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Mr. Andrew Turner: That is an important point that I do not think independent providers understood. Where Governments make markets, they can also break them, and that is exactly what this Government have done.

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. This afternoon, I spoke to the Association of

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Computer Trainers, which tells me—this is significant in relation to Roger Tuckett's estimate of some months ago that 5,000 jobs might be lost—that some 15 per cent. of IT training provider specialists have closed down. Indeed, it reckons that about 5,000 jobs have been lost as a result. Some 75 per cent. of those providers have made people redundant or made serious cuts, and 95 per cent. of them have held back on plans for future investment. That all means that those people will be very unwilling to be considered for involvement in ILA2. That is the damage that has been done by lack of confidence.

Various points were made about Capita and its failings, and questions were asked about why it should get the new contract. There is a particular reason why it might do so. If hon. Members turn to sub-appendix A of the response, which is part of the Cap Gemini summary of what happened, they will see that paragraph 2 states:

Capita will keep the contract—unless the Minister is about to tell me that the Government are putting it out to public tender, which I doubt—because what happened was the Government's fault. They did not give clear guidelines, so they cannot blame Capita for it.

It has been suggested that the scheme was closed because of overspending. Paragraph 20 of the Government's response deals with the problems that arose in relation to the Treasury. I challenge the Minister to respond to this point. There was overspending, but the delay has already saved the Government money because the scheme has not been running. If the Minister can say that the new scheme will start with a budget that is equivalent to the old one, we will all be most impressed. He has the opportunity to do so.

Sub-appendix B of the Government's response contains this wonderful phrase about the internal audit review:

How convenient. We are talking about the British civil service. When a Minister sneezes, the British civil service records which nostril they go to first. To discover now that it is possible that no one knows where and how some decisions were taken is a remarkably convenient error that suits the Government well.

The final failing of the Government's response is that it gives no indication of a new scheme. People around the country have been let down. Jobs have been lost, students who were looking forward to going back into education have been disappointed, and people are in despair that there has been no suggestion of a new scheme. The Government's response has been self-serving and disingenuous and has not done credit to the decent report that was produced. That is a matter for shame. It is not, of course, possible for the Minister to resign straight away, but I suggest that the best thing that he could do, bearing in mind the inadequacy of his Department's response and the degree of difficulty and despair that is out in the country, is to make his first word to the House, "Sorry."

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6.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I suspect that this may be an historic moment for the House, in that three hon. Members born in Bury have spoken in succession. Perhaps not many other hon. Members would find it so.

I begin by paying tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and his colleagues on the Select Committee on Education and Skills. I thank the members of the Committee for the fair and balanced way in which they approached their task. Undoubtedly, some differences remain between us, but we have accepted the vast majority of the Committee's findings and recommendations. I think that hon. Members will feel that the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) about the contrition and commitment of our response is far more accurate than that of the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt).

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of my former ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. His decision, and that of the Secretary of State, to act decisively when the problems became clear, and his subsequent honesty and transparency, ensured the survival of the individual learning account concept. That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw). I am sure that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will be remembered for his involvement in the scheme as the comprehensive spending review process reaches a conclusion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield takes a close interest in ministerial turnover, so he will know that I have graduated from being the Minister with responsibility for young people and learning to the Minister with responsibility for adult learning and skills—or, as some people told me, the Minister for ILAs. In that context, and in view of the questions that he asked, I can reassure him that I have discussed ILAs with my predecessor. I can also reassure him and all hon. Members that my commitment, and that of the Secretary of State, to the successor scheme is as strong as ever. We intend to announce details of that new scheme, including a start date, in the autumn. The ILA programme was a bold and virtuous attempt to expand adult learning and open up opportunities to many people who had consigned learning to a dim and distant childhood memory. We should not forget that for many, it achieved its goals.

However, the Select Committee has appropriately focused on why and where the programme went wrong. The report's detailed analysis, conclusions and recommendations will greatly assist Ministers as we consider the nature of the successor scheme. In the words of the Select Committee, we must be prepared to

Let me consider the contributions to the debate. Many hon. Members referred to Capita. It is important to emphasise that the Government have acknowledged that there are lessons to be learned from what happened to the ILA scheme. There are also important lessons for Capita. There is no done deal about the successor scheme and Capita's involvement; no decision has been made.

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A series of criteria must be satisfied before we make any decisions about Capita's involvement in future. They include security, customer service, management capability, data handling, negotiating the overall financial settlement and appropriate revisions to the existing contract. We will have to be satisfied that Capita is best placed to ensure that the new scheme is the success that all hon. Members support.

Many hon. Members referred to compensation. The Government have no legal responsibility to compensate learning providers. [Hon. Members: "Moral responsibility."] There is a debate about moral responsibility and we have had to make a difficult judgment in difficult circumstances. Labour Members have genuinely agonised over that moral dilemma. However, I cannot take lectures from Conservative Members, who told us for 18 years to leave it to the market. Those who talked about business risk and business judgment are now shedding crocodile tears for learning providers who made business choices and took business risks. I understand the genuine anxiety for learning providers who are in difficulties, but I shall take no lectures from the party that continues to believe in laissez-faire economics.

Let me deal with the points that the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) made. Several investigations are under way, and some are with the police. To date, there have been 45 arrests, which have resulted in 10 people accepting cautions. Charges are being brought against 13 individuals, 12 of whom are waiting to appear in court. One person has been convicted.

On the successor scheme, I accept the points about trusted intermediaries and that trade unions and community groups have played an important part in ILAs. We want them to play an important part in the successor scheme. Many hon. Members talked about limited entry to a successor scheme. That is one of the points that we must consider to get the matter right. I do not apologise for coming to the House and not announcing details of a successor scheme. We will do that in the autumn, after we have considered all the important issues and got the framework right.

We will learn the difficult lessons of what went wrong with the ILA programme. However, I am proud of the Government's passionate commitment to the principle of lifelong learning, whether it is for the middle-aged father who is too ashamed to tell his children that he cannot read or write, for the mum who wants to return to work after years of bringing up a family, or for the low-paid, low-skilled worker who wants the chance to learn and open up new horizons. We owe each and every one of them the chance to learn. People of all backgrounds and ages having the opportunity to pursue their potential is the hallmark of a fair and decent society. It is also an essential element of our nation's capacity to compete effectively in the global marketplace.

It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(4) and (5) (Consideration of estimates) and Order [20 November 2000].

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