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Lord Rix: My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have supported these amendments. I should like to thank the Minister, not only for her help throughout the passage of the Bill but also for her letter, which I received just before lunchtime today, and for her response to the amendment.
Obviously, I welcome any attempt to recognise the extra support that is needed for people with learning difficulties, and particularly for those with learning disabilities--known once upon a time, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, would no doubt say, as those with a mental handicap, which places them in a slightly different category from any others.
As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the Minister's proposal falls short of the magic word "entitlement". I am delighted that assessments can be made, but assessments can be left on shelves to moulder in the dust. The word "entitlement" would make a great deal of difference. I hope that in the weeks before Third Reading the Minister will reconsider her response in the letter and her response from the Dispatch Box to this amendment, and see
I am delighted that we have advanced so far in this debate and only hope that we can take that further step forward. Again, I offer my thanks to all noble Lords concerned with these amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 30 and 35. We return to the thorny issue of the intentional differences, as the Government told us last time, between Clauses 2 and 3 and the provision required for 16 to 19 year-olds and those over 19. We had a fairly full debate on this matter at Committee stage, and the Minister will be pleased to know that I do not intend to repeat all the arguments that I then made. He was careful to try to explain "proper", which I believe in the end he defined as "entitlement", and "reasonable", which he defined as "something slightly less". I believe that that was a slightly less than adequate definition of "reasonable". However, it was a matter which would not be determined by the needs of the learners but the resources which the LSC felt able to make available.
I have already made clear that we do not regard those differences as acceptable. We understand that inevitably there must be a difference in the quantity of provision but certainly not in its quality. I recognise that every government has priorities. The Government have made it clear that their priority is 16 to 19 year-olds. Be that as it may, priorities change over time and it is not helpful to have them written into law. At present the Bill does not propose differing priorities within a single lifelong learning system but a two-tier system, with adult learners being relegated to a second division and receiving additional resources only after proper facilities for young people have been secured. That is not a statement of government priorities; it is to be in legislation for all time. That will be so until such time as there is a change in legislation, not a change in the Government's priorities. I do not believe that that is a helpful starting point to advance the interests of adult learners in the long term.
The Minister was understandably concerned in Committee to try to provide correct definitions and did not explain as fully as I might have wished the Government's medium-term policies and aspirations for adult learning. I do not expect the Minister today to accept amendments which were so unacceptable to him in Committee. However, rather than spend time carefully defining "proper" and "reasonable" perhaps the noble Lord will explain the Government's priorities and medium-term aspirations for adult learning. It has been made clear to us that 16 to 19
Lord Bach: My Lords, as I said previously at Committee stage--I was reminded of some of my comments and I now remind the noble Lord of others--the Government recognise that the country needs a substantial improvement in participation and achievement at every level of attainment. We expect the provision funded by the learning and skills council to build on the improvements now taking place in school quality and standards. The LSC will be required to give priority to the learning of 16 to 19 year-olds which will fulfil our commitment in the White Paper to give all 16 to 19 year-olds an entitlement to education and training, whether full-time or part-time. We expect the additional resources that we devote to post-16 learning to allow access to learning for all those who need it, whether adults or those in the 16 to 19 age group. We are making the biggest ever investment in further education: £3.9 billion in 2001-02 compared with £3.1 billion in 1998-99, which is an extra £800 million.
In discharging its duties, the LSC must take into account the differing aptitudes and abilities of all the people for whom it has responsibility. The local LSCs will have discretion to secure the right balance and mix of post-19 provision in their areas. To single out the needs of one group of adults and give them priority over all adults would be wrong, although the Government have some sympathy with what lies behind Amendments Nos. 30 and 35. We believe that it would restrict the LSC's ability and discretion to make judgments about what may be the equally, and perhaps even more, pressing needs of other adults, including those with special needs or disabilities. The LSC must be able to exercise discretion.
Although we judged it right to make a distinction between provision for the 16 to 19 age group and adults in much the same way as the previous government's legislation, it is certainly not the case that we regard learning for adults as unimportant. But we need to have some clear understanding of what constitutes "young people" for the purposes of this Bill and the work of the LSC as against adults. It is for the Government to give the lead on the policy, and we have done so. We have already announced an enormous increase in the resources available for adult learning in further education. I remind the noble Lord that in 1998-99 expenditure on adults in further education was £1.6 billion; in 2001-02 it will be £2 billion. That does not sound to me much like "relegation". That expenditure will enable the number
However, we must get things right for younger learners in the first place. The challenge at 16 to 19 cannot be underestimated. Most noble Lords will accept that what I am about to say is accurate. Undoubtedly, noble Lords will be aware of the findings of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit, Bridging the Gap, but I should like to highlight a few key findings. Regrettably, in the 16 to 19 age group we still have some of the lowest rates of participation in Europe. We have a sharper decline in participation from age 16 to age 18 than many countries in Europe. Young people who do not participate are at increased risk of being unemployed, becoming involved in drug abuse and having poor physical health. We are clear that the LSC's priority must be the 16 to 19 age group and nothing must detract from that. Let us get that right and then focus the increasing resources devoted to adults on enhancing and developing higher level skills, not in tackling the results of earlier failure. If we can get it right, obviously we shall save on later expenditure. We shall pick up the pieces from that failure and be able to invest more in developing adult skills.
To extend the entitlement has substantial resource implications. Although it is attractive in many ways, that point must be taken into account. For young people alone, the council will be spending the best part of £4 billion on an age group that covers a two-year cohort. We have increased the resources for adults and will continue to do so. I hope noble Lords agree that that demonstrates the importance that we place on adult education. But with the best will in the world, no government--I venture to suggest not even a Liberal Democrat government--would put a commitment of this kind on the face of the Bill. It would be misleading and deceptive to make a provision that we could not deliver. Equally, it would have been misleading for us not to have made clear in the Bill our policy priorities. I hope that the noble Lord will understand why, as he suspected, I resist Amendments Nos. 30 and 35, and ask him to withdraw them.
I have not spoken directly to Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. The comments made with regard to Amendment No. 12 and grouped amendments are relevant. I do not wish to repeat myself. The basic point is that, as with the earlier group, the amendments are worthy but unnecessary. The Bill already achieves what the noble Lord would wish.
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