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I turn to the detail of the Bill. As has been said many times from the Opposition Benches, the Bill is full of good ideas, but unfortunately it is spoilt by the common denominator of obligation. Sixteen to 18-year olds must participate in full-time education, work-based training such as apprenticeships, or part-time education and training. That seems an honourable
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proposal, but how will we deliver it in practice? Where are the resources to run those programmes and how will they be policed?

The details will be scrutinised in Committee, but the burden will actually fall on local authorities. Where will the money come from and how will local authorities meet the costs? I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s statement in the early ’60s that he wanted to put a man on the moon. He knew full well that it probably would not be his Administration who would pay for putting a man on the moon. The Bill puts us in a similar situation; it promotes an idea that will not come into effect until 2013—conveniently beyond the budgetary requirements we shall be dealing with over the next few years.

We do not know what the costs will be, but we know that they will fall on local authorities. Authorities such as Bournemouth already carry a hefty burden; they have to pay for extra police and fire duties. In Bournemouth, six fire stations will shut unless our local authority coughs up the money because the national grant from the Government has been sliced. Likewise, many honourable targets, such as those for recycling, have been proposed. Of course we should have such targets, but there is no extra funding from the Government to support local authorities in meeting them. I suspect that the same thing will happen with the Bill; local authorities will have to cough up the funding themselves.

Under the proposals, young people in work will be obliged to undertake education or training one day a week. Their attendance will be monitored and the local authority will even have power to issue warning orders to inform parents that their son or daughter has not been attending the course, but who will judge whether they pass it? If people simply have to attend—rather than pass—the courses, what good will be done for the economy in the long run? The attendance notices need to be looked at.

The Learning and Skills Council is mentioned in the Bill. It will have to offer more courses for those aged 19 and over. I am sure that Members across the House are familiar with the fact that last year the local learning and skills councils’ budgets were cut—not only in Bournemouth, but across the board.

Mr. Denham indicated dissent.

Mr. Ellwood: The Secretary of State looks puzzled. I invite him to come to Bournemouth. He should meet representatives of the learning and skills council there, who will show him that adult learning courses have been sliced simply because of the changes in budget and the direction that the council is receiving from the centre.

Mr. Denham indicated dissent.

Mr. Ellwood: If the Secretary of State wishes to object, he should please either intervene or take up my offer and meet representatives of the Bournemouth learning and skills council. They will show him that they do not have the same amount of money to run all the courses that they want to.

I am reminded of what my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) said, which sums up
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the Bill—we require more carrot and less stick. Why are not more children enthused into taking advantage of our education system today? We must look at what is available for 16-year-olds as things stand. I am afraid that if truancy is on the increase, we are clearly not engaging enough with the pupils to be able to say, “Please stay in school. See the benefits of education and how you can move forward from there.”

I acknowledge that the Government have made inroads, but they have clearly not done enough. Now we are putting obligations on children who may want to get out and work, rather than stay in education— [Interruption.] If Government Front Benchers do not wish to listen to me, they should please listen to those other voices— [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Mr. Ellwood: I was moving on to mention comments made by organisations with which Labour Members will be well familiar. The National Union of Teachers gave guarded support for the Bill, but went on to say:

The Professional Association of Teachers said:

I would be grateful for the Secretary of State’s response to that. The comment that really struck me came from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who talked of children to whom we are serving a diet of education by which they are deeply bored and quickly failed. That is his indictment of our education system today. If so many children are failing before they reach 16, what is the point of obliging them to stay in education after they are 16?

I very much support the thinking behind the Bill, but as far as educational reform is concerned, it is the wrong Bill. The Government are obsessed with the cart when they should be looking at the horse. Let us have the education Bill that we genuinely need; it should address the worrying trends of truancy and increase the desire to learn. Let us have a Bill that promotes education rather than enforces it, and one that inspires learning rather than obligates it.

9.18 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I speak in support of the Bill. I congratulate the Government on taking this courageous step, which I believe will, in time, be seen as almost as important as—if not more important than—the decision taken by the 1966 to 1970 Labour Government to raise the school leaving age from 15 to 16.

I do not underestimate the practical difficulties in implementing the Bill’s requirements—particularly those related to raising the participation rate. However, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) put the argument that somehow the Bill would incur enormous costs that a future Government would have to take on board. That does not deal with the central issue. Investment in education and training
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is an investment in future GDP; it is an investment in the GDP of future generations. Either way, the taxpayer will pick up the tab: if we do nothing, the taxpayer will pick up the bill through the criminal justice system or through the national health service; if we want to do something, and create a more cohesive, economically successful and egalitarian society in which opportunities are more equally spread, investing in education now will pay dividends for the taxpayer in years to come. Raising the participation rate is an important step forward. I congratulate the Government on their courage and welcome the fact that the Opposition have finally agreed not to oppose it, even if they are not yet completely convinced of all aspects of the Bill.

It is interesting that last week the Opposition made a great deal of noise about another aspect of education and skills policy: the change to the ELQ—equivalent or lower qualification—arrangements in higher education. Now that they seem to have understood the principle behind the raising of the participation rate, I hope that as time goes by they will make the link between the two. Last week, they were defending the status quo and the current distribution of public spending to a particular privileged group; this week, the Government are trying to extend opportunities to the majority. We have to make the connections between the two—unless the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) believes that there is an infinite amount of public investment available, and I do not see a Government of his party coming up with increased investment that would pay for both policies.

Mr. Willetts: What we were doing last week was defending the principle of lifelong learning, which involves reskilling as well as upskilling. That is a debate that we want out in the world of higher education.

Mr. Chaytor: I think that the hon. Gentleman is deceiving himself. He was defending the status quo and defending lifelong learning for a tiny minority; the Bill is about extending lifelong learning to a large majority.

In addition to raising the participation age, there are hugely important questions about the introduction of the level 2 and level 3 entitlements and providing for the extension of apprenticeships. I hope that as the Bill goes through Committee the Government will carefully consider the implementation of level 2 and level 3 entitlements. The Bill refers to entitlements for a full level 2 or full level 3 qualification, but the difficulty is that many people between the ages of 19 and 25 are not in a position to acquire a full level 3 entitlement all at one go. I hope that as the debate progresses we might consider extending that policy so that the entitlement applies to individual components of level 3 qualifications for people who do not already have one. It is important that we rethink the concept of a full level 3 entitlement.

In respect of the extension of apprenticeships, there has been a huge improvement not only in completion rates but in the total number of young people participating in them. We now have 250,000 successful apprenticeships—almost a threefold increase since the Conservatives were last in power. In a country where
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the work force are increasingly encouraged and required to be mobile, the portability of apprenticeships will become increasingly important. One of the reasons why, in the past, take-up and completion rates of apprenticeships have not been as good as we might wish is that many young people had difficulty in transferring their apprenticeships to new employers. Just as we need to deal with the components of full level 3 qualifications if the level 3 entitlement is to be implemented successfully, we need to look seriously at how the apprenticeship system can be made more portable.

I welcome the fact that local authorities have been given a more strategic planning role over the 14-to-19 sector. That will involve great responsibilities, and it will link in with the Building Schools for the Future programme. We need to think carefully about where students attend their studies—not only those who are currently inclined to stay on beyond the age of 16 but those who will be encouraged and required to do so in future. I sense that deep in the bowels of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, or in the former Department for Education and Skills, someone came up with the idea that it was possible for young people to carry out their studies at a range of different institutions. To accept that that idea is inevitable does not match the reality of young people’s behaviour. It is entirely possible for young people to split their week between more than one institution—a college or an employer, a school or a college, or possibly between a school, college and an employer. However, let us be realistic. We are talking about some of the least well motivated young people in the country and it is utterly naive to assume that they can be expected to have the responsibility and discipline to criss-cross their town or city on a number of different bus routes to attend different institutions.

I want to strike a note of caution: perhaps we should rethink the pattern of provision for young people. It is a little theoretical to assume that the future pattern of all 14-to-19 studies will be for young people to move among a variety of institutions. I welcome the fact that local authorities are given new powers on school transport, and that they are now required to consider travel times as well as distance when planning transport arrangements.

I come to my final point, which is to refer to early-day motion 245. It stands in my name, and is entitled “Climate change and concessionary travel schemes for young people”. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know that in London, free travel is already available for all young people up to the age of 18. It seems to me an entirely logical extension of the Government’s policy of raising the participation age to 17, and then to 18, to make concessionary travel part of their package of measures. The Opposition have made great play of their concern about compulsion and put emphasis on the importance of incentives, and I hope that they can be persuaded that one of the biggest incentives for young people to continue participation in education and training is the provision of free travel.

Such a measure would reduce the likelihood of young people learning to drive too soon, and of their driving dangerously. It would reduce the incidence of young people becoming problem drivers. Without question, it would reduce levels of congestion and
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pollution in our cites. It would give a major boost to public transport. It would set the habits of travel for a lifetime if young people found it was much easier and cheaper to get around on public transport than it was to use private vehicles. If they use public transport at that age, they are more likely to continue to do so as they grew older. I understand that that matter is not the responsibility of the Bill, but I wanted to take the opportunity to urge my hon. and right hon. Friends to discuss it with the Secretary of State for Transport. One of the Government’s great successes in this Parliament has been the introduction of a concessionary travel scheme for retired people, and the logical extension of the policies in the Bill is a nationwide concessionary travel scheme for young people.

9.27 pm

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): We have had a long and thoughtful debate with valuable contributions from all parties, but I would like to identify the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who made some telling points about the need for valuable apprenticeships that really assist people who are going down the vocational route. I also appreciated the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who spoke with real humanity about the plight facing many young people who are let down by inadequate education. Of course, we were all excited by the invitation to visit Bournemouth from my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood).

However, I enjoyed a lot of the speech by the Secretary of State. He set out an aspiration, which we in my party share, that many more young people should stay on at school or get valuable education and training in other ways. I also enjoyed his references to the historical origins of the debate. He referred to the 1918 Act—passed by a Liberal-Conservative coalition—which he said introduced the proposal to require compulsory schooling up to 14 and 16. He then said, slightly airily, that because of public expenditure pressures, the Act could not be implemented.

Ed Balls: The Geddes axe.

Mr. Willetts: I am familiar with the Geddes axe, but although there may have been public expenditure pressures, the story of why that Act was not fully implemented is more complicated and still relevant. The then Government decided, partly because of public expenditure pressures, that they could not afford to make the scheme a national, compulsory one. They instead gave local authorities, which then as now had a lot of responsibility for education, the ability to decide whether to oblige employers to provide their employees with some day release education.

Some local authorities implemented the provisions of the Fisher Act. For example, London decided that pupils should be required to receive some kind of continuing education, even after they had left school, for 320 hours a year. However, the boundaries of London extended only as far north as the Edgware road. North of that was Middlesex, which made no such requirement of employers, the result of which was
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a significant problem—namely, that employers found that they would much rather recruit young people who lived north of the Edgware road than those who lived south of it. I do not know whether that is a warning about the perils of localism or a warning about the perils of compulsion, but we can learn lessons from the attempt to implement that legislation.

Helen Jones: The hon. Gentleman is making a carefully researched speech and has been helpful to the House by declaring the funding for all the research that has gone into it. Does he think that his hon. Friends should have done the same?

Mr. Willetts: My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) has explained himself fully and answered every question that was put to him on the “Today” programme this morning, which contrasts with the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. However, let me stick to the subject that we are supposed to be debating.

I thought that we were trying to make common cause, with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families referring to the Fisher Act of 1918 and the Butler Act of 1944, both of which were introduced by Governments with a significant Conservative presence. He reminded us that we share the same aspirations in all parts of the House. The puzzle for the Secretary of State must surely be why, despite his aspirations, this Labour Government have fallen so far short of the promises that were made before the 1997 election. If he believed half of what was promised about the new deal, surely he would not have believed that, 10 years on, 16 to 18-year-olds would be facing the problems that the Government themselves honestly acknowledged when they tried to defend their policy.

For example, when he was in opposition in 1995, the Prime Minister said:

Let us look at what has actually happened to the figures for 16 and 17-year-olds since then. There has been a modest increase in the percentage of 16 to 18-year-olds in education and training. According to the Government, the figures show an increase from 76.8 per cent. in 1997 to 77.3 per cent. in 2006. In other words, if I rounded the figures, the Government would appear to have got nowhere at all, but I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, so there seems to have been a 0.5 per cent. improvement in participation in education and training.

If we look at how that has been achieved, we find a slightly greater increase in full-time education, which is a component of total education and training—it has risen from 56.4 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds to 61.1 per cent. However, the other components of education and training—work-based learning and employer-provided training—have seen a decline in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds enjoying those opportunities. What has happened is an increase in the numbers staying on at school, a decline in work-based learning and virtually no change in the overall proportion.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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