Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]
Lord Tope (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 30 and 35. We return to the thorny issue of the intentional differences, as the Government told us last time, between Clauses 2 and 3 and the provision required for 16 to 19 year-olds and those over 19. We had a fairly full debate on this matter at Committee stage, and the Minister will be pleased to know that I do not intend to repeat all the arguments that I then made. He was careful to try to explain "proper", which I believe in the end he defined as "entitlement", and "reasonable", which he defined as "something slightly less". I believe that that was a slightly less than adequate definition of "reasonable". However, it was a matter which would not be determined by the needs of the learners but the resources which the LSC felt able to make available.
I have already made clear that we do not regard those differences as acceptable. We understand that inevitably there must be a difference in the quantity of provision but certainly not in its quality. I recognise that every government has priorities. The Government have made it clear that their priority is 16 to 19 year-olds. Be that as it may, priorities change over time and it is not helpful to have them written into law. At present the Bill does not propose differing priorities within a single lifelong learning system but a two-tier system, with adult learners being relegated to a second division and receiving additional resources only after proper facilities for young people have been secured. That is not a statement of government priorities; it is to be in legislation for all time. That will be so until such time as there is a change in legislation, not a change in the Government's priorities. I do not believe that that is a helpful starting point to advance the interests of adult learners in the long term.
The Minister was understandably concerned in Committee to try to provide correct definitions and did not explain as fully as I might have wished the Government's medium-term policies and aspirations for adult learning. I do not expect the Minister today to accept amendments which were so unacceptable to him in Committee. However, rather than spend time carefully defining "proper" and "reasonable" perhaps the noble Lord will explain the Government's priorities and medium-term aspirations for adult learning. It has been made clear to us that 16 to 19 year-olds will have priority. However, do the Government endorse the proposals in the Kennedy report or the more modest ones set out in the third Skills Task Force report as explicit policy goals? If we knew the answer to that it might go some small way to allay the concern that adult education is, by legislation, being relegated to the second division. In moving this amendment--more in hope than expectation--I trust that the Government will take the opportunity to allay some of the fears and express their aspirations for the medium and long-term future of adult education. I beg to move.