Publications on the internet
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 6th April 2011|
Publications on the internet
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Sarah Thatcher, Richard Ward, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
E 123 Advisory Centre for Education (ACE)
(i) the admission authorities for all maintained schools in the relevant area;
(ii) the Academy Trusts for all Academies in the relevant area;
(iii) the governing bodies for all community and voluntary controlled schools in the relevant area (so far as not falling within paragraph (i) or (ii));
(iv) .’.—(Kevin Brennan.)
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): Welcome back, Mr Walker. I see that my hon. Friends have had a good lunch and are raring to go for the final sitting of this mammoth Committee stage on what is quite a short Bill. None the less, it is good to have reached the final stages.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West asked when the revised admissions code will be available. [ Interruption. ] Some people know how to make an entrance. I fully appreciate the eagerness of the hon. Gentleman and the Committee to see the revised code. I acknowledge that, ideally, it would have been better for the consultation to have begun. However, our aim on the revision of the codes is to get them right, and a huge amount of work has gone into revising, drafting and slimming down the codes. But I will make a concession to the hon. Gentleman that goes further than his amendment.
The clause will bring objections to admission arrangements for academies within the remit of the schools adjudicator. In so doing, the intention is to ensure parity and consistency between the objections processed in relation to admissions to maintained schools and academies. I am certain that the provision enjoys broad support inside and outside the House.
The amendment seeks to prescribe the range of potential objectors to the admission arrangements for academies in primary legislation. We touched on that during our debate on clause 34, and I am happy to reiterate and expand on what I said then to the Committee. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on our intentions about who can object to schools’ admissions policies. The purpose behind the clause is to ensure parity in the complaints system between maintained schools and academies, and to provide consistency for parents. Therefore, the range of objectors will be the same for both maintained
There are two issues to deal with on the amendment. First, should the objectors be set out in the Bill? We do not believe that that is necessary; it can be better done through regulations. Secondly, on the specific groups named by the hon. Gentleman, we strongly agree with the spirit of the amendment and that those listed should be able to object to admission arrangements for academies, as they should to those for maintained schools. I assure him that those groups will be included in the regulations. Indeed, we intend to go further than his amendment and to broaden the range of potential objectors to admissions arrangements at both maintained schools and academies. We are currently considering how wide to go in the regulations.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for moving the amendment and for helping us to find common ground on what is quite a contentious issue over admissions. With those assurances and given that we intend to go further than his amendment, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. As I said in my earlier remarks, it is welcome that the Government will introduce the measure for academies. What he said in his remarks about parity is also welcome. I reiterate that, if we are to have such an approach on academies, an across-the-board level playing field is probably sensible. If it were possible to amend the Bill in a holistic way that achieved that parity and that level playing field across the piece for all academies, it would be better, where it is the intention of the Government to make provisions in the funding agreements, to have them in the Bill. That would be a much tidier way of achieving a genuinely level playing field without there being any doubt about it, but it is welcome that admissions are coming in in this way in the clause.
The Minister referred back to clause 34. I will not repeat the debate we had on clause 34 except to say that we are still concerned about the watering down of the school adjudicator’s role in relation to admissions and, as I said earlier, that is something to which we might return later. I am glad that the Minister said he strongly agreed with the spirit of our amendment and that he wanted to achieve it in regulation and perhaps even go further. That is a welcome concession, if he wants to call it that; certainly a welcome observation on his part.
Finally, it is good to see the Minister’s PPS joining us this afternoon with his dickey. I hope he did not take my remarks too seriously this morning, but it is good to see him appropriately attired for our afternoon sitting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘(2) Before the Secretary of State exercises the power to commence this section under section 78 he must lay before Parliament a report which sets out arrangements—
(a) on the funding, commissioning and maintenance of standards of 16-19 education, and funding Academies; and
(b) he has put in place sufficient resource and expertise to carry out the functions he is acquiring following the abolition of the YPLA.’.
Mr Wright: Good afternoon to you, Mr Walker, and to the rest of the Committee. We now come to the abolition of the Young People’s Learning Agency for England. As I see it—the Minister may want to clarify matters for me—the new education funding agency, which is taking in a number of functions from various organisations, including the YPLA, will be responsible for three broad things that the YPLA used to be responsible for. The first is providing money for the 16 to 19 sector. The second is administering financial support for students; this was previously in the form of education maintenance allowance, but that is no longer the case, because we have had a massive reduction in funding for that and we now have the much reduced bursary scheme. The third, which is something which will be growing with increased corporate attention, is support for academies.
Within this last category—again, the Minister can contradict me if I am incorrect—the new agency will be responsible for calculating the grant to academies, will undertake a performance management and monitoring role and provide a more general supporting role for academies. Given the expansion in the academies programme that this Government want to see, that is a massive ask for the new agency. I very much question the capability and capacity of the Department and, through the Department, the new agency, to do this without substantial increases in resources.
In reaching this conclusion I cite two points from the Public Accounts Committee’s investigation of the academies programme, which, if I were the Minister, would give me huge cause for concern. First, as the academies programme expands there is an increased risk to value for money and the proper use of public money, and secondly, there is the YPLA’s struggle with administration and monitoring for the relatively small number of academies to date. It may also be worth putting on the record what the Public Accounts Committee said about the differences between this Government’s approach and the previous Government’s attitude to academies. It said:
“The overall success of the sponsored academies partly reflects the earlier Programme’s clear objective to ‘raise standards of education in some of the toughest, most difficult areas in the
In our oral evidence session, the chief executive of the YPLA admitted the difficulties that the new agency will face given the expansion of the academies programme. In response to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West, the chief executive, in classic Sir Humphrey language, stated:
The impact assessment accompanying the White Paper acknowledged that the YPLA had had an efficient delivery model. Of its budget of £9.5 billion, £48 million was used on administration. That is 0.505% of the total budget, indicating remarkable efficiency. Some efficient private sector organisations would give its eye teeth for a similar percentage on administration. Will the Minister guarantee that the new executive agency will match those figures, which show unparalleled excellent value for money? If so, will he tell us how he will do it? The impact assessment is incredibly vague, concluding by saying:
The purpose of the amendments is to probe the Government on how they will put in place sufficient resources and expertise to not only carry out what the YPLA was doing before on administration of the massive 16 to 19 budget, but address the new and expanding concerns that it has on the growing academies programme. As the model is a new one, how does the Minister suppose that the agency will acquire the expertise for dealing with the model? Will he buy it in? How on earth will he make sure? The amendments seek to probe the Minister’s thinking on that.
Mr Gibb: I welcome Members to the Committee again, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford, who is looking extremely smart. If only other hon. Members would follow his approach, the standard of debates in Committee would rise.
Amendments 233 and 234, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Hartlepool, would require the Secretary of State to produce a report for Parliament before he commences the provisions in the Bill to abolish the Young People’s Learning Agency. It might be helpful if I begin by briefly setting out our approach to the education funding system and our proposed changes. In doing so, I hope to provide the hon. Gentleman with the reassurance on the issues that his amendment raises.
In the White Paper, we said that we will replace the YPLA and set up a new education funding agency as an executive agency within the Department for Education. From April 2012, the EFA will bring together the
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment suggests that he is concerned that we do not lose the skills, expertise and effective practices of the YPLA in making those changes. I share those concerns and can offer him the reassurance that, in replacing the YPLA, we are not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Indeed, let me put it on the record that we are very grateful to the YPLA’s staff, its chief executive, its chair and its board for their hard work over the past twelve months. The YPLA has played an important role in supporting the expansion of our academies programme and in the provision of 16-19 education. We believe, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the YPLA is an efficient organisation, but, like any arm’s length body, it requires its own back office functions—for example, human resources, finance and legal advice. By bringing all the arm’s length bodies—those that conduct policy or administrative functions—into the Department, there will be access to those shared services.
Clause 64 and schedule 16 of the Bill enable the transfer of YPLA staff and property to the Department—to the new executive agency, the education funding agency. We anticipate that the large majority of YPLA staff will take the opportunity to transfer and will work alongside their departmental colleagues in the new single agency. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman that we have taken adequate steps to ensure that the EFA has both the capacity and expertise to carry out its important functions. With this resource in place, the EFA will be in a strong position to hit the ground running, building on the best practices of its predecessors so that we have an effective and efficient funding system that is fully accountable.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment probes the arrangements for the funding, commissioning and maintenance of standards of 16 to 19 education and funding for academies. Let me briefly set out our position on each of those. On funding, I can confirm that the EFA is likely to operate a system close to the current one, with an annual 16 to 19 funding statement and accompanying guidance. For academies, the EFA will continue with the current arrangements that require an individual funding agreement between the Secretary of State and each academy. Members of the Committee will be aware that the Government do not share our predecessors’ enthusiasm to oversee commissioning arrangements for 16-19 education. As such, we withdrew the national commissioning framework last year, and we are clear that identifying and meeting need in local areas is a matter for local authorities and their partners rather than for central Government.
Similarly, on standards, the White Paper describes a successful education system as one in which schools and colleges have a strong degree of autonomy alongside clear lines of accountability. As we set out in the White Paper, the role for national Government is to look at ways of publishing data in a more transparent way to allow parents and students to compare the different 16 to 19 providers.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool asked about performance management of academies. We are clear that the focus of the education funding agency must be on its core purpose of funding and finance. It will not be responsible for issues such as school improvement or monitoring failing schools. That function will take place within the Department itself. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman and that he will therefore withdraw his amendment.
Mr Wright: The Minister has not reassured me on the central point that I tried to raise when I spoke to the amendments. The YPLA does excellent work, and I echo what the Minister said about the fantastic professionalism of all the staff, the board, the chairman and the chief executive. But given the new role in which, as the Minister said, there will be individual funding agreements not only for a couple of hundred academies but potentially thousands, that is a major administrative and logistical nightmare. He has not really said anything about how we will have the expertise and capability to be able to fulfil that role efficiently and responsibly. I hope that he will be able to provide me with that reassurance, because it is an important point. The Public Accounts Committee had already criticised to some extent the body’s ability to be able to manage and monitor the academies programme. When it is increased severalfold, it will be a major plank of the Government’s education policy and it will fail if it is not put in place effectively.
Mr Gibb: I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s points. Under his Administration’s direction of travel, the YPLA would have been the body that not only administered the funding arrangements of the academies but it would also have conducted monitoring and other functions. Nevertheless, the previous Government also intended to expand the academies programme, and all the issues that he raises would have applied to that policy, albeit that they went at a slightly slower pace than this Government are proceeding at. We have ensured that the education funding agency is a specialist agency relating to accountancy and funding, so it will take all the expertise in that area from the YPLA and it will become a specialist body full of people with the best qualifications in the world, as he and I know—accountants. I hope that we will have a number of accountants working for the education funding agency, who will then be able to require a level of expertise in delivering funding for the whole of education from 3 to 19. Having expertise is how we deliver efficiencies.
We will also be consulting on arrangements to replace the complex calculations of academies’ grants, which are not sustainable, as the hon. Gentleman hinted, with the expanding number of academies. That is something on which we will be consulting shortly. With those two issues together, it will be an efficient way of dealing with what could be a very complex issue.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): May I return to the issue of primary schools, about which I questioned the chief executive of the YPLA during evidence to this Committee? Will the Minister tell us about the regime going forward for primary schools, because we could conceivably have hundreds, even thousands, of primary school academies? As I have said before, primary schools are often pretty fragile. How will they be supported—
Mr Stuart: Will the Minister tell us whether he envisages evolution in future, if large numbers of primaries take up academy status and were not to become parts of chains or firm federations? Perhaps there might be bodies between the Secretary of State and those primary schools. Will he say a little more on that, as Peter Lauener, the chief executive of the Young People’s Learning Agency, was cut off by the bell when I was questioning him about it during the witness session?
Mr Gibb: As I mentioned earlier, we will be consulting on arrangements to replace the complex calculation of academies’ funding, which will deal with the funding arrangements. I understand my hon. Friend’s point. When there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of schools that have become academies, simply administering the funding arrangements will be complex. Simplifying the formula is a key component of trying to introduce streamlined efficiencies into that process.
As far as oversight is concerned, even now the Department will be monitoring any school that falls below the floor standards. School improvement processes within the Department existed before the election and will continue to do so under this Administration. We will keep all these matters under review. Section 11 of the Academies Act 2010 asks us to report annually on the academies programme. The kind of issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness will be addressed in the report. That is something that we are keeping under review, to see whether we can continue to administer, oversee and distribute the funding in an efficient way when the number of academies increases beyond 500. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issues but I am confident that we will be able to handle that challenge. If not, we will keep the matter under review.
Mr Wright: I do not think that the Minister does have a handle on it, to be honest. Though relatively new, the YPLA has been an extraordinarily effective and efficient organisation. The Minister has not provided me with any reassurance. I will give notice that I do not intend to divide the Committee on the amendment, but I think I share the concern of the Chair of the Select Committee, whose body language indicates that he is not convinced either. We have an efficient organisation. Frankly, the Secretary of State and his ministerial team will have to throw money at the new system to ensure that it works. That is not often the answer and we will have greater
‘Public Records Act 1958 (c. 51)
In paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the Public Records Act 1958, in Part 2 of the Table (definition of public records: other establishments and organisations) omit “Young People’s Learning Agency for England.”
Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (c. 13)
In Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (departments etc subject to investigation) omit “The Young People’s Learning Agency for England.”
Superannuation Act 1972 (c. 11)
In Schedule 1 to the Superannuation Act 1972 (kinds of employment, etc, referred to in section 1 of that Act) omit “The Young People’s Learning Agency for England.”
House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 (c. 24)
In Part 3 of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 (other disqualifying offices) omit the entry relating to members of the Young People’s Learning Agency for England in receipt of remuneration.
Education (Fees and Awards) Act 1983 (c. 40)
In section 1 of the Education (Fees and Awards) Act 1983 (fees at universities and further education establishments), in subsection (3)(f), for “Young People’s Learning Agency for England” substitute “Secretary of State”.
Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 (c. 33)
In section 5 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 (disabled persons leaving special education), in subsection (9), in paragraph (c) of the definition of “the responsible authority”—
(a) omit “, the Young People’s Learning Agency for England”;
(b) omit “, Young People’s Learning Agency for England”.
Employment Act 1988 (c. 19)
In section 26 of the Employment Act 1988 (status of trainees etc), for subsection (1A) substitute—
“(1A) The Secretary of State may make an order under subsection (1B) where it appears to the Secretary of State that provision has been made for trainees to receive payments—
(a) from the Secretary of State under section 14 of the Education Act 2002,
(b) from the Chief Executive of Skills Funding under section 100(1)(c) or (d) of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, or
(c) from the Welsh Ministers under section 34(1)(c) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000.
(1B) An order under this subsection may provide—
(a) that the trainees are, for the purposes and in the cases specified or described in or determined under the order, to be treated in respect of the training as being or as not being employed;
(b) that where the trainees are treated as being employed they are to be treated as being the employees of the persons so specified, described or determined and of no others;
(c) that where the trainees are treated as not being employed, they are to be treated in such other manner as may be so specified, described or determined; and
(d) that the payments are to be treated for the purposes of such enactments and subordinate legislation as may be so specified, described or determined in such manner as may be so specified, described or determined.
For the purposes of subsection (1A) and this subsection, trainees are persons receiving or proposing to receive training.”
Education Reform Act 1988 (c. 40)
In section 128 (dissolution of higher education corporations), in subsection (1)(b), omit sub-paragraph (iib).’.—(Mr Gibb.)
Essentially, all that schedule 15 seems to do is remove references to the YPLA from the statute book and amend other legislation to take into account the centralisation to the Secretary of State. It also requires local authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State—this is why we tabled the amendment—when schools exercise their duties in respect of education and training for young people.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): How does it represent a centralisation? I can see that it is moving one central organisation into another. It does not, as far as I can see, represent a centralisation of a devolved or more local body into something more central.
That is not “may” or “should consider”, but “must”. That is a level of centralisation. Why is that the case? Why must a local authority have regard? Given what the Minister said earlier, about local authorities and local people making local decisions according to their circumstances, how does this schedule coincide with the rhetoric of localism? Will the Minister concede that such definitive language may place a burden on the local authority that cannot be realised, whether that be financially, practically or some other way, which then leaves the local authority exposed to a legal challenge?
I am not unreasonable; it is fair that a local authority, as a matter of course, would routinely consider guidance from the Secretary of State, to assist with local decision making and to have some consistency with national policies and priorities. I would question, however, whether they must be obliged to. That is the context of amendment 236, which would remove that requirement from the schedule. I hope that the Minister will provide a reassuring explanation as to why the schedule is part of the Bill.
Mr Gibb: The amendment seeks to remove paragraph 2 from schedule 15. Paragraph 2 makes a consequential amendment to the Education Act 1996, which is necessary as a result of the abolition of the YPLA. At present, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 requires the Young People’s Learning Agency to issue
Paragraph 2 amends the 1996 Act to reflect that change of responsibilities. It does not impose any additional bureaucracy or regulatory requirements on local authorities; it simply takes account of the fact that from April 2012, the guidance will be the responsibility of the EFA. “Must have regard” is the usual statutory phrasing, but it does not mean that local authorities must follow the guidance slavishly. They can depart from it if they have good, justifiable reason to do so. The current guidance was published by the YPLA in December 2010 and is available to the Committee on the web. With those few words of reassurance, I hope the hon. Gentleman will be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.
In section 30 of SSFA 1998 (notice by governing body to discontinue foundation or voluntary school), in subsection (3)(a)(i), for the words from “Young” to “school” substitute “Secretary of State”.
LSA 2000 is amended as follows.
In section 98 (approved qualifications: England), omit subsections (7) and (8).
(1) Section 144 (designated institutions: disposal of land, etc) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (4)(b), for sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) substitute—
(i) in the case of land in England held for the purposes of a sixth form college, or land in Wales, by an arbitrator to be appointed in default of agreement by the President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators;
(ii) in the case of any other land in England, by the Secretary of State.”
(3) After subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) The expense of an arbitrator appointed under subsection (4)(b)(i) is to be borne equally by the trustees and—
(a) in the case of land in England, the Secretary of State;
(b) in the case of land in Wales, the Welsh Ministers.”
(4) In subsection (9)(a), for “Young People’s Learning Agency for England” substitute “Secretary of State”.
In Schedule 9 (amendments), omit paragraph 14.
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36)
In Part 6 of Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (other public bodies and offices: general) omit “The Young People’s Learning Agency for England.”’.
In section 183 (transfer of functions relating to allowances under section 181), in subsection (1), omit paragraph (aa) (but not the “or” after it).’.
In section 41 (interpretation of Part 3), in subsection (2)(a), omit “61 or”.
Children Act 2004 (c. 31)
In section 10 (co-operation to improve wellbeing), in subsection (9)(c), omit “66,”.
EA 2005 is amended as follows.
In section 14 (destination of reports: maintained schools), omit subsection (3).
In section 14A (destination of interim statements: maintained schools), omit subsection (3).
In section 92 (joint exercise of functions), in subsection (2), omit “the Young People’s Learning Agency for England,”.
In section 108 (supply of information: education maintenance allowances), in subsection (3), omit paragraph (ba).
EIA 2006 is amended as follows.
(1) Section 123 (inspection of further education and training: education and training to which Chapter applies) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), in paragraphs (b), (c) and (g), for “YPLA” substitute “Secretary of State”.
(3) In subsection (3)(a), omit “61(4)(f) or”.
In section 124 (inspection of education and training to which Chapter applies), in subsection (5), omit paragraph (b).
In section 125 (inspection of further education institutions), in subsection (5), omit paragraph (b).
In section 126 (other inspections), in subsection (4), omit paragraph (b).
In section 128 (area inspections), in subsection (3)(a), for “YPLA” substitute “Secretary of State”.
In section 129 (reports of area inspections), in subsection (2), omit paragraph (b).
(1) Section 130 (action plans following area inspections) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2), for “a relevant body” substitute “the Chief Executive”.
(3) In subsections (4) and (5), for “body” substitute “Chief Executive”.
(4) Omit subsection (6).
In section 159(1) (interpretation of Part 8), omit the definition of “the YPLA”.
Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (c. 47)
In Schedule 7 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (vetting information), in the table in paragraph 1, in column 1 of entry 18—
(a) omit “61 or”;
(b) after “2009” insert “, section 14 of the Education Act 2002”.
Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (c. 28)
In section 104 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (partner authorities), in subsection (4), omit paragraph (fa).
ESA 2008 is amended as follows.
In section 13 (notification of non-compliance with section 2 duty), in subsection (5), in paragraph (f) of the definition of “educational institution”, for “Young People’s Learning Agency for England” substitute “Secretary of State”.
In section 72 (educational institutions: duty to provide information), in subsection (5), in paragraph (f) of the definition of “educational institution”, for “Young People’s Learning Agency for England” substitute “Secretary of State”.
In section 77 (supply of information by public bodies), in subsection (2)(b), for “Young People’s Learning Agency for England” substitute
In section 132 (providers of independent education or training for 16 to 18 year olds), in subsection (2)(b)(iv), for “Young People’s Learning Agency for England” substitute “Secretary of State”.
Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (c. 20)
In section 123 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (partner authorities), in subsection (4), omit paragraph (ga).’.
In section 107 (provision of services), in subsection (4), omit paragraph (e).’.
In Schedule 12 (Ofqual and the QCDA: minor and consequential amendments), omit paragraph 28(3).’.—(Mr Gibb.)
It is a great pleasure to be called to speak on this subject. Briefly, the amendment would remove provisions allowing the Secretary of State to suspend the apprenticeship offer. I am delighted to say that the Minister, who is as sensitive, listening and mindful as ever to improve the Bill, has provided me with assurances about the Government’s view on that matter. I am therefore happy not press the amendment to a vote, although I hope that he will have a few words to say on the subject.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): Given those generous comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness, I shall restrict myself to saying merely that I understand the reasons for his tabling the amendment and I am, as he has said, sensitive to its content. While we cannot accept the amendment at this juncture, it is something that I will look at closely again during the passage of the legislation.
Mr Wright: I want briefly to ask a number of questions. I can understand fully the Government’s intentions behind this particular aspect of the Bill. I have found E101 very helpful in setting out further detail.
Could the Minister provide a little more detail? I think he will share our intention on this side of the House to ensure that young people have the best possible start to their career, in terms of training and skills and access to the job market. How does the ending of this apprenticeship offer help encourage that? Youth unemployment is at an all-time high as a result of the global recession; young people find it difficult to get
Mr Hayes: The hon. Member for Hartlepool will know that the difference between what is being proposed and what existed previously is that we are not withdrawing the offer; we are amending it. The offer we are making is that anyone who secures an apprenticeship will be funded—hence amendment 65 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness, to which I spoke when I rose last.
We think that that offer is realistic. For the sake of brevity and clarity I will not say much more, other than that the offer as it stood was less realistic. To say that everyone is entitled to an apprenticeship ignores the salient fact that, if they are anything, apprenticeships are jobs. Employers must be engaged and must offer a job: if an apprenticeship is less than that, it is not worthy of its name. We are determined that apprenticeship should be properly linked to employment. So we wanted to recreate an offer that was real and deliverable, and did what it said on the label.
I accept the argument put by the hon. Member for Cardiff West that the existing offer gave a bit of a poke to the system. Not his most elegant phrase, but none the less it made the point. I take the argument that by raising the profile of apprenticeships, as the last Government did, they assisted the business of establishing apprenticeships as pivotal to skills. I think the hon. Gentleman would want to acknowledge, in similar vein, that we have not only taken up that baton but run with it pretty hard since our election, in terms of funding, advocacy and engagement.
We are looking to build the number of apprenticeships and of employers involved with them, and the number of opportunities at all levels and ages. I hope to be able to report to the House accordingly. So I think it is about making the offer real, rather than in any way diminishing the significance of apprenticeships. I think that everything else we have done makes that clear.
Mr Wright: I understand fully where the Minister is coming from. I agree with a lot of what he says. However, in terms of ensuring that the apprenticeship offer is a real and valid one, one of the levers at the Minister’s disposal in a way that the private sector might not be, is public sector apprenticeships. He has been curiously silent on the possibility of such apprenticeships. There was nothing about that in the Budget a couple of weeks ago.
The great work that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West did on public sector apprenticeships, aided by the hon. Member for Hartlepool, was a good foundation on which the Minister could build. Given the difficulties in the job market at the moment, could not the public sector step up to the plate here?
Mr Hayes: Yes. The hon. Gentleman is right. It would be wrong if we did not emphasise the important part that public sector apprenticeships have to play in achieving the ambitions that I described. The ambition is straightforward: I want there to be more apprenticeships in Britain than we have ever had before. That will include apprenticeships in small businesses, in large organisations and in the public and private sectors. The hon. Gentleman will understand that at times of restraint, things are quite tough in parts of the public sector. None of us hides from that. Nevertheless, there is more that can be done.
I have written to all Government Departments asking them what they are doing. I have pushed the idea—I do not claim it is new and I think the previous Government took a similar view—that every Department should have an apprenticeship champion. I have written to all Members of Parliament saying that they should play their part. Indeed, many of them have either taken on an apprentice or are looking to do so. The changes to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority rules—one of the few bright lights emerging from IPSA—have made that more straightforward. Lots of things are happening around public apprenticeships. The Department of Health has allocated £10 million to NHS apprenticeship programmes to create 6,000 new NHS apprenticeships. Even in these tough times, we are not neglecting the public sector.
Mr Wright: I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the NHS. I have to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). When he was Secretary of State for Health he really pushed the prospect of apprenticeships in the health service and that was very welcome. My question is simple: how many additional public sector apprenticeships does the Minister think will be in place this time next year?
Mr Hayes: As a former Minister, the hon. Gentleman will know that it would be inappropriate for me to set a target on the hoof, or even to set a target at all in those terms. Apprenticeships are a feature of economic change. They are a feature of employer engagement. Employers in the public sector need to be encouraged. We need to look at the burdens and barriers. We need to look at the bureaucracy that surrounds apprenticeships. We need to facilitate the process. We need to market apprenticeships. We need to encourage learners. We need to do so much. That is why the Government have committed to the resources necessary to fund the training. We are working closely with the National Apprenticeship Service to market the product. We are delivering a firm and enthusiastic message to colleges and private training providers.
I am putting in place all the necessary measures, the ingredients to grow apprenticeships to record levels. I do not want to be in the business of dictating how many apprenticeships there should be across each Department. That would be out of step with the Government’s approach. We have a more organic view of these things. Get the components right, remove the obstacles and I am confident the system will grow and the hon. Gentleman will be able to judge me on that. When the figures come to the House he will say—he will be the first in the queue because he is a very assiduous shadow Minister, and long may he remain so—“Has the Minister delivered
Mr Stuart: May I urge on my hon. Friend a consistent, considered and purposeful application of work and encouragement in this sector? Although I recognise that the belief of Opposition Members is genuine, it was only in the last spluttering hours of the 13 years of the Labour Government that the number of apprenticeships in the public sector started to rise. The record of apprenticeships in the public sector was dire until very near the end, when there was a late push. We need consistency if we are to ensure that every sector—from small businesses right through to the public sector—plays a part in ensuring that we do not have a lost generation, members of which were inherited by this Government in record numbers when they came to power.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), himself a former apprentice, has said, “Employers create apprenticeships”. He is right; they do. He emphasised that the link to employment is critical and that we cannot make up a number unless employers are engaged.
“The Bill’s amendment is a pragmatic response. It seemed a responsibility that would be very difficult to fulfil”.––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2011; c. 105-166, Q119, 219 and 357.]
I think that there is little difference between Members on the two sides of the Committee. There is an absolute determination to deliver on the ambitions that I have set out. Apprenticeships are a pillar of our skills policy, and they bring light to the lives of those who are engaged in them, just as I want to bring light to the Committee in my own humble way. I hope, on that basis, that the hon. Member for Hartlepool will accept that this is a sensible progression—an evolution if he likes—of a start that was made previously.
Mr Wright: The Minister’s comments have been illuminating, but I want gently to point out the levers at his disposal because the public sector is a very large employer and the Government have huge potential to provide apprenticeships through procurement. Hopefully the Committee will soon discuss new clause 12, which is similar to a private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North
Mr Hayes: Yes, one is never too old to learn, and it is absolutely right that we look at a range of levers to catalyse such public sector apprenticeships. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have engaged in discussions with me on procurement, and we will talk a little more about that later because an amendment has been selected that allows us to do so. He is right, however, that we are not closed-minded at all about the levers that we might be able to use to stimulate apprenticeships in the public and the private sectors. Let that debate continue, because it is good that it should, and it is good that we should examine all the ideas that are brought to our attention.
‘which must be aimed at guaranteeing standards of apprenticeship certificates.’.
‘(5) The guidance or directions given by the Secretary of State to the person designated under this section to issue apprenticeship certificates must include measures to ensure the timely delivery of certificates, a competitive apprenticeship market and a process to appeal decisions of the chosen body.’.
Mr Wright: The amendments probe the Government’s thinking on how they will safeguard standards of apprenticeship certificates. As with the note we received on clause 65, I found memorandum E 99 on clause 66 incredibly helpful, so I thank the Minister for that. I was worried about what role the sector skills councils would have, and the document gives us some clarity. However, paragraph 4 of the note states that in most cases the responsibility for apprenticeship certificates
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman again draws our attention to the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships. He knows that that was made clear in the comprehensive spending review and then reinforced in the Budget—to the surprise of some because we are in difficult times and we want to get the public finances in shape. It is important that we take this opportunity
Amendments 78 and 237 are concerned with ensuring the highest possible standards in the certification of apprenticeship achievements through the guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman will understand that, again, I want to recognise cross-party consensus and the importance of that aspect of the apprenticeship programme. I wholeheartedly share the spirit that lies behind the amendments, but having welcomed them in those terms, let me explain why I intend to resist them. We are in complete agreement about the prudence of providing guidance in relation to such matters to certifying authorities.
We are in agreement with the need to provide guidance. We propose that the directions and guidance will recommend a maximum of 10 days from the receipt of an application for an apprenticeship certificate being issued. It is also intended that there will be a process for handling complaints relating to those matters. We chose not to set out such detail as duties under the Bill for obvious reasons: we wanted to allow sufficient flexibility in the instance of unforeseen circumstances. The Committee will understand that such detail would not be appropriate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness has recognised in his amendment, however, it would be sensible to change official guidance to cover such matters, and we shall do so. On that basis, I hope that he will not press his amendment to a Division. Perhaps I can persuade him absolutely of that, without equivocation, by dealing with his points about a competitive apprenticeship market. The Secretary of State will designate one body as a certifying authority, so there will not be a competitive market for issuing apprenticeship certificates, which I know was the worry that lay behind his amendment.
The certificating authority will be required to issue a certificate if an apprentice meets all the completion criteria set out in the framework. There will be one English apprentice certificate of high quality, with strong and consistent branding. The branding of apprenticeships is critical to their aesthetic, and their aesthetic is at the heart of our determination to drive up the appreciation of practical and craft skills. I want the branding of
On the point that the hon. Member for Hartlepool made about sectors, and sector skills councils in particular, I know that the Opposition and I share a deep passion for ensuring standards across the whole gamut of the programme. The hon. Gentleman will see that the measures that have been taken by the Government—I have already mentioned standards and prestige, as well as money and numbers—are about all that. It is not only about quantity but about quality. That quality must be seen to be what it is: the highest kind of competencies conferred on people with the right kind of aesthetic. Part of that is about standards and the specification of apprenticeship standards.
There are those who say that it is impossible to grow the numbers and improve the standards, but I disagree fundamentally. I agree with the TUC about this. It said that there could never be a guarantee of an apprenticeship for young people because apprenticeships are jobs. The Government cannot create jobs or tell employers whom to recruit as apprentices. Unless the standards are high enough, employers will not engage, because they will not think that this is a qualification of merit, and learners will not engage either.
It is right that we channel this through the conduit of sectors, and sector skills councils in particular. The Government have contributed to the work of raising standards with the help of the sector skills councils by issuing a new statutory document, but we have also crowned it with other measures to boost the status and aesthetic of apprenticeships. We already have a good record on the emphasis that we have placed on apprenticeships, but I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and others will require greater assurance. I have set out some of the topics that we intend to be covered in the certification directions and guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State, but I am happy to say on record that all certificates, no matter what body issues them, will have to contain specific and standardised features. That is a requirement of section 11 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We will not in any sense dilute or diminish the standards to which he is alluding, and I guess that the determination to maintain standards lies behind amendment 237.
If hon. Members will allow me the privilege of going further still, there is a threat, which I am sure was not the Opposition’s intention, that that amendment could limit the full range of issues that the guidance could cover. We are interested not only in certificates but in the process of certification, which we intend that the guidance will deal with. If the Bill stated that the guidance would focus on standards, other elements that the guidance could cover such as time scale, timeliness and the complaints procedure that I have mentioned could be ignored.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness and the hon. Member for Hartlepool for tabling the amendments. I will, as I said, do more in guidance, but I assure them that our intention
Mr Stuart: I brilliantly anticipated the fullness of the response from the Minister, which has addressed all the points that I was going to make. That has saved the Committee time because I will not rehearse the arguments again. I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to issue guidance, as per my amendment, on those three topics, and without further ado, we can move on.
Mr Wright: I join the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness in thanking the Minister for his reassuring words. The point about maintaining the provision of standards as set out in section 11 of the 2009 Act is welcome, as is his commitment to provide guidance. He might have said this already, in which case I apologise to the Committee, but do we know when the guidance will be issued? Is it imminent? Will that be soon—perhaps spring? It would be useful to find that out.
While the Minister is contemplating that, may I point out that we all share the notion that standards in apprenticeships have to be maintained? The brand needs to be of extremely high quality to provide reassurance for employers, parents and learners. It would be useful if we could work together on that particular point. I do not think that the Minister is receiving any inspiration at the moment, but it would be useful if he could tell us, as soon as possible, when he thinks guidance could be issued.
Mr Hayes: Perhaps, with the hon. Gentleman’s indulgence, this is something that I can return to, but I commit to let him know—[ Interruption. ] I will let him know now, actually. We will issue the guidance, but we cannot issue it until the proceedings on the Bill have been completed. I will return to this matter and confirm some detail before we finish our Committee stage.
Mr Wright: Clause 67 alters the power of the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency with regard to the conduct of consultations. In the Minister’s response to the clause stand part debate, could he clarify what he wants to achieve under the clause? We should be concerned about the fact that it is another example of the Secretary of State centralising more power, putting it into his own hands. Before the hon. Member for North Cornwall asks how that is the case, let me quote directly from the clause:
“The Secretary of State may direct the Chief Executive to carry out consultation in connection with matters related to the performance of any of the functions of the office.”
Dan Rogerson: I was seeking to make the point that there is a difference between transferring something that is already a central function and centralising something from a lower level. Sometimes the word “centralising” is bandied about when what is actually meant is that a power is moved from an unelected body to an elected Secretary of State.
Mr Wright: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I think that he will recognise—regardless of which side of the Committee he is on—that the Bill does centralise an awful lot of power into the hands of the Secretary of State. Some 50-odd powers are being transferred—or centralised, or whatever we want to call it—to a single authority, which is a matter of concern. Given the concerns that there have been about parliamentary scrutiny on a whole range of issues, including holding the Executive to account through written parliamentary questions and Ministers’ responses to letters, it is right that the Opposition should voice their concern. Will the Minister set out the safeguards that he will put in place to monitor what happens under the clause in practice?
We also have concerns that giving the Secretary of State power to direct the chief executive to consult with specific people effectively means that the Secretary of State can decide who to include and who to exclude, which risks injecting political bias into the process. What safeguards will be put in place to prevent that, and how will the decisions be scrutinised? In theory, the clause does not stop chief executives carrying out other forms of consultation in addition to those that they are directed to carry out by the Secretary of State. Have I interpreted that correctly? How does the Minister think that will work in practice? Will the majority of those consulted be involved as a result of directions by the Secretary of State, or will the Secretary of State only use the power in exceptional circumstances, with the chief executive picking the majority of those consulted, on the majority of occasions? Some clarity on whether and when the Secretary of State would use the power would be helpful. I hope that the Minister can respond reassuringly.
Mr Hayes: I think that I can deal with that very quickly. The hon. Gentleman is right that the clause provides a power for the Secretary of State to direct the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to consult specified people on matters associated with the exercise of the chief executive’s function. That builds on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. The clause does not prohibit current consultation, or any consultation that the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency might think appropriate, but it adds powers to encourage wider consultation. It is not a prohibitive power; it is permissive, and should be welcomed.
I shall explain why. The chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency exercises a number of important functions, as the hon. Gentleman will understand. This is as good an occasion as any on which to make a case for politicians, and for Ministers, who are answerable to Committees such as this one, and to Parliament. Ministers, accountable to their electorate and to the House, hold the key to representing the people’s interests. I would not want the people who run agencies not to be encouraged by Ministers, when appropriate, to consult more widely than they otherwise might do. I am not suggesting that the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency does not currently consult—of course he does—but the extra emphasis on consultation implicit in this part of the Bill is surely welcome, particularly when it comes from an elected Minister, rather than an official. I see this as a chance to champion the role of politicians in the process. I believe in politics and politicians, and I believe that they add value.
A Secretary of State might feel that a consultation should be widened because of its sensitivity and the circumstances associated with it. Ministers should be in a position to make a decision on the basis of either their judgment or information that they receive from a Member of the House, a Select Committee or a shadow Minister. All those groups and individuals have a right to suggest to a Minister that a consultation should be widened, and this part of the Bill allows that opportunity.
Mr Wright: Is there anything in current legislation to stop that happening now? I always ask myself when scrutinising the Bill: what added value is this clause providing? The Minister pointed out that the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency already consults. Has he noticed anything negative in the 11 months that he has been a Minister to warrant the inclusion of such a clause? I do not see why it is necessary.
Mr Hayes: I think it is important that stakeholders feel that they could approach Ministers with a view about consultation, which Ministers could then pass on to the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency through a direction. The provision does not create an additional burden on the chief executive. The purpose is merely to provide legislative backing to ensure that proper and regular consultation with stakeholders does take place, and to enable the Secretary of State to offer a steer on that. It is not that I have particular concerns; it is just a matter of principle. As I have said, through Ministers, the House and the Government should be able to exercise a role in encouraging the widest possible consultation when and where appropriate.
Mr Wright: The clause effectively reduces the range of courses provided for free. It also lowers the age until which young people can access free courses from 25 to 24. The Bill amends section 88 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, and brings into effect the proposals in the Minister’s skills strategy document, so that the entitlement to fee remission for a first full vocational qualification at level 2 and a specified qualification at level 3 is restricted to those aged over 19 and under 24. The purpose of amendments 238 and 239 is to stop those reductions.
I ask the Minister again: what is his intention in introducing the clause? Is he serious, as I think he is, about wanting to ensure that young people get the skills that they need? If so, can he explain why he is making the reductions? The Alliance for Inclusive Education has expressed concerns that the Bill discriminates against disabled learners:
“Too often disabled learners take longer than their non-disabled peers to gain qualifications if they are able to pass. First, disabled learners may want to leave education earlier than their non-disabled peers in order to train for employment. Disabled learners often leave school because they find school more challenging than others, either because of the level of work required or because their learning needs are not always consistently met”.
Will the Minister address those concerns, and will the Government consider making special provision for those who might need longer to complete their courses? Can the Minister assure the Committee that the move is not purely aimed at making savings? Can he tell the Committee what impact he believes it will have on young people’s access to skills provision?
It appears that 24-year-olds have had a right removed, and a charge will be imposed on adults over 23 who are doing a level 2 vocational course. Is that really what the Government want? I hope that the Minister will look at the amendment favourably and feel able to accept it.
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the subject was rehearsed in the Government’s skills strategy, published last November. I recommend it to anyone who has not studied it in detail, as I have been obliged to do. The essence of the amendments—indeed, of this part of the Bill—is to look again at entitlements. The truth, as he knows, is that we are in a very different place from the one that we were in when the entitlements were introduced. The simple fact is that in the skills strategy, we have to address the financial circumstances implicit in the comprehensive spending review, which took place in parallel with the development of our skills strategy. I was absolutely determined that the skills strategy should be not merely a response to changed economic and financial circumstances, but a fresh look at how we manage and fund skills, and who pays for what.
The question of who pays for what has pervaded the debate about skills for as long as I have been interested in the subject, and no satisfactory answer has really been provided. I wanted to begin to provide an answer. The debate about entitlements needs to be seen in that context. The fact is that in the current fiscal climate we simply cannot fund everything that, in ideal terms, we would like to. We had to look hard at priorities, and it is critical, in our view, that public investment is
That is why we have said that we will fully fund a first specified vocational qualification at level 2 for learners who are 19 or over but under 24, and co-fund those for learners who are 24 years old or over. Sharing costs in that way enables us to retain capacity for learner places at level 2 despite an overall budget reduction. We considered carefully at what point we should maintain full funding at level 3, bearing in mind that that is where returns to the learner, in terms of the subsequent income premium that they might enjoy as a result of their acquisition of skill, is higher.
Learners aged 25 and over are already expected to contribute more towards the cost of their training; we propose lowering that to those aged 24 and over. That change is necessary to support our wider package of changes, in which we will move away from grant-funded provision for learners aged 24 and over who are undertaking a level 3 qualification to a more progressive free loan system, which will provide up-front support to enable learners to continue to undertake advanced and higher-level training.
Learners aged 19 to 24 years old will continue to be entitled to full fee remission for their first specified level 3 qualification, in line with our commitment to focus funding on young adults and the low-skilled. We had to make a judgment on where we focused the available funding. Level 3 learners should enjoy the same circumstances as students in higher education over the age of 25, on the basis that we know that the income premium that a level 3 apprentice enjoys once they have gained their apprenticeship is roughly equivalent to that of a graduate. Similarly, in terms of getting and keeping a job, they are as well off as a graduate. The return on their investment of time seems to be the greatest.
Although it is not strictly relevant to the amendments, it is important to say that I wanted to protect basic skills provision and adult and community learning, as I believe that they in particular support learners who are most disadvantaged, and provide important bridges into further learning and acquisition of skills. To do that, we needed to look at the entitlement that previously existed. That is the essence of what we tried to do. It can be justified and legitimised in the circumstances that we now face. I appreciate that there may be differences of nuance between those on either side of the Committee on the issue, but I think the shadow Ministers would acknowledge that, had they been returned to Government, they would have faced similar circumstances and would have had to look at the entitlements carefully themselves.
I know the Minister’s commitment to skills across the board; he has been put in a difficult position that is probably not of his own making, but the priorities should have been looked at again. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 68 removes, among other things, the powers of local authorities to develop skills strategies in conjunction with local employers. These have been used successfully across the country—for example, in the west midlands and in the Greater Manchester area—to develop an integrated regional wider skills strategy that seeks to match supply and demand.
I have probably used words that are anathema to the ministerial team, such as “regional” and “strategy”, but I shall persist. The Association of Colleges written submission to the Committee expressed concern:
That is a big concern, so will the Minister explain any intended benefits he expects to see that will result from the removal of that power, because the amendment would reinstate those powers? I have tried to pursue that point throughout the afternoon. What added value is the clause providing?
Mr Hayes: There is a difference between those who would want to fund and manage skills through a sectoral mechanism of the kind we talked about a few moments ago, and those who see the management of funding skills on a more spatial basis. The origins of some of the specified bodies dealt with in the amendment formed around a view of skills that I do not share. Skills should be funded and managed sectorally. Of course, that is not to say that there is no geographical dimension. Clearly, local authorities, through their economic development function, will have an absolute need to engage with skills systems. Similarly, we would want to encourage local enterprise partnerships to do so. However, the funding and management of skills should not be out of step with the structure, form and character of the economy, which is essentially sectoral rather than geographical. That is not to say that different areas do not have different economic profiles; of course, they do. In essence, however, skills in an economy need to be transportable and defined around purpose rather than around where they are gained and used.
Mr Hayes: The amendment would retain a skills landscape dominated by intermediary bodies, formed around the idea—I do not accuse the hon. Gentleman of thinking this—that they might command and control the supply of and demand for skills. I am talking about a much more skeletal arrangement for funding and management that is more dynamic and responsive. Some of the bodies that would be retained if we accepted the amendment—it is an allusion to the employment and skills boards and other intermediate bodies in London and elsewhere that previously prevailed—would create clutter and bureaucracy, making the system less responsive and dynamic.
The Bill will free providers and trading organisations to respond with what employers and learners want, without some of that bureaucracy. In essence, formal powers of control are not necessary; they add to the bureaucratic burden. Although I understand the intention behind the amendment, the experience of recent years has been that those bodies, while well intentioned and not without some value, in the end, in net terms, created a bureaucratic system that bemused employers and confused learners.
Mr Wright: We have a difference of opinion. I am not obsessed with processes and structures; I want to see skills rise dramatically in this country, and I am interested in the means by which we can achieve that. On the basis of what the Minister has said and given the obvious difference in philosophy, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘(aa) sections 11 to 18;
(ab) sections 19 to 39 (except section 29(1)(b));
(ac) sections 40 to 44.’.
The clause deals with raising the participation age, which is one of the most historic educational initiatives in this country over the past century. Ensuring that people stay on in training or education until the age of 18 has been mooted since the Lloyd George coalition. It took a Labour Government to put it in place. What concerns me about the clause is that, in terms of enforcement, which is probably the wrong word—rather, in terms of compliance, or ensuring that raising the participation age is complied with—it is being watered down dramatically.
Amendment 241 would halt that watering down by allowing for a number of provisions to be brought into force by order of the Secretary of State. Those include provisions covering duties on schools and local authorities to support the rise in the participation age, and on creating a duty to provide information to ensure compliance and attendance—for example, the duty on an institution to notify the local authority when it has evidence that a young person is not complying with their duty to participate. There are provisions creating an obligation on employers to make appropriate arrangements for young people to continue attending courses while in employment, and provisions allowing parenting orders or contracts to be put in place where a young person is not compliant.
I can name many organisations—Barnardo’s, in particular—that welcome the increase in the participation age for education and training because they feel that that will help to develop technical and vocational expertise to ensure that the future skills requirements of this country’s economy are met. I have real concerns that the clause waters down the provisions on raising the participation age, so I ask the Minister to consider accepting the amendment.
Mr Gibb: I begin by restating that we are fully committed to raising the participation age to 17 in 2013, and to 18 in 2015. Members of the Committee know as well as I do that continuing in education or training past the age of 16 means that young people are more likely to obtain higher qualifications, have increased earnings over their lifetime, be in better health and have improved social skills. In turn, it contributes to a more highly-skilled, productive and internationally competitive work force.
Through clause 69, we are returning some sections of the Education and Skills Act 2008 to the more usual position, whereby they can be commenced at a time to be decided by the Secretary of State, rather than at a date set out in statute. That will allow us to delay commencement of the enforcement process associated with raising the participation age. We are determined to avoid young people and parents being subject to that process when it is not appropriate. The hon. Member for Hartlepool initially referred to it as an enforcement process, then changed the word to “compliance”, which sounds softer and gentler. Actually, it is rigorous, and it involves enforcement through severe processes.
We are committed to reviewing the need for the enforcement process for pupils and parents annually. If, at a later date, we consider it appropriate to commence those powers, we will, but enforcement will always be the very last resort. It is our intention to commence, by order, the duties on local authorities and employers in 2013 and in 2015.
Mr Stuart: I support the Minister absolutely on that point. Criminalising young people for failure of engagement and acting against them is not initially the right approach, and he has said that he will bear that in mind. We must encourage and enthuse people to carry on in education and training. That would be better than using rather crude enforcement mechanisms, unless all else had failed.
Mr Gibb: I agree with my hon. Friend, who puts it more pithily than I did. He is right. We aspire to achieve full participation, but without enforcement. We want young people to participate because they recognise the benefits that it will bring and because our reforms to education and training will create a system that caters for the needs and aspirations of every young person, not only most of them.
Participating in education or training is essential for all our young people. It brings benefits to them and for their future lives, and to our whole society—not only nationally, but in increasing our international standing and competitiveness. I hope, therefore, that with those reassurances, particularly with regard to raising the participation age as scheduled, the hon. Member for Hartlepool will withdraw the amendment.
Mr Wright: The Minister makes a fair point, which was backed up by the Chair of the Select Committee. The criminalisation of young people is the last thing that we want to see. None the less, it is incredibly important, because it is historic, that we have cross-party support for the raising of the participation age to 18 in a couple of years’ time. The Minister’s comments on his and the Government’s commitment on RPA have been helpful, but I remain concerned that the commitment will be watered down. Given what the Minister has said, however, and with a desire to make progress, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘(2A) In section 22 of THEA 1998 (recovery of amounts due from borrowers), in subsection (5), after paragraph (h), insert—
“(i) imposing on borrowers conditions on which an outstanding amount can be repaid in advance of the term date”.’.
‘(5) In section 42 of THEA 1998 (Orders and regulations), in subsection (4) leave out “the first”.’.
‘(1) For each academic year the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report containing information on the impact on public finances of the financial support given to students under section 22 of THEA 1998.
(2) The report must include information relating to the cost of student loans to persons—
(a) considering undertaking a full-time or part-time higher education course; and
(b) currently undertaking a higher education course;
the life-time cost on persons who have completed a higher education course and taken out a student loan.
(3) The first report under this section must relate to the academic year beginning 1 August 2011.
(4) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of each report under this section.
(5) In this section “academic year” means a period of 12 months beginning on 1 August.’.
Mr Wright: The clause is incredibly important, but it has frankly not had the publicity that I thought that it would. I imagine that that is because it is tagged, somewhat incongruously, on to an education Bill, and I will discuss whether that is the appropriate legislative vehicle in a moment. With your permission, Mr Walker, I want to speak to new clause 14 first, because that sets the scene for the problems that the Government have placed themselves in. In so doing, and with your advice and guidance, I hope that we might be able to dispense with the clause stand part, but I will accept your judgment on that.
Clause 70 amends the powers given to the Secretary of State in the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 to make regulations setting interest rates. As the legislation stands, section 22 of the 1998 Act provides that the interest rates set must be no higher than the rate required to maintain the value of the loan in real terms and must not exceed the specified rate for low-interest loans. Clause 70 gives the Secretary of State wide and substantial powers to set interest rates. It moves the policy of the Government away from zero rates of real interest to one where the real interest rate would be 3% above RPI. I alluded to this earlier, but quite what that has to do with a Bill that makes provisions about education, child care, apprenticeships and training is beyond me. The Minister can perhaps let us know—either here, or if you are so inclined, Mr Walker, in a clause stand part debate—why these provisions are contained in a Bill that is predominantly about schools and pre-19 education.
Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend, like me, think that perhaps the Government hope to sneak the measure through quietly without the publicity that he mentioned? On a day when the vice-chancellor of the university of Central Lancashire rang me to say that it, along with many other universities up and down the country, would be charging the maximum of £9,000 a year in fees, does this not fly in the face of the £6,000 that was discussed? It was said that £9,000 a year would be charged in exceptional circumstances only.
Mr Wright: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Government are trying to sweep this under the carpet and do it with as little fuss as possible. Understandably, the trebling of tuition fees from the current level up to £9,000 has received more coverage than the interest rates set on the loans, but I still think that the real rate of interest will act as a barrier for bright kids from poorer backgrounds contemplating university.
Mr Stuart: We do not want to rehash the argument, but perhaps we need to. Under the new system, the monthly payment will be lower and the lowest-earning 25% will pay less. In terms of progressiveness, the new initiative is better than the previous system. Whatever the political benefits of the shadow Minister saying the opposite and talking about tripled fees when most people will not even pay it all back, I would urge him to see that this is a more progressive system—whether it is affordable is a different matter—and there is no reason why it should put off anyone from a lower-income background from going into higher education. I wish that people like him would stop saying so, stop scaring people off and stop delivering precisely the ill that he says that the scheme does when it is actually the scaremongering of people like him.
Mr Wright: I am glad the Chair of the Select Committee has got that off his chest, but he is wrong. It is not progressive, it will put people off and I am not scaremongering. It will be a high level of debt, which will be repaid over a longer period of 25 to 30 years and the interest paid will not be kept at a steady level to maintain the real value and to ensure that it would essentially be a zero rate of interest. Instead, it will be 3 percentage points above the RPI, which is currently running incredibly high. Surely the Chair of the Select Committee believes that that will act as a massive disincentive to people who are contemplating going to university in the next year or so.
Mr Stuart: It is a strange kind of debt that is written off at the end of 30 years or if someone ceases to work, and where they do not have to pay anything if they earn less than £21,000 or if they have children and they are not working. It is debt, but not as we know it. It is an undergraduate tax on earnings above £21,000. Only higher earners pay it. If someone starts as a new teacher earning an average £21,500 starting salary, they will pay some £4 a month. The message that the hon. Gentleman is sending out to young people, putting them off with scaremongering, is irresponsible and not based on the facts.
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Relevant to the clause is the increase in debt that young people will get into as a result of these changes in interest rates. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, as it stands, those who get into debt and negotiate an individual voluntary arrangement, as a way of managing their debts, are increasingly unable to include those debts in those IVAs? One of the consequences of increasing the interest rate will be that more people will face unsustainable repayments, which will impact on their other debts. As we are seeing an explosion in personal debt, that could be a problem for people.
The Chair: Order. I know that the Procedure Committee has said that electronic devices can be used in Committee, but when you are taking part in a debate—this applies to all colleagues—and the Minister is responding, please do not use the electronic devices; listen to what the person responding has to say.
Mr Wright: The Deputy Prime Minister has published a report on social mobility today, which everyone wants to see, but the Association of School and College Leaders, in their written submission, stated:
Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): Which of the following does the hon. Gentleman think is a worse situation for students: one in which the Treasury subsidises the interest rate and, given the current financial situation, it arbitrarily limits the numbers that can go to university, or one in which we try to encourage as many as possible to go, where there is an interest rate, but where, if they are not earning above a certain amount of money, they do not have to pay? Which is more of a disincentive to students?
Mr Wright: The hon. Gentleman brings me on to a fundamental point, in regard to not only clause 70, but the whole business model of higher education funding that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is putting in place. There is a strong relationship between the level of fees charged, the interest rate on loans, as in clause 70, the amount of money that is available from the Government to higher education for research funding and student numbers.
The Committee would agree that incorrect assumptions about any particular aspect of that business model will have huge implications for other parts of that model, to the detriment of social mobility—as I said earlier—to the viability of the university sector and to this country’s ability to exploit the knowledge economy of the 21st century and to be a leading economic power in the globalised world, which we all want to see. Get one aspect wrong or one assumption of the model incorrect, such as average fee levels, and the whole system comes crashing down. It has become increasingly apparent that the Government have their sums wrong. The policy, which the Minister might acknowledge, is in complete and utter disarray.
In doing their sums for HE funding, implicit in which is the level of real interest that will be charged on the loan, the Government made a clear assumption that average fee levels would be £7,500 per annum. However, we all know now that that assumption is widely out of kilter. The Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), when questioning the Prime Minister last Wednesday, stated that 78% of higher education institutions—18 out of 23—have announced that their proposed tuition fees will not be £6,000, not the average
Mr Hayes: I do not want to spike the hon. Gentleman’s guns as he is just getting going, but we do not know what anyone is going to charge because the amount that a university charges depends on its satisfying the access requirements. That has not been done. The Deputy Prime Minister was questioned on that today in the House, and he made exactly that point. Until that matter is resolved, we cannot speculate on what people are going to charge.
Mr Wright: Perhaps the Minister will intervene on me again. It is my understanding that the access tsar, or whatever one wants to call him, said that he does not have the power to say to higher education institutions that want to charge £9,000, “I am not happy with what you have said on widening access, so I demand that you reduce your fees in accordance to what I think.” Is that correct? Has he got the power to do that?
Mr Hayes: I acknowledge that universities are independent institutions, but the reform of student finance that follows the recommendations of the Browne report makes it clear that there is a relationship between fees and access. Browne’s terms of reference, about which I shall talk at length later, stipulated that the considerations around the funding of universities should be tied to considerations around widening participation. It has been made clear that assumptions about that will be built into the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. The Deputy Prime Minister made that clear on the Floor of the House today, and far be it for me to second guess him.
Stella Creasy: Will the Minister comment on the evidence that we heard in the Public Accounts Committee last week from the permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills? We talked about the problems and risks that the new higher education funding model will create as a result of the increased fees and the problems that that would create for the public subsidy from the increased interest rates. Such issues will cause problems for our abilities to deliver the kind of higher education system that we want.
Mr Wright: My hon. Friend must have been reading my notes over my shoulder, because that is the exactly the point that I wanted to raise. The issues are all implicitly linked. The business model stands and falls together.
Meg Munn: Two world-class universities. The point that those universities made to me is that they cannot simply, particularly in the case of Sheffield Hallam, afford to look cavalierly at not charging £9,000. They are looking at it carefully, because if they do not, with the withdrawal by the Government of the teaching fund, they will simply lose thousands of pounds, which will mean that they cannot keep their world-class status.
Mr Wright: That is a fair point. Universities are under two pressures. The first, as my hon. Friend states quite rightly, is the dramatic cut in public funding to higher education institutions as a result of the business model. The second is the perception of the quality of the brand. If a university—Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield university or whatever—charges £6,000 and its rival in the city charges £9,000, does that send a message to potential undergraduates that that university is inferior to others elsewhere? Universities have to grapple with that.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the courses that have lost all or most of their teaching grant are often those that train people for professions such as youth work or for work in the public sector, where they will never earn big money? They will earn more than £20,000 and they will have to pay back their grant, so they will be paying back their loan over 30 years, which will be a burden around their neck all that time. These people will be going into public service with great debts around their neck.
Let me go on to the business model, because I want to explore the accounting techniques—I can hear the groans as I speak. The Government pay student tuition fees to the institution and then recoup the money from the students once they have graduated and are earning more than £21,000. In Government accounting terms, the so-called resource accounting and budgeting, or RAB, classes the subsidy element as the face value of loans in any one year, less the present value of future repayments. That is known as the RAB charge.
The Government think they have played a rather clever trick by looking as if they have reduced DEL—the so-called departmental expenditure limit—by keeping only the RAB charge in that DEL. In so doing, BIS Ministers can look like very good boys with the Treasury, everyone gets promoted and everyone feels better about themselves. However, the model fails to take into account the assumption we discussed regarding average fee levels.
The higher the average fee level, the higher the average fee loan, and that increases public spending in two fundamental ways. First, rather obviously, as the face value of loans rises, the total value increases. Secondly, with a larger loan, the likelihood that graduates repay the debt in full is reduced, so the present value of future
If the average fee is higher than the Government assumed in their calculation, as it clearly seems to be, that will have a number of consequences, and the clause will make matters worse in the wake of that chaos. In the medium term, a higher average fee might mean—the Minister might provide a degree of clarity on this—that that the real rate of interest charged to graduates will have to rise quite sharply, and the clause allows that to happen. More immediately, it might mean that student numbers will have to be cut still further, on top of the 10,000 reduction in places that the Government have already announced. Equally, it might result in a cut in research funding, which would mean that this country would find it difficult to compete with the best research institutions in the world. As I said, I hope that the Minister will give an indication of which options—whether a rise in the interest rate, cuts in student numbers or cuts to the research budget—are being considered.
Mr Hayes: I do not want to spoil the hon. Gentleman’s “When did you stop beating your wife?” question—the ultimate set of options from which no one wants to choose—but he might also consider the issue of how, where, when and in what form people study. As he knows, that has a profound effect on unit costs and funding.
There is a massive hole in the higher education budget as a result of the Government’s assumptions. What is interesting is that in its revised outlook in March 2011, just a few weeks ago in the run-up to the Budget, the OBR did not revise its assumptions. I think that is for two reasons. First, it thinks that institutions which propose £9,000 fees are the exception. We can now conclude fairly decisively that that is an unrealistic assumption. Secondly, it assumes that the DEL will be held. That means that if the Department’s calculations are wrong—they seem to be very wrong—the effects will have to be either rises in interest rates charged to students, or cuts to student numbers, or reductions in the research grant, or a combination of all three. Which is it going to be?
Figures obtained from the Library by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), who shadows the Government on universities, show what these options will mean. To keep on track with public spending targets the Library calculates that an assumed fee loan of £8,500, which is now looking increasingly likely, would place additional pressure on the public finances of about £870 million. This would require a real interest rate of 4.1% to keep public spending constant. Clause 70 allows that to happen. For an assumed fee loan of the maximum permitted—£9,000—real interest rates would
In the context of all that, new clause 14 would allow Parliament to consider these matters fully and to express an opinion as to the suitability of the Government’s plans, the assumptions and the policy decisions. The report proposed in the new clause would include important information relating to the cost of student loans and the impact to public finances of the financial support as set out in the revised section 22 of the 1998 Act. That brings me to the other amendments in the group.
I am sure the Minister will agree that for something as important and fundamental as this it is vital that we have effective and close parliamentary scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s plans for interest rates. Amendment 244 amends section 42 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 to ensure that parliamentary scrutiny cannot take place for any changes to interest rates by the Secretary of State without consideration in and resolution by both Houses of Parliament. I hope the Minister will look favourably on this matter. In doing so, will he give a commitment to ensure that such a resolution is taken on the Floor of the House with the entire House as the Committee? That seems fair, given the precedent for fee levels that we had last November or December and given the huge importance of the issue and the obvious interest that hon. Members across the House will have on the matter.
Amendment 245 would make it clear that those from more privileged backgrounds cannot jump the queue by paying off loans early. The amendment would insert an additional subsection into the 1998 Act and impose on a borrower conditions on which an outstanding amount can be repaid in advance of the due date. In responding to the publication of the Browne review, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said that he was minded to impose a charge for early repayments but this has not been included in the Bill. The Bill’s equalities impact assessment does not mention the provisions relating to student loans and tuition fees at all, which I think is a disgrace. It would be helpful if the Minister would tell us why that is the case. It is a probing amendment to test the Government’s current thinking on the matter given what the Secretary of State said then.
This has been an important debate. I hope that the Minister will look on the amendments favourably. They are important for the social mobility of many young people in this country. I hope he can accept them.
Mr Hayes: We return refreshed from our brief sojourn and ready to respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Hartlepool. He is right to say that this is an important matter, and he is also right that this is an
“To continue to thrive in the coming decade, institutions will need to respond to the changing needs of students, businesses and the wider community”.—[Official Report , House of Lords, 9 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. WA37.]
In establishing the Browne review, it was clear that the previous Government anticipated the change in contribution made by learners that Browne ultimately recommended. Lord Mandelson hinted at a tuition fee rise five months before the review was launched in July 2009. He told vice-chancellors that excellence in education was “not cheap” and that the country had to
The review was explicit about the fact that that balance needed to be reconsidered in the light of changing circumstances. I am sure the hon. Gentleman, with his customary diligence, will draw the Committee’s attention to the matter if I do not, so perhaps I should say that, like him, I had my doubts when tuition fees were first considered by Parliament. I wondered, as he wonders now, whether it was likely that the advent of tuition fees would have an effect on participation by under-represented groups in higher education. I wondered whether working class aspirant students might be deterred from engagement in higher education. Indeed, I was a member of the shadow Cabinet when it was Conservative party policy to oppose fees, but the events that have since occurred demonstrate that my fears have been unrealised and prove that they were probably as exaggerated as his are now.
I understand the instincts that lead the hon. Gentleman to his conclusion. I understand the sentiment that informs those instincts. I understand the passion that he brings to these matters, as he, like me, believes in widening participation in higher education. Indeed, among Browne’s terms of reference was an explicit consideration of the need to ensure that participation was broadened to those who do not typically enjoy the benefits of higher education that he and I and others Committee members have enjoyed.
The context is one of a general acknowledgement that we need to look at these things afresh; an assumption that that fresh thinking will lead to a change in the balance of payments from individuals, graduates and others, and Government. It is a context in which a review was conducted at length, drawing on expertise from across the sector. No one would deny that the
Mark Hendrick: Is not the context of the present reforms, unlike the context for the tuition fees introduced under the previous Government, one in which most of the teaching grant has been removed, and the student has been asked to fill that shortfall, rather than a £3,000 addition to ever-increasing money to higher education from Government?
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is right in this sense: that the scale of the problem is rather different. It may be also true that the detail—we should look at the measure in some detail, as the helpful amendments allow us to do so—may be different. However, the principle is not different, and it was established once we took the view—and I was a sceptic—that the contribution of graduates was a key component of the way in which we funded higher education. The previous Government took that view. We established an important precedent for what has subsequently happened.
We now find ourselves in a situation in which universities need more funds if they are to continue to develop and to excel. Government is faced with economic difficulties of a broader kind, partly as a result of the poisonous legacy of the previous regime. The Browne review reported against that backdrop; we did not commission Lord Browne to carry out his work. It is likely—and I said this in respect of another matter—that had the party of which the hon. Gentleman is a member formed a Government who faced the Browne recommendations, it would have to make tough decisions about what universities charged, what students paid, and what interest rates prevailed. Those matters are not peculiar to this Government. They concern a broader set of considerations which affect all those interested in measured and reasonable public policy.
Mark Hendrick: I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way again. I remember that my vice-chancellor and the president of my local student union were opposed to the £3,000 increase at the time, even though that was additional investment, on top of an increased grant from central Government. The aim of the charges is not to increase investment or to improve the quality of teaching. I heard from my vice-chancellor this morning that the £9,000 is just to provide the same quality of service that would have been there had the teaching grant not been reduced. The context under the previous Government was about increasing the quality of provision, not just cutting Government spending.
In this instance, will he leave the general overview that he is giving of education policy on tuition fees and return to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool was making about the affordability of the scheme that the Government have introduced?
The beginning that I was describing was the understandable need to look at these matters again, which was given life by the previous Government’s decision to institute the Browne review. Nevertheless, I understand the prompt that the hon. Gentleman has given me—a gentle prompt, but a prompt none the less.
Mr Hayes: No, no; the hon. Member for Hartlepool has moved from a poke to a prompt, gracefully and seamlessly, and I will address the points that he made. Amendment 244 seeks to make any and all regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 subject to affirmative procedure—the hon. Gentleman spoke to that. I understand his concerns about the Secretary of State’s regulation-making power with regard to interest rates on education loans. That is a sensitive subject and one which the Government have considered very carefully.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, negative procedures provide Parliament with the opportunity to scrutinise regulations, should it wish to do so. That has always been the case with higher education and, I believe, provides a clear and suitable level of parliamentary scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman may feel that this is a fallback debating point, but none the less, it needs to be made. The previous Government considered these matters in very similar circumstances, and took the same view that I have just articulated. If it was good enough
The hon. Gentleman will, however, seek further assurances about the Government’s intentions on transparent scrutiny as a result of our action to bring indicative regulations to the Committee. He mentioned that they were circulated last week. They clearly show our intentions on charging real rates of interest, and they informed part of his contribution. However, this amendment goes further by imposing a requirement for an affirmative procedure for interest rates, extending it to all regulations made by the Secretary of State with regard to financial support to students in further and higher education. In my view, that is pretty excessive, and it puts further pressures on time and resources to which I do not think that previous Governments would have been happy to accede. In giving clarity about our intentions and following the procedures adopted by the previous Government, and in our approach to setting out our broader vision in the higher education White Paper, which will clearly be subject to the scrutiny of the House when it is published, we will provide maximum opportunity for consideration of such matters by Parliament. The amendment should therefore be resisted.
I have a few other things to say because, to use his phrase, given his body language, the hon. Gentleman clearly does not look impressed. I want to go into some detail about whether the system is financially robust and can stand up to the effect on overall Government finances. However, before I do so, I want say a little about amendment 245, which would give the Secretary of State a power to impose conditions on student loan repayments made in advance of the term date. I again understand why the hon. Gentleman expressed such worries and I sympathise with the intent of the amendment, but it is not the right time to introduce conditions on loan borrowers.
We have made it clear that it is our intention to consult on repayment mechanisms for student loan borrowers in due course, and it is right that we conclude the consultation and take account of the views of all concerned before we conclude whether or not any charge will apply and, if so, how that charge may be calculated and applied. I give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that there will indeed be proper consultation before a decision is made on that subject. It will be a balanced and open-minded process because, like him, I consider that that matter must be made absolutely clear for all sorts of reasons that I do not need to rehearse, but which are implicit. Given what I have said, I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Gentleman that it is not necessary to press the amendment to a Division.
New clause 14 would make it a statutory requirement for the Secretary of State to publish and lay before Parliament annual financial reports on the costs of the financial support package to students. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s intention in wanting to make information about the cost of the Government’s support for students more open and transparent, but in most cases, the information that he seeks—and much more—has already been published in several different formats from the appropriate sources, including the annual report and accounts of the Student Loans Company and the annual report and accounts of one of my Departments. My notes say, “my own Department”, but I do not want to
Additional reports by the Government of all the items suggested in the proposal would not add value, and it is our policy that the impact on public finances should be reviewed independently by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Indeed, that office is independent, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and it will offer its own analysis, which will again add to the panoply of sources of information that will meet the requirement that his amendment would elicit. The proposal seeks reports on the lifetime costs to borrowers of student loans. We can report fully on the lifetime costs of loans only after they have been fully repaid because, by its nature, that is a retrospective process. Before that, we could rely only on models and forecasts of graduate earnings, which depend on assumptions about the character of what graduates might do, what they might earn, and on earnings more generally.
We know from such projections that forecasting methods vary immensely, and to produce an inaccurate forecast would do more harm than good. The Government believe that the OBR is the appropriate body to make independent assessments of impacts on public finances, not just directed by the Government’s choice of forecasting model, notwithstanding the positive things I said earlier about politics and politicians
Apart from other information that is already available, the proposal requires the cost of student loans to people considering higher education to be made available. As hon. Members may be aware, there are no such loans, since no one receives a student loan unless they have already applied and been accepted on a higher education course. I do not think that much value would be added by the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. He made a number of other specific points, and I want to do them justice. His core point was about the net effect of the kind of fees that universities might charge. I shall say two things about that. I can never remember whether it was Zhou Enlai who, when asked about the impact of the French revolution, said it was too early to say.
Mr Hayes: I will not say hand in glove, but step by step. It is too early to say, because we do not yet know what universities will charge. They will all publish that information, and further discussions will take place.
More substantially, I think that the hon. Member for Hartlepool ignores the effect on unit costs of where, how and when people study. Mr Walker, you will remember as your memory is elephantine, that Lord Mandelson, the then Minister responsible for these matters, flirted with the idea of different models for degree courses: modular degrees, shorter degree programmes, an emphasis on different access points and modes of learning. I have two responses to that. Those who study my work closely
The White Paper will explore those matters. I am determined—and I commit my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science to this, too—that the White Paper should explore in depth the provision of higher education in further education, which has been a preoccupation of mine for a long time, and the growth of which has been inhibited by all kinds of factors. It is absolutely right that we should celebrate the work already done by further education, but we should look at ways in which that can be grown, enabling many more people to take advantage of the opportunities that higher learning provides.
Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I welcome the extension of the part-time schemes, but they have been around a long time, through accumulation, access and transfer schemes, in universities such as the Open university. They have offered a valid route into higher education for many students, albeit mainly older or returning students—those who are 25-plus. Our concern, which I am sure the Minister shares, is for younger students from poorer families—those who are 18, losing EMAs and facing massive increases in tuition fees. We are concerned that those students now have much less of a route into higher education.
Mr Hayes: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention which, as ever, was thoughtful and based on experience. I was not restricting my remarks about different kinds of provision and points of access to mature students, although I agree with her implicit support for engaging more older learners. A growth of mature students would be welcome, given the need to upskill and reskill, which the hon. Member for Cardiff West identified in a different part of our consideration. Higher learning is very much a part of that.
Finding other ways for younger students to engage, however, would provide an opportunity for those who typically do not carry their learning on into HE. Frankly, the existing system, despite the well-intentioned policies of successive Governments, has not been as effective as it might have been in widening access. Whatever we might want to think and hope to claim, we have not made enough progress on providing the breadth of access to higher education that I—and the hon. Lady, I am sure—would like. Alan Milburn makes the point in his report that if learning is one of the key tools to deliver social mobility and, ultimately, social justice, we have singularly failed to take advantage of it by engineering a better future for many of our fellow countrymen.
I was not thinking only of mature learners in relation to changing assumptions around modes of learning and access points to learning; I was thinking about all learners. In a nutshell, the experiences of Birkbeck and the OU perhaps should have been, and certainly could
That determination changes some of the assumptions around unit costs, too. I am not sure that the previous Government considered that, which is why there is demand for all these kinds of kites. The hon. Member for Hartlepool has talked about part-time degrees, shorter degree courses and modular degrees. I am sure that he did so because he was starting to think about some of the costs associated with HE, as well as the driving ambition to broaden its scope and reach.
Let me say something about some of the other details that the hon. Gentleman raised. I do not go only as far as people expect me to; I go one stage further in my desire to be regarded as the most responsive Minister in the Government—I do not mean to be unkind to the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. In addition, therefore, to what I have said about early repayment, we will make a full impact assessment available when we have considered the matter on the back of the consultation that I have described. When we have drawn more conclusions, we will happily look at the matter with the kind of piercing empiricism that lies at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s scrutiny of such matters.
I want to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee inquiry into the future of higher education, which is considering many of the issues that he has raised. The Bill, in the end, is about legislation—Bills, by their nature, are about legislation; that is why we are here—but the broader canvass that he painted will be for the consideration of the Select Committee.
The hon. Gentleman made the assumption not only that the unit cost of higher education was not affected by some of the things that I said do affect it—namely its form and character, its place, and where and when it is taught—but, implicitly, that there was a direct relationship between the cost and the headline price published by a university. We know that not all students take up the full loan, and we have no reason to assume that that will not continue to be the case. Many universities have said that they plan to offer fee waivers, discounts and/or bursaries to a significant number of students, in particular those from lower income backgrounds. That was precisely why I intervened on the hon. Gentleman with a caveat about the relationship between fees and access, not only for individual students, but in respect of the impact of the entire package. The balance of the relationship changes the assumptions about the total costs to the Exchequer of the extent of participation that he and we seek. One needs to be careful about making an assumption about a direct relationship between headline price and cost, because that changes the average cost. Once the average cost changes, the cost to the Department is changed in the way that has been described.
Stella Creasy: Has the Minister discussed the issue with the permanent secretary at BIS because he seemed to think that there was a direct relationship between the difficulties of having under-predicted what fees would
Mr Hayes: There is a relationship, but not a direct one. Of course the two things have a correlation, which the hon. Lady is right to point out. We are all considering the character of that relationship, but it is complicated by some of the things I described—surely she recognises that. If a number of institutions choose to charge different amounts because of the detail of what they offer—I began to explore some of those details earlier—and/or to recycle some of the funds in the way in which I also described, the relationship that might ostensibly be seen as a direct one becomes rather less direct. That was my point.
Mr Wright: I mentioned the assumption inherent in the business model of the Minister’s Department that average fees—this is disregarding his other points—would be £7,500 a year. Based on the new evidence of how higher education institutions are moving forward on the setting of fees, is he still working on the assumption of £7,500 a year or has that amount changed?
Mr Hayes: It would be premature to make any assumptions—or re-assumptions—about averages, given what I have said about the stage that the matter has reached. We are not at a point at which we can recalibrate such considerations because we are not yet clear about what everyone will charge, what will be recycled and how that will be affected by the market.
Perhaps I can be helpful, because it is fair to say that the market will change and mature. It is certainly true that if we create a more market-driven system, that market will be not static but dynamic. I have mentioned the provision of HE in different places and forms, but the other thing at which we need to look is new entrants to the market and what effect they will have on price and cost. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the state of the market at the beginning will not necessarily characterise the state of the market as it matures, and we could have a productive discussion about that.
Mr Wright: The Minister says that it is too early to set out anything about the assumptions, but given the different relationships that I mentioned with respect to the level of fees, the rate of interest, student numbers and the level of direct grant provided by the Department, and given that we are in a fog of uncertainty because the White Paper has not been published, why on earth is this provision in the Bill? Why has it been tagged in such a sly and quiet manner on to a Bill that is essentially about schools and pre-19 education?
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap into which the Leader of the Opposition fell. The Leader of the Opposition said that 80% of universities will charge £9,000, but when pressed, he said that it was 13 out of 36. By any calculation, it is hard to make that 80%, is it not?
It is premature to make assumptions about what the average will be. The hon. Member for Hartlepool is right that the modelling is based on—[ Interruption. ] He knows what the modelling is based on because it is no secret—it was based on what the likely average
Mr Wright: I cited what the Leader of the Opposition said during last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s questions. I checked Hansard last night, and he said that 18 out of 23 had declared a figure of £9,000. That is 78%, which I think is what I cited.
Mr Hayes: Yes, but that is not 80% of all institutions. Until we know what all HE institutions will charge, we cannot make any judgments about what the average will be. If we do not know what they are going to charge, we cannot calculate the average—that is pretty straightforward, is it not?
Stella Creasy: Just so we are clear, given that the BIS permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee last week that there was a gap in the financing for higher education that will need to be plugged, who is telling the truth?
Mr Hayes: We all know that there is a gap; that was why the Browne review was set up. Browne was set up to plug that gap, which was acknowledged by the previous Government. It is absolutely right that if we want higher education to continue to play the important part it plays in so many ways—socially, economically and so on—we need to look at new ways of funding it, which is precisely why we began to look at such matters alongside the then Government. It was why the then Government established Browne, and it is why we are dealing with the outcome. Of course it is true that we need to look at these matters afresh, and I am sure the hon. Lady would want to do so with the same open-mindedness that I have described.
Stella Creasy: I apologise if I was unclear. It is obvious that the Minister has not read the transcript of the Public Accounts Committee or watched the video. Let me be clear that the permanent secretary specifically referred to a gap in the funding caused by the differential between the fees that were presumed and the actual fees that are now being clarified. If the Minister wants the transcript, I will be more than happy to provide it to him.
The permanent secretary made it clear that there was a gap in the model that needed to be plugged. Ministers have options of how they do that, one of which is through the interest rates that could be charged. Can we have some clarity? Are Ministers looking at that as a way of plugging the gap because the permanent secretary has identified it?
Mark Hendrick: The Minister says that he cannot calculate an average until he knows the fees that universities are charging. Clearly, the trend at the moment is if not £9,000 then closer to £9,000. The Minister is obviously well aware of that, yet he still insists on not knowing until the last university has announced its price. Is he implying that the Minister for Universities and Science may choose to intervene to try to influence or manipulate in some way the rate that the universities are charging because he might be unhappy about some of the announcements that individual universities are making?
Mr Hayes: Not even a majority of universities have made clear what they will charge. A minority have published so far, but hon. Members should not forget that that is a self-selecting minority. The universities that have already made clear what they will charge include those that one might expect to be at the upper end of the charging regime, so in addition to those universities being a minority, they are not necessarily a representative sample. It would be hard to reach definitive conclusions about the effect that that would have collectively on the state of public finances, and rather irresponsible to do so. It is absolutely right that we should give those matters due consideration, but only when we have all the data before us, and that is not what the Bill is about. That is not what the Bill asks the Committee to do and it is not what it asks Parliament to do. That is not its purpose, and I am only setting this in context for the following reasons: it is important that we do so as part of proper scrutiny; I enjoy these important debates, as do you, Mr Walker; and because I am immensely generous.
Mark Hendrick: The Minister has answered the first part of my question about how the Government view how the average is calculated and how much data they need to come forward with a figure, but what about the second part of my question? Is it a consideration that the Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would step in and try in some way to influence the fees that are finally set, rather than just letting universities set the fees that they are trying to set at the moment?
Mr Hayes: It is certainly true to say that we want to broadcast the fact that the fees charged will perhaps relate to the quality of the product offered. That is why I said very clearly that there has to be a relationship between what those who become consumeriste pay and what they get. That is a message that I am very happy to amplify here, and I know that the Minister for Universities and Science and the Secretary of State will want to amplify that too. It is right that what is charged needs to be legitimised. Furthermore, there is an issue about how we assess the proper requirements that were set in motion by the Browne review as regards access and what people charge. Again, the Deputy PM—this is the third time that I have said it—made it clear today that it is right that we do not ignore that aspect of Browne. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it was in Browne’s terms of reference that we should do just that. Lord Browne was told that his consideration should include broadening access. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the terms of reference, which referred to the
“goal of widening participation to ensure that the benefits of higher education are open to all who have the talent and motivation to succeed; the avoidance of the creation of barriers to wider access; the impact of the system of bursary payments; promoting fair access to all institutions; facilitating choice and a diversity of access”.
All that was part of his terms of reference, so the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that we should not see fees outside that context. I certainly would not want that, and I would use any influence I could bring to bear on my Department or university to make that clear. I am just as passionate as the hon. Gentleman about ensuring that all those who have the aspiration and ability to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so by whatever means we can provide.
I shall draw my comments to a conclusion, because I fear that I may become tiresome if I go on any longer, and that is a horrible thought. The measures that we are debating now and which form part of the Bill are narrower than the debate we have enjoyed. It is right that we had that debate, and I am grateful that we had the opportunity to do so. I have addressed the specifics of the amendments, which are narrow, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
Mr Wright: I am surprised that we have not heard from the Liberal Democrats on this matter. We heard a lot from them on tuition fees prior to the election, but the body language in the Committee Room today suggests that they would rather be anywhere but here.
Dan Rogerson: The hon. Gentleman is no doubt a keen student of Hansard, so he will know the position that I took when the whole package came up for a vote last year. I am here merely to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say and to discuss this one aspect of the entire policy.
Mr Wright: That is very helpful. I am a student of Hansard. Like the Foreign Secretary, I have subscribed from an early age to ensure that I have good bedtime reading. I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. I agreed with his first sentence that this is an important matter, but we deviated from that point on. I enjoyed the history lesson. I am a history graduate, and it was good to return to matters relating to history. I was
Browne had recommended a real interest rate of 2.2% for those earning above the threshold, with a safeguard to ensure that those making relatively small repayments did not see the balance of their loan increase. But the Government are not putting that in place. They are ensuring that we have a free-for-all when it comes to the real interest rate. The Minister referred to consumerist and consumeriste, but I have no idea what the difference is, or what that means, and it would be useful if he would explain.
We are being asked to consider an important piece of legislation with only half the story. The White Paper is not before us, and much of the information that we do have suggests that the Government’s HE policy, certainly with regard to the funding arrangements and the business model, is in chaos. The business model could provide some relief to the accounting officer, who is the permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, by raising the real rate of interest to a phenomenal level, based on RPI, but that would act as a disincentive to people accessing higher education.
The Minister conceded that the point on amendment 244 was an important one, and that it was a sensitive matter. However, he refused to agree to the notion that we should have a debate on an affirmative resolution on the Floor of the House. I disagree with that. The matter is so important that it should be discussed in a full Committee of the House so that people can listen to the concerns that hon. Members have.
On amendment 245, the Minister said that it was too early to have anything, despite what the Secretary of State had said about a possible early repayment charge. We have had no discussion on that. We might get that in a White Paper, and we have been promised some degree of concession—an impact assessment—but I would have thought that that is a given anyway. We need much more information on the matter. The business model is inherently flawed. The clause should not stand part of the Bill, and I hope to divide the Committee on the matter.
I am disappointed that the Minister is a deficit denier, because there is a huge deficit in the HE funding model. I am also disappointed with some of the comments made by his hon. Friends, who say that we can have it all; I think my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle said that it was like magic beans. They say that we can have increased participation and growing fees for higher education institutions but no one needs to pay it back. It is the Ponzi scheme of the higher education system, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West said, the donzi scheme, which I thought was a rather good way of putting it. It is unacceptable that on such an important part of the Bill, which will affect many people in my constituency and elsewhere, who are thinking about university and who want to think about all of the information before they make a decision, we are not
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I listened carefully to the Minister’s discourse on the clause and the amendments, and find myself in total agreement with what the shadow Minister said. It was interesting to hear the Minister talk about “consumeriste”; I thought it was a new constituency. It was also interesting to hear him profess his belief in ministerial bigamy as a two-Department man, and give us the imagery of Lord Mandelson flirting with different models, which was another interesting image to the mind.
On the substantive concerns, the Minister seems to be saying, “Don’t worry about it,” and that we will not know about the questions that we are asking ourselves until it happens, and therefore we may be reassured. However, that is no basis on which legislators can pass legislation. We cannot simply rely on what Lord Browne said in his report when it comes to discharging our responsibilities on what we put or do not put into law and on the public finances. In an earlier intervention, the Chair of the Education Committee made the argument that no one was going to have to pay any serious amounts of money, and yet somehow all sorts of money would get into universities. In a revealing point, he said that the question whether it is affordable is an entirely different one.
When the chickens come home to roost and the question of affordability confronts people in the future, what is going to give? Will it be the commitments and implied guarantees that people will not have to pay serious amounts of money back, or the case that no university is able to charge high fees? Will the quality of student support and reliefs and waivers in repayments go, as a way of meeting the question of affordability?
Earlier in the Bill’s proceedings, there were questions about institutions and religious education. In my constituency, a famous priest who was visiting one of the Catholic schools in his area one day regaled a class with a key point on Catholic doctrine. The priest, Father Desmond Mullan, had serious chest and throat difficulties and a bit of a rural accent, and spoke in an indistinct manner. When he had finished his treatise on that particular aspect of Catholic doctrine, one brave student put up his hand and said, “Father, I could not understand that. Could you just repeat that again?” Father Mullan said, “You’re not supposed to understand; it’s a mystery.” Certainly, I feel that the way in which the Minister has tried to deal with these amendments is very much in the realms of “You’re not supposed to understand; it’s a mystery.” I am not assured at all, and I do not think that the worries of hon. Members have been dispelled.
Mr Hayes: I want to bring light out of darkness. I cannot resist that challenge. This is not about the mystery of faith; it is about the certainty of a Bill that sets out certain powers. The powers do not determine the rate of interest so they do not relate to the gap that the hon. Member for Walthamstow has spoken about or to the overall budgetary impact. They simply give powers to set those matters according to regulations in which the details that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hartlepool, has described, and that the hon. Member
Mark Durkan: I thank the Minister for that effort, but it does nothing to mitigate any of the basic concerns or questions about the impact of the financial implications on students and their families. It does not address the key questions that have been asked regarding the higher education finance model and the impact on public finances into the future. As legislators, hon. Members are right to pursue these sorts of amendments to frisk the Government for something more solid by way of reliable plans and assurances. Bland assurances that the changes will not seriously cost people in real-life terms simply do not add up.
Mr Hayes: I have said enough. If that can ever be so, it is so now. I repeat that we are not voting for a particular rate of interest, but for a facility by which Government would make that rate of interest clear by regulation according to circumstances. That would be the inevitable path that any Government that was dealing with such matters would pursue. On that basis, even at this late stage the hon. Member for Hartlepool should think again about his amendment.
Mr Wright: I shall be brief. As I understand it, the clause allows the Secretary of State to cap the amount that higher education institutions can charge part-time students in fees, as is now possible in relation to full-time courses. The Secretary of State will be able to specify the amounts that can be charged for part-time courses in regulations. I have only one question: when the Secretary of State wishes to bring forward regulations on part-time fees, will the Minister commit to him doing this on the Floor of the House, by an affirmative resolution, as was the case with full-time fees in December last year? He admitted that this is an important consideration that demands the full attention of the House. It would be useful for this to be done through the affirmative procedure, on the Floor of the House.
Meg Munn: I have a few brief questions and points in relation to part-time students. First, I know that there are reasons why regulations are not yet available for universities and colleges that will be offering part-time students the opportunity to take up loans, because this is obviously not legislation. However, there is a real concern among institutions that provide part-time courses that they will not have the information available for students at an early point in order to tell them what they can expect. This is enormously important, because by their very nature part-time students are often working people, or people with family commitments, and they need to know what the arrangements are at an early point in order to identify whether they will be able to afford to go ahead with study. So, while acknowledging that this will not be legislation for some time, can I press the Minister on whether it is possible for draft regulations to be put out so that universities and colleges that have part-time students can at least begin to talk to prospective students about it?
Secondly, I am concerned that without the detailed regulations being available, or at least an idea of what they will look like, the Student Loans Company may also struggle to provide loans, which we know would not be the first time. I am sure that the Government want to avoid the situation students found themselves in but a short time ago. On that basis I also hope that the Minister will be able to firm up his commitment that part-time students will be eligible for student loans alongside the full-time students going into the new system.
My final concern is one I raised with the Minister for Universities and Science in a couple of Parliamentary written questions, which were responded to yesterday. Unfortunately I do not think that the Minister who responded quite understood the point that I was getting at. I am concerned that part-time students inevitably have to begin repaying their loans before they finish their course; they have to start repaying after three years if their income is above the required level, but no full-time student is liable to start repaying before finishing the course, regardless of whether it is three or four years.
Will the Minister consider the matter again? It is particularly likely to impact on women students who are thinking of studying part time. The majority of part-time students are female, are likely to be that bit older and are more likely to have other commitments. Many will be working, and if they are in high-wage areas such as London and the south-east they could well have to start repaying before they have finished the course. That could be particularly devastating not only because of the extra pressure that it puts on the family income but in enabling part-time students to complete the course. I ask the Minister to think carefully about this, because I have a real concern that what should be a welcome advance could turn out not to be so.
Mr Hayes: I have made clear already this afternoon my belief that the proposals on part-time provision that resulted from the Browne review, which have been accepted by the Government, are highly significant and most welcome. I agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley that it is important that we have clarity on the exact circumstances that face part-time students. To that end—this is not in my notes, but it is important to respond to questions asked by the Committee—I believe that it would be appropriate to issue draft regulations. It would be a useful way of ensuring further progress as described by the hon. Lady. I can deal with the matter in very short order by agreeing with her. We will do that.
Having satisfied the hon. Lady, I am not certain that my answer will be quite so satisfactory to the hon. Member for Hartlepool—at least, not from his perspective. It will be done under the negative resolution procedure, and it will not be taken on the Floor of the House.
We have set out our policy proposals, but perhaps I can make a further concession. As we are coming to the end of our scrutiny of the Bill, I wonder whether we might agree to a rather fuller debate on the White Paper on higher education once it is published, given all that has been said this afternoon. The House deserves a chance to explore these HE matters in a broader context and on a bigger canvas. As a result of overtures that were made this afternoon, I shall ask my ministerial colleagues to ensure that adequate time is made available for the proper exploration of higher education that we started debating this afternoon.
Moreover, I recognise what was said about part-time students and more broadly about the impact of these changes, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley made the point well. I further commit the Department—I am on a roll now—to updating the original impact assessment, because I believe that things have moved on. A good case can be made for a further impact assessment, or at least an updated version of the original. Generosity is my middle name. It is partly the result of the energy and rigour with which I have been pressed by Members on all sides of the Committee that I have been able to go further than we might originally have envisaged. On that basis, I hope that we can make further progress and that the hon. Gentleman will, with some enthusiasm, support clause 71.
As this is probably the last time that I will perform in this Committee, may I say, Mr Walker, what an immense pleasure it has been to serve under your chairmanship? Any interface with you is a joy and this has been no
Meg Munn: May I thank the Minister for the commitments he made to me and may I also pay tribute to the two shadow Ministers? Just to demonstrate that targets work: we were working on targets for speaking time today and until the Minister got involved we were well ahead. May I suggest that in future the Government should also think about targets for speaking on clauses because we might have made a little more progress a little more quickly?
Mr Hayes: These things have to be addressed with the thoroughness that they deserve. Having checked out that the hon. Member for Hartlepool was a bookmaker, I had a quick look at the runners and riders this afternoon. There is a nag at Kemptown that he can still put a bet on called Avalon Bay. Avalon was the resting place of King Arthur and I think the hon. Gentleman would be well advised to put a few shillings on the nose—he clearly takes an interest in these things. With that round-robin summary, I hope that he will support clause 71.
Mr Wright: I thank the Minister, the hon. Member for Generous South. His concession has been encouraging. I thank him for the tip on Avalon Bay. When I think of Avalon I think of Roxy Music, which probably shows my age. Could I ask three questions before I decide to test the opinion of the Committee on this? I would still like to see an affirmative resolution on the Floor of the House. When will the full debate on the White Paper take place? Will it be in Government time so it does not take up Opposition or Back-Bench time? Will the House be able to vote on a substantive motion with regard to this? If he can answer encouragingly on those points we possibly have a deal.
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is like a charming but avaricious schoolboy who, given access to the pantry, wants to eat all the sweets. Yes, of course there will be a proper debate. I would not be permitted to say that it should be in Back Bench time as that is outside my power and purview. He is absolutely right that it should be considered by the House. I made that clear. There would not be a substantive motion necessarily of the kind he described, because a White Paper is not a legislative proposal. Yes, there will be a proper debate on higher education around the White Paper with adequate time to explore the issues that were discussed today. To go further would be to feed the appetite of the hon. Gentleman—I would not go so far as to call him my protégé, but he is someone who looks to me for advice and guidance—to a point where he might become gluttonous.
Mr Wright: I thank the Minister for his comments. Judging by the fit of that suit, I think he has been in the sweet shop with me. [ Laughter. ] I am afraid that he has not gone far enough on this important matter. Some of
Mr Gibb: I would like to speak against clause 72 standing part of the Bill. Hon. Members will have seen amendment 215, which stands in my name and which would remove the clause from the Bill. It was, of course, not selected, but it was tabled to show our intention, following last month’s referendum on the powers of the National Assembly for Wales, to speak against the clause standing part.
Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 sets out the current powers of the Assembly to pass Assembly measures. Clause 72 would amend that schedule to confer legislative competence on the Assembly in relation to professional standards and regulations for teachers and the wider education work force and to the recruitment and training of the education work force. Following the yes vote in the referendum, the Assembly approved an order that will bring its enhanced law-making powers into force on 5 May.
From that date, the schedule will no longer have effect and the Assembly will be able to pass Assembly Acts in the 20 subject areas set out in schedule 7 to the 2006 Act. One of those areas is education and training, including the professional standards and recruitment of teachers. As the Assembly will have the powers it needs to make Assembly Acts in that area, the framework provisions in the clause are no longer needed. I therefore ask the Committee to agree that clause 72 not stand part of the Bill.
Mr Gibb: I would now like to speak against clause 73 standing part. We had a short debate on clause 72 stand part, with not very many participants, and for the same reasons I gave in that debate, I ask the Committee to agree that clause 73 should not stand part of the Bill either. By tabling amendment 216, I indicated our intention to remove the clause from the Bill.
The clause would give the National Assembly for Wales powers to make measures in relation to the funding of pre-16 education and training. Following the yes vote in the March referendum on the powers of the Assembly, and following the passing of an order by the Assembly, it has the power to legislate on the funding of pre-16 education and training in Wales, so the clause is no longer required. Therefore, I ask the Committee to agree that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.
That means that it already has the effect of extending those provisions to Northern Ireland, so subsection (2)
Paragraph (f) makes provision for the commencement of clauses 72 and 73, which give the National Assembly for Wales framework powers in relation to the school work force and the funding of pre-16 educational training. As members of the Committee will recall, we have just agreed that those clauses will not stand part of the Bill. With clauses 72 and 73 removed, it follows that we no longer need a commencement provision for them.
‘The Secretary of State must continue to support and develop the QCDA work in supporting and developing non-statutory programmes of study and attainment targets for religious education, and personal, social and health education.’.—(Kevin Brennan.)
The new clause relates to the powers of the QCDA and the provision of PSHE—personal, social and health education. There are maintained programmes of study and attainment targets for two non-national curriculum subjects—religious education, and personal, social and health education—and the new clause is a way of probing whether the Government intend to maintain the curriculum frameworks, which have generally been welcomed, or whether they intend to remove them or let them wither away.
The position of religious education is different from that of PSHE. Religious education is part of the school curriculum and is statutory, except that the framework is decided locally at the religious education agreed syllabus conference. The national framework has been of assistance to local authorities and their agreed syllabus conferences in devising local syllabuses.
The previous Government intended to make PSHE part of the national curriculum, and were strongly supported by the Liberal Democrats, but that proposal fell from the Children, Schools and Families Bill at the 2010 wash-up at the insistence of the Conservative
Mr Gibb: As I understand the new clause, it would impose an obligation on the Secretary of State to continue the work undertaken by the QCDA in developing non-statutory programmes of study for RE and PSHE. I understand the rationale behind the new clause, but I do not think it is appropriate. It is important to distinguish between the national curriculum and the wider school curriculum. If we are to free teachers to use their professional judgment so as best to support their pupils, we must get away from the idea that everything that is important for children to learn must be included in the national curriculum.
The national curriculum should set out only the essential knowledge that all children need to acquire to progress with their education. Beyond that, it is for individual schools and teachers to decide what should be taught. We believe there are a number of important components to a broad and balanced school curriculum, and that it would be inappropriate to prescribe the more narrowly defined national programmes of study. That applied to RE, for example, where what is taught needs to reflect local circumstances. RE is a statutory part of the basic curriculum, not a subject in the national curriculum. By law, all maintained schools must provide RE for all children attending school. RE will not therefore be considered part of the review of the national curriculum.
The Government do not intend to make any changes to the statutory basis for RE. It is long-established and well-regarded practice that local authorities, working through standing advisory councils on religious education, design RE provision that is appropriate to their school communities. They are close to their communities and understand their needs, as well as being accountable to them for the RE taught in maintained schools. They are best placed to design an RE curriculum that is relevant and valued by their community.
On PSHE, the schools White Paper announced our intention to conduct an internal review and we are scoping that review now. The aim is to determine how we can support schools to improve the quality of all PSHE teaching, including giving teachers the flexibility to use their judgment on how best to deliver PSHE education. It is vital that PSHE education reflects the local context. Schools are the best place to plan, organise and teach a curriculum that works for them, using whatever resources they judge appropriate. Existing resources will continue to be available as part of the national archive, if schools choose to use them. I hope that I have responded fully to the comments made by the hon. Member for Cardiff West, but if I have missed something out, I am sure he will come back to me on it.
Kevin Brennan: I will not detain the Committee much further, because I want my hon. Friends to have an opportunity to say something about the new clauses that they have tabled. I hear what the Minister says on this. I think he commented that the work that the Government are doing on PSHE education is at the scoping stage, whatever that means. He told me he is against jargon; I do not know whether scoping falls into
‘(1) ASCLA 2009 is amended as follows.
(2) In Part 1 of ASCLA 2009 (Apprenticeships, study and training) after section 37 insert—
“37A Apprenticeships requirements
(1) When a public authority (“an authority”) prepares to issue a relevant contract the authority must—
(a) give due consideration to the relevant OGC guidelines, and
(b) ensure that the provisions in the OGC guidelines relating to apprenticeships and skills training are reflected in that contract, where relevant.
(2) An authority issuing a contract under subsection (1)—
(a) may require that a minimum proportion of the apprentices employed by the contractor are advanced apprentices, and
(b) may include provisions relating to Apprenticeship Training Agencies in that contract.
37B Provision of skills training
‘(1) A relevant contract must require the contractor to make continuous skills training available to all members of the workforce. This training must consist of—
(a) a nationally accredited scheme, and
(b) a total equivalent to not less than one hour of training each week to every member of the workforce for the lifetime of the contract.
(2) A relevant contract must provide that the total value of the skills training to be provided under subsection (1) is a minimum of 1% of the total value of the contract.
37C Advertisement of workforce vacancies
A relevant contract must require the contractor to—
(a) advertise all vacancies for members of the workforce in all job centres in the local authority area in which the main site relating to the relevant contract is situated, and in all job centres in neighbouring local authority areas, and
(b) include in these advertisements details of the training on offer.”.
(3) In section 39 of ASCLA 2009 insert—
“advanced apprentice” is a person studying under the Government arrangements known as Advanced Apprenticeships;
“public authority” means any body or person discharging functions of a public nature, including local authorities;
“relevant contract” means a contract which—
(a) exceeds a total value of £1 million, and
(b) is issued by a public authority;
“relevant OGC guidelines” include guidance issued by the Office of Government Commerce, Promoting skills through public procurement 2009;
(a) full-time employees,
(b) part-time employees,
(c) casual workers,
(d) directly employed workers, and
(e) sub-contracted workers.’.—(Mr Wright.)
The new clause would introduce a provision to increase the number of apprenticeship places that are made available in the UK, particularly with regard to the public sector. In earlier deliberations, we touched on that, and I pay tribute to the Minister, whom I know is committed to it and who has spent some time with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) to discuss these matters. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has championed the issue since being elected to the House 11 months ago. She has made a passionate commitment to increase the skills levels and training opportunities that are available, particularly for young people in the north-east, but also further afield.
The new clause would not force the public sector to have apprenticeships. Instead, it would introduce a requirement that contracts awarded by public authorities should include provision such that successful bidders demonstrated a firm commitment to skills, training and apprenticeships. In effect, it would enshrine in statute a requirement to comply with the 2009 Office of Government Commerce guidance, “Promoting skills through public procurement”. That is the subject of a private Member’s Bill from my hon. Friend, which has a number of important backers, such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC, the north-east chamber of commerce, the Association of Colleges, the Federation of Master Builders and the Electrical Contractors Association. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the new clause, as he said he would in meetings that my hon. Friend and I have had with him.
The new clause would not force firms to take on apprentices through the procurement of public sector contracts, but it is one lever that the Minister has at his disposal to ensure that we can increase the number of apprenticeships and ensure that we have a culture of skills and training, which we all so badly need.
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is right—I am enthusiastic about using whatever mechanisms and means we can to promote apprenticeships and to give further energy to the Government’s policy of building the apprenticeship programme to unprecedented levels.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment, tabled with his hon. Friend, would create a set of statutory requirements to do that. Previous Governments have looked at such a measure. The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham), when the Secretary of State responsible for such matters, received similar overtures but, in the end, stopped short of introducing a blanket requirement of that sort—I suspect, on advice.
I continue to be highly supportive of the proposals and take the opportunity to make a number of commitments—we have discussed them, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool described—as a result of the determination of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North to push the matters up the political agenda.
The first of those commitments relates to the ministerial apprenticeship champions I have mentioned, of which the hon. Member for Hartlepool is supportive and which was a technique used by the previous Government. Secondly, my officials are already working on revised guidance on apprenticeships, which could be used in the
That package of five measures are all, I accept, non-legislative but they can have just as great an effect. With the right kind of will, they will be able to deliver the kind of outcomes that the hon. Members for Hartlepool and for Northampton upon Tyne North want. [ Interruption. ] Sorry, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North—I should have know that Northampton is not on the Tyne. It is late in the day and late in Committee—the Tyne is a long river, but not that long.
I entirely share the determination of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend to ensure that the Government play their part in that regard. I give him, as I have previously in private, and the Committee my absolute assurance that I will use all my energies, competencies and power—in as much as I have power, and I accept that power is an illusion—to bring that all about. I hope that he will not press his new clause to a Division, because I am sure and certain about what I have said today.
Ministerial champions and putting pressure on Departments is very much building on my work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West. The fact that the Minister is working on new, revised guidance is very helpful. I hope that he presses Whitehall on that and on kitemarking suppliers.
I am concerned about what can be done about tenders, which we have discussed. I am not a lawyer; I had indifferent careers advice, as the Committee may recall. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North is a distinguished lawyer. She says that there is a means by which the measure can be manoeuvred so that it is not in contravention of EU competition law. Will the Minister continue, therefore, to look at the matter closely to ensure that we can pull as many levers as possible to get what we all want—a higher number of apprenticeships in the public sector using the vehicle of procurement as a means of doing so. On the basis of the Minister’s helpful and supportive comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
‘Emergency life support skills and the national curriculum for England
(1) Section 84 of EA 2002 (curriculum requirements for first, second and third key stages) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3)(h)—
(a) in paragraph (i), omit “and”
(b) after paragraph (ii) insert “, and
(iii) emergency life support skills”.
(3) In subsection (4), at end insert “, and
“emergency life support skills” means skills which enable the individual who has them to assist in keeping another individual alive in an emergency.’.—(Julie Hilling.)
Julie Hilling: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. I will try to brief and I hope that we can discuss the issue before the close of play. The new clause relates to a subject on which we have probably received the most submissions. It is not often that a Government get the chance to make a decision that can simply, easily and cheaply save lives, but they have the opportunity to do so now.
Every year, 150,000 people die in situations in which first aid could have made a difference. Each year in the UK, 30,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside the hospital environment, less than 10% of whom survive to be discharged from hospital. Emergency life support is a set of actions needed to keep someone alive until professional help arrives. It includes performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, putting an unconscious person into the recovery position, dealing with choking and serious bleeding, and helping someone who may be having a heart attack. Those skills are particularly crucial at the time of cardiac arrest. Children are often present at accidents and emergencies and if they are properly trained, they can be as effective as any adult in administering first aid.
Our curriculum states that children should be taught many things, but, frankly, learning the names of the six wives of Henry VIII is unlikely to save a person’s life, whereas emergency life support can. We know that the Government want to slim down the national curriculum, but surely learning emergency life support skills should be as important as learning the times table. The Government have stated that they want the national curriculum to reflect the
Surely knowing how to save the life of a family member or a member of the public would enable children to have an impact on the health of society. One of my local schools, Smithills, runs a British Heart Foundation Heartstart UK scheme. The teacher who is responsible, Adrian Hamilton, told me that learning how to save a life in an emergency really engages kids at Smithills. He believes that it goes a long way towards helping them to become better citizens and that it should be an expected part of what happens in schools.
The Government talk about wanting to compare themselves internationally, but in France, Denmark and Norway, ELS is already a compulsory part of the curriculum; a number of the states in Australia include it; and in America, it is part of the curriculum in 36 of the 50 states.
Schools deliver ELS in a variety of ways and settings, but commonly pupils enjoy the lessons, which increase confidence and self-esteem and are particularly important for children with special educational needs. Sheringham Woodfields, a school for children with complex needs, told us about the enormous sense of achievement that
“A lot of our children are brought up in an extremely deprived area and are not always adequately supervised. ELS gives them the confidence to deal with an emergency, should one arise, and no adult was around…The silence in the room when the children are watching the DVD from the resource pack is remarkable! They watch it avidly and are always keen to take part in the sessions. They are also very impressed when we get the dolls out to practise resuscitation and can’t believe they get to have a go on a ‘real live’ doll!”
I could say a great deal more, but I will finish. I urge the Government to accept the amendment. It could truly make a difference. This Government could go down in history for saving people’s lives. I urge them to do so.
Mr Gibb: I agree that emergency life support skills can have an immensely positive impact on pupils’ families as well as schools and the wider community. It is encouraging to hear about the excellent work in schools, particularly those that have written to the Committee. I have seen the submission from the British Heart Foundation. However, I take issue with the hon. Lady when she says that this is more important than learning about the six wives of Henry VIII. If Anne Boleyn had known more about Henry VIII, it might have saved her life.
I am also aware of the invaluable support that organisations such as the British Heart Foundation and St John Ambulance offer individual schools or groups of schools to enrich curriculum work. I applaud them for their important work, but I do not agree that making emergency life support skills a statutory part of the curriculum is the right approach. Our aim, as set out in the White Paper, is to reduce unnecessary prescription throughout the education system. That means taking a new approach towards the curriculum that affirms the importance of teaching and creates scope for teachers to inspire students. That will give teachers and head teachers the freedom and flexibility to incorporate initiatives such as Heartstart in their school programmes.
We are clear that the national curriculum should set out the essential knowledge and understanding that all children should be expected to acquire in the course of their school lives. It is for teachers to design the wider curriculum in the way that meets the needs of their pupils, taking account of the views of parents, the wider community and local circumstances. I therefore urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clause.
‘Offence of breach of reporting restrictions: application to providers of information society services Offence under section 141G: supplementary provisions
1 After Schedule 11A to EA 2002 (inserted by section8), insert—Offence under section 141G: supplementary provisions
1 (1) This Schedule makes supplementary provision relating to an offence under section 141G (breach of reporting restrictions relating to alleged offences committed by teachers).
(2) The purpose of this Schedule is to comply with Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (“the E-Commerce Directive”).
Domestic service providers: extension of liability
2 (1) This paragraph applies where a service provider is established in England and Wales (a “domestic service provider”).
(2) Section 141G applies to a domestic service provider who—
(a) publishes information in breach of section 141F(3) in an EEA state other than the United Kingdom, and
(b) does so in the course of providing information society services,
as it applies to a person who publishes such information in England and Wales.
(3) In such a case—
(a) proceedings for the offence may be taken at any place in England and Wales, and
(b) the offence may for all incidental purposes be treated as having been committed at any such place.
Non-UK service providers: restriction on proceedings
3 (1) This paragraph applies where a service provider is established in an EEA state other than the United Kingdom (a “non-UK service provider”).
(2) Proceedings for an offence under section 141G must not be brought against a non-UK service provider in respect of anything done in the course of the provision of information society services.
Exceptions for mere conduits
4 (1) A service provider is not guilty of an offence under section 141G in respect of anything done in the course of providing so much of an information society service as consists in—
(a) the provision of access to a communication network, or
(b) the transmission in a communication network of information provided by a recipient of the service,
if the following condition is satisfied.
(2) The condition is that the service provider does not—
(a) initiate the transmission,
(b) select the recipient of the transmission, or
(c) select or modify the information contained in the transmission.
(3) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) the provision of access to a communication network, and
(b) the transmission of information in a communication network,
includes the automatic, intermediate and transient storage of the information transmitted so far as the storage is solely for the purpose of carrying out the transmission in the network.
(4) Sub-paragraph (3) does not apply if the information is stored for longer than is reasonably necessary for the transmission.
Exception for caching
5 (1) This paragraph applies where an information society service consists in the transmission in a communication network of information provided by a recipient of the service.
(2) The service provider is not guilty of an offence under section 141G in respect of the automatic, intermediate and temporary storage of information so provided, if—
(a) the storage of the information is solely for the purpose of making more efficient the onward transmission of the information to other recipients of the service at their request, and
(b) the following conditions are satisfied.
(3) The first condition is that the service provider does not modify the information.
(4) The second condition is that the service provider complies with any conditions attached to having access to the information.
(5) The third condition is that if the service provider obtains actual knowledge that—
(a) the information at the initial source of the transmission has been removed from the network,
(b) access to it has been disabled, or
(c) a court or administrative authority has ordered the removal from the network of, or the disablement of access to, the information.
the service provider expeditiously removes the information or disables access to it.
Exception for hosting
6 (1) A service provider is not guilty of an offence under section 141G in respect of anything done in the course of providing so much of an information society service as consists in the storage of information provided by a recipient of the service, if the condition is met.
(2) The condition is that—
(a) the service provider had no actual knowledge when the information was provided that it contained offending material, or
(b) on obtaining actual knowledge that the information contained offending material, the service provider expeditiously removed the information or disabled access to it.
(3) “Offending material” means material the publication of which constitutes an offence under section 141G.
(4) This paragraph does not apply if the recipient of the service is acting under the authority or control of the service provider.
7 (1) In this Schedule—
“information society services”—
(a) has the meaning given in Article 2(a) of the E-Commerce Directive (which refers to Article 1(2) of Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations), and
(b) is summarised in recital 17 of the E-Commerce Directive as covering “any service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by means of electronic equipment for the processing (including digital compression) and storage of data, and at the individual request of a recipient of a service”;
“recipient”, in relation to a service, means any person who, for professional ends or otherwise, uses an information society service, in particular for the purposes of seeking information or making it accessible;
“service provider” means a person providing an information society service.
(2) For the purpose of construing references in this Schedule to a service provider who is established in England and Wales or in an EEA state other than the United Kingdom—
(a) a service provider is established in England and Wales, or in an EEA state other than the United Kingdom, if the service provider—
(i) effectively pursues an economic activity using a fixed establishment in England and Wales, or in that EEA state, for an indefinite period, and
(ii) is a national of an EEA state or a company or firm mentioned in Article 48 of the EEC Treaty;
(b) the presence or use in a particular place of equipment or other technical means of providing an information society service does not, of itself, constitute the establishment of a service provider;
(c) where it cannot be determined from which of a number of establishments a given information society service is provided, that service is to be regarded as provided from the establishment at the centre of the service provider’s activities relating to that service.”’.— (Mr Gibb.)
Kevin Brennan: On a point of order. Do I have to stop by six? I am sure that is not the case. I understood that when we had disposed of everything we could do the usual formalities at the end of the Bill.
Thank you, Mr Walker, and Mr Williams for your chairmanship. I also thank the Government and Opposition Whips for the orderly way they have organised our business. I know that they got on so well together that they are planning a holiday, and I am sure that they will have a wonderful time. I also thank the Clerks, the officials, the Doorkeepers, the police and—not to forget them—the cleaners. I have told the Committee that my mother was a school dinner lady, but her other job was as a cleaner in the local council offices. When I became a local councillor and took her to the marble hall in Cardiff’s splendid city hall for the first mayor making, she took one look at the splendour of the magnificent building and said, “Imagine having to clean all this.” I thought that if I could maintain the eye of the cleaner during my political career, it might stand me in good stead, so we should all thank the cleaners who clear up the mess that we leave behind us every evening.
I thank the Ministers for the way that they have conducted themselves and the business during the course of the Bill. I do not agree with the Minister with responsibility for schools on many things, but he always deals with disputes in a courteous way, and he certainly dealt with our amendments in that fashion. I congratulate him on the magnificent job that he is doing in training his PPS, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford. He is looking very smart at the moment, and I am sure that he will have his tie and his top button done up in future, just as the Minister recommended during his visit to a local school yesterday.
Then there is the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. What can one say about him? Charming, erudite, generous, modest and humble are just a few of the things that he told us about himself during the course of our deliberations. As ever, we have enjoyed his contributions. At one stage, he said that he regarded his speeches as rather like Wagnerian operas. I always thought that he was a slightly more baroque
It has been a bit of a kitchen-sink Bill, so we are looking forward to everything in it, and we are looking forward to it coming back on Report after we have an opportunity to think about the proceedings in Committee. We have attempted to give it a thorough and proper scrutiny in the proper spirit of scrutinising a Bill line-by-line, and I hope that, even though we have not won any real concessions, it has been a worthwhile exercise. The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning often quotes Yeats, who also said, “Life is a big preparation for something that never happens.” I am afraid that, in our case, that was certainly true of the Bill.
Mr Gibb: Further to that point of order, Mr Walker, I thank you and your co-Chair, Mr Williams, for your fair and human chairing of the Committee proceedings. This has been a good-humoured and good-natured Committee stage, but there has nevertheless been thorough scrutiny of the Bill’s 79 clauses. There were some 245 amendments, of which only a couple of dozen were Government amendments. Overall, we have had 22 sittings, which is more than we had for the mammoth Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which had 270 clauses.
As someone with 13 years in Opposition, I know at first hand how much of the heavy lifting of a Bill’s Committee stage rests with Opposition spokesmen. I want to thank the hon. Members for Hartlepool and for Cardiff West for the thorough approach that they have taken to their responsibilities as Opposition spokesmen and also as sons and colleagues in wishing mothers and the hon. Member for Walthamstow happy birthdays.
I am grateful to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings for his succinct responses to concerns raised by Committee members. He would never use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but we have appreciated his use of quotes. If I may, I would like to quote something back, from Oscar Wilde:
I would like to thank the Clerks and the Doorkeepers, who have ensured that the Committee has run smoothly. I also pay tribute to the excellent work of Hansard staff, who have miraculously managed to interpret my garbled responses, and the garbled responses of my hon. Friend.
I would like to thank the Bill manager and departmental officials for their professionalism and the many hours of hard work and preparation that lay behind the moments of inspiration during our proceedings. I also thank, of course, the lawyers, who ensure that what we say is above board.
I would also like to thank the Whips on both sides, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East for his cool competence. The hon. Member for Preston has taken an active role on the Committee, with his experience of the FE college sector.
I think that we would all agree that the Bill has had a thorough airing, with time to scrutinise each clause. In fact, this is the first Bill Committee I have served on, where we have got through all the new clauses towards the end of the Bill.
Mr Gibb: As the hon. Lady said, targets were set. It has been a lively and informed debate, which is why I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness, who is no longer in his place. He has established an important precedent of having a Select Committee Chair serving on a Bill Committee.
I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford, for East Surrey, for Stevenage, for Wells, and for North Cornwall, for their patience and their important contributions. Finally, I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford for his taciturn style, which was a shining example of less being more. On that note, I would like to wish everyone a very enjoyable Easter recess.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 6th April 2011|