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I am very enthusiastic about the other two amendments as well. Amendment 110, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is a requirement laid down; however, it need not come into effect until the entitlement comes into effect. On the provision for funding for employers, it is clear that we need to encourage more employers to enter the scheme and not feel that they are being disadvantaged by engaging in this way. I hope very much that we will hear that all three amendments, as well as the others which I will not mention, will be fully supported.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, we are glad to welcome the government amendments which demonstrate that they have taken several, indeed quite a number, of the Committee's concerns on board. We remain dissatisfied with much of the Bill, as those who have been present throughout will be aware, but we are grateful for the efforts of the Minister and his Bill team for bringing forward a great many changes in response to concerns.
I want to address the subject of extending the apprenticeship entitlement to prescribed groups where the upper age limit is 25. I understand that the Minister and his Bill team put a great deal of work into discussions with SKILL and other SEN groups so that those with learning difficulties and disabilities are not totally excluded from the apprenticeship entitlement. Amendment 106 allows the provision to be extended and Amendment 120 allows regulations to be made, which will make provision regarding circumstances where alternative criteria might be accepted in respect of specific groups who appear to the chief executive of the SFA to have a learning difficulty under the definition in the Education Act 1996.
We welcome the Government's intentions in this regard. Perhaps, however, the Minister might be able to satisfy me on the following points. First, can he inform your Lordships what extra costs he expects these provisions to entail? Extending the apprenticeship entitlement in this way must mean that calculations have been done, and estimates made of the increased cost. I would be grateful to hear from him on this count. Secondly, could he perhaps go into some detail about what he expects alternative provisions might be? Like other noble Lords, we welcome the potential expansion of criteria by regulations which would widen access to those with learning difficulties or disabilities which could mean that they could not achieve five GCSEs, including maths and English. Nevertheless, widening access should not mean lowering standards.
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I now turn my attention briefly to Amendment 129, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard. Noble Lords will be aware that we agree with the principle of this amendment. Indeed, we moved a similar amendment in Committee in another place, which proposed that all employers who took on an apprentice within a recognised apprenticeships framework should be paid directly by the chief executive of skills funding. The reasons behind this are easy to understand. We believe that it is simpler to channel funding into a single stream which then goes directly to employers. In contrast, the Government have chosen to introduce another body-the National Apprenticeship Service-through which funding will be directed. This service may indeed have a useful role to play in securing an effective apprenticeship scheme, but throughout the Committee stage, we emphasised the importance of a direct connection between government and employers when looking at apprenticeships.
We have also constantly said that we want a reduction in the convoluted and spaghetti-like structure of the various bodies, agencies, quangos and organisations that are required to interact and somehow produce the Government's desired results. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, has the advantage of achieving these objectives in a simple and direct fashion. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am delighted to see a bit of flexibility creeping into this Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Layard, I hope that we might see more. In particular, when we get to the point when the economy is improving and the prospect of a job seems more likely to young people, we should encourage them to embark on qualifications rather later. First, that is good for them as it means that they are doing qualifications when they are ready and wanting to do them. Secondly, that improves the Government's cash flow, because our subsidy to them, rather than coming at age 17, 18 or 19, comes five or six years later. It is better for both groups if we can do that. I agree that we cannot do it now, because the young will not believe that there is a job to go to if they do not go through a qualification. As things improve, however, we can make use of flexibility to move in a direction that will be good for the Government and for young people.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I have quite a task in dealing with this set of amendments. I welcome the bits that have been welcomed, although even those have had a few caveats. I thought how lucky I was that the noble Lord, Lord Low, felt that we had met some of his wishes. He has only given me four tasks as a result, and I am glad that he is coming back to his place because the answer to all his questions is, in summary, yes. That is the most succinct answer; given where we are at this point, I have a funny feeling that I will not get any thanks if I detain your Lordships longer than I need to. We will obviously develop the detail.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: It is good to see that. I also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that we will meet the spirit as well as the legal intent, so to speak. I shall now try to address the points of concern that my noble friend Lord Layard raised earlier. I want to set in context what we have done on apprenticeships. Without wearying your Lordships with a set of statistics that I have given on many occasions, we are in danger of forgetting that we have come a long way on the apprenticeship journey. From 1997, when, as I have said before, the scheme was practically dead on its feet with just over 60,000 participants, we now have over a quarter of a million, with two-thirds of them completing their apprenticeships. We should remember that context, as that is where we have come from and it has been a huge journey.
We know that we have a big task to meet the targets that we have set ourselves. How are we to meet those targets? We should not underestimate the role and importance of the National Apprenticeship Service, which is the one-stop shop that will drive the situation with employers. Attitudes are beginning to change, but we have a long way to go yet and it is not just about loading more money on to employers. We are already paying for all the training of apprentices up to 19, which is not a bad bargain.
On the idea that apprentices should somehow be seen as a burden, that is not a good way of trying to sell the apprenticeship scheme to employers. They are not a burden but a real incentive, often by creating the next layer of management and leadership and in bringing increased vitality and ideas within a company, so I want to put the role of apprenticeships in that context. We are also moving from the situation where we were apprenticeship-light in the public sector. It should be remembered that we put another £140 million into apprenticeships this year, and are trying to ensure that we create another 21,000 apprenticeship places in the public sector.
We are committed to allocating funding directly to employers where they meet the required standard. I cannot absolutely guarantee a new set of regulations but I shall certainly take away the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and discuss with the National Apprenticeship Service exactly what we are doing in these circumstances; for instance, how funding is allocated to group training associations which are used by many thousands of employers.
I do not have the precise figures with regard to levels 2 and 3, but some of the figures that I do have are interesting. For example, the proportion of all apprenticeships that are advanced has increased, as has the total number of advanced apprenticeships, and 73,000 people started an advanced apprenticeship in 2007-08, up 40 per cent on the previous year. The proportion of advanced apprenticeships has remained around 30 per cent in recent years, increasing to 32 per cent in 2007-08. Clearly, there is no room for complacency in this area-I would be the last person to suggest that-but there has been progress. There is a requirement on employers to discuss with their apprentices a request to progress from level 2 to level 3. In many industries, for example the engineering industry, there is almost a
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The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked me about the cost implications of extending the entitlement. The best estimate is £2.8 million in 2014, rising to £16.7 million in 2020, subject to the level of take-up. Those are the best figures I can give at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said that we needed to be honest with young people; I absolutely agree with him. First, we have to create apprenticeships; we must not take our eye off that ball. I make no apology for repeating that every apprenticeship we create for a young person is a beacon of hope. The first thing we need to do is to get them on that first rung. Of course, we do not necessarily want them to stay there but when you talk to young people you discover that their first concern is to get an apprenticeship. We do not want to put any barriers in the way of young people progressing. That is to their advantage and that of employers. We must not underestimate the importance of changing employers' attitude so that they do not see apprenticeships as a burden. I repeat that they are not a burden; they are a real advantage to companies. However, we have a long way to go to convince them all of that.
I do not know whether I can be positive as regards what noble Lords said in relation to the six-year period. I shall reflect on the implications of that. I do not want to raise false hopes in that regard other than to say that we shall consider that timescale. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I have not covered every point in the interests of time, given the lateness of the hour. I hope that in the light of the assurances I have given the relevant amendments will be withdrawn. I thank noble Lords who participated in the debate for their informative and constructive comments.
(a) is not within subsection (2), and
(b) is of a prescribed description.
"(4A) Regulations may make provision as to circumstances in which a person who appears to the Chief Executive to have a learning difficulty is to be treated as meeting the requirements set out in subsection (1)(a) or (2)(a).
(4B) Subsections (7) and (8) of section 15ZA of the Education Act 1996 (meaning of learning difficulty) apply for the purposes of subsection (4A) of this section as they apply for the purposes of that section."
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