“(1) The Secretary of State must conduct an annual review of the operation of the provisions of this Act.
(2) The first review must take into account the interaction of this Act with Level 4 lifelong loan entitlement provision in the 2025/26 academic year.
(3) The review must consider the impact of the provisions of this Act on—
(a) learner uptake of modular study,
(b) employer spending on lifelong learning, re-training and upskilling opportunities for their employees,
(c) the provision of courses offered by higher education and further education providers,
(d) the financial sustainability of the tertiary education sector,
(e) the Student Loans Company, and
(f) the Office for Students.
(4) The Secretary of State must lay the report on the findings of the first review before Parliament before the end of 2026.”—(Matt Western.)
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to conduct and publish a review on the impact of the Act on various factors after the extension of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to Level 4 courses in Academic Year 2025/26 but not before the extension of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to Level 4, 5 and 6 in Academic Year 2027/28, and then annually.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Requirement to publish a revised impact assessment—
“(1) Before laying the first regulations under this Act, the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a revised impact assessment.
(2) The impact assessment must take account of, in particular—
(a) the Lifelong Loan Entitlement Consultation and the Government’s response,
(b) any spending review decisions announced after the date on which the Act received Royal Assent, and
(c) any announced changes to Government skills and education policy.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish a revised impact assessment of the Bill with regard to recently announced and future changes related to the Lifelong Loan Entitlement policy.
Amendment 2 to clause 1, page 2, line 10, at end insert—
“(1A) One credit means 10 notional learning hours.”
This amendment puts the number of hours that constitute a credit on the face of the Bill.
Amendment 1 to clause 2, page 6, leave out lines 17 to 20 and insert—
“(7A) Nothing in subsection (7) requires the Secretary of State to make regulations under subsection (6) to set fee limits for courses which have not been designated by or under regulations made by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998.”
This amendment safeguards against charging variable fees based on course or subject.
Amendment 4, page 8, line 36, after “may” insert “until
This amendment is a probing amendment that would limit the use of saving and transitional measures to
Amendment 3, page 8, line 38, at end insert—
“(6A) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provisions) regulations under this Act shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
This amendment would require that regulations made under this Act are subject to the affirmative procedure.
Amendment 5, page 8, line 38, at end insert—
“(6A) Before laying the first regulations under the 2017 Act, the Secretary of State must make a written ministerial statement updating the House of Commons on the progress made in the Lifelong Loan Entitlement roll out and outlining how the regulations will support further policy development.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a written ministerial statement ahead of laying any regulations under this Act, updating the House on the progress of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement policy and how the regulations aim to support the policy.
I rise to speak to new clauses 1 and 2 and amendments 3 to 5, which appear in my name and that of my hon. Friend Mr Perkins, who is unfortunately unable to be here today. Our amendments at their core seek to do three important things and are designed to ensure that the Bill is successful: to introduce parliamentary oversight; to provide the sector with as much clarity as possible ahead of the implementation of the lifelong loan entitlement; and to allow for an assessment of the interaction between the Bill and the policy underpinning the lifelong loan entitlement. They seek to achieve those aims at various key points in the Minister’s decision-making process, covering the period prior to laying the regulations, the process of laying the regulations and the post-enactment effect of the regulations. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will speak to our amendments with that logical structure in mind.
New clause 2 would require the Minister to publish a revised impact assessment before laying any regulations under the Act. Such an impact assessment must consider the Government’s response to the lifelong loan entitlement, any subsequent spending reviews, and the Government’s broader education and skills policy. I note that the Minister has committed himself and the Government at various times to such an impact assessment. In the impact assessment attached to the Bill, a post-enactment impact assessment is promised. In Committee, the Minister also promised that
“the Government will publish a full and detailed impact assessment, including the qualification of expected costs and the benefits of LLE in its entirety, when we lay the necessary secondary legislation to fully implement the LLE.”––[Official Report, Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Public Bill Committee,
Therefore, the need for a revised impact assessment does not seem to be in dispute.
It is important, however, that the impact assessment is as thorough as possible. At the moment, we have impact assessments split across a variety of strands: attached to the Bill, the Government consultation response, and future announcements. There are some glaring gaps, noticeably on the impact on providers. The Bill’s current impact assessment stresses that the
“overall impact is likely to be ambiguous because of various opposing effects.”
It is important that those effects are considered in the round in any future impact assessment.
Even if the Minister does not accept the new clause, I would welcome his commitment to producing a post-enactment impact assessment, pulling together the variety of loose strands across different announcements. I would also welcome his commitment to publishing a revised impact assessment before he lays any regulations under the Bill, and a commitment on when he intends to do that.
Amendment 5 is linked to the aim of new clause 2. It would require the Minister to publish a written ministerial statement before tabling any regulations under the Bill. The amendment would require any written statement to take into account the interaction between the regulation and the policy proposal. On Second Reading, I described the Bill as an “exoskeleton without a body”—that is to say, a framework without much policy substance. After detailed debate in Committee, I understand some of the reasons why the Bill is technical in design and therefore somewhat policy-light. What amendment 5 seeks to do, however, is to link the policy objectives of lifelong learning to the secondary legislation tabled under the Bill. It would close the gap between the Bill’s skeletal framework and the policy announced by the Government.
Amendments 5 and 3, the second of which would subject all regulations made under the Bill to the affirmative procedure, are guided by one simple aim: parliamentary oversight. In Committee, the Minister confirmed that regulations determining the fee method, the number of credits attached to credit-differential activity, the number of learning hours attached to credit, the maximum number of credits and the uprating of the lifelong learning entitlement would all be subject to the affirmative process. I welcome that commitment and have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the Minister’s promise. However, given that we have had, I think, three Ministers in the last 10 months, there is uncertainty about the commitment —or lack of it—to that on the part of others. Given that the Minister supports the central thrust of amendment 3 and is a keen supporter of parliamentary oversight and a pragmatist, I hope that he will be prepared to assert Parliament’s right to scrutiny in the Bill.
Amendment 4 would limit the use of the saving and transitional provisions in the Bill to the end of September 2024. I tabled a similar amendment in Committee that would have limited their usage to the end of January 2024. The Minister confirmed that the Government
“are not intending to lay the broader suite of regulations to enable the LLE until after January 2024.”—[Official Report, Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Public Bill Committee,
I understand the reasons behind the need for flexibility—after all, lifelong learning is a fundamental change in the structure of the student loans system—but the Minister will no doubt be aware of the need for providers, students and the Student Loans Company to have adequate time to prepare.
On the Minister’s own timeline, continuing to table saving and transitional provisions after September 2024 would leave less than one complete academic year before the expansion of LLE to level 4 courses in September 2025. What assurances can he give the sector that the vast majority—if not all—of the regulations will be laid by or before September 2024? Can he be a little more specific than any time after January 2024?
Finally, I turn to new clause 1, which would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the Bill’s impact on a variety of factors after the launch of lifelong learning for level 4 in the 2025 academic year. It would need to be published before the expansion in the 2027-28 academic year to levels 4, 5 and 6. The Secretary of State would then have to conduct an annual review every subsequent year taking into account learner uptake, employer spending, the provision of courses on offer, the financial sustainability of the sector, the Student Loans Company and the Office for Students. I will touch on a few of those points to illustrate why such a review is so crucial.
On the Bill’s impact on learner uptake, we know that there is a huge job to be done. As Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, reminded us in Committee, accelerated courses were once poised to be the next big thing but never really materialised. The same can honestly be said of T-levels. The Education Committee’s report into post-16 education, which was published last week—the Minister will be more than familiar with it—revealed that 63% of young people had not even heard of T-levels. As Rachel Sandby-Thomas, the registrar at the University of Warwick, put it:
“The take-up has been disappointing”––[Official Report, Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Public Bill Committee,
c. 33, Q75.]
The National Careers Service—incidentally, this was introduced by my friend Gordon Marsden, the former Member of Parliament for Blackpool South—would be the most obvious choice for helping to deliver information, advice and guidance. I am reliably informed that the NCS is now poorly resourced and unable to meet the demand for face-to-face appointments, and has been described by the Local Government Association as in need of a “radical shake up”. How on earth, therefore, does the Minister expect adequate information, advice and guidance to be provided to prospective learners when the most obvious mechanism available to deliver it has been so stretched and under-resourced these past few years?
Of course, none of that is to say that LLE will not propel an enormous wave of adult learners and upskillers, but recent policy announcements suggest the need for an enormous communications campaign, a large investment of resources and a clear understanding of the barriers to uptake. A review, as proposed in new clause 1, would achieve that aim. Linked to that, the impact of the Bill on the courses on offer and the financial sustainability of the sector will be one of the main factors in determining whether the policy is a success.
Given the declining unit of resource, the urgent need for a review in post-16 education funding, as the Education Committee has called for, and the additional costs incurred by modular study, there is a risk, albeit small, that the policy might stretch providers too far and too thinly. I note the Minister indicated that the wider LLE impact assessment, which is being updated as the policy develops, expects increased uptake of technical provision, modular study and part-time study to expand opportunities for providers to generate revenue. That is good news. However, circumstances change, populations grow and shrink, and universities are under greater pressure to deliver. The assessment therefore needs to be continual.
On a final point—one that was raised in Committee—the reform will inevitably help those currently in the workforce to reskill and retrain. Given that the apprenticeship levy has been so poorly used, with just 31% of levy-paying employers in a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development poll claiming that it had encouraged them to spend on training, down from 46% five years ago, there is clearly a pressing need for reskilling and workplace training. However, there is obviously a balance to be struck between meeting the needs of employers and those needs being imposed on workers, and meeting the expectations of citizens to have access to further educational experiences for their own fulfilment. There is a real risk that employers will use the system to burden their employees and potential hires with debt to fulfil their own internal skills gaps. I know that the Minister would not want the system to be used purely for that purpose and new clause 1 would keep an ongoing eye on that practice. I would be interested to hear any further thoughts the Minister has had since Committee on what steps he might be inclined to take to prevent the misapplication of the LLE by employers.
I will draw my remarks to a close. I reiterate my support, and the Labour party’s support, for the Bill and the policy it underpins. The amendments we have tabled reflect that support, while seeking to futureproof the policy to ensure it has a long-lasting impact over successive election cycles and decades. We want it to be successful. By far the most important of the amendments we have tabled today is on the need for review to guard against any unintended effects of the policy, engage parliamentary oversight and provide an avenue for all stakeholders to continue to feed into the policy outcome. It is for that reason that we will be pressing new clause 1 to a Division.
Ahead of speaking to the amendments tabled by Matt Western, I would like to thank Members from across the Chamber for their contributions and the spirit of the amendments tabled, as well as the spirit in which they invested in the Bill and its transformational programme.
I will start with new clause 1, which seeks to require the Secretary of State to publish an ongoing annual review on the impact of the Act from academic year 2025-26. I understand the new clause intends to require the Secretary of State to conduct and publish a review on the impact of the Act, in particular covering the phased introduction of modular provision from 2025. As hon. Members will be aware, the Government published an impact assessment for the Bill, which includes a consideration of the impact of modularisation, including on providers.
If I may, I will recount to Members how the Government intend to introduce the LLE. The LLE will provide individuals with loan entitlements to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use over their working lives, for example £37,000 in today’s fees. The LLE will be available from 2025 for full courses at levels 4 to 6, such as degrees and higher technical qualifications. In addition, the LLE will begin a phased introduction of modular funding, starting in 2025, with modules of high-value technical courses at level 4 and 5. The Government are particularly keen to ensure a wide range of high quality level 4 and 5 modules are in scope from 2025-26. That will pave the way for expanding out new modular funding to broader level 4, 5 and 6 provision in 2027, where we can be confident of positive student outcomes.
There will be an opportunity to contribute to the approach of the expansion of modular funding. As set out in the Government’s response, we intend to launch a technical consultation next year to specify how we will determine funding for wider modules. I agree with the sentiment behind new clause 1 on the importance of monitoring the function of the LLE in line with policy intention. However, introducing an ongoing review into primary legislation before the policy has been fully implemented or had sufficient time to bed in would not be appropriate. Additionally, the Government believe a yearly report without an end date could be an undue and disproportionate burden at this stage. For that reason, the Government believe it neither necessary nor appropriate to introduce an ongoing review requirement on the face of primary legislation and that is why we cannot support new clause 1.
New clause 2 introduces a requirement to publish a revised impact assessment. It would have the effect of requiring the Secretary of State, before the laying of secondary legislation, to publish a revised impact assessment, taking into account any development of policy on the LLE. I am in full agreement with the intent behind new clause 2, which is to ensure there is adequate and ongoing analysis of the impacts of policy to inform decision making and scrutiny of legislation. As Members are aware, the Government published an impact assessment for the Bill on its introduction, on
“In accordance with the Better Regulation Framework, more detailed assessments of impacts, including quantification of expected costs and benefits of the different aspects of LLE policy, will be published in due course at the point when the government lays the necessary secondary legislation to fully implement LLE.”
I therefore reiterate and give assurance that the Government intend to publish an updated impact assessment for the LLE ahead of the laying of regulations. It is not necessary to codify that on the face of primary legislation and that is why the Government cannot support new clause 2.
On amendment 4 and the transitional measures referred to by the Opposition spokesman, the amendment requires any regulations on transitional arrangements to be made in connection with the coming into force of the Bill to be laid before the end of September 2024. Due to the complexity of the regulations required, and consistent with our plans to introduce the LLE from 2025, the Government intend to lay the broader suite of regulations to enable the LLE at the earliest in mid to late 2024. Those regulations are likely to include transitional and saving provisions needed in relation to the new powers in clauses 1 and 2. As hon. Members will be aware, the laying of regulations is subject to available parliamentary time. It would not be helpful at this point to prescribe a specific period. However, the Government agree that regulations need to be laid in a timely manner.
The LLE is a long-lasting, systemic reform set to affect generations of future students. It is imperative that the utmost care is taken of both the nation’s finances and our future generations’ education, as well as students who will be in the current system, when the LLE comes on stream, giving them the time and consideration they deserve. For those reasons, the Government cannot support the amendment.
Amendment 3, which stands in the names of the hon. Members for Warwick and Leamington and for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), would require any regulations made under the Act to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. As I said, I appreciate the essential scrutiny that Opposition Members have given to the Bill, and I agree that the process is crucial. For that reason, the majority of regulations under the Bill will be subject to the affirmative procedure—clause 2(6) achieves that.
The Bill brings in new delegated powers under new paragraphs 1, 1B, 1C and 1F of schedule two to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which allow the Secretary of State to introduce the new method for determining fee limits, attaching credits, setting a maximum default number of credits and making adjustments for transfer cases under the credit-based method. All those powers are subject to the affirmative procedure and, as such, will require debate.
The only delegated powers that will be subject to the negative resolution procedure relate to the minor amendments that the Bill makes to existing powers under section 10 of the Higher Education and Research Act on prescribing qualifying courses for fee limit purposes, which Parliament has already agreed should be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The amendment would also require that the affirmative procedure applies to provisions that are not normally subject to it, which do not require mandatory normal parliamentary debates, such as commencement or transitional and saving regulations.
I welcome the Minister’s assurances, both in Committee and now, that regulations will specify the number of hours that make up a credit. However, does he agree that putting the definition of a credit in the Bill, as proposed in my amendment 2, would give higher education providers confidence that credit values would not be devalued either by this Government or any future Governments?
I understand the intention behind the hon. Lady’s amendments. Putting the learning hours into secondary legislation rather than primary means that providers that use a different number of learning hours per credit will simply have their courses treated as non-credit-bearing, rather than being considered in breach of fee limits as a whole. The Office for Students would have the ability to take action against the provider from a quality and standards standpoint if it deems necessary, but the provider would not face additional consequences for breaching the fee limit rules.
We do not intend to change the number of learning hours in a credit unless the standards in the sector change. Learning hours are and should continue to be based on sector-led standards. Regulations on learning hours will have to follow the affirmative resolution procedure, so Parliament will always get the chance to have a say. The approach protects the existing use of credits as a standard that is owned and maintained by the sector, and ensures that the autonomy of the sector continues to be upheld but also allows a flexible approach in case standards change.
For the reasons that I have set out, and given that we are subjecting so many of our regulations to the affirmative procedure, as laid out in the delegated powers memorandum, which the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington will have seen, there is no need for amendment 3 in primary legislation. I hope that he will be satisfied with that and will withdraw it.
Amendment 5, which stands in the names of the hon. Members for Warwick and Leamington and for Chesterfield, would require the Government to publish a written ministerial statement ahead of laying the first set of regulations under the Act, updating the House on the progress of the lifelong loan entitlement policy and how the regulations aim to support it. The Government will endeavour to publish a written ministerial statement ahead of laying regulations under this Act on both the development of regulations and the progress that the short course trial has made. However, it is not necessary to enshrine that commitment in primary legislation.
I would like to bring to the attention of the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington that the Government’s intention is to lay the first regulation under the Act in mid to late 2024. It is possible that regulations under the Bill will be the first made. In addition, as is standard practice, explanatory memoranda will be laid alongside all regulations, which will explain the scope and purpose of the regulations. The Government will also publish those on the legislation.gov.uk website, explaining what the regulations do and why.
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of regulations under the Act—certainly, all those that go to determine the actual fee limits—will be subject to the affirmative procedure and all Members of the House will have an opportunity to debate the regulations in Committee. Members appointed to the Committee will be able to vote, once they have been referred to the Delegated Legislation Committee. As such, the amendment is not necessary and the Government cannot support it, so I hope that Members feel able to withdraw it.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Let me start by thanking all hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions, not just today but on Second Reading and on Report. I really welcome the way in which my counterpart the Opposition spokesman, Matt Western, has approached the debate, because we are all united in our desire to support people to access higher and further education and to learn, upskill and retrain over the course of their working lives.
I want to extend my thanks to all those who have participated in the passage of the Bill so far. My thanks go to my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Robbie Moore), for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) and for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb) for their support throughout the passage of the Bill, as well as to the hon. Members for Warwick and Leamington and for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), who have engaged constructively at every stage of the Bill. I am grateful to them both for their work in challenging us to ensure that the Bill is fit for purpose.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington spoke on Report about T-levels, and I am proud that the number of T-level students has gone up to 10,000. We have 16 T-level subjects in delivery, with a total of 18 from September. We are spending up to £500 million on T-levels, which have a 92% pass rate, with many students progressing to university, employment and apprenticeships, and we have invested £240 million to help providers prepare to deliver high-quality industry placements.[This section has been corrected on
On Second Reading, a range of Members voiced their support for both this legislation and the lifelong loan entitlement, and it is important for me to thank the extraordinary Clerks and officials in Parliament and the Department for Education for their diligent work in supporting the Bill’s passage through this place. None of this would have been possible without their work, and I think Members on both sides of the House express our appreciation.
It is an honour to champion this transformational Bill in this place, and I look forward to the LLE improving our skills system and supporting people into fulfilling and lasting careers. With this Bill, we are transforming lifelong learning in this country. People will now be on a train journey with an end stop at which they get their qualification, but they will be able to start and stop at various points in their life through flexible and modular learning. This Bill will be transformational, and I commend it to the House.
I extend my thanks to all those involved in the passage of this Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and this afternoon. I join the Minister in thanking Conservative Members as much as those on the Labour Benches. I particularly thank my hon. Friend Mr Perkins, the shadow further education Minister, whose name appeared on the amendments we debated on Report. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) for their work, constructive comments and contributions in Committee. Their thoughts provided the basis for subsequent amendments.
I also place on record my thanks to the Clerks, and particularly to Bethan Harding for all her work drafting the various amendments that allowed us to probe the Government’s rationale and that shaped the debate the ensuing debate.
Finally, I thank the Minister and his office for how they have guided the Bill through its Commons stages, offering numerous opportunities for Opposition engagement, following up with Members on specific points raised in Committee and generally respecting the right of Parliament to scrutinise the Bill. The seriousness and efficiency with which the Minister has approached the Bill encourages a certain trust both in him and in the purpose behind the Bill, both of which are essential if it is to form part of the cross-party commitment to lifelong learning.
This Bill is an important first legislative step on the road towards the full roll-out of lifelong learning provision in the UK, but the objective of lifelong learning has swirled around this place for far longer than I have been in this House. My friend and predecessor Mr Gordon Marsden, the former Member of Parliament for Blackpool South, was an assiduous campaigner for lifelong learning in this role, and I am pleased to see that work is now channelled through his Right2Learn campaign. It may be only a few short years since he stood in my shadow ministerial shoes, but the need for these reforms has never been so urgent. They simply cannot come quickly enough. The Minister will no doubt be aware of the severity of the problem from his time chairing the Education Committee.
With Government spending on adult education falling by 47% between 2009 and 2019 under the coalition and Conservative Governments, and with only one in three adults participating in some kind of learning, meeting the challenges thrown up by decarbonisation, growing a sustainable economy and the fourth industrial revolution will require a complete reversal of the last 13 years of decline, propelled by a much more expansive understanding of lifelong learning. So what concerns me is the uncertain direction of travel. The Minister published the consultation response before the Committee stage, and I thank him for that, but this Bill leaves an awful lot to be decided in due course by him.
The purpose of Third Reading is to give the Commons a final chance to debate the contents of a Bill; it is an opportunity to discuss what is actually in the Bill, rather than, as on Second Reading, what might have been included. The awkward predicament we are in here is that so much of this Bill is yet to be determined by the Minister, in regulations. Consequently, the Bill is somewhat divorced from the policy it seeks to implement. This is not a party political point; it is a call for certainty and predictability, and an expectation that transformational reforms in the tertiary education sector are clear, open to debate and transparent. I understand that most of the current student finance system is governed through regulations, but the point is, surely, that what we are trying to do with lifelong learning is break away from the current system. Does it not follow, therefore, that the limits of the old system—namely, government by regulation—should not necessarily impose a limit on the new system?
That was why we tabled our amendments on Report. They were all about ensuring parliamentary oversight, sector engagement and continuous monitoring of the impact of legislation on proposed policy. It is somewhat disappointing, therefore, there has been no movement from the Government on those issues, despite assurances. I strongly suspect, however, that the Minister will take a conscientious, diligent and measured approach to implementing lifelong learning. I urge him to engage frequently with the sector, with me, with employers and with non-governmental bodies, such as the Student Loans Company and the Office for Students, although the latter is perhaps increasingly less non-governmental and more governmental in practice. That being said, as the Bill progresses to the Lords, I look forward to listening to their considerations on the scope of delegated powers under this Bill, the feasibility of these reforms and the timescale suggested by the Minister.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, this Bill has the potential to be truly transformational. It can play a key role in enabling people to realise their full potential, help cure the current British disease of low productivity and be a vital component part in work to deliver meaningful levelling up. However, it is only one piece of the jigsaw. Without other reforms and initiatives, there is a risk that it will not deliver and its objectives will not be met.
Times are changing rapidly and we must deliver meaningful lifelong learning. We have an ageing population, and the days of a job for life are long gone. Climate change means that a raft of new emerging jobs require upskilling and retraining. The fourth industrial revolution is well and truly under way. We are, in effect, in a global race and if we do not step up to the plate, the UK will be left far behind. If the Bill is to succeed, we must recognise the vital importance of adult education, which has been neglected for too long, with participation rates today half what they were in 2004. Investment by employers in workforce skills must increase. We must ensure that the least advantaged have every opportunity to participate. There must be better co-ordination across the whole education and training system. Further education, higher education and apprenticeships are currently treated as distinct and separate systems, imprisoned in their own silos. There also needs to be better alignment of welfare, economic and skills policies and strategies right across Government.
Questions remain about the Bill and its implementation, which I urge the Government to address as it continues its passage through Parliament. If the Bill is to succeed in its objectives, we must quickly develop a new culture of lifelong learning. The role of employers must be developed and clarity must be provided on how the lifelong loan entitlement will work alongside the apprenticeship levy. There is a risk that the policy will result in the take-up of loans for short courses by employees that would otherwise be funded by their employers. There is a danger that the lifelong loan entitlement becomes something that well-educated people use to add a year after their degree rather than people who have not yet got a level 3 qualification. The pathways from lower levels need strengthening with better funding and maintenance support at level 3 and below.
As I mentioned at the outset, the Bill is important and it has enormous potential, but it is only one piece of the jigsaw. Other reforms and new strategies are required if we are to deliver meaningful lifelong learning. That must take its place as part of a coherent post-16 education and skills strategy that properly aligns with wider Government policies.
We must improve careers advice so as to ensure that those who need lifelong learning the most are able to access it. Further consultation is needed on the regulation and quality of modular learning. It is important that regulatory burdens and risks do not stifle innovation and limit the delivery of short courses and modules. It is important that we create a maintenance support system that enables everyone to live properly while studying or training. This will be crucial for mature learners who often have family commitments and caring responsibilities.
Finally, the whole education and skills system must be sustainably funded. FE has been poorly funded for far too long. If we are to have a truly collaborative, streamlined and more flexible system for learners to study throughout their lives at different places, on a modular basis, this underfunding must be addressed.
In conclusion, the Government are to be commended for recognising the importance of lifelong learning in the modern world. The Bill’s ambitions and aspirations are the right ones, but they will not be delivered in a vacuum. They must be part of a wider, coherent and co-ordinated strategy. As I have outlined, there are issues that should be addressed as the Bill now moves to the other place. There are also wider implications that must be considered right across Government, and I hope that they will figure prominently in the forthcoming Barber review and the autumn statement.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.