I want to start by paying tribute to Mary Kelly Foy for bringing the Bill forward. It is vital that we get this done, and it is great to be able to speak in the debate. I am slightly afraid that I may be in an echo chamber with some of my comments. My hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) and for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) have covered a lot of the merits and technicalities of the Bill in front of us, so I want to confine my comments to the merits of the Bill and to my personal experience.
This is quite a personal Bill for me. I am the product of effective welfare and safeguarding at school, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute in particular to someone I class as an absolute personal hero of mine, a lady called Helen Bettelley. She went the extra mile for me while I was at school, and she is one of the reasons why I am here now. It was through her care and her understanding of welfare and pastoral care—the importance that it plays in the lives of young people, particularly in the 16 to 19 bracket, which can be some of the most torrid times in a young person’s life—that I am here today. I wanted to put on record my thanks to her at the start of this speech.
I will turn now to the substance of the Bill. I know from my experience—I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of this from their surgeries and interactions with constituents—that we have to get this right. It is as simple as that. The reality is that I quite often get at my surgeries safeguarding issues, welfare issues and concerns that are raised with me by parents about schools, and extending this to independent providers of additional training and education is absolutely vital. The welfare issues we encounter absolutely demonstrate why we cannot leave any loophole in this provision.
What we are doing is really just making sure that what should have been done and what—to coin a phrase—is long overdue is now actually done. It is not that radical; it is just making sure that people in 16 to 19 independent training provision are given the welfare that they deserve. Let me touch on some of the comments made about mental health. When we consider that one in six 16 to 19-year-olds says they have a mental health condition or feels under the strain of mental health pressures, it speaks for itself why it is absolutely vital that this loophole is plugged.
The reality is that many of the parents I speak to in my constituency, whose children may be training with independent providers, often feel quite lost when it comes to the welfare side of things. When they compare the level of pastoral support in sixth-form colleges, which my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough mentioned, or other further education providers with that of independent providers, they often see that it just is not there. It is absolutely right that we align the legislation properly to ensure that 16 to 19-year-olds get the provision they rightfully deserve.
I want to pay another tribute. In my own area of Sandwell, we are actually quite good at the welfare and stakeholder working side. I pay tribute to Sandwell College, which is based in West Bromwich. Its approach to this is absolutely spot-on, and it chimes with the approach in the Bill. It is a cross-stakeholder approach. It is about saying, “We’re not going to do this silo-ed. We’ve not going to do this contained. We’re actually going to reach out.” As my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks pointed out, it is about getting parents and other parts of the community involved in the wider welfare and safeguarding of these young people.
I want to confine my comments to this: this is absolutely the right thing to do and we absolutely have to get it done. I pay tribute to the fantastic FE providers that have been given a call-out today and who are absolutely getting this right. I say once again that I stand here as someone who has benefited from proper safeguarding and welfare, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will see what we can achieve by getting this right.