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Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, for his remarks because I find it difficult to disagree with him in principle about the policy aims of these clauses. There are 4 million businesses in this country. Ninety-seven per cent. of them are companies with fewer than 20 employees. Out of the 4 million businesses, 1.3 million are employers. They employ other people. The rest--2.7 million businesses--are sole traders or consist of the self-employed. They do not employ other people. We shall be imposing on very small businesses the strong arm of the law in order to implement these proposals.

A good deal of progress has been made by the present Government, carrying on from the previous government, in working with business and commerce to encourage them to take training seriously. Then along comes the provisions in this Bill saying, "If you do not comply with prescription set out in the Bill, you will find

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yourself before an industrial tribunal". It is the method by which this policy is achieved that we take exception to.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: When the noble Lord, Lord Tope, replies, can he tell the House whether he really thinks that employers will continue to take on the same number of 16 and 17 year-olds if anyone who is already well qualified can become even better qualified at the employer's expense, in both time and money? If he could tell us on what grounds he thinks that will improve the situation, I would be more convinced by his amendment.

I wanted to make my next point to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, but, sadly, he is not in his place. I listened to what the noble Lord said. It sounded as if you did not need to be able to read and write to be a bricklayer. I say to him--I hope he will read it in Hansard--that it is extremely dangerous nowadays not to be able to read and write. You cannot understand the instructions that are on machinery; you do not understand the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act; and you find it very difficult to understand notices from your union. Anyone who has suffered from bricks laid by someone who did not know what they were doing recognises that it is not as easy as all that to be a bricklayer. No doubt the noble Lord's son can read and write and is an excellent bricklayer, but it is nonsense to say that it is unimportant for people who are bricklayers.

Lord Monkswell: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. The point I was making is that my son is working as a bricklayer's labourer and in that context he is just a carrier of bricks.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: He still needs to be able to understand the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and to follow instructions on the building site.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: While many large employers are extraordinarily good at providing on-the-job training and vocational training for their employees, one invariably finds that the focus is on middle management and upwards. If one examines the extent to which there is any training beyond pure vocational training for the job given to people at the bottom end in employment, one finds that it diminishes rapidly. Many of those losing their jobs tend to be at the bottom end rather than in middle management and upwards. They lack skills for wider training beyond on-the-job training.

A case can be made for greater opportunities for people working for large employers. They should have greater opportunities to undertake further education than exist at present. The proposed legislation will assist greatly in those areas by providing more mobility, greater skills and greater employment opportunities in future.

The number of small employers is growing. They need every possible assistance. They are the employers of the future who will provide greater employment opportunities than in the past. I could share some of the

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views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, if the reality was that we had a high incidence of good quality training and high skills in those areas. Regrettably, the facts point to quite the opposite. It is in those areas that we, as a competitive nation, have been falling behind what has been happening, particularly in Europe. We need more training and opportunities than we have at present. We have to provide them for the growth area, particularly for those people who do not have such skills; for example, those in the lower end of employment. The way forward is to give them a chance to obtain training under arrangements of this kind. One would hope that the growing number of small employers would be prepared to embrace these new provisions and see the benefit for their companies. They will provide them with the opportunity to skill people so that there will be greater flexibility in future. Those whose jobs have disappeared will, if they have been retrained and re-skilled, be better equipped to look for jobs elsewhere.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I trust that the Committee will forgive me if I do not pursue the initial points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Earl. They will be dealt with later. Before I begin my reply, the two documents to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred are both public consultation documents. If she does not have access to them, we shall certainly make sure that she does. They should be available to all Members of this House.

The effect of these amendments needs to be clear. The effect of Amendment No. 130 would be to remove a most important power which the Secretary of State would need in order to make regulations. It would remove the key concept of standard of achievement and thereby undermine the most important effect of the Bill. To delete the phrase, "an academic or vocational" in Amendment No. 131, which comes from Section 24 of the Education Act 1997, would call into question the legal backing for controlling qualifications in the present context. Again, it would damage the quality assurance of the provision that we propose.

In considering Amendment No. 130, it is important to recall the wider context. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, referred to the extension of training opportunities. As several Members of the Committee have said, there is a large number of young people who do not have the opportunity of training in their first jobs after school. We must turn to those young people. In particular, Members of the Committee may recall that our Investing in Young People strategy sets out our long-term aim that all young people who are able should achieve qualifications at least at Level 2 and thus improve their employability. That is the central intent of this clause. As I recall, at Second Reading noble Lords did not appear to be at odds with that primary intention. Indeed, I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that it was an aspect of the Bill to which he gave "an unqualified welcome". I believe that is right.

We need to ensure that as many of our young people as possible stay on in education and training, including those already in jobs. We want them to achieve qualifications at Level 2. That is in reply to the specific

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point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. They should achieve higher qualifications if they can, but Level 2 is our primary objective. Many young people have taken advantage of the opportunities provided by modern apprenticeships, which have been devised and developed by employers who do provide decent training. We are also introducing national traineeships as a further high-quality work-based route to NVQs at Level 2.

But there is still a very large number of 16 and 17 year-olds who left school without any qualifications and who are well short of Level 2 qualifications. I understand the points made by my noble friend Lord Monkswell and others, but we have to prioritise. We must focus our measures on those who did not get much out of school. At worst, some of these young people end up in dead-end jobs for a few months with little prospect of anything better. The focus of this measure, and of our time and that of employers, including the prioritisation of resources, must be to bring those young people up to Level 2.

Amendment No. 130 could seriously undermine the way in which that is done. It would remove altogether the concept of the standard of achievement, and would remove key safeguards for both the young person and the employer. After all, the young person must be able to know what he or she is entitled to expect. Employers need to be able to plan ahead and take account of any implications in employing young people. They should not have to bear the burden of unreasonable demands.

At present only 70 per cent. of 16 and 17 year-olds have achieved Level 2 qualifications by the age of 19. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton, pointed out, the achievement of that level is the basis on which all future qualifications can be built. But if the young people have not achieved even that level by the age of 19, then their long-term employability is extremely suspect. Therefore, our priority is at Level 2.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised the question of sanctions and what would happen were an employer brought to a tribunal for failing to provide time off in order for a young person to achieve Level 2. Clearly, there has to be a penalty if there is a breach of the requirement under this law. Obviously, we would hope, as far as possible, that the law was setting a standard and that industrial tribunals would rarely be brought in. However, undoubtedly a penalty would be involved were the employer to fail to carry out his legal obligations. The precise penalty is a complex issue and will depend on the particular circumstances. If the noble Baroness wishes, we can return to this in more detail and I can write to her as to the exact form the penalty will take.

As regards training provided short of Level 2, clearly much of it--and reference has been made in the debate to good companies providing quality training--would contribute to the achievement of Level 2. However, if the level of training was judged not to be sufficient to enable young workers to achieve Level 2, clearly that would not qualify under this clause.

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I now turn to Amendment No. 131. It is helpful to bear in mind that the quality of provision is an important part of the legislation in general. Indeed, at Second Reading I gave an assurance to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, who is not in his place today, that we would have,

    "a proper method of certification".
The regulatory authorities, such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, will work within the provisions of the relevant legislation, such as Section 24 of the Education Act 1997, which defines the range of qualifications that may be authenticated. This definition encompasses the majority of qualifications offered both at work and outside it. If we were to open up the definition in the way suggested by Amendment No. 131, by deleting the words "academic or vocational", that would have adverse implications for the necessary quality assurance processes which, I believe, Members of the Committee would wish to see in place.

Clearly, some young people exercising their right to time off for study or training will at present have no qualifications at all. The qualifications that they would need span both academic and vocational qualifications. They would need to be included in the authentication process mentioned earlier. It is vital that both employers and young people have confidence in the quality of the qualifications available. Amendment No. 131 would undermine that intention. Therefore, I hope that Members of the Committee will reject this amendment, but, preferably, that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will withdraw it at this stage.

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