Arms Sales: Saudi Arabia


1.49 pm

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question in another place.

“As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the Government take our arms export responsibilities very seriously and operate one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, taking account of all relevant factors at the time of the application. A licence will not be issued, for any country, if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the mandatory criteria, including where we assess that there is a clear risk that it might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

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All our arms exports to Saudi Arabia are scrutinised in detail through established processes and against the EU and national consolidated criteria. The Government are aware that UK-supplied defence equipment has been used in Yemen. We take very seriously any allegation of IHL violations and regularly raise the importance of compliance with the Saudi Government and other members of the military coalition. We have said that all allegations of IHL violations should be investigated. The Ministry of Defence monitors incidents of alleged IHL violations using available information, which in turn informs our overall assessment of IHL compliance in Yemen. The Government are satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK’s export licensing criteria.

The House knows that the situation in Yemen is complex and difficult. The UK supports politically the Saudi-led coalition intervention, which came at the request of the legitimate President Hadi, to deter aggression by the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh and allow for the return of the legitimate Yemeni Government. We have been clear with all parties that military action should be taken in accordance with IHL. The coalition has played a crucial role in reversing the military advance of the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh, which is now helping create the conditions for the return of the legitimate Yemeni Government. Coalition and Yemeni Government military gains must now be used to drive forward the political process. The UN-facilitated political talks are the UK’s top priority and are likely to recommence in early February”.

1.52 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question. Mr Tobias Ellwood reiterated several times in the other place this morning that action needs to be evidence-based. We have a UN panel of experts report documenting breaches of international law. Whether the Government have received the report officially or not, these are matters that require urgent and proper investigation. Does the Minister believe that it is sufficient to leave these serious breaches of IHL to a conversation with the Saudi Government, especially as there is a clear risk that British items might be used? What assurances can the Minister give the House that these matters will be properly investigated? Will he set out the exact nature of the involvement of UK personnel working with the Saudi military? Can he confirm whether the Government have received any reports from these UK personnel of actions that might constitute a potential breach of international humanitarian law?

Given the detail of the UN panel’s report and the seriousness of its findings, surely it is right for the Government now to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia until a proper investigation, which is required, is properly concluded.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his contribution. The noble Lord mentioned the report of the panel of experts, the subject of which was brought up in the Statement in the other place. Although this is a leaked document, we are aware of the report and are looking at the conclusions carefully.

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We recognise the importance of the work of the UN panel of experts and we are taking the allegations raised in the report very seriously. We are continuing more than conversations; in fact, we have been urging on these matters for months, since I answered a Question on Yemen back at the end of October, when my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had just been to Saudi Arabia and discussed this subject with Saudi authorities.

I also confirm that my honourable friend Mr Elwood was in Saudi Arabia earlier this week, when a number of such matters were discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also asked about the military involvement of United Kingdom forces. I can say that British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets, and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, the noble Earl will be aware that my party has been doubtful about how close the British Government have become with the Saudis and the other Gulf monarchies over recent years, and about the particular emphasis on selling as many arms as possible to all of them which has characterised Conservative policy. It was a matter of dispute within the coalition, particularly over a number of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and it continues to be a concern of ours, recognising that once you have sold the weapons systems, the argument for resupplying the armaments that they use becomes very strong if you want to carry on selling weapons. That is part of the difficulty we are in.

Can we be assured that the Government are intervening very actively with the Saudis to influence what is happening in Yemen, where it seems that the Saudi Government are overpersuaded that this is an Iranian plot, rather than a complex intertribal war among a number of local players? Are the Government considering whether the Bahraini Government—a Sunni minority governing a Shia majority—should pay for the expansion of the British base there, so that we may end up being dependent on the Sunni monarchies in what risks becoming a Sunni-Shia conflict across the Middle East?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, on the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, concerning the Bahrainis, I do not have any information on that in my brief, but I will, of course, write to him. I know that, with his experience in the department, he is very well aware of the conditions out there. He also asked about the overall supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia. He will remember, because I am sure he came to this Dispatch Box himself on this subject on many occasions, that extant licences are subject to review and can be suspended or revoked where the export is no longer consistent with the criteria.

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, does the fact that UK companies can make huge profits from the sale of arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia justify the Government appearing to be closing their eyes to atrocities that may be perpetrated by the Governments of such countries? If not, where do the Government

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draw the line? Should that line not be quite transparently based on humanitarian principles and not on corporate self-interest?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that we are not closing our mind to the situation in this part of the world. The whole of the Horn of Africa, and Yemen in particular, is a place of desperate need where a peaceful outcome is very important. As was said in the Statement, there is movement and it is now thought that a peaceful process is possible, but there is still much work to be done.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, the Statement is not entirely satisfactory. The Government, as usual, claim to have the best arms control in the world, while many of us have evidence that such exports do fall into the wrong hands or are misused. If we take the case of Médecins Sans Frontières in Yemen, one or two bombings might have been put down to accident or understandable combat error; three bombings, however, look like deliberate, malign aiming. What representations have the Government made to Saudi Arabia about the use of our aircraft and weapons and the protection of civilians and medical professionals? If they have made none, will they please do so?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the allegations of attacks on health facilities in Yemen, particularly in relation to Médecins Sans Frontières. We are aware of the recent allegations regarding the strike that I think was in the Saada province on 10 January. There were earlier strikes in October and again in December. I think we debated those on one occasion. As I have said before, our relationship with the Saudi Arabian Government enables us to pressurise them and to underline how important it is that the civilian population is not affected by the military conflict. But we know that the suffering of the civilian population is immense and we also know how important it is that the logistics are there so that aid can be delivered to those who need it.

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I appreciate that we are friends of Saudi Arabia but I am very concerned about what is happening in Yemen. Can my noble friend tell us whether we are taking any active role in achieving peace in Yemen? What is happening there is a great concern to everybody.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as I said earlier, and as my noble friend emphasised, the Yemeni people are suffering from the conflict between the rebels and the elected Government. As I said earlier, in the late autumn my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was in discussions in Saudi Arabia with the authorities there, and my honourable friend Mr Ellwood was there earlier this week discussing that area of the world.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, the noble Earl is right that compared with every other nation in the world the rules we apply to defence sales are incredibly strict and correct, but of course we have to investigate these cases very thoroughly. Specifically,

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although no UK military personnel are involved in events that are going on in Yemen or are giving advice on targeting, if I understand the noble Earl correctly, one of the benefits of the fact that we sometimes get involved with countries is that we are able to apply the very strict standards we have of obeying international law. Surely these people could give advice to the Saudis on how to avoid civilian casualties and so on—that must surely be within their remit or are they not allowed even to do that?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as I understand it, the noble Lord is quite correct. I gave a brief answer saying that the UK was not involved in carrying out any of the strikes, but I can say that we have a very small number of staff in the Saudi Arabian headquarters in a liaison capacity only. These liaison officers are not involved in the targeting process, as I said earlier. Secondly, there is our ongoing defence engagement relationship with the Saudis. This is part of our long-standing relationship. When concerns are raised by non-governmental organisations or in the media, these liaison officers will pass all available information back to the United Kingdom. This will help inform our assessment of compliance with international humanitarian law.

English Language Classes for Women

Question for Short Debate

2.03 pm

Asked by Baroness Uddin

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the evidential basis of their policy of promoting English language classes for women to address isolation and extremism.

Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl): My Lords, I wish to express my gratitude to the Table Office staff for their constant support and courtesy. Indeed, I am indebted to all noble Lords for taking part.

I was delighted to learn that we would be able to debate some of the latest excitement about the lives of Muslim women. As one myself, I cannot but feel momentarily flattered to be bestowed with the responsibility of eradicating all social ails in our lives, including the global phenomena of sexism and terrorism. I so wish that collectively we can be a part of the solution that makes our world free of fear of terror on our streets, just as I wish for the safety and future security of all our children. However, there has to be some equity in that collective responsibility, and the current inflammatory narrative on every minutia about Islam, particularly defining women of faith through the narrow prism of repressed objects, is baseless and damaging in the long term.

Even today, 43 years later, I can recall all too vividly the rawness of experiencing racism and Islamophobia as we went about our ordinary lives. My experience is not at all unique. Just as we are asking who speaks English, we should also enquire about the prejudice and barriers we face—as Muslim women in particular but as Muslims in general—and, more importantly,

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how so many hundreds of thousands of Muslims have overcome the barriers of prejudice and hatred and made our home in Britain. We would find that we were able to overcome brazen racists on the streets of the East End, the West End, Scotland, Wales and elsewhere, as did my family and countless others, because of the strength and resilience of our faith.

My four brothers and I—all five of us—and my mother, who was a teacher in Bangladesh, learned functional English by the end of the first year of being here, but incidents of hate and disdain never end and new and uglier faces of bigotry and prejudice are always emerging, culminating in the ever-increasing number of Islamophobic incidents we have today. My point is that the ability to integrate and embrace shared values is almost never just about speaking English.

I have lived and worked with women in all walks of life and if I say in that time I have spoken to hundreds of thousands of women, it would be no exaggeration. Given that I cannot claim a monopoly of wisdom on Muslim women, I have recently instituted a structured and informal series of round-tables with community leaders and professionals from all backgrounds and geographical localities, with a purpose to assess the current landscape of work in progress, to map out the good practice and to find out what else we can do together in order to respond to many of the national and global challenges our generation faces.

The latest onslaught on Muslim women has angered many of those participants. We believe that, in essence, this on-the-hoof policy-making disregards the countless number of Muslim women who have struggled to better their families, their community and this country. Some of their successes should be made equally visible when making reference to Muslim women in the UK.

Will the Minister agree to meet some of the women I have been speaking to as part of an upcoming fairness commission on Muslim women in the UK, which I am pleased to be leading? I would also welcome a walk with the Minister, or any Minister, down the streets of the East End, the West End, the north or south of England, Scotland or Wales, where the evidence speaks for itself—a myriad of small and large businesses owned by Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Turkish and Somali men and women. If we can put aside our political differences, I am willing to organise a very diverse group of women thinkers and activists, even those I do not agree with.

Consider the thousands of British curry houses, large numbers of which are owned by Bangladeshis, which generate an estimated £4 billion to the economy. Many of these people did not have the fullest command of English, but their unstinting loyalty and values are unchallenged and they have contributed by educating their children, permeating all professional spheres, including many entrepreneurs in a wide range of professions.

Of course, now we have a number of honourable Members contributing to this House and local government offices across our land. I was privileged to be the first Bangladeshi Muslim woman to enter this House of the British Parliament. It pleases me enormously to have supported and encouraged in very small ways the

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latest batch of able and confident Muslim women in public office, including Rushanara Ali, Rupa Huq and Tulip Siddiq. In fact, Tulip started in my office as a student placement at a very early age—one of many who have gone through my and other offices in Parliament over the past 17 years. Each of these young British Muslim women, like many others, has the ambition to take part in and contribute to Britain’s social, economic and political development.

Opportunities are what make the difference between people choosing to engage or to isolate themselves from the mainstream system. Just as others, Muslim women experience violence, abuse, family pressures and discrimination as they aspire to complete their education and achieve career prospects, yet we know that it is structural obstacles such as gender discrimination and lack of childcare services that limit many potential achievements.

Many hundreds of women’s organisations have suffered drastic cuts. These include Southall Black Sisters, Newham Asian Women’s Project and Jagonari, where funding has been decimated. So the support structures required to empower Muslim women—or any women—through educational independence and so on have been taken away. Visible Muslim women in particular, as a racialised minority, face added discrimination, which proves to be an even greater barrier to climbing the employment ladder once they are educated. Therefore, the question of appropriate English language skills will not resolve the problem of isolation; nor will it provide any clarity on the driving force of radicalisation. But what further separates those women who may need a broader range of support systems is our inclination to isolate them further in the media and elsewhere.

I do not understand where the statement that 22% of Muslim women do not speak English came from. The Runnymede Trust challenges this figure and says that it may be 6%. But these kinds of figures are irrelevant to the main point of my discussion. I can easily demolish the suggested argument that the lack of English-speaking women in some households leads to isolation and extremism. Indeed, it was challenged in the media with great competence by many. I hope that the PM has taken note of the powerful voices that emerged against these disparaging remarks—and they were all women.

It is important that we challenge the narrative frame of the Muslim woman as one who is oppressed by honour killing, strict Islamic rules, domestic violence and incompetence in obtaining English; in fact, many British Muslim women are highly educated, holding qualifications from their countries of origin—as was my mother. If I were to list our general statistics vis-à-vis women in the UK generally, we look as though we are in the dark ages in some corners when it comes to participation, domestic violence and child abuse. Muslim women are part of that same social construct, so of course the problem is going to affect them. The Prime Minister’s approach is therefore far too ambiguous and simplistic, as this policy threatens to erode further the confidence of the many women who are already facing multiple disadvantages.

The current global predicament in dealing with growing and violent conflicts across the globe requires more than learning vocabulary and grammar. It demands

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of us genuine internal strength to challenge the generations of prejudice and misunderstandings that exist among ourselves. It requires us to acknowledge that we have common values that bind our common purpose for peace and security.

I had the great honour to be present over the last few days in Marrakesh under the patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed, where the Marrakesh declaration was debated regarding the rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim communities. One cannot ignore the potent stench of terrorism that has come to our doorstep. To this end, alongside a number of British women, I have been participating in the programme organised by the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, ably led by the much loved and respected scholar Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, whose work is much respected. He said:

“Enough bloodshed. We are heading to annihilation. It is time for co-operation. There is a sickness … in the world, but we have treatments within Islam”.

It is built within Islam to participate in civic society. We are obliged to protect and preserve our identity as Muslims without harming others or risking isolation of certain individuals. He made many such contributions and I commend his work to this House. America and Mr Obama have embraced him. I ask the Minister and her Government to consider inviting Sheikh Bin Bayyah to Britain to meet parliamentarians and policymakers to hear of his good work.

I am confident that the House will agree that fear-mongering and incoherent thinking are not the solution to address the divisions that alienate whole sections of society and certainly cannot aid integration. Will the Minister encourage her department to attend some of these events and meetings with grass-roots organisations to counter the perceived philosophies?

2.14 pm

Lord Patten (Con): I strongly support the developing policy of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Government, despite what the noble Baroness has just said in her thought-provoking speech. It is common sense that isolation is often very painful, however caused. It does not, of course, always cause extremism. Neither is it restricted to women; men also suffer thus, as common sense also indicates. But giving women, whether Roman Catholic Poles or Muslim Pakistanis in the UK, the ability to speak English, or help to ensure that they can, is, in the proper sense of the phrase, a proper feminist issue. No English, no integration. No English, little understanding of the world around—or, indeed, some of the messages that may come from abroad, written in English but aimed at Pole or Pakistani alike. Access to English equals full access to participation in our society.

For any woman, from wherever it may be, if you are—perhaps worst of all—illiterate and also unable to speak our everyday tongue, then you become a member of what is essentially those who are in female internal exile. This can be dangerous for women’s happiness, peace of mind and health—particularly mental health—and can sometimes promote and induce extremism; that is the result. Historically, among the longer-established citizens of the UK, this can manifest

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itself, on their part, as fear or suspicion of “the other”, which we have seen through the generations and through the centuries. Thinking that anyone belongs to “the other” because they cannot speak English is bad for our social cohesion.

Most of our very welcome immigrants get to grips with speaking English pretty quickly because of economic and social necessity, even if still being perceived as “the other” of their day for a while. Few, however, introduce extremism. The issues that we face today are different in terms of the scale and the potential problem. Threats come from those in the Muslim world who specifically do not concur with the teaching in Islam that attributes to the creator those qualities of being merciful and kind, which are such an important part of that religion. So there is a big qualitative difference between the religious and cultural heritage of welcome Muslim immigrants for many generations in this country and the new ultra-conservative and ultra-violent extreme Wahhabism of the 20th and 21st centuries, made manifest in Daesh today, which reaches deep into the hearts of a few in our own country.

Whether veil-wearing or not—it does not matter at all—if any woman in our often flourishing Muslim community cannot speak English and is perhaps also illiterate, it is indeed common sense that they cannot read or understand the written word or social media that their daughters look at or may read, bring home and understand all too well after schooling in English, which they speak well. That sometimes has incited a tragic number—a small number, but none the less a tragic number—of these children to go off to Daesh in Syria or wherever. That is common sense and needs little research, although I readily understand that more research may well need to be done on ways of trying to combat such messages.

Speaking English is, I think, a fundamental duty—I do not use that word lightly—as well as an attribute for our citizens, whether they are Muslim or not and wherever they come from, be it Poland or Pakistan. So I am a very strong supporter of the Government’s policy of speaking English for all—if we can shorthand it that way—provided always that it is needs driven and that it is colour, religion and creed blind, and that it is available to all. This “speak English” programme of the Government that is being developed is excellent, but it must be built into the very warp and weft of our social stability so that isolationism through language becomes redundant, from whichever group it might spring now or in the future.

2.19 pm

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): My Lords, I, too, am a very strong supporter of Muslim women—and men—learning English. It is important for all migrants of all backgrounds, race, creed and religion to learn English, for themselves and for society as a whole. I do not think anyone in this Chamber will argue with that. But my jaw fell open—as did many others—at the statement that some Muslim women who cannot speak English might somehow, in the words of the Prime Minister, become,

“more susceptible to the extremist message that comes from Daesh”.

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Where is the evidence for this? I would like the Minister to respond to that point.

I was brought up by my grandmother and my mother. They both spoke little English and I spoke none when I started school. Once I learnt, I was expected to act as an interpreter for adult members of my family when visiting GPs and other places. I know that this still happens, so I welcome greater access to English language classes. But to make the connection between Muslim women not speaking English and extremism, as the Prime Minister did in the Times article, is discriminatory, inflammatory and unhelpful.

I support the intention to break down patriarchal systems, which do exist, but this proposal is an example of how not to succeed in doing that. It is counterproductive and simply stigmatises women who are from a Muslim background. In an article last week in the Independent, an ESOL teacher said that he felt that,

“by selecting Muslims for special criticism Cameron is playing to an Islamophobic gallery. There were 850,000 people in the last census who said that they spoke little or no English”.

Yet the Prime Minister chose to single out Muslims with a figure of 190,000, which many question.

In addition, the Government cut £40 million last year from funding for migrants wanting to learn English. Where is the joined-up policy or strategy in this, when on the one hand you cut and on the other you announce a reinstatement of £20 million to allow women to learn English? The chief executive of the Association of Colleges bore this out when he said that there were,

“2,000 fewer women attending Esol courses in the last year”,

due to cuts. The Woolf Institute, which had a recent commission on religion in public life, said:

“It is extremely unfortunate that the prime minister has chosen to focus solely on Muslim women to make an important point about the integration of immigrants”.

It has asked that this issue be looked at in the round and said that points that apply to,

“immigrants from a wide variety of nationalities … and religions … have been used to associate all Muslims with difficulties associated with integration”.

I agree with my own party leader, Tim Farron, when he says:

“Linking women in the Muslim community who struggle with the English language to home grown extremism only serves to isolate the very people Cameron says he is trying to help”.

Threats of deportation are even more unhelpful.

Where is this policy framed in a way that will attract and positively encourage more women—and men—from all backgrounds to integrate properly, learn the language and become active members of our society? Why are Muslim women being singled out in this way? If the aim was simply to ensure that those women should be encouraged to improve their English language skills and have better access to doing so, surely there were better ways to announce and articulate this as a positive message and aspiration to ensure equality of opportunity for all. How does the Minister think that this debate will need to be reframed in a more positive light?

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2.23 pm

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): My Lords, there are elements in the Prime Minister’s article of 18 January which I could warmly welcome. The encouragement of the empowerment of women and the discouragement of forced gender segregation are greatly to be welcomed and excellent. But there are elements in it which I find really rather shocking. There are three in particular.

First, there is the smear. The idea that a boy brought up in Bradford is more likely to slide into radicalism if his mother is not fluent in English is a smear. What is the evidence for it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, has just asked? The evidence I have seen, as it applies to this country, France and Belgium, is that the alienation of young Muslim people who are tempted to find a communal identity in radical Islam is a third-generation problem. It is not a second-generation problem and I find it very implausible that the temptation should be greater if the grandmother cannot speak English. It seems wildly unlikely and, I am sorry, but it is therefore a smear.

Secondly, I am shocked at the threat. Holocaust Memorial Day was yesterday, yet here we have someone in No. 10 writing this article in the Prime Minister’s name—I am sure that he did not write it—and telling people who are entitled to be here, were married here and are bringing up children here, “If you don’t improve your fluency in English, that could affect your ability to stay here”. It is shocking and it was not just a slip of the pen. The No. 10 briefing note makes it clear that there will, from October, be a new language test for those seeking a visa extension after 30 months here. Do we really envisage breaking up families or deporting mothers because they talk Urdu or Bengali at home? Now that really might radicalise their children.

In seeking to defend British values, we must take care not to betray them. John Stuart Mill defined our liberty as,

“doing as we like … without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as”,


“does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong”

—exactly so. Toleration, respect for others and minding our own business; respect for those things is the duty of people who live in this country, not a duty to speak any particular language. Forced assimilation and deporting the innocent would betray these principles and risk breeding the very alienation that the Prime Minister is quite rightly anxious to reduce.

My third and last concern is about the scope of the proposed new regime. The Prime Minister’s article speaks only of Muslim women, and of women from Bangladesh and Pakistan, countries which I know well, but the No. 10 note contains no such specification. Would the new regime also apply to people from India, 72,000 of whom received first residence permission in 2014, the last year for which numbers have been published? From China, there were 74,000. Would it apply to them, or to those from Brazil, Japan or Korea? I do not know what answer I want. If the regime of language testing at 30 months and possible deportation thereafter applies to everyone, we risk doing global damage to our reputation as a welcoming,

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tolerant country, living by John Stuart Mill’s principles. But if it applies only to Muslims, when that becomes the law of the land we shall straightaway—not in 30 months—achieve the further isolation and alienation of the community that is most at risk of radicalisation. I await the Minister’s reply with considerable unease.

2.27 pm

Baroness Helic (Con): My Lords, I welcome this debate and the varied views expressed so far. I support the Government’s determination to prevent some women in our country being held back by a language barrier, and I agree with the Government’s expectation that people who apply to settle permanently in the United Kingdom must be able to speak English to intermediate level. I say this as someone whose mother tongue is not English, as your Lordships may detect on occasion. I have the strongest admiration for the sacrifices made by many mothers from many different backgrounds in our country. They are the unsung heroines of their sons’ and daughters’ successes.

This is a common-sense policy that has unfortunately been caught in a wider debate over security and counterterrorism, but we can all agree that the ability to speak and write English is a basic building block of citizenship. It is the key to understanding and adapting to the culture of the new country. It is crucial to quality of life, equality of opportunity and social mobility. It is surely much harder for women who are unable to speak English to be informed of their rights as British citizens, to access the full range of opportunities to work, and to further their education and have economic independence. There can be no doubt that a lack of English can leave women vulnerable to being isolated, potentially dominated by others and denied new opportunities. This discussion, in my view, applies equally to everyone who finds a home in this country.

As I know and as the Government recognise, it is not only about Muslim women but I understand the logic behind the Government’s policy and welcome the intention to empower all women in our country. I am confident that the Government will listen to and absorb some of the advice they have received on how best to present and implement this policy at a sensitive time. None the less, I would strongly encourage the Government not to be deflected from their intention to empower women. I would add that it is surely time to examine other issues that we sometimes shy away from discussing, for fear of giving offence: such as whether the covering of a woman’s face in the name of religion is compatible with the freedoms and values that are guaranteed in this country. While all these issues are complex, we should have the courage to examine them.

2.30 pm

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, I declare my local government interest. This is not an interest as such, but I also inform the House that my wife spent her working career teaching English as a second language, very often to Muslim women, although to lots of other people as well.

This latest controversy seems to be part of a growing number of statements and discussions by persons in prominent positions in public life and the media in

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which there is an increasing use of what I would call fast-and-loose and dangerous language. For example, the Prime Minister, who really ought to know better, talked some time ago about “swarms” of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Yesterday, he talked about a “bunch of migrants” at Calais. On this particular issue, he associated Muslim women’s isolation with extremism. This is all part and parcel of a wider tendency that includes the obsession with the niqab and stories about red doors and red, white and blue wristbands for seekers of asylum. This all reflects, it seems to me, a lack of knowledge and understanding by people in prominent positions of communities different from theirs and a lack of respect for other people—not for other Muslims, other women or whatever, but for other people—and a lack of the ability to empathise with people and to respect them before talking about them.

The proposal mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to test women on spousal visas after two and a half years, with a not-very-hidden threat of removal if they have not improved their English, is quite extraordinary. Someone coming over to get married or to live with their husband will have other things to do in the first two years than to spend a lot of time improving their English. They will be setting up their home and will probably be having their first child, and perhaps their second. Under those circumstances, to then threaten people with removal from the country—I do not know whether they are threatening to remove the children as well—is just extraordinary. It seems almost inconceivable that this would ever happen, but to talk about it has such an effect, and is seen as such a threat, that it is ridiculous.

As noble Lords will know, I live in Pendle, where there have been very successful schemes for more than 40 years specifically targeted at teaching English, originally to Asian ladies, although more recently it has spread to people from other parts of the world. Throughout this time, people have not discovered a reluctance to learn English: people know they need to learn English and they want to learn it. However, over that time, and particularly perhaps in the last 10 years, services have been run down, weakened or abolished. Skilled teachers have gone to get other jobs, sometimes in other places in other parts of the world. There has been a loss of expertise and a loss of the local knowledge of the communities, and the people who these classes are being offered to, which comes with provision of that kind. The main problem now is not that people do not want to learn English but the lack of adequate, professionally provided classes and other provision.

My final point is that the original teaching that took place 40 or 45 years ago was based on home tuition. A whole range of volunteers was found and trained to go and teach English in people’s homes. Then classes outside the home were developed. That resulted in personal friendships which still endure today, yet that is all being swept away.

2.34 pm

Baroness Flather (CB): My Lords, one of the things that worry me greatly is that those who advise the Prime Minister on policy statements such as this do so

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without checking with anyone who has any experience of ever having taught English as a second language to Muslim women, Indian women or children. I spent 15 years teaching English as a second language. I taught Indian women and Pakistani women, although I did not have any Bangladeshi women because there were none where I lived. It is not a question of Muslim women; it is a question of those who need to be taught. How can we say we are going to teach Muslim women? There are plenty of Indian women who did not know English and probably still do not. There was a misunderstanding in the early days that once the first generation had been to school everyone would speak English. It did not happen like that because marriages were constantly being made on the subcontinent and wives and husbands were coming over, one or other of whom did not speak English. As a result, you took two steps forward and one and a half back. That is still going on: we still have people whose children come to school with very little English or none, so yes, we have to work on English.

I am retired now as I am so old, but when I was a deputy lieutenant I did some citizenship events. Those participating were supposed to have done a test in the English language. They did not take those tests—somebody took them for them. There are no checks to see whether the person is the person they claim to be; there is no way of telling whether or not this Indian lady is the same as the other Indian lady. It is, again, a big scam. There are even professional driving-test takers—particularly in the Southall area, where there are so many Somalis, who look very much alike. We have to be very careful not to bring in these things and just leave them to happen, because they do not happen.

At the end of the 1960s, I taught women who were working. At lunchtime I used to go and teach them in the factories. I also taught them in their homes and started a club where the women and the children came. I taught in Broadmoor, too, so I think I have pretty well covered the whole gamut of people who need to learn English. I feel very strongly, as a lot of your Lordships do, that everyone has to know some English to function properly. They should be able to go the doctor and should know who they are going to vote for. However, they do not even usually know what a vote is. In my day, they were just told, “Go and put your cross there”.

It is no good saying that everyone should learn English without thinking how it is to be done. It is not easy to teach a woman English who is probably barely literate in her own language. Not only is she barely literate but she is very frightened of having to cope with this new language. I produced a teaching scheme that I still believe is the only one that can work with women, because I created it by teaching women. As I went along, I saw how they learnt, and then produced the scheme. Unfortunately, they gave it to a person who had produced their own teaching scheme to assess it, who obviously was not going to assess it as being useful, but I would be very pleased to show my teaching scheme to any of your Lordships interested in seeing it. It is a simple distillation of the essentials, but it is done in such a way that you can build on it constantly. After learning the first part you can just about function,

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and after that it is up to you how far you want to build on it. This is a very specialised area, especially when it comes to teaching women.

I know I am running out of time, but my last point is that Muslim women are ill-served in two ways. One is the discrimination against them, but the other is their treatment within the community. We must never forget how badly they are treated in their own community, and the advent of sharia is something to be fought against. I have spoken to the Home Secretary about my fears and maybe some changes will come.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness but it is time for her to sit down.

Baroness Flather: Another noble Lord took more than four minutes.

The Earl of Courtown: I am afraid not. Who is next?

2.40 pm

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, at the outset I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, for initiating this debate. The Prime Minister’s announcement has proved controversial in some circles, but I agree that people who cannot speak adequate English will experience difficulties. They will find it difficult to integrate into communities and into British life more widely.

With particular regard to the British Muslim community, I agree that speaking English is crucial, particularly in the light of recent tensions. I have previously stated in your Lordships’ House that I would like to see mosques and Muslim centres become more than just places of worship. I would like to see more of them used as paths towards integration. Mosques and Muslim centres would like to play a greater role by hosting English language courses, but some of them may need financial assistance. I have personally supported mosques and centres in these activities.

I believe that the Muslim community should be more proactive in dispelling misapprehensions about Islamic values. If women cannot speak English, they cannot contribute to this. I think it is important to clear up some confusion. From my experience, a lot of second-generation Muslims in fact speak only English. This includes a number who actually have little knowledge of their mother tongue. Some youngsters are radicalised, but there are a number of factors other than lack of English knowledge by a parent which contribute towards radicalisation. I have referred to these factors previously in your Lordship’s House, but because of lack of time I am unable to repeat them today.

In my experience, Muslim girls perform better than boys in schools. Muslim women have done well in every walk of life, and we now have a record number of Muslim women in both Houses of Parliament. We should therefore be careful not to regard Muslim women in general as failing and in desperate need of outside help. Many of the problems that exist lie with women who have migrated to the United Kingdom or married men here, irrespective of their religion. However, this applies to all communities, not just Muslims. For

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example, it is suggested that a significant proportion of immigrants from Europe struggle with the English language. Data that are available suggest that only 6% of the overall Muslim population struggles with speaking English. I appreciate that this differs from what the Prime Minister said, and more research needs to be done.

In any case, it is important to note that the Muslim community is aware that some Muslims cannot speak good English and would like to remedy the problem. English should be taught to people of all faiths and cultures. It is a language that will unite them, and they should share in learning it. We must also remember that while a lack of English can act as a barrier to integration, so can many other factors—for example, labour market inequalities and, especially, deprivation. Unfortunately, almost half of all Muslims in Britain live in the 10% most deprived local authority districts. I have visited deprived areas with higher Muslim populations and am aware of the problem in those areas. Such deprivation can affect people’s aspirations, education, employment and health. Deprivation can also be a factor in influencing youngsters to be radicalised. We therefore need to look at the question of deprivation in certain areas.

2.44 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, this has been a hugely important debate. I hope we may return to this with more time at some point in future. There is no argument with the Government about the importance of people living in the United Kingdom learning English. It is crucial for work, integration, independence, communication and well-being.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I was shocked by the Prime Minister’s statement and the various enunciations that came from Downing Street and which were clearly emotive, quite deliberate and designed to politicise an area in which we surely need to have common purpose among all parties and peoples. I also find it richly ironic that the Government trumpeted the announcement of £20 million towards ESOL programmes when they have spent the past five years cutting into ESOL. The number of people doing ESOL in 2009-10 was nearly 180,000. That fell to 130,000 in the past year, and the number who enrolled this October is 71,500.

Picking up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, it is also clear that by cutting the amount each provider gets it is no longer viable for many of them to run courses. As a result, experienced qualified teachers are no longer employed in the sector. The irony is that there are thousands of women who want to learn English. In Birmingham, I have seen queues of women enrolling on ESOL courses, and this Government have spent five years reducing their opportunity. The Government have a nerve then to make this announcement that they are suddenly going to find a pittance to develop new programmes.

I thought my noble friend Lady Uddin made some important points about the role and contribution of Muslim women in this country, for which we should be grateful. Let me ask the same question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr: where is the evidence that

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families where women do not speak English are more susceptible to supporting terrorism? This is very important. If we are talking about building an inclusive society, to make these emotive statements—and we know that the Prime Minister was able to produce no evidence—is disgraceful. This announcement is a step back in integration and in the possibility of trying to achieve what the Government ostensibly say they want to achieve.

As for holding a gun at the heads of people who have come here on a spousal visa, it is pretty obvious that we want to encourage people to learn English, but do the Government really think that that is the way to integrate communities into our society? All it will do is encourage resentment and fear and lead to further segregation. The Government will have rules that will have to apply to everyone, but naming Muslim women is a crude attempt to finger a particular community. I thought Madeleine Bunting put it correctly when she said the approach risks turning communities inward, which is then compounded, as the noble Lord said, by endemic poverty in those communities. It will put progress back. It certainly will not lead to the kind of society that we wish to see. I am very doubtful whether it will have any impact whatever in relation to terrorism. This is very disappointing.

I also say to the noble Baroness that if the Government are so concerned on this issue, why have they encouraged a large rise in faith schools, many of which serve only to increase segregation in many of our communities? The Government have got off on the wrong foot on this. They need to rethink their language and their approach.

2.48 pm

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): My Lords, I am very pleased to answer this Question for Short Debate. I thank all noble Lords who contributed to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, immediately raised a point about racism and prejudice in this country, particularly when people come from other countries for the first time. A number of speakers have been recipients of that type of racism and abuse—as I was as a child.

The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Sheikh mentioned the success of BME women in this country. They have been incredibly successful, and among them I include some of the noble Baronesses in the Chamber today. The noble Baroness also invited me to meet with some of the ladies she talked about, which I will be very happy to do. In speaking about racism and prejudice she raised the point about anti-Muslim hatred, and as someone who chairs that group, I acknowledge that she is absolutely correct: both anti-Muslim hatred and anti-Semitic attacks in the last year have spiked quite dramatically. I pay tribute to those in that group for the work they do to both monitor it and bring issues to the Government’s attention.

I begin today by affirming the words of the Prime Minister, who has been much mentioned in this debate, in his article in the Times last Monday. He says:

“Britain has a claim to be the most successful multi-faith, multi-racial democracy on the planet. We got here because we fought and won those long struggles for liberty, equality and

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mutual tolerance. But the job of building a more cohesive country is never complete. With English language and women’s empowerment as our next frontier, I believe we can bring Britain together and build the stronger society that is within reach”.

Earlier this month, I was privileged to attend a community engagement forum where the Prime Minister met a group of inspirational Muslim women—the very type the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talked about—who have achieved remarkable things in their communities, acting as role models to other women. We should absolutely celebrate their success and that of other women who are flourishing in many different fields. But we must not shy away from tackling the factors underpinning the stories that they also brought to the discussion about the more negative side of things. These are stories, which some noble Lords brought up today, of forced gender segregation, discrimination and in some cases isolation from mainstream British life. The inability to speak good English leaves too many women at risk of this kind of treatment, and we need to act to remove this barrier.

I will tell a story about one of the most harrowing things I ever had to witness. It happened in a domestic refuge, which provided in particular for south Asian women, some of whom had arrived at the refuge—God knows how they got there, because they could not speak English—having been isolated in their homes and living in fear of doing anything that might be against their husbands. Their plea to learn English touched me more than anything I have ever heard, because I saw it—the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, brought this up—as almost their ticket to freedom. Just to be able to book a doctor’s appointment or ring up a domestic refuge would have helped them. I have to say that some of them were so traumatised that they could not even speak their own language by the time they got to the refuge, such was the bravery it had taken to get there.

There is a clear rationale for why our new English language offer, worth £20 million over this Parliament, will be directed at helping Muslim women in our most isolated communities to get the training they need. Of course this will not be a “Muslim-only” scheme, which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, asked about; we want to do all we can to encourage Muslim women to take up the offer. It will apply to all, including those who come to the UK on a spouse visa; we are simply raising the expectation of the level of proficiency after two and a half years to help them integrate into everyday life.

One reason we have focused on Muslim women is that the figures for Muslim women who speak little or no English demonstrate that poor English skills are particularly prominent within this group. Some 38,000 Muslim women aged over 16 reported that they spoke no English at all, and over 150,000 reported that they did not speak English well. This means that 22% of Muslim women in England—that is an ONS figure—could not speak English well or at all. This figure compares to 10% of Muslim men, less than 1% of Christian women, and 2.1% of the female population overall.

I am sure that this House accepts the basic proposition that learning English opens up a host of possibilities that may previously have been closed, providing women

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with opportunities to fulfil their personal and economic potential and that of their families. That goes back to the point about the basic task of filling in forms and making a doctor’s appointment. Our new programme will involve local volunteers and mentors supporting women to learn in a local setting, and will focus on practical daily scenarios such as those I have outlined, and situations such as talking to teachers about their children’s progress. It will enable many more women to converse in English both in their homes and their communities. It will help women break through the barriers that inevitably arise with a crippling lack of confidence and the inability to articulate their own opinions, decisions and aspirations. Those barriers can at first seem insurmountable but may quickly fall away when they have gained the power to communicate.

This point cannot be better illustrated than by listening to the voices of women themselves. Mrs N is originally from Bangladesh and is a Muslim mum with one child. When she arrived in UK she spoke no English and could understand only a few words. She joined one of the six community projects my department funded in 2014, the learning from which will influence our new programme. She said:

“I felt isolated at first here in UK because I couldn’t speak English—I felt nervous and uncomfortable and I didn’t get to know any English people … Learning English and working as a volunteer with the project has shown me that I can learn new skills, help my son, help other people and do something useful for my local area. I am now looking for vocational training to get qualifications so I can get a job”.

We want to extend the opportunity that Mrs N has grasped. We must do all we can to give people like her the skills they need to speak and to be heard.

A couple of noble Lords talked about ESOL funding. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about participation in 2015-16 having fallen to 71,500. I point out that the figure is so low because it is only from August to October. ESOL is largely targeted at jobseekers, which is still the case. In 2014-15, BIS spent £105 million on supporting more than 130,000 people to learn English.

Before I run out of time—and possibly voice—I will address the point made about radicalisation. I have watched with interest the commentary in the days since the Prime Minister’s announcement. Much of it has been supportive and measured, and some of it has not. I know that some strongly reject the view that women being able to speak English and engage in daily life has any connection whatever with efforts to stop people sliding towards radicalisation. I disagree. The Prime Minister himself made it clear that we are not saying that conservative religious practices directly cause extremism. That would be insulting to many who are devout and peace-loving. But with fluency in English, women are far better placed to access the labour market, far more able to make decisions in their own lives, to converse with their children about their daily experiences and to make friends with people from outside their immediate circle.

How can a parent be confident that the material their child accesses on the internet or brings home from friends is appropriate if they cannot understand it themselves? How can women be open to a wide range of different views and perspectives of the world if so many media sources and channels of communication

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are closed to them? Nobody is saying that language skills are an answer in themselves—noble Lords have brought that up—but learning English has a role to play in allowing women to better integrate and understand and engage with their local community and wider British culture. Notably, English allows women to better understand the world that their children inhabit outside the home and the influences, positive or malign, which are brought to bear on them and which help to shape their emerging views of the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, suggested the use of mosques to teach English. I totally agree: we should use mosques and other religious buildings for English-language training. In fact, a number of the Near Neighbours projects that I have seen in action have that very facility, and they have proved very useful. We will seek to learn from FaithAction, one of our current six projects that are delivering training in familiar local venues across five separate faiths.

This has been an excellent discussion. I hope that some of what I have said has helped to clear up some of the misconceptions and that we can all move forward on this agenda together.

Baroness Hussein-Ece: I asked the noble Baroness, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others, where the evidence is for the link that the Prime Minister articulated between women not being able to speak English and them losing their identity and sliding towards extremist organisations such as Daesh. He specifically said that. I listened very carefully but did not hear the Minister respond to that at all. That was the crux of the Question for Short Debate. None of us queries whether everyone should learn English.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Perhaps I may clarify that. I think that I articulated my view that a lack of ability to speak English did not of itself mean that a woman would become radicalised; it was more that she could engage, first, with what her children were doing and, secondly, with the world around her.

Adult Education and Lifelong Learning

Motion to Take Note

3.01 pm

Moved by Baroness Sharp of Guildford

That this House takes note of the role of adult education and lifelong learning and the need to develop the skills needed to strengthen the United Kingdom economy.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (LD): My Lords, in introducing this debate on adult education and lifelong learning, I should start by declaring two interests. I am an honorary fellow of Birkbeck, University of London, and president of the Association of Colleges Charitable Trust.

I thank all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in this debate and I very much look forward to hearing their contributions and ideas. I am particularly honoured that we will be hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who, for much of the last Parliament, worked alongside my

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Liberal Democrat colleague Vince Cable in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in guiding and strengthening the science and university sector in this country.

We shall also benefit from hearing the valedictory speech of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, whose career in Parliament spans more than 50 years. During that time, she has contributed so much in so many ways, not least to the world of education. Indeed, the fact that my noble friend Lady Williams, at the age of 85, is making her valedictory speech in this debate accords very well with one of my main themes—namely, that in future many people in this country are going to have to get used to a much longer working life.

Of our current workforce of some 31 million, 12 million are due to retire within the next 10 years, and only 7 million are coming through our education system. My noble friend Lady Williams is a splendid example of someone who has kept up to date and has continued to contribute substantially to society. However, with technology moving so fast, many in the current workforce will find their jobs radically altered and, to remain productive, will need to reskill and retrain, possibly several times during their lifetime.

At the same time, the UK faces a fundamental problem of poor productivity. France, Germany, the US and even Italy all have higher productivity levels than that of the UK. Productivity levels in Germany, for example, are 29% above those in the UK. Skills are a major factor in productivity, yet, in spite of 30 years’ emphasis on skills training, we still have a workforce where 20% fall into the low skills category, while, as the CBI and indeed countless reports keep reminding us, we face chronic shortages in vital technical and professional skills, which are key to raising productivity.

In the UK, adults are regarded as people over the age of 19. Therefore, adult education refers to the education and skills training available to all those over 19. This obviously includes university students and all those in colleges and other institutions completing their education by studying for degrees or vocational qualifications. However, I do not want to dwell on these aspects of education; I want to talk about the older adults—those over 24—and the opportunities open to them to train, retrain and pursue educational opportunities later in life. In putting the emphasis on lifelong learning, I want to include not just skills training but more general community learning, which is important not only in opening up learning opportunities to those who may not have had them earlier in life but in promoting community engagement and keeping people fit and well.

Britain has a proud tradition of adult education. In the 19th century, the mechanics institutes—predecessors of many of our current universities—provided the means whereby workers, often in their own time of an evening and at weekends, were able to gain knowledge and skills which enabled them to move up the income scale and improve their position in society. In the 20th century this continued, with many polytechnics and technical colleges providing access through evening courses to technical and professional qualifications, and with the universities running extension courses and continuing education courses. In the 1950s and

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1960s, when only 5% of young people were going to university, these were the main routes by which many people acquired the skills and qualifications they needed. They also provided the impetus for the founding of the Open University, rightly regarded worldwide as the jewel in the crown of Britain’s adult education system.

Today, some 45% of young people in Britain go on to university and study for a degree. The Government are making great strides in developing apprenticeships, building on the foundations laid first by the Labour Party and then by the coalition. What I worry about is whether the ladders of opportunity are still there for the many who left school some time ago and did not go on to study for a degree or go into jobs which trained them and gave them the transferable skills they need for today’s labour market. We have, rightly, been concerned to make sure that our young people get off to a good start in life, but are the opportunities still there for those who, later in life, want to pull themselves up by their own boot straps—to study part-time of an evening in order to acquire qualifications to gain a better job, perhaps filling one of those many technician vacancies that we have, or, for that matter, just for their own personal fulfilment and satisfaction. And what of those made redundant in their 40s and 50s? How are they going to retrain and prepare for new careers? Jobcentre Plus is fine but its main aim is to get people off benefits and into jobs, not into careers.

The trends are not good at present. Since the introduction of the full-cost £9,000 fee at universities in 2012, while the number of full-time undergraduates has increased, part-time numbers have plummeted by 58%. Today, there are 244,000 fewer part-time students studying at our universities than in 2010-11. This has hit the Open University and Birkbeck hard, but it has also led to course closures elsewhere because part-time courses become unviable. We know from the research undertaken by Universities UK that part-time students are indeed a somewhat mixed bunch, but we also know that a large number of them are mature students, many from disadvantaged homes and often with existing debt and family obligations, which makes them much more wary than their younger counterparts of taking on the debt obligations. Part-time study has been a powerful access tool. For those wishing to retrain and take up a new career, the ELQ rule, which excludes those who already have an equivalent level of qualification from getting grants and loans, has proved a substantial barrier to course take-up.

Further education has fared little better. The adult skills budget today is down 35% on what it was in 2009. Fifteen years ago, 50% of students at further education colleges were adult students. Today, it is only 15%. According to the statistics published last week, the number of people participating in adult education, which includes apprenticeships, work-based learning and community learning, as well as those studying for BTECs and professional qualifications, has dropped by 1.3 million in the last five years and, for those over 24, by 500,000.

The one bright spot has, of course, been apprenticeships, where the expansion of numbers, especially for those over 19, has been considerable. There has been considerable criticism though, not least from the Chief Inspector of Schools, of the poor

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quality of many apprenticeships and their relatively low level, of too many going to those who are already employed, and of the big expansion in the care, catering and retail sectors with hardly any expansion whatever in the skills sectors of construction, engineering and science, where we have chronic shortages. It remains also true that only 15% of employers take on apprenticeships. Reforms in the last two years, including the apprentice levy, have sought to counter the criticisms that have come forward. The hope is that with the extra funding from the levy, and with employers now in the driving seat running apprenticeship courses, the quality will improve and the programme flourish. However, apprenticeships are not everything and do not in themselves constitute a skills strategy, but, at present, they are the only game in town.

I am calling for a more comprehensive skills strategy which addresses helping the over-24s improve their lot if they want to. What happens now if you are made redundant and cannot find an employer who will offer you an apprenticeship? What if you are self-employed, the fastest growing sector in the labour market at present? Who is responsible for training you if you are one of the army of people working as agency staff in one of the many areas in both the public and private sectors where work is now subcontracted out? If you are on a zero-hours contract, who is responsible for your training? There has been much talk about training needing to be demand-led, but demand in this case is always referred to as employer demand. I argue that the individual is an important part of demand.

Let me finish by mapping out the sort of strategy that we need to be thinking about if we are to build a world-class, flexible, skilled workforce. First and foremost, we need a more comprehensive approach that pulls together adult education and skills. This requires much closer working between colleges, universities, the independent training providers and not just employers but the local authorities and other public sector organisations, such as the NHS and DWP, as partners at a local level. We are beginning to see such partnerships emerge within the Core Cities agenda. However, at present, they are extremely patchy and often deal only with skills, ignoring the importance of the adult education contribution.

Secondly, we need to empower the individual to take more control over their own training. The extension of the income-contingent student loans to both higher and further education has had rather mixed success, but the two sectors should be put on a similar footing, and maintenance loans, now extended to part-timers in the higher education sector, should be extended to cover the higher levels of further education courses. Or, given the risk-aversion shown by many mature students to loans, how about allowing 40 year-olds to draw down a proportion of their pension funds to meet training costs?

Thirdly, we need some incentive for the individual to invest in themselves. It is time, I believe, to look again at the idea of individual learning accounts. I hope that perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will mention those. At the very least, it would be good to allow the individual to claim tax relief on the money that they invest on bona fides education and training courses.

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Fourthly, the Government need to relax the ELQ restrictions. Those wishing to study courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM subjects, are already exempt but, given the need to encourage people to retrain, would it not be sensible to introduce much more flexibility to this rule?

Finally, we need to mobilise new technologies to provide what is now called blended learning, which mixes distance learning with campus-based courses to meet the “any time, any place” agenda of modern life. The MOOCs—massive online open courses—are leading the way. This requires, to my mind, one further very substantial advance: the development of an acceptable credit transfer system. We used to have it with the old CNAA but, sadly, it has largely disappeared. This is something on which the universities really have to take the lead and begin to work with the colleges in developing one.

This is all a very substantial agenda. I suggest that we face a huge triple challenge of making a step change in productivity levels at a time when technology is moving so fast and the workforce is ageing. It requires thinking outside the box but it also requires joined-up thinking and a comprehensive strategy under which people and institutions work in partnership towards one end. I look forward very much to the debate and to the response from the Minister. I beg to move.

3.16 pm

Baroness Redfern (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for securing this debate today. I, too, look forward to the valedictory speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Willetts.

I believe, and I am sure that many other noble Lords would agree with me, that it is education that lifts a nation and allows it to achieve its potential. We cannot ignore the vast potential of those who want to continue learning, and we need to enable easy access to opportunities for adult education and skills, whatever one’s age or stage in life.

In north Lincolnshire, we have made it our mission to ensure that lifelong learning and skills are at the heart of a successful and thriving community. We provide initiatives that engage with the most disadvantaged, those without qualifications and those who are unemployed. Our goal is to develop individual self-confidence through learner engagement, thereby having a positive impact on individuals, their families and communities. Current courses range from personal development to pre-employment skills, health and well-being, parenting skills, languages, ICT, business administration and childcare education. We also offer 24-plus advanced learning loans.

Many of the skills that the UK requires to address shortages can sometimes be gained only in a workplace setting. I am very proud of the Government’s achievements in providing over 2 million more apprenticeships. As we are all aware, new technologies have drastically changed the way we receive and gather information, as well as how we communicate. Although many children now grow up with computer skills almost as second nature, it remains the case that many adults do not have these skills or access to them, which continues to

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be a barrier to employment. We have therefore developed close working relationships between my local authority and partners such as Jobcentre Plus, looking at working together in shared spaces, leading to joined-up thinking and a positive approach. Tutors now actively look at ways to embed core subjects alongside ICT skills and employment workshops to provide a broad range of skills.

It would be interesting to know from the Minister what steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to embrace the use of new technologies to deliver lifelong learning opportunities and to improve the recruitment of learners on to traineeships and apprenticeships.

It is estimated that increasing the skills of the UK workforce could generate billions more for the UK economy. I am pleased that, as announced in the Autumn Statement, further education spending on adult skills will be protected in real cash terms, with a significant increase in apprenticeship spending by the end of this Parliament to secure the growth I have mentioned.

I end by stressing that it is all about inspiring people to aspire. Importantly, though, we must remember that while some may have missed out previously, we should not write them off. These programmes can deliver a second or even a third opportunity to achieve their true potential, with North Lincolnshire Council continuing to send a clear, strong message to residents: “Just ask and we will connect and deliver for you”.

3.20 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD) (Valedictory Speech): My Lords, I thank all those who are contributing to this important debate for taking a couple of seconds off each of their speeches. I apologise and I will endeavour not to take any more than a couple of seconds out of their speeches. I also thank my many friends and colleagues in the House for coming to this Thursday afternoon occasion, which I know is not the easiest to come to if you are hoping to get off for the weekend.

To me, one of the most important things about this House is that it is not only a revising Chamber—although too often it is reduced to that by the words that are used—but it is more than that. It is a Chamber which keeps close to its heart the fundamental principles and values of this country. In debate after debate and question after question, it flags up the things that are most important about the United Kingdom and explains why this country is in many ways still unique.

One of the things I want to mention today bothers me quite deeply. I shall say it in a minute but first, I will remind your Lordships of the famous remark of John of Gaunt in “Richard II”. He said:

“This fortress built by Nature for herself

“Against infection and the hand of war”.

What that really says in very few words is that this is a lucky country. However, in order to stay lucky and effective, a country has to be well governed, and I shall say something about a lapse of successful government in my remarks.

That lapse relates to the special genius of the United Kingdom for great public sector imagination; for commitment to the idea and the ideal of public life.

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When I was listening to my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford, I was struck by the fact that she referred, in the case of education, to some of the things that have not been properly done. I shall mention two more. First, she referred to the so-called report given by the 13-19 committee of Mr Tomlinson, the then inspector of schools. The report called on us to link together all forms of education, both vocational and academic, in such a way that an able young man or woman could through their whole lives climb up to greater achievement. We have still not got there. Secondly, she mentioned only in passing, but crucially so, the Open University—one of the great public sector institutions—which enables people for the first time, all their lives long, to gain more education, understanding and wisdom.

I can add other great public institutions. The first is the BBC, which is under a great deal of pressure at present. It is one of the great institutions of the kingdom and is widely recognised throughout the world. I hope it will be allowed to flourish, and not cut down into a second-rate institution.

Another hugely admired public institution is the National Health Service. I still have to say to my fellow politicians, “Why can you not get together and propose, regardless of party, ways in which we can sustain the NHS over many years?”. It is one of the great institutions of the world and is based on a degree of commitment to public service which is quite extraordinary.

Having said all that, your Lordships may ask me why I am retiring. I am retiring partly because my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood managed to pass a recent reform of the House of Lords which enabled someone like me to retire. He said it was not intended. At least it had the advantage of allowing me not to lose my capacities entirely before I departed from the House of Lords.

There is one great issue left—it is the reason I am retiring—and it is the most central political question that this country has to answer. It will arise later this year in the shape of the referendum on our relationship with the European Union. Regardless of your own views, Members of this House will know that all my life long I have been passionately committed to the idea that the United Kingdom should be not only a part but a leading part of the European Union. The future demands that of us. We have to contribute to the huge issues that confront us—from climate change through to whether we are able to deal with multinational companies which wish to take advantage of us—and we can do that only on the basis of a much larger body than our own Parliament, important and significant though that is.

In a period of great tension, strain and fragmentation in the world, we need a commitment by this country and those who are close to us to deal with some of these most difficult issues. I commend the Government for having taken some steps towards one of those difficult issues—namely, how one deals with the most vulnerable, those with most difficulties and the endless flow of migrants and asylum seekers that come to this country. This country has a good reputation in that respect and I hope that it will agree to take more of the boys and girls who are currently awash in

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Europe with no parents, no help and no assistance. It is an area in which we are well placed to assist and help.

This country has a long and great tradition of leadership. Increasingly, we recognise that it has to be not only national leadership but global, where we are a part of a larger group of human beings seeking a better world and a better life. It would be a tragedy if this country gave up that kind of leadership because it is essential in the modern world, in which countries are totally interconnected one with the other.

I hand over to my colleagues here. I hope they will give careful and cherishing support for the great public sector institutions I have spoken about, which are part of the warp and weft of this country’s whole being, texture and quality. I ask them to think very hard before allowing the United Kingdom to withdraw from what I believe to be its major duty to the world—the one it will encounter, and then deliver, through the European Union.

3.27 pm

Baroness Bakewell (Lab): My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the valedictory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. Appropriately, of course, it was about education but ranged wider, across the whole sphere of public life, to which she has contributed so much throughout her illustrious career, committing her warmth and humanity to one of its finest causes, education. We also owe her thanks for a lifetime commitment to what is honourable and true in public life. She has been an outstanding example to us all, and to many beyond this place, of how to apply intelligence and compassion to the issues that humanity faces, and to hold steadfastly, even when others disagree, to her vision for this country. We have much to thank her for.

As president of Birkbeck I am pleased to join in this important debate and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—a fellow of Birkbeck—for introducing it. The role of adult education and lifelong learning is key to the future of education in this country. If that sounds like an exaggeration, it is because we are only now at the start of a fundamental shift in attitudes to knowledge and skills among the population, both workers and employers. We need education for two reasons: to furnish and sustain the skills and expertise that support our jobs and our economy; and to nourish the sense of who we are, giving depth and insight to our sense of identity and enlarging our common humanity. Both are important and both need to be nourished all life long.

Birkbeck provides part-time education that leads to a full-scale degree for those who are holding down full-time jobs and studying in the evenings. Our colleague, the Open University, is one of the largest providers of higher education in the country. I speak too for the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, who regrets that she is not able to be here for the debate, but who shares many of my concerns. The paradox is that this vital contributor to the future of education has declined by 21% over the past eight years, while over the same period it has increased in Europe by 8%. In the UK there is currently a slump in the numbers enrolling for part-time education, and we must remedy it.

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In recognition of this, the Government announced a number of changes in the November 2015 spending review that are sympathetic to the cause, which is very welcome. In doing that, the Government have heard and acknowledged the case for part-time and lifelong learning in serving both individuals and the community. But I would ask the Government to keep up the momentum. They have introduced maintenance loans for part-time students. That has never been possible before and we are glad of it, but there is a snag lurking in the provisions: they do not come into effect until 2018-19. The practical risk is that of a cliff-edge in applications. I ask the Minister if the Government would consider bringing in the maintenance loans sooner, so that students and the institutions that serve them can benefit and flourish immediately.

As of September this year, postgraduate loans will be introduced for the first time for masters students. No support other than through bank loans has been available before, so they are hugely welcome. The cap on age being raised to 60 means that older people can study for a masters degree, which will help recruitment and give some inkling of what is possible: a blossoming of lifelong learning in the future.

The Government have also announced a relaxation in obtaining tuition fee loans for those already holding a degree—equivalent or lower qualification students and those studying science, technology, engineering and maths, the STEM subjects. This is in accord with both our and the Government’s ambitions for the sector, but again there is a glitch. There is concern that no extra funding will be available to support the teaching of these subjects, which involve higher costs. I believe that the future of adult education and part-time study holds the secret to prosperity for decades to come, and I ask the Minister to address my specific inquiries.

3.32 pm

Lord Bilimoria (CB): My Lords, I was initially educated in India at Osmania University. I gained a bachelor’s degree in commerce, then a law degree at the University of Cambridge, then a diploma in accounting at what is today the London Metropolitan University, and after that I qualified as a chartered accountant here in London. Throughout my training to become a chartered accountant, the first thing that was instilled in us was the concept of continuous professional development. The training started the day you joined and it continues today as a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

When I started my business career, I thought, “That’s it. My education is over for ever”—but I was wrong. Eight years later I attended the Business Growth Programme at Cranfield School of Management and it changed my life; it opened my eyes to lifelong learning. After that, as an alumnus of Cranfield I went on to the London Business School and attended the entrepreneurship growth programme. As an alumnus of the London Business School I went on to Harvard Business School and attended the Presidents' Program in Leadership, and as an alumnus of Harvard Business School I have just returned from spending a week there—another week for the 14th year in a row.

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I have hooked on to lifelong learning. This month I took over as chair of the advisory board of the Cambridge Judge Business School. In 2011 we introduced a programme called the Postgraduate Entrepreneurship Diploma, which is fantastic. President Clinton said that the more you learn, the more you earn; I can vouch for it.

I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing this terrific debate, and what a privilege it is to be speaking in the same debate as that in which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, has made her amazing valedictory speech. She is a living legend. The biggest compliment I have ever received from a fellow Peer in my time here in this House came after a debate in which both she and I were speaking. Afterwards she came up to me and said, “Karan, brilliant speech, but I did not agree with a word you said”. Well, I agree with everything the noble Baroness said today and her inspiration will live on with us in the years to come.

At Harvard Business School we have been learning about the growth mindset: the concept of continually learning through our lives. From 2005 to 2010 I was the youngest university Chancellor, having been appointed at what was then Thames Valley University and is now the University of West London. The university slogan was “Further and Higher” because it was possible to access further education there rather than attend schools for the last years and, if someone wanted to, they could progress on to higher education. There should be more scope for merging further and higher education, and I ask the Minister to confirm whether the Government think it would be a good idea to encourage a “further and higher” seamless progression.

I recently attended the Vision West Nottinghamshire College headed by its inspiration principal, Dame Asha Khemka, and saw further education being delivered at the highest level in the world. I opened the Vision Studio School in Mansfield and saw how children were able to attend school and become apprentices at the same time. Further, for the past year and a half I have been privileged to be the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.

Looking back, under New Labour there was a focus on lifelong learning. The coalition Government put more of an emphasis on early years, schools and higher education. The current Government’s emphasis seems to be on schools, higher education and apprenticeships—but what about the rest of adult learning and further education? Over time we have seen many reductions in funding. There was a 24% cut, then a further 3.9% reduction in the adult skills budget. That was followed by a reduction of £45 million in ESOL, while the Association of Colleges predicts that 190,000 adult learning places in further education will be lost by 2016. There was a drop of 12% in mature students entering higher education over the past two years and a 40% fall in part-time students over the same period. Not everyone achieves a decent level of education and qualifications when they leave school; they need the time and the opportunity to further themselves. Does the Minister agree that in an increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic society, including an influx of migrants,

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adult education and lifelong learning are a means by which we can help adults to cope with diversity and can foster integration?

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that we will be working for longer. I have a theory about the new world order. We are young until we are 60 and we are middle-aged from 60 to 80. This House, with an average age of over 70, is spot on for being middle-aged. Those aged 80 and over are old. With the cuts that are being made to further education and adult learning, are we prioritising our competitiveness when we lag behind our competitors in terms of skills and productivity? Are the Government adopting a growth mindset on adult learning? Are they playing to win or are they playing not to lose? The Government should be playing to win.

3.37 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing the debate and from these Benches I want to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. From our perspective she has continually shown a very special and thoughtful faith—faith in people, faith in politics and faith in goodness. That is the kind of model that we all need to aspire to, and the noble Baroness has certainly been a great inspiration to me and to many of my colleagues.

I want to look at skills and the strengthening of the UK economy. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and others about the skills shortage, which is much in evidence. There is a clear mismatch between the needs of business and learning provision. We have heard about the dramatic decline in the number of places for part-time study, and I think that a strong case can be made for earn-as-you-learn opportunities for people at every stage, especially as employment is now such a variable journey for so many people.

Perhaps I may give two small signs of hope from my own experience and to put two questions to the Minister. The first sign of hope is around the question of how organisations and businesses need to be into lifelong learning, too. Some noble Lords will know that I had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee which considered the Modern Slavery Bill. I participated in the work of the committee and I continue to work in that area. I spoke to businesses such as Toyota in Derbyshire, where I work, about supply chains, which is a big issue in the problem of slavery.

The law department of the University of Derby, with which I have been working, has launched a module on investigating modern slavery. It will help businesses and the people who work for them to be trained to discern the temptations and the techniques that criminals use to infiltrate people in slavery into the supply chain. It will also help them to perform better, not just morally but more effectively, through having committed and well cared for workers. That is an example of organisations being resourced to learn by our university sector. I commend that; we need to be on the front foot as conditions change to make sure that the economy is fit for purpose.

The second sign of hope concerns equipping young people for the world of work, which I experience the

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pain of in my day job. We have a post-industrial arc in Derbyshire. Where there used to be coal mines and heavy industry, now there are just a few fork-lift truck drivers fiddling about in warehouses. Generations of people are unemployed, especially young people.

Yesterday, I was at Derby College. It has 25,000 learners of all ages and stages, including part-time and full-time. It has pioneering links with employers such as Rolls-Royce and Toyota through apprenticeships and other schemes, and it works with 14 year-olds coming out of school. It helps young people engage with the world of work and learning, not just for a specific task such as an apprenticeship might deliver but to have an attitude and a confidence to engage with employers and work that will equip them for the future.

Derby College is working at the micro as well as the macro level. I came across a remarkable woman of 19 and has trained as a hairdresser. She has opened her first salon, giving jobs to other people. She said, “It’s so wonderful to make others feel better about themselves”. She is obviously quite a good hairdresser if that is the result. The micro level is very important in a flexible economy to create those opportunities. There is also cradle-to-grave learning. The college is involved with crèches, with 14 to 16 year-olds, older learners and relearners. We have to give people an aptitude for learning.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, given the funding pressures and the complex journeys in and out of work that many people experience, how can the Government encourage seriously an earn-as-you-learn opportunity? For many people I know and work with, it would make a huge difference if you could upskill by earning at the same time. Secondly, with the regionalisation and devolution that is happening, we are creating quite large units to generate proper economic capacity in a global world, which is proper and which I appreciate. But, as those large, devolved economic units are crafted for the national economy, how will we hang on to localness, with places such as Derby College being able to negotiate with local communities, the people in them and their needs, to bring them into the world of work and continuing learning? We must not mirror large-scale economic activities with vast learning agencies that lose that local touch and local connection. I should be glad if the Minister would comment on how those things might be held together.

3.43 pm

Lord Clement-Jones (LD): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Sharp on instituting this debate. I hope that she will not mind if I focus particularly on the second half of the Motion, but first I want to say how incredibly privileged I feel to have been here to hear such an inspirational valedictory speech by our great colleague and noble friend Lady Williams. The fact is that you have no idea what a truly effective political campaign is until you see Shirley Williams in action. I was privileged to see her in action and the impact that she makes at very close quarters on the Health and Social Care Bill just three years ago. If I had been the Government, I would have capitulated instantly. It took a bit of time, but my noble friend got there so effectively. I know that she will be just as

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effective and passionate in campaigning outside this House as she was in it, but we here will miss her enormously.

I want to focus on how our creative and tech industries can obtain, now and in the future, the skills that they need to develop and grow this increasingly important sector of the economy. Creative industries make a major contribution to the UK economy— £84 billion at the last count—but the vast majority of those businesses are small. Freelancing, too, constitutes 30% of the sector overall. These present major challenges to concerted action on skills. Creative Skillset reports a great number of skills gaps: it is bad in London but even worse outside. This involves not only digital and software skills but craft and technical skills as well. In the tech sector, it is clear that we need 1 million tech jobs to be filled by 2020 to keep up with demand. Of course, there are concerns about the quality of business skills in the creative sector, too.

I pay tribute to my former colleague, Sir Vince Cable, who was a BIS Secretary intent on developing an industrial strategy for the creative sector and instrumental in the creation of the Creative Industries Council, which has started to address the key issues in the sector, including skills shortages. However, despite huge progress since 2010, still only 1% of the current workforce comes from an apprenticeship route.

I welcome this Government’s pledge to create a further 3 million apprenticeships across the board in the period to 2020, but the new apprenticeships levy, introduced by the Chancellor, is a major concern for the creative industries, not simply because it will affect more smaller businesses than originally anticipated. There are key questions about how it will operate. I hope that the Minister will be able to address some of them. Will contributions from the creative industries be invested for the benefit of those industries? Will government investment continue alongside the levy? Will there be transparency in how contributions are invested? Will there be a joined-up, UK-wide approach in line with an industrial strategy for the creative industries? Will businesses be able to set some of their internal costs incurred in developing standards and administration against the levy through an allowable expense system? If there is to be a levy, it must be fit for purpose.

Achieving diversity is also a major challenge for the industry. Access to career pathways is obscure for those without connections. Unpaid internships are all too common. Interns can be useful, but they must be paid. I pay tribute to the music industry’s efforts in this respect. Overall in the creative media, women, BAME people and the disabled are badly underrepresented. Idris Elba spoke passionately about this, addressing MPs and Peers in the House only last week. We need to attract, develop and nurture their skills to the maximum to identify and develop them faster. Mentoring, as NESTA has identified, is crucial.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, said last week, we particularly need to take action to encourage more women into the tech industry, where women hold only 17% of the jobs. There are now some excellent, prominent role models in the tech sector, but we must do more at the entry level; the process must

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start at school. In the creative sector, PSBs and the independent sector need to show leadership in efforts to increase diversity and social mobility. Creative Skillset advocates a code of practice between the independent sector and PSBs and commissioners to include explicit commitments around training and recruitment.

I welcome changes to the national curriculum so that it now includes coding and computer science. Computer science has been made part of the science strand of the English baccalaureate. But it is disappointing that the Government seem so intent on a STEM rather than a STEAM agenda in our schools. The shape of EBacc confirms the original fears of the industry. The truth is that we need students going into the creative industries to be multidisciplinary.

There are many other issues on skills in the creative industries: visas for international entrants where skills are at a shortage; the importance of clusters; the relationship between universities; and in particular the AHRC knowledge exchange hubs in London and the nations and regions, such as the Creative Exchange and Creativeworks. What support are the Government giving to those hubs? What action are they taking to ensure that the two skills councils work ever closer together? Indeed, they should merge into a powerful and effective body to make sure that we plan and make the right strategies for the creative industries.

3.49 pm

Lord Aberdare (CB): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on obtaining this debate on such an important topic for our future competitiveness and prosperity. I feel truly privileged to be speaking so soon after the magnificent valedictory speech, so characteristically inspirational and profound, of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, whose great contribution to this House we shall so much miss. I also look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, immediately following mine. This is one sandwich where I fear this bit of the filling may prove less nourishing than the bread on either side.

I speak from my perspective as a member of the ad hoc Select Committee on Digital Skills, whose report, published last February, I hope we will eventually have a chance to debate. It is titled Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. That reflects the importance of the issue as we saw it. It finds that, increasingly, the digital economy is becoming virtually synonymous with the national economy. As a result, digital skills are becoming necessary life skills—everybody needs them. But there is a significant and growing shortage of digital skills in the UK, especially at higher levels of digital expertise and, as we have heard, among women. Although we are currently reasonably well up with the international field, we will need to run fast to keep up. Quite a few countries are some way ahead of us.

Tackling these challenges needs to involve education at all levels, not least adult education, as well as business, training providers, the third sector, regional bodies, and, of course, government at all levels. The report argues that central government needs to co-ordinate

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these efforts, acting as the “conductor of the orchestra”, by developing an ambitious and comprehensive digital agenda, driven at Cabinet level, with the aim of being,

“up with the best leading digital economies across the board in five years’ time”.

One element in such an agenda is ensuring:

“The population as a whole has the right skill levels to use … digital technologies”,

so it is worrying to learn that the number of people in adult education has declined by 1.3 million since 2010. This calls for: first, a focus on learning to learn, with increased emphasis on self-learning and online learning, including the MOOCs that the noble Baroness mentioned; secondly, a commitment to meet the Government’s target that by 2020 everyone who can be digitally capable, will be; thirdly, a significant increase in the number of girls studying STEM subjects, or—better still—STEAM subjects, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, just mentioned; fourthly, a target for at least 10% of the workforce to have high-level digital maker skills by 2020; and fifthly, facilitation of a bigger role in skills development for business and industry.

Another requirement identified by the report is:

“A world-leading further education system for digital skills”.

Despite pockets of excellence, further education seemed to us patchy at best. Again, we highlighted a number of needs, including: a consistent and agile offer across FE providers; facilitation of strong partnerships between industry and further education, such as those we are already beginning to see, which some FE providers are creating with emerging digital technology firms; more apprenticeships across the board, including digital apprenticeships, although all apprenticeships should include a digital skills element; and a funding system to promote short, flexible courses, as well as apprenticeships.

A number of colleges and other bodies, such as FELTAG—the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group—the Ufi Charitable Trust, which runs programmes to help teachers learn to apply digital technology, and the Learning and Work Institute, with its citizens’ curriculum project, are doing good work in nudging the culture of adult education towards a more digital future, but this is not yet widespread enough. The combination of the emphasis on apprenticeships, admirable though that is, cuts in adult skills budgets and the attention being focused on the area reviews process, seems to have led to adult and lifelong learning being overlooked, both in general and in relation to the need for improved digital skills.

I will not try to cover other relevant recommendations of the report—for example, in relation to better careers guidance and the value of promoting regional clusters. In their response, the Government confirm that putting the UK at the forefront of digital transformation is a key priority and recognise the scale and importance of the challenges that must be addressed and the need for far-reaching ambitions that will have sustainable impact. They have promised to publish a cross-government digital transformation plan later this year, as part of their overall productivity plan. Meanwhile, I hope that the Minister can tell noble Lords about how the Government and her department are progressing this

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agenda, so that everyone, including adult learners, can learn and deploy the digital skills we need to strengthen our economy.

3.54 pm

Lord Willetts (Con) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, it is an enormous honour for me to be speaking for the first time in your Lordships’ House. Inevitably, as I stand here to give my maiden speech, I think back to a maiden speech I gave in another place, 24 years ago, after I was first elected to represent the constituency of Havant. I have tried to reflect my debt to it in taking it as part of my title. The borough of Havant includes the town of Emsworth, where PG Wodehouse lived for a time and after which he named one of his most famous characters—though I resisted the temptation to take the title Lord Emsworth.

Already, only two months since my Introduction, I appreciate the distinctive character of this House and the experience that is brought to debates such as this. I pay tribute to the excellent opening speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and of course to the formidable valedictory speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who rightly reminded us that politics is about public service. She gave a great list of national institutions in which we can all take pride.

I remember going on “Any Questions” with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, once. It was a cold day and I had put on rather a tatty pullover. As we marched up the steps to start the radio broadcast, she pointed at a hole in my pullover and said, “Moths”. I could not work out whether that was an example of her shrewd observation or psychological warfare.

I express my gratitude for the kindness, appreciation and advice I have received from Members on all sides of the House, and for the excellent support, guidance and courtesy that we receive from everyone who works here. I particularly thank my noble friends Lord Lawson and Lady Evans, who did me the great honour of introducing me to the House. I began my career in 1978 as Nigel Lawson’s research assistant and was then his Private Secretary as an official in the Treasury. His formidable intellect impressed me then and continues to impress me to this day. I was also introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Evans. I hope I do not embarrass her by revealing that she began her political career as my research assistant when I was the Member of Parliament for Havant. She was energetic and lively then and it is marvellous to see her gracing the Front Bench today. These links between my noble friends Lord Lawson, Lady Evans and myself constitute a kind of series of apprenticeships. They remind us of the ties between the generations, which are why apprenticeships strike such a chord and which are so important in holding our country together.

The subject of this debate is a cause that is particularly close to my heart, because of both my ministerial experience and my family background. My family were artisans and craftsmen working in all the Birmingham trades—silversmiths, glaziers and gun-barrel makers. My father was an engineer who was very proud that he ran the apprenticeship programme for his Midlands manufacturing firm, IMI, which is still in the FTSE 100. My mother worked at Cadbury’s Bournville factory and remembered the enlightened

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support that enabled her to take up what was then called day release, to go to her local college and start training as a teacher.

As I say, I was also keen to participate in this debate because of my own ministerial experience. I am still involved in education, not least as a visiting professor at King’s College, London, and chair of the advisory board of Times Higher Education. The one omission from the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, listing our great institutions, was our universities. Our universities, scientific institutions and learned societies are also distinctive institutions in which we can take great pride. I am sure that we will continue to protect and sustain them by ensuring that they receive the public support they need and continuing to respect their autonomy, which is so important for their characteristics.

3.59 pm

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (CB): My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, on his fine and witty maiden speech. I have known him since he was a member of Lady Thatcher’s Downing Street policy unit in the 1980s and have long admired the intelligence and care he brings to public policy. Whenever people say to me that politicians favour policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy, I am tempted to say, “Do you know David Willetts?”, by way of antidote. As Minister for Science for four years, he was greatly respected in the world of the learned societies, not just for protecting the science budget, which really mattered, but for the seriousness with which he took, and takes, the life of the mind generally. I look forward with relish to his future speeches and much, much wisdom to come.

When it comes to adult education, I have a hero: R H Tawney, economic historian and pioneer of the early days of the Workers’ Educational Association. I am wearing a tribute to him. He was a man of tweed, who used to light up a pipe which would set his tweed jacket on fire at regular intervals. I have forsaken the pipe but I am wearing my Tawney tweeds to salute him and, indeed, his pioneering days as a founder of the Workers’ Educational Association. Listen to him for a moment lecturing in 1953 to mark the 50th anniversary of the WEA.

“The purpose of an adult education worthy of the name”,

said Tawney,

“is not merely to impart reliable information, important though that is”.

He continued:

“We can, if we please, resign the search for solutions to our problems to the superior wisdom of persons who are delighted, if we will let them, to do our thinking for us. We can, again, evade the perplexities which that search involves by taking refuge in the illusory consolations of dogmatic ideologies, whose votaries, by claiming the possession of prefabricated formulae adequate to all situations, are dispensed from the necessity of grappling seriously with any one of them”.

Powerful, stuff, my Lords—adult education as the stimulator of a free trade of the mind, which is what it is all about and always has been.

Twenty years after Tawney took to the lectern to deliver those words, I found myself, as a young journalist on what was then the Times Higher Education Supplement

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with adult education as part of my beat. The big story of that year, 1973, was the publication of the Russell report on adult education. I think it repays rereading. Sir Lionel Russell and his colleagues looked back to the pioneering days of Tawney and forward to our time, to this very era in the 21st century. Section 42 of Rab Butler’s fabled 1944 Education Act laid an obligation on local authorities to make provision for the education of adults. Russell and his colleagues thought that it was patchy and inadequate—just the same sort of feelings that we have expressed in your Lordships’ Chamber today. Russell pressed for what he called “a comprehensive service” for adult education in England and Wales which, at that time, was in receipt of but 1% of national spending on education.

Looking forward to the 21st century, the Russell committee foresaw substantial changes in the patterns of work and leisure and changes in the education system. What worried them was the possibility that a,

“more complex, more open and more mobile society will also run the risk of discovering new forms of social casualty”—

an interesting phrase—

“and there is nothing in contemporary trends to suggest that, as we become wealthier as a nation, social casualties will not occur or that adequate funds will automatically appear for their relief”.

For all my natural sympathy, then and now, with the thrust of the Russell report, I think that the idea of a comprehensive adult education service never quite fitted us as a nation with our eclectic, very British mixed economy of voluntary and publicly provided adult education, not least because there is a danger of loading too much freight upon adult education as a filler of gaps left by earlier formal education, a contributor to the skills base of the workforce, a trainer for social leadership and community action and a stimulator of individual artistic or literary activity.

The Russell committee, for example, did not foresee and could not have foreseen the cornucopic possibilities for individual and shared learning opened up by the digital revolution. Even the magnificent, cumulative success story of the Open University, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us, was at its fledgling stage when the committee reported.

Another example over the past quarter of a century of adult education, the appetite for which is widely shared, is the glorious efflorescence of the literary festivals, with more than 360 in the country last year. It is almost as if a secret known only to the WEA, the university extra-mural departments and the wonderful Historical Association—I declare, with pride, my honorary membership of the Bolton branch of the Historical Association—suddenly transported itself to the marquees and halls of our glorious literary festivals. You can fill a hall at a literary festival to talk about politics in a way that you cannot if you are a professional politician. It just shows that Oscar Wilde was wrong in this sense when he said:

“The trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings”.

No one minds the literary festivals taking up too many evenings—they love it.

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The divine spark of adult education is either lit or waiting to be kindled within all of us. For adult education, as Tawney said, should be concerned,

“not merely with the machinery of existence, but with the things which make it worthwhile to live”.

Finally, I add my fond farewell to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. She understands so well the wider Tawney tradition and so much more. The noble Baroness has been a friend and an adult educator of mine for more than 40 years. How fortunate I have been.

4.05 pm

Lord Addington (LD): My Lords, this is a debate that I never thought I would speak in, because I never thought that my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby would ever leave. She has cast a rather deeper shadow than virtually anybody else I have worked with and it has been my privilege to work with her. It is in that spirit, also, that I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, to the House—and say that we all have a story like that about my noble friend Lady Williams. You are in awe of her and then she brings you down to a mundane, happy place for a moment and then hits you over the head with an intellectual argument that weighs a tonne. That is how I will always remember her.

The thing that inspired me to speak in this debate so very ably introduced by my noble friend Lady Sharp is a fairly steady theme of mine: how we deal with those with hidden disabilities and their ongoing education, particularly dyslexics—and I draw the House’s attention to my declared interests. I have read through the information briefings that arrive—some asked for, some not—for these debates and what is always raised is the literacy problems in our country. Dyslexia—hence the word, so I am told; I do not speak Greek—comes from a difficulty with language. English is a particularly bad language for us because it does not have a phonic tradition. In fact, it has two phonic traditions, one French, one Anglo-Saxon. As we cannot go back and get rid of the Norman invasion, we have to live with that world. We have to go on and work through it. The problem tends to be that we get obsessed with the idea that this group has to pass an English test. We do not say that we can improve your English or that we can find ways around it but, in the modern world, we can for the first time. For about the last decade and a half, there has been reliable technology that will transfer the spoken word into the written word and vice versa. There are ways of dealing with the problem, but we are still obsessed with the idea of the English language test.

Those in this group are told that they have to improve their language skills in a classroom—a classroom in which they have already failed and in which conventional teaching tactics do not work. When you talk about any form of education, particularly adult education when you are either on a second chance or are improving skills, this becomes even more difficult, because you are going to a group who have been told or have learned from experience that this is not where they prosper. You are going back to a set of skills that they have already failed to acquire and may, indeed, often find their own children acquiring quite easily. So are we going to start training our adult educators to be

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able to spot this problem? I do not mean having a few specialists; I am talking about making sure that the average person who takes part in a classroom—as an instructor, tutor, lecturer, call it what you will—knows how to spot and understand the problem, and acquire different tactics for that person and say, “Speak to the expert”, and when the expert tells them how to change their behaviour, understands why they have to do it. Because the idea that you must pass English and maths or you are really just not the thing, we cannot work with you, is actually out of date. There are ways around this problem. You can access learning potential now by doing other things. Will the Minister say, when she replies, what steps are being taken to make sure that those who are doing the basic provision at least have some knowledge of these conditions?

If we agree that improving literacy skills, or accessing literature, is a major problem, what are we doing to address it? What are we doing to improve in the correct way and, when no improvement can be made, to find a way round and through? Because such a way now exists. This is a big challenge, a cultural challenge, but if we are not to continue writing off large groups—and we keep being told that we cannot afford to do so—surely it is a challenge we should engage with forthwith.

4.10 pm

Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Lab): My Lords, I welcome this important debate, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who is a doughty defender of education and science in the House of Lords. It has been an occasion to listen to the valedictory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. She quoted from “Richardsb II”, but I usually hear another quotation from that play:

“let us sit upon the ground.And tell sad stories”.

However, this is a relatively happy story of British education, social and cultural life, as other noble Peers have mentioned. Over the past 50 years, in my experience as an academic and in this place, adult education has evolved, with huge changes, particularly in information technology and new educational approaches; for example, through social learning.

It is worth remembering, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, mentioned, that WEA lecturers would travel out to small meetings in remote towns and villages to present and discuss every possible subject, from Egyptology to advances in technology. I drove from Coventry to Ludlow to give a day’s course on engineering in 1966, organised by Birmingham University’s extension learning. Interestingly enough, before you were allowed to go off and say your thing in these villages, you had quite a grilling by the administrator of the Birmingham University centre.

Many universities provide such programmes, which complement those regularly provided by further education colleges and local community colleges. Cambridgeshire was and is famous for utilising village colleges and inner-city comprehensives—newly formed, of course, in my life, thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—to provide evening and weekend courses. I was able, for example, to take an evening course in German given by the same excellent teacher who taught my daughter at primary school during the day.

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It sounds rather ideal but it was. It was also a good way for the chairman of governors, as I was, to get a better feel for the college.

As things changed, it was exciting to be at meetings in the 1960s as academics and politicians discussed the formation of the Open University. It was the great achievement of Jennie Lee in Harold Wilson’s Government, as is well described in the biography of Jennie Lee by my noble friend Lady Hollis. Of course, the formation of the OU was a delicate matter, given the existing organisations, but it very cleverly complemented the existing adult education, which arranged lectures by the WEA and further education colleges, so that the facilities and lecturers were all made use of but new things developed.

The OU had the technical, academic and presentational resources, with the BBC, to make remarkable programmes, broadcast on the BBC, which were viewed by the general public. People used to say to me, “My God, Julian, I saw you at 5 am this morning lecturing on air pollution”. It showed that they were sleepless, but the interesting point was that it was an astonishing dissemination of knowledge.

Of course, these programmes were used in formal education. They were very often used by teachers as part of their further training. Indeed, the high quality led to many OU TV programmes being used as part of undergraduate and graduate courses at universities all over the world. In China, they have an interesting approach to intellectual property. They used to take OU courses and chop them up into little bits and put them together again in all sorts of new ways. That would be absolutely impossible here. The OU extended its ideas of graduate education to other countries; for example, in Hong Kong they have its programmes.

However, then and now, there remains a significant defect in the provision of advanced part-time, especially evening, courses in the UK. Many of my academic colleagues working in the large conurbations of the United States regularly give their advanced courses in the evenings. Most seminars in universities are relayed to all the companies in Silicon Valley, for example. We have nothing remotely similar to that kind of knowledge dissemination. In London, Birkbeck College and City University are renowned for their evening lectures but inevitably the range of courses is very limited. When I returned from the United States in the 1960s, I expected to find courses in London in advanced engineering and mathematics—absolutely not.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, explained, business learning is thriving but not for many of these other areas of technology. However, some 35 years later, with colleagues at University College, we were able to establish this kind of programme but for only a few years. Sadly, funding was not able to be continued.

There are many ways in which adult education can work at all different levels but we have to think about the competition from other countries.

4.16 pm

Lord Cotter (LD): My Lords, the importance of this debate is immense—the last words of the Motion refer to strengthening the United Kingdom economy. I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for introducing this subject.

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I have a small business background. In addressing skills and lifelong learning, I will be talking about further education colleges and their importance. They are vital. Our college in Weston-super-Mare, Weston College, has convinced me of the key importance of further education. In fact, there is a massive need throughout the country for this facility to be available. We need to bridge the gap between what business needs and what actually happens. Weston College has a close relationship with business—a two-way process, with potential employees as well. The college personnel visit schools to speak to pupils as well as teachers to help communicate the real skills that business and the economy require.

On skills, there is a real need for apprenticeships at all ages—lifelong learning. Our economy will prosper only through training and skilling. This means a close contact between FE and business. That is why it is very welcome that in Weston-super-Mare we have the Business Enterprise Centre sponsored by Weston College. It has terrific results when it comes to reality—close contact between business and the economy and training and skills.

On reskilling, it is not enough to have some FE colleges; we need more, but all must be in contact with the real world—business, the learners and the teachers. Weston’s Business Enterprise Centre is a great hub of activity. We need more of this approach in this country to encourage the economy. More than 800 students of all ages are involved. As I said, it is extended through consistent contacts with the Business Enterprise Centre. We need this recruiting to help staff on both sides, to encourage and to inform. In order to advance and strengthen our economy, we need open thinking not only from firms but from potential employers, including learners, who have to be up to date. We need clear thinking generally.

While covering this subject, I would like to put one concern to the Minister and others: the need not to lose skills. Increasingly, there is a worry that the experience, knowledge and expertise gained by people who have worked a lifetime in their particular field is at risk of being lost. In that respect, we are talking about succession planning.

I urge the Minister to ensure that the Government give priority to skilling, based on the experience that I have had with Weston College, one of the very best in the country. In all this, we need to ensure clear thinking on all sides. By that, I mean good training when it comes to management; not all managements in business necessarily have a very good approach to the workforce. The heads of companies and organisations often need training to understand that you are only as good as the team you motivate and have around you. It comes down to lifelong learning for all of us, be it an employer, a business, a learner or needing to change our particular emphasis when we are adults.

Finally, shortly after I left school, I went to a company which was very much run as a “them and us” company. I was asked to go back to it many years later to change that. To me, it is very important that managements are trained as well as their staff to ensure that they run their companies and the business field well.

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4.22 pm

Baroness Greenfield (CB): I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. For me, as for many women of my generation, she has been a true inspiration and role model. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for raising an urgent issue of relevance to an ageing population, in particular a population faced with the challenge of a workplace that increasingly demands continuing adaptability.

As a neuroscientist, I have a fascination with how the brain learns, how it learns most effectively and the impact that the learning experience has on one’s subsequent state of mind. First, I challenge misconceptions that the young will automatically learn better than adults. We know that throughout life the brain remains plastic—that is, highly dynamic and sensitive to experiences, with every moment you are alive almost literally leaving that experience, that mark, on your highly impressionable neuronal circuitry. We therefore continue to learn throughout our lives. We may even do so more effectively in some ways than those who are younger. For example, one study has revealed that, across a range of ages from 20 to 83, older individuals were capable of processing a wider range of sensory inputs. They were more likely to try and fit what they learnt into a more extensive conceptual framework.

This brings us to a second issue: the importance of tailoring education specifically to adults, according to a different learning style. Since the 1960s, it has been recognised that different types of intelligence are dominant at different stages of life. A psychologist at the time, Raymond Cattell, mooted a distinction between what he termed fluid versus crystalline intelligence. The former was evidenced in the ability to give the right answer efficiently to a given input, while crystalline intelligence represented not so much processing information but the acquisition of knowledge. In early adulthood, fluid intelligence drops off quite dramatically, but in favour of a reassuringly steady growth in the type of learning where one places the new item into an ever wider context where, as with the connectedness of a crystal, the brain more readily joins up the dots—in this case almost literally by forging ever more robust and extensive neuronal connections. Hence, traditionally, wisdom is more readily attributed to adults than to children, who may well be clever and fast in absorbing facts but without necessarily understanding and appreciating the wider context. If, as the brain sciences are suggesting, the adult is more likely to see the bigger picture of what they are learning then it is essential that we maximise the opportunities in later life for this ability to flourish.

The third point is therefore on the impact of adult learning on well-being, and hence its clear societal benefits. In 2015, an astonishing 70 million work days were lost due to mental health problems, at the cost of £2.4 billion. Any approach that can reduce such absenteeism is likely to have a significant impact on the economy. Research shows that formal learning in adulthood can do just that. The individual feels less marginalised and gains more meaning to their life. It also widens their social networks and thus improves their employment prospects. In one investigation with participants diagnosed with either schizophrenia or

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bipolar disorder, a formal learning period led to an increase in those in paid employment from 33% to 48%, while the number undertaking unpaid voluntary work had also increased significantly from 8% to an astonishing 38%.

Far less expected, as the brain ages, is an improved learning ability if you take physical exercise. A study in 2011 tested individuals aged 55 to 80, randomly assigning half to an aerobic exercise group and the other half to the so-called control group, where they merely had to stretch. Over a 12-month period of three sessions a week, the stretching group displayed normal age-related mental decrement but for those engaging in aerobic activity, scans revealed an increased volume in a region of the brain, the hippocampus, that is related to memory. It seems that the critical issue is indeed to get blood pumping around the body and into the brain. Another investigation reported that, over a three-year period, those who spent most time in a range of physical activity had less brain shrinkage than those who engaged in exclusively cerebral pursuits.

In summary, learning ability is not just a talent of the young: as we mature, deep knowledge is more likely to be an outcome of education programmes than can be guaranteed among children. Inevitably, this broadening of the mind, ideally maximised further by raised physical fitness, will have incalculable benefits on personal well-being and confidence, reflected inevitably in turn by increased value in the workplace.

4.27 pm

Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con): My Lords, I join others in the House in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on securing this meaningful and timely debate. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on her valedictory speech and on her reference to public service. One thing that comes to me from all that she has done is that people are at the heart of everything, and how things impact them. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Willetts for his maiden speech. He is often referred to as “Two-brains Willetts”; I have got by on one but, at times, two would have been very helpful. I also thank the Open University and the Association of Colleges for their briefing material, which has been helpful.

Forgive me if I state the obvious but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has already referred to, as an economy we need more people to remain in the country’s workforce and labour market for longer. This inevitably means a constant need to update and upgrade, and learn new skills to ensure that our economy continues to thrive. We have a skills shortage now and, from all we are told, as technology advances and markets change this is set to continue. The need to increase productivity is a constant challenge and one that will be met if our workforce have the right skills and, just as importantly, if those being prepared for the labour market are equipped with the skills that they need to make a good transition to it. Adults whose jobs are no longer needed, for a variety of reasons, will need and indeed will want to continue to work. They will need to be reskilled as well as upskilled. Without doubt, they will want to be of value to the economy and society. They will understand and readily take the challenge to adapt by upgrading their skills.

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Another practical point I would make is that many adults realise at different points in their lives that they need to do and learn new things. How many people have we heard say, “If only I had appreciated at school that I needed to learn these skills to do the job I want to do. If only I had not wasted my time in education. If only I had fully appreciated what opportunities there would be for me, and planned my development more thoroughly”? For some, the moment comes when real motivation kicks in, and it comes at different points for so many.

Noble Lords will be aware of my past role at Tomorrow’s People. I remember so well a young man, not a million miles from here, who had been able to generate income from doing things that we wished he had not. He had done very well at it, and it took some time to convince him to go down the conventional route of employment, but he did just that. What surprised us was that his mother appeared in our office and said, “If you can do it for him, you can do it for me”. Her moment had truly come.

I remember, too, when the youth training scheme was introduced. Many people condemned it, saying it was no good and not helpful, but it did help many young people to get jobs. I remember going to the Manpower Services Commission in Moorfoot because I had had a delegation of adults saying, “Why can’t we have that?”. I asked the powers that be why we could not do it for adults. They said they did not know, so we put a proposition to them. They let us do it, and we started to get adults into a better position to compete in the labour market. The one thing that strikes me is that the bureaucracy there was quite limited. I guess we would not get that today, but I hope we can find some flexibility to respond more to the needs of the people that want us.

Ongoing training, skills development and education for everyone are critical to our economy. However, to have that, we need capacity and as flexible an approach as is practical, if we are to maximise the potential and ensure that we have the highly skilled and motivated workforce that employers need. I am glad that the Government have at least maintained the adult skills budget in what are challenging fiscal times.

However, even if we can get that flexibility, and we are really proud of and marching on with apprenticeships, there are only full-time ones. Is there any opportunity to have part-time apprenticeships? They would be what the right reverend Prelate would call “earn as you learn” apprenticeships. There may be a thousand reasons we cannot do that, but perhaps we can get together to think about what we can do. There are lots of statistics about, which make for very interesting reading, but let me share some from the Open University suggesting that,

“over the next 30 years, there will be 13 million vacancies, but only 7 million school leavers”.

This must be our call to action.

4.33 pm

Lord Bhattacharyya (Lab): I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for securing this debate and declare my interest as chairman of Warwick Manufacturing Group. I agree with previous speakers that it was an honour to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, make her

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valedictory speech. The number of us seeking wisdom from the noble Baroness shows our real appetite for lifelong learning. Furthermore, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who was an outstanding Minister for Science, has demonstrated that he will be the source of much valuable perspective and sage advice in the years to come.

Speaking of sage advice, we have heard much of the skills survey. Of course, adult education is much more than skills, but that is a real issue. Indeed, one Education Minister worried that,

“our provision for Technical education lags behind that which exists in many parts of Europe”.

That was in 1935. Another Minister argued that,

“collaboration between industry and commerce and the education service”,

is needed to create skills,

“adequate to the needs of the future”.

That was Rab Butler, in 1943. His vision led eventually to the industrial training boards, with levies funding vocational education for all ages. Sadly, these were abolished in the 1980s. We decoupled industry funding and vocational education, then constantly reformed the grant-funded system, going from TECs and the FEFC, through the LSC, to LEPs and the SFA.

What was the result? We have heard today that it was an ageing technical workforce, a deficit of 40,000 STEM-qualified workers each year and a declining adult skills budget destined to fall further. To be fair, the Government have found two good routes to support lifelong learning. The advanced learning loan removed financial barriers to adults studying in further education. It is a good policy and should be expanded to include all quality vocational courses and should include people in work to integrate advanced adult skills into the student loan system. Next, the apprentice levy will once again force large employers to invest in training their staff. I was a graduate apprentice. At that time, all graduates in engineering had to do a two-year apprenticeship, which was one way that companies used to train graduates.

These policies will bring vital resources to adult and vocational education, but only if companies wish to invest in external training and workers are willing to borrow to learn. Students and firms will need to be convinced that adult skills are worth the risk of time and money. We should follow Germany and give each industrial sector independent control over syllabus change, inspections and workplace training funded from the apprentice levy. A college or employer with an industry kite mark would be a recognised provider of quality vocational education.

Next, we must change the ways we teach skills to fit how companies work today. For example, at WMG we are partners with the Jaguar Land Rover Academy, which invests a more than £150 million a year on lifelong learning for every employee. Courses range from day release to full-time postgraduate degrees. They are run at different times, at varying intensities and in a wide range of locations. To make this work, at WMG we ensure all academy courses at every level are university approved, that progression between levels is seamless and that the skills offered match business needs. This is an innovative model of adult education

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making the boundary between work and learning permeable so that employees learn what is really useful in their career.

We all work outside our usual boundaries to create a strong partnership between FE colleges, universities and commercial training. This requires a focus on the long term and on not constantly changing funding bodies. This strategy of partnerships, quality and flexibility is essential because, as in the 1930s, our competitors are well ahead of us, because industrial partnerships are the best way to success, as Butler knew, and because, if we do not change, in 80 years we will have the same problems and similar debates.

4.37 pm

Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, I was privileged to work for most of my professional career with the Open University, and I am pleased that it has been mentioned several times this afternoon, including by my noble friend Lady Williams in her valedictory address. She was Minister of State at the DES in the critical years of the Open University’s establishment in the late 1960s and Secretary of State for Education and Science during the critical years of the university’s early expansion. Her support was vital to the Open University at the time and was much appreciated. From the perspective of these Benches and of Parliament more generally, she has made a massive contribution, leading us, inspiring us and supporting us, and we thank her for that.

This is an important debate, and I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for it. There are two areas I want to concentrate upon. The first relates to access and the importance of providers taking initiatives which reach people by other than traditional means. I shall say a word or two about union-based learning. I was involved in setting up a pilot project some years ago called Bridges to Learning. It was an Open University national partnership with the Workers’ Educational Association and Unison. This partnership is still going strong. It now receives funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and provides a strong focus on widening participation in work-based learning through the peer support provided by union learning representatives in the workplace. It is to be commended on its achievements over the last 15 years, since it has helped many low-paid workers back into learning and on to personal progression routes into further and higher education.

One important strand of this funded work has been the delivery of functional skills through numeracy and literacy workshops in local NHS trusts to enable employees to acquire entry qualifications for pre-registration nursing. Building on this regional success and in partnership with the Open University, the WEA nationally has recently developed a healthcare contextualised maths programme at QCA level 2, accredited by City and Guilds, which meets the numeracy entry requirement to nursing. It is delivered in the workplace through a 15-week course taught by the WEA and is organised and promoted by UNISON and its union learning representatives, who are seconded to work with Bridges to Learning. It is clear evidence of the value of partnership working which adds value; the sum is greater than the parts. It understands also that building confidence

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matters, of individuals who might otherwise not engage with education at all. Those who want to study but who are uncertain need the confidence and support given by a face-to-face adviser, not just a telephone link. It is very important that providers understand that that confidence-building matters as regards face-to-face meetings.

The second area relates to what the Government might do to reverse the decline in numbers of adults participating. Figures have already been quoted, which I will not repeat, but perhaps the Government might consider three initiatives. The first is personal career accounts, match-funded by public funding—very much along the line of the Help to Buy ISA schemes. Secondly, the scope of apprenticeship levy funding could be broadened to include part-time higher education, which would give greater flexibility to employers and give more options to individuals. Thirdly, will the Government ensure that in all their thinking they include part-time study for mature students as part of the solution and do not just think about younger students?

4.42 pm

Lord Taylor of Warwick (Non-Afl): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for securing this debate. She and other speakers have demonstrated much wisdom and expertise. The speeches of course included the excellent valedictory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her personal kindness to me over the years.

Education should be a lifelong pursuit. It is a journey, not a destination. Some years ago, I was walking down Kennington Road. A middle-aged man was coming in the opposite direction, smiling at me. He started laughing and pointed to me, saying, “George Clooney!”. I have been called many things in my life, but never that. Seeing how bemused I was, he said, “It's John Taylor, isn’t it? About 20 years ago you were my land law lecturer. It’s a dry subject, so instead of saying, ‘A sold 50 hectares to B’, you would give all the buyers and sellers Hollywood film star names. So George Clooney would sell his mansion to Bette Midler, who in turn sublet to Kim Basinger. It made the subject more fun and memorable”. He then got to his point. He explained how after several years in a factory he had made the leap of faith and furthered his education to eventually qualify as a legal executive. We shook hands and went on our way.

There is a vital link between education, including further and higher education, and the nation’s skill base and economy. In the UK we know we have a skills shortage, especially in engineering and science and at technician level. The CBI reported recently that nearly 60% of employers are concerned that their business will suffer because they cannot recruit enough people with sufficient skills.

Apprenticeships are certainly a way forward, but only about 6% of school leavers go into apprenticeships. The value of apprenticeships was valued as long ago as biblical times. Following ancient traditions, Jesus of Nazareth became an apprentice to his father Joseph as a trainee carpenter at the age of 12. He completed his

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apprenticeship, then worked as a master craftsman for nearly 20 years before starting his ministry.

Moving to modern times, I welcome the Government’s commitment to create 3 million new apprenticeships in England. Apprenticeships offer young people a route into the world of work, valuable experience and vital skills. However, I would like to see more opportunities for those in their later years to become apprentices, a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

Diversity in education is an important issue. In the UK, unemployment in the black community is on average twice what it is in the mainstream. When I was first appointed chancellor of Bournemouth University in 2001, the majority of its students were from the white community. Now, about 4,000 of its 18,000 students are from BME backgrounds. But looking at university figures as a whole, only about 1.5% of university students are from the UK black community. As your Lordships know, the famous film star, Idris Elba, spoke in Parliament last week. It is sad that, as a black actor, Mr Elba felt that he needed to move to America to advance his career.

We have to look at more creative ways of educating and improving the skills of harder-to-reach communities. I welcome the Government’s commitment to double the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education and to increase the number of BME students going to university by 20% by 2020. At my grammar school, I was considered bright but was told many times, “You shouldn’t expect to aspire to the higher echelons of society because black people just don’t do that kind of thing”.

For many young people sport, music and fashion are big influences on their lives and are levers to be used to inspire young people to pursue further education. Taking the example of sport, partnerships between soccer clubs and further education colleges are now on the increase.

It was Thomas Edison who said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. The road to education and skills is always under construction but it is a lifelong, rewarding journey.

4.47 pm

Lord Rees of Ludlow (CB): My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, so eloquently explained, there is a growing national need for flexible part-time education for young people seeking to qualify for gainful employment, for those in later life wishing to update their skills and for those in the third age simply wishing to follow intellectual interests.

There has been a huge expansion in higher education since the student days of most of us in this House. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for his strong commitment to this when he was the responsible Minister. However, this welcome development had two downsides. First, it led to a lack of focus on apprenticeships and further education, now, gratifyingly, being reversed. Secondly, a degree became a prerequisite for many jobs for which it was not needed in the past, and that impeded social mobility. Young people who have been disadvantaged or unlucky in their schooling will not have a fair chance of university access at age 18, even if they have great potential. Worse still, they generally have no second chance.

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Universities can ameliorate this problem. For instance, our most selective universities could earmark some proportion of places for students who do not enter straight from school but have gained “credit” through study at another institution or through part-time or online study. Indeed, there is a general need for more diversification among universities. Degree-level competence need not be achieved by continuous study in the traditional residential university. Moreover, there is nothing magic about that level. “Credits”, even if they are not sufficient for graduation, are worth while in themselves, and should be formalised into a system that more readily allows transfer between institutions and between part-time and full-time study. Indeed, many speakers have echoed the concern about the decline in part-time enrolments.

The Open University model, extolled by so many speakers, has vastly more potential in the era of the internet and the smartphone than when it was founded. We can all freely access wonderful material on the OpenLearn website, prepared jointly by the OU and the BBC, two institutions with a global reach.

The OU is surely ideally placed to take a lead in the worldwide dissemination of MOOCs. Top universities in the US are developing these, and all UK academics should surely seize similar opportunities to widen their impact. But rather than getting locked in to an American platform, like EdX or Coursera, they should contribute content to the Open University and support the further development of its FutureLearn platform. In most higher and further education contexts, MOOCs are, at best, supplementary, blending in to what is already on offer. But they are a genuine stand-alone option for mature and motivated students studying part time at home, whether seeking vocational qualifications or studying for its own sake.