Schedule 16 — Repeals and revocations

Part of Sale of Mobile Homes (Interviews) – in the House of Commons at 9:33 pm on 5th May 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 9:33 pm, 5th May 2009

It must come as a welcome relief to the Minister, after all the chaos of the Bill's passage through Committee, that we have at last come to the Third reading of the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. It is such an appropriately named Bill given that three of the four Ministers responsible for taking it through Committee appear to have been released from their ministerial apprenticeships prematurely—too soon, it seems, to manage the complex responsibility of ensuring that the Committee voted the right way on clause 49. The fourth Minister, the Minister for Schools and Learners, though experienced, appears not to have the skills to ensure that he did not lose four successive votes on the trot. And as for children, that role was amply filled by the Government's Deputy Chief Whip, whose petulance after losing those votes resulted in his looming presence in the Public Gallery and unnecessarily and expensively running the Committee through the night, finishing the Bill despite there being a full day left in the programme. What about the learning? Well, perhaps Labour Back Benchers on the Committee need to learn that Thursday Committee sittings start at 9 am and that they should get out of bed a little earlier.

I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and for Beverly Hills [ Laughter. ] I apologise; I mean for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). I thank them for their diligent attendance and contributions to the Committee stage, and I also thank our supportive Whip, my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin. I also want to thank the two Chairmen, my hon. Friend Mr. Chope and Mrs. Humble for their patience and expert deliberation, and my hon. Friend Mrs. Miller for her thorough scrutiny of the children and early years elements of the Bill. Finally, I want to thank my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes for his scrutiny of the DIUS elements of the Bill and for his charm and eloquence, of which all members of the Committee have grown so fond.

A Government who were elected on the threefold promise of education will bequeath an education system in which 40 per cent. of children leave primary school still struggling with the basics of reading, writing and maths; in which half the children who qualify for free school meals fail to achieve a single GCSE above a grade D; and in which the number of young people who have left education without a job or a place on a training scheme to go to has soared to a record 860,000. It is an education system about which academics such as Professor Tymms of Durham university have repeatedly provided evidence that literacy tests and GCSEs no longer provide robust evidence of standards, and where a student achieving an E in A-level maths in 1998 would now be awarded a B. Over the past few years, that education system has been beset by poor administration: the SATs marking fiasco, the non-payment of education maintenance allowances, the halting of the further education college building programme and, most recently, the sixth-form funding chaos, when the Learning and Skills Council sent out different letters to schools confirming a different level of funding.

Of course, the Secretary of State is quick to blame others—the QCA, the National Assessment Agency or the Learning and Skills Council. It is never his fault, or the Department's fault. Perhaps his focus has been on trying to become Chancellor, or Home Secretary, or on partisan politics, or on becoming leader of the Labour party after the general election. It is always the quangos' fault, which is why it is odd that the Bill creates a host of new quangos—the Young People's Learning Agency, the chief executive of skills funding, and the National Apprenticeship Service. As my hon. Friend Mr. Willetts said on Second Reading, this Bill

"reveals the besetting problem of a decaying Government coming to the end of their term: when in doubt, reorganise...Even worse than that, they are now reorganising their own reorganisations, and changing the institutions that they themselves created earlier."—[ Hansard, 23 February 2009; Vol. 488, c. 115.]

The Government claim that creating three quangos from one will slim down bureaucracy but in Committee, Ministers refused to guarantee that staffing numbers employed by these new quangos would not exceed the numbers currently employed by the LSC. However, we certainly welcome the Government's commitment to increasing the number of apprenticeships. My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings is well known and respected for his advocacy of genuine apprenticeships and, along with our hon. Friend the Member for Havant, he has developed a policy that will mean 100,000 more work-based apprenticeships.

We support measures in the Bill that give people the right to request time off to train or study. Raising skill levels in this country can only be beneficial to the individual, to their employer and to our economy as a whole, but it is surprising that the Government want to engage in bureaucratic reorganisations just when our economy is at its lowest ebb and when tens of thousands of people will be hoping to retrain for the jobs that we all hope will come when the economy eventually emerges from recession.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website