Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bach: My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, on the skilful way in which these comprehensive amendments to Clauses 2 and 3 have been drafted. She will forgive me saying that practice is clearly making perfect.

We fully accept the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness in relation to the fragmentation of present arrangements for post-16 education and training, and agree that the LSC must view them, to use her expression, in a "holistic" and balanced way. The new arrangements must not simply perpetuate the artificial distinction and separate systems of the past. Her concern that the form in which the duties of the council are expressed may imply a continuation of such divisions is also appreciated. There is nothing between us on the policy; rather on the way in which it is expressed.

The noble Baroness made it clear that she would like to see on the face of the Bill an explicit reference in the duties of the LSC to those aspects of education and training which are concerned with broadening the mind, which Amendment No. 29 addresses. Again, I do not believe that there is anything between us on the policy here, and I share her aspirations. But we believe that this amendment too is unnecessary.

Post-16 education in this Bill encompasses secondary education for persons over the age of 16 and further education. Both secondary and further education are defined in Section 2 of the Education Act 1996. In particular, as has already been mentioned when we previously considered this amendment in Committee, the amendment is unnecessary because the exact words the noble Baroness seeks to apply to the meaning of "education" in this Bill already appear on the statute book in Section 2 of that Act.

I am sorry that this is a rather legalistic response, but the point being made by the noble Baroness essentially involves the legal phrasing of the Bill. In those circumstances, I hope that she will understand that a response which cites legal definitions is appropriate in the circumstances.

In Committee and today the noble Baroness accepted that the Government's intentions are good, but was concerned that a future government may seek to interpret the law differently. I must point out that the meaning of the law does not change at elections. We inherited the previous government's arrangements for post-16 education and found them lacking; but we were bound to work within that framework until we brought forward the present Bill which we consider to be a much better and more coherent approach to post-16 education and training. We are satisfied that the Bill as drafted does not imply the possibility of differential

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1316

and fragmented approaches to education and training. The LSC's duties must be viewed as a whole. It does not have the discretion to choose to implement some bits and ignore other parts. None of the provisions in Clauses 2 and 3 is an optional extra.

I repeat the assurance already given that the provisions as currently drafted do not imply any such division in the first place. Each phrase carries equal weight in its current form. No fragmentation of approach is implied or required by the way the words are organised on the page. As drafted, the existing provisions achieve what we all want to see, and therefore the proposed amendments are unnecessary. I hope that with those assurances (perhaps repeated more times than they should have been), the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his congratulations on my drafting skills. He is right that practice helps and I am learning by doing on these occasions.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed that the Government do not see fit to accept my amendments. I am glad that they accept them in spirit; but we knew that from the words spoken in Committee. The Minister is right that we on these Benches welcome the integrated coherent purpose of the reforms incorporated in the Bill. However, I cannot see why, if that is the intention, it cannot be expressed on the face of the Bill. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 13:

    Page 1, line 23, at end insert ("or of persons who are above the compulsory school age but have not attained the age of 25 and who did not acquire a level 2 qualification in the year in which they attained the age of 16").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I understand that Amendment No. 13 is coupled with Amendment No. 14, which will be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

In col. 572 of Hansard on 8th February the Minister said that,

    "to single out the needs of one group of adults and to give them priority over all adults would be wrong, although of course I [the Minister] have some sympathy with what lies behind the amendments".

I understand what the Minister was saying. But we are talking about those young people who, for one reason or another--perhaps there has been a mismatch between an individual and school teachers; perhaps there has been a high degree of truancy; or perhaps for more acceptable reasons, such as where a young person has had long periods of illness or because of a learning difficulty--have not been capable of attaining up to a level 2 qualification by the age of 19.

On a number of occasions we have discussed the cut-off point of 19. Up to that age, the provision has to be a proper provision made by the council and the local councils, but beyond that age it becomes discretionary and hidebound by resources. If there is to be any

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1317

priority at all for young people--I include 19 to 25-year olds as "young people"--and if "inclusivity" is to mean anything (I gave some examples of the kind of people I am talking about), there ought to be some flexibility to continue the focus and emphasis on raising skill levels for that young cohort. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 14 tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope. Our reasons for tabling the amendment are similar to those cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when she moved her Amendment No. 13. We are conscious of many young people aged over 19 who, for one reason or another, have failed to make the best use of the education system before that age and whose needs justify an entitlement to "proper" facilities after that age.

In her amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, refers to those who have not acquired a level 2 qualification in the year in which they attain the age of 16. We on these Benches live in hope that the Government will implement the recommendations of the Kennedy report and those made in the third report of the National Skills Task Force. That report suggested that there should be an entitlement to education and training up to level 3 rather than level 2, which is currently enjoyed by those under the age of 19, and that this entitlement should be extended up to the age of 25.

When we debated this issue in Committee, the Minister made it clear that, for the present, priority lay with making good the entitlement for the 16 to 19 year-old cohort, in particular taking steps to bring back into the fold those who had dropped out of education and were neither employed nor currently receiving either education or training. We agree with this priority, but we are also of the opinion that many of these--and indeed others in the 16 to 19 year-old cohort--do not know what they want to do with their lives and resist the idea of education or training, only to regret those decisions when they are a little older. By then they may have had to face the responsibilities of parenthood and homemaking. It is vital that provision should be made for those late returners. They should be offered the opportunity to equip themselves with recognised skills and qualifications.

Amendment No. 14 has been drafted flexibly so as to offer two advantages. First, immediately, it allows for discretion so that in deserving cases the Secretary of State can extend the entitlement to those aged over 19. Secondly, later, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer feels perhaps a little more generous than he does at the moment, it would allow that entitlement to be extended to those up to the age of 25.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, it is very important to include a measure of flexibility in this area. The age of 19 is often quite a turning point for people with severe learning difficulties and sometimes it is inappropriate to cut off their educational opportunities at that age. For myself, I would not want to tie such extra provision for education to further

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1318

qualifications because for people with severe learning difficulties education is good in itself, even if it does not lead to further qualifications. For that reason, I strongly support Amendment No. 14, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, these amendments would extend to other age groups the entitlement to education and training that Clause 2 provides for young people. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has previously made what I genuinely think is a very good point about the needs of people who may have missed out in their school years and I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reinforced that point. I do not think that there is much between us here in what we want for such people and I share the concerns of both noble Baronesses.

In discharging its duties for the older age group, the LSC must--I repeat the word "must"--ensure that the education and training provided for them is suitable to their requirements. The flexibility to do that is already in place. The requirements of a person with low levels of previous achievement will, of course, be very different from the requirements of those who are already well qualified. It is precisely with that in mind that the consultation we are conducting at the moment on future funding arrangements suggests moving beyond current systems. These might be broadly characterised as dividing payments for provision into entry, retention and achievement. We have suggested building in a fourth element, payment for disadvantage. This would not be restricted to a particular age group, unlike the effect of either of these amendments. Indeed, I do not believe that it should be. There are people over the age of 25 who also need help in coming back into either full-time or part-time education.

However, I repeat a key point from our previous debate on this issue: to single out the needs of one specified group of adults and to give them priority over other adults in this way would be wrong. I believe that it would constrain the LSC and reduce the element of flexibility for which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has asked. It would restrict the council's ability to make judgments about what may be the equally and possibly more pressing needs of some other adults.

I am also bound to point out again that some adults with special needs or disabilities could actually be disadvantaged by Amendment No. 13. Let us take the example of a disabled adult of any age who has attained a level 2 qualification. The effect of the amendment would mean that that person would be cut out. The LSC would be required to give greater priority to a person aged under 25 without a disability who had not achieved a level 2 qualification. I am not sure that that is what we want to achieve. I believe that this indicates some of the difficult decisions that will need to be taken. Placing such requirements on the LSC may have some consequences that none of us intended.

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1319

Although Amendment No. 14 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, takes a slightly different approach to Amendment No. 13, it would also have the effect of giving priority to one group of adults over another on the basis of age rather than their actual requirements. I believe that what we need here is a less restrictive approach which would allow the LSC to exercise its judgment and its discretion about the allocation of resources--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page