendance. Clause 71, if left unamended, would enable the delay of the introduction of a supporting infrastructure to help young people stay in education and training, such as the duty on maintained schools to promote good attendance and duties on parents of 16 and 17 year-olds. It would also enable a delay of any penalties associated with non-compliance. We are concerned about the message that this would send to

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC286

young people, to parents and to local authorities about quite how serious the Government are about raising the participation age.

Ours is a probing amendment. We chose the date of 1 January 2012 as the one on which all relevant provisions of the ESA 2008 should come into force, but another date may of course be more appropriate. Perhaps the Minister will say that there is a more appropriate date. What is important is not the date but that when that duty to participate is introduced, the infrastructure comes into force at the same time. Without this amendment we would be in the curious position whereby, for example, a 17 year-old would have a duty to be in education or training while there may not be the adequate support to enable them to do so-and there would be no consequence for the person if she or he did not comply.

In Committee in the Commons, Nick Gibb said:

"We aspire to achieve full participation, but without enforcement".-[Official Report, Commons, Education Bill Committee, 5/4/11; col. 957.]

We have grappled with the question of enforcement and we recognise the problems of potentially criminalising young people. However, it is important that the right mechanisms are in place-the right pushes as well as the right pulls-to enable young people to participate. This amendment would ensure that the requirements relating to the supporting infrastructure for this duty come into force at the same time as the duty to participate.

To be clear, what the Education and Skills Act says may not be in force at the same time if our amendment is not passed are sections, for example, covering duties on schools and local authorities to support the rise in participation age and the duty on local authorities to identify people who are NEETs. It covers a duty to provide information to ensure compliance and attendance; for example, the duty on an institution to notify the local authority that they have evidence that a young person is not complying with their duty to participate. It covers an obligation upon employers to make appropriate arrangements for young people to continue attending courses while in employment. It also provides for parenting orders or contracts to be put in place where a young person is not compliant.

To re-emphasise the point, our amendment is simple but what we are keen to see happen is that Part 1 of the Education and Skills Act is implemented in its totality. It is not about the date per se but about making sure that we have all the ducks lined up so that when we announce the raising of the participation age, it can be delivered effectively.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we will be withdrawing Amendments 145B, 145C and 145E. However, we have some sympathy with the point just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. If the 2008 Act is narrowed down merely to Sections 1 to 10, there are some real problems as that leaves out the whole infrastructure which supports the raising of the participation age. The following sections are about not just criminal penalties but providing the infrastructure and giving young people the duty to participate. We need to back that up by the means to help them participate, so we very much support the noble Baroness on that point.

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC287

8.15 pm

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, let me start on that fair point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend. We intend to commence those support duties on local authorities and learning providers. The issue that we are considering today, which I will come back on, is the enforcement process. We accept that those support duties need to be commenced.

The latest statistics show that we had 96.1 per cent of 16 year-olds and over 87 per cent of 17 year-olds participating in education or training at the end of 2010. That is a sign, which I know that the noble Baroness will welcome, that more young people are seeing the value of continuing their education and that the education and training sector is becoming more flexible in meeting their needs. We agree with the previous Government's plans to raise the participation age to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015, which was the timescale set out in the Education and Skills Act 2008. We are committed to continuing that. We think that that timescale to which various bodies-local authorities, providers, schools and colleges-are working is sensible and gives schools, colleges and workplaces offering apprenticeships time to prepare. I recognise the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that this is a probing amendment to look into these points. I do not think that January 2012 is actually what she had in mind. I agree with her that we think that that is not a workable suggestion but that the timescale set out by the previous Government is the one to which we will continue to work.

The amendment would also commence all the enforcement provisions in step at the same time as the leaving age was raised in one go. Those provisions would allow local authorities to issue attendance notices, bring young people before attendance panels, give out fixed penalty notices, and ultimately, as a last resort, prosecute young people in a criminal court. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said that she did not want to criminalise young people, and we certainly do not want to do so. That is our thinking behind delaying. We want young people to participate because they recognise the benefits that education and training will bring.

As it stands, Clause 71 allows us to delay the commencement of the enforcement process, and we think that is the right way forward to give the system time to adapt. However, I want to underline that we do not intend to remove the enforcement provisions altogether, which I hope will reassure the noble Baroness. We will keep this under annual review. We hope that participation will increase because of the quality of the training on offer and because young people increasingly see its benefits, but if necessary we will commence all or some of the enforcement provisions. The pupil premium and targeted financial support via 16-to-19 bursaries will help ensure that young people are supported to continue learning. We have a process

14 Sep 2011 : Column GC288

in place, run by local authorities, that ensures that 16 and 17 year-olds receive an offer of a suitable place in learning and, as we have already discussed, we are implementing all Professor Alison Wolf's recommendations to ensure that vocational routes generally are of high quality.

We are committed to raising the participation age. We will do it on the timetable laid out by the previous Government. We are not removing the enforcement process but are just delaying its introduction. We will commence the support duties that the noble Baroness raised, we will review the need for enforcement on an annual basis and we will ensure that it is introduced if that is appropriate. With those reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: I thank the Minister for that. I think we have an agreement about the date, although the date is not the point here. I think that we would be happy with the original date and with working towards that plan. I am slightly anxious because he talked a lot about enforcement. While the original legislation had enforcement mechanisms, the whole point of our amendment is that it is not about enforcement. Raising the participation age will work only if the infrastructure and the enforcement go hand in hand. I do not want the Minister to go away with the idea that we would come along with a big bludgeon and demand that young people stay on at all cost. That is not the purpose of the amendment. Its purpose is for teachers, local authorities and employers-all the players in the education of young people-to put in place all the mechanisms to ensure that that encouragement takes place.

I am still a little unclear about what the Minister means when he says that they will commence the support duties. We may have to return to that, because if that is the case, we would like to see those duties on the face of the Bill, and it is not clear to us at the moment that they are. This is about a balanced approach, it is about infrastructure and making sure that young people comply with the new legislation in equal measure. I am not sure, as the Minister has set out the position at the moment, that we will achieve necessarily what the original legislation aimed to do, so we may well return to this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 145A withdrawn.

Amendments 145B and 145C not moved.

Clause 71 agreed.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I think this may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn.

Committee adjourned at 8.21 pm.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page