Moved by Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle
4: At end insert “and the United Kingdom’s international and national legal commitments to biodiversity targets,”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training is “material” to a specified area, consideration must also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities and expertise align with biodiversity targets.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who is doing such spectacularly fine work personally and through Peers for the Planet, of which I am also a member. I rise to move Amendment 4 and to speak to Amendment 10, and I shall also speak in favour of all the others in this group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, referred to the important report released yesterday by Onward on green jobs. I have scratched out a lot of what I was going to say about that, as the noble Baroness covered it comprehensively, but it is worth restating the conclusion that she highlighted: net zero, the Government’s legally binding target, is not deliverable without a massive increase in relevant skills.
Speaking second in this very large group, with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, having outlined the detailed structure of her amendments and with others yet to explain theirs, in the interests of time I will speak generally to express support for all these amendments, many of which I have attached my name to. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for their work, which I have stepped behind to support. I note particularly Amendments 3, 9 and 25, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which have attracted broad cross-party and non-party support, including from the government Benches, and to which I would have attached my name had there been space. Then I will get to the detail of Amendments 4 and 10, which appear in my name.
All these amendments, in different ways and in different sections of the Bill, seek to mainstream attention to the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis in the skills agenda in every community. I am using the word “mainstream” because where we are today is reminding me very much of the mid-1990s, when I was working in international development. There was a great debate then, when bodies such as the World Bank and the IMF had discovered the importance of women to societies and even—shock-horror—economies. The great debate was whether to separate women’s programmes or whether women’s issues, concerns and rights should be put into every programme. It feels like, in terms of the environment, we are somewhere in that stage of debate now. We have got to a situation where recent Finance Bills, after lots of hard work in your Lordships’ House, have finally included at least the climate emergency. But I am afraid that the lack in this Bill of that, of biodiversity and of our busting of planetary boundaries in multiple directions is a demonstration that the Government still really do not get it, which is particularly disturbing for the chair of COP 26.
So I was thinking about this group and wondering how I might help the Government to understand, and how to build that understanding into action. I thought about that magic phrase “the economy” and how often we hear from the Government that everything needs to be done for “the economy”. I want to suggest to Ministers and civil servants that, every time they hear themselves saying that phrase or thinking that thought, they put “the environment” in front of it, acknowledging that the economy is a complete subset of the environment and that every single element and every penny is dependent on the air we breathe, the ground we rest on and the soil and water that produce our food. When we are thinking about local economies, we need to be thinking about local environments. To complete the set, we need an understanding that communities—people individually and collectively—and their well-being are the foundation of our economies. This is systems thinking expressed in concrete terms.
When will we know whether we have succeeded? It will be when we no longer have large groups of amendments like this merely introducing climate and other environment goals into Bills. When we move on to strengthening what the Government have proposed, then we will know that some progress has been made.
I have been talking in abstract terms but, thinking briefly about the practicalities of the skills needed, food growing is one obvious and much underconsidered area for climate mitigation and adaptation, looking to the urgent issue of food security. On home energy efficiency, I have referred previously in your Lordships’ House to how the building industry is frantically wondering where it will find the skilled staff that it will need should the Government finally manage to sort out the funding in this crucial area. Engineering, particularly for public transport schemes, is another huge area of shortage.
I turn now to my specific amendments. Amendment 4 adds “and biodiversity” to the already excellent Amendment 3; this is not in any way a criticism of it but a friendly strengthening amendment, reflecting, I am pleased to say, the way that many other amendments in this group already include biodiversity with climate.
On Amendment 10, in my name, I am not confident that the way it is currently worded is the best way, referring to specific regulations; what I am talking about is particularly broader. I chose that wording to stress the way in which the Bill needs to fit with other expressed government aims. In the Grand Committee debate on the regulations referred to in this amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that
“ecodesign policies have also included resource efficiency measures, which seek to make products more repairable and recyclable, thereby reducing their use of material resources.”
He went on to say:
“A wider range of spare parts and helpful information will be made available to professional repairers, which will facilitate even more complex repairs to be carried out by people with the right skills to do it safely.”—[Official Report, 8/6/21; cols. GC 264-65.]
Yet I doubt that there is anyone in the House today who has not had personal experience of how hard it is to find and secure the services of such a professional repairer. One recent case study I know of concerned someone who sought, from a fairly high-end manufacturer, a repairer for a washing machine. The first available appointment was 10 weeks after the call.
What we are talking about here are fairly obvious environmental measures, so you might say they are covered by the other amendments in this group. But we need a specific focus on the need for repair skills, something that has essentially almost entirely disappeared from our communities. We should see, as we have seen happening in some communities in some places, local repair shops practically on every street corner, so that people could go to them and get things fixed. But that would require a huge injection of skills. I would very much welcome further discussion on the best ways to structure an amendment such as this. A clear direction of the need to build repair skills needs, I believe, to be a distinct part of this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the advisory group of Weber Shandwick UK. I support the objectives of the wide array of amendments in this group—
My Lords, I believe there were a couple of additions to the speakers’ list. I believe that the noble Lord is winding for the Liberal Democrats, and we may be due to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan.
My Lords, thank you. I was confused, but I am happy to go with the flow.
This group of amendments addresses the green gap in this Bill. A large number of amendments have been tabled in this group, all of which are very worthy and have my support. I single out for special mention that in the names of my noble friends Lord Oates and Lord Storey, signed also by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. However, in the interest of time, I will speak only to the set of amendments to which my name is attached.
I turn first to Amendments 3, 9 and 25, all in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Morgan, the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and myself. In doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her work in establishing the Peers for the Planet group, which is such a professional asset to this House. Her work and words in introducing these three amendments mean that I can be much more brief. The opening clause in this Bill, which fixes a strategy for the skills that we will need to fill the jobs of the future, is silent on our net-zero biodiversity targets. This seems rather inadequate, for want of a better or stronger word. This is a real weakness in the Bill, not least because it presents a risk that skills or education plans that are incompatible with our green targets—both national and international —might pass without remark and without basis for challenge.
These three amendments are therefore very necessary. They are designed to ensure that consideration of net-zero and biodiversity targets is embedded in the decision-making process around assessing future skills needed in each local area through the local skills improvement plans. Amendment 9 gives the Secretary of State the responsibility for ensuring that any approved LSIP is compliant with net-zero and biodiversity targets. Amendment 25 places a duty on the Secretary of State to report on how approved LSIPs meet the net-zero and biodiversity targets. These amendments will ensure that we have the right jobs in the right place in the future, which will be critical if we want to build back better and greener.
I turn to Amendment 34, in my name with the welcome support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Supporting and generating green jobs is a lynchpin of the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. This amendment will help the Government meet those aims by ensuring that, when designating an employer representative body, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that,
“the body has prepared a climate change and sustainability strategy”.
It would serve to demonstrate that ERBs are making the link between the local and the national skills needed and are taking heed of the opportunities regarding climate change and biodiversity.
Amendment 42, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, asks that a governing body, in reviewing how well education or training meets local needs, must also consider whether it aligns with the net-zero target. This amendment would consolidate the link between local and national skills needs with respect to the UK’s net-zero target from the perspective of governing bodies of general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and designated institutions. It would be an important requirement that would open welcome collaborative discourse between institutions, ERBs and the Government, the lack of provision for which is a weakness of the Bill.
In subsection (2) of the new Section 52B inserted by Clause 5, the review is bolstered by guidance that provides an opportunity for the Secretary of State to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to the way institutions are factoring in net zero when considering how well education or training aligns with our net-zero target. Subsection (3) requires the governing body to publish the review on its website, which would allow for transparency and the identification of best practice, along with any barriers, gaps and inconsistencies, including in relation to net zero.
I turn to Amendment 73, in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Blackstone, and Amendment 75 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. These amendments seek to introduce conditions for inclusion in the list of relevant providers kept by the Secretary of State. Amendment 73 seeks to introduce a condition that relevant providers on the list must have either adopted or be in the process of developing a climate change and sustainability strategy. Amendment 75 seeks to link the provision of funding for relevant providers with either the adoption or development of a climate change and sustainability strategy. Both amendments seek to incentivise progress within the further education sector in embedding climate change and sustainability within their overall strategies, recognising, however, that some providers will be further on in this process than others and that funding and capacity might be an issue for some. Amendment 73 therefore allows for relevant providers to be in the process of developing a strategy.
Taken together, the amendments to which I have spoken reflect a holistic joined-up approach to ensure that all stakeholders working to deliver the right jobs in the right place are conscious of their responsibility in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. We must not forget that the people who will fill these jobs —especially the younger ones—want jobs that will secure their future, both in terms of longevity of work and in terms of protecting our planet and their physical futures. As it happens, their priorities and needs align with the nation’s priorities and needs, and this Bill must be amended to reflect those.
My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my interests in the register, particularly my advice to Purpose on climate education, my membership of Peers for the Planet and the advice I give to 01 Founders on skills development. I thank my noble friend Lady Blackstone for adding her name to my Amendment 52.
The effect of my Amendments 52 is that, when the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is approving or withdrawing qualifications, it must describe how its decisions align with UK climate change and biodiversity targets. Amendments 60 and 61 aim to ensure that any conditions or guidance to initial teacher training for further education must consider whether they incorporate the UK’s climate change and biodiversity goals. I think that these are important, along with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which I very much support and to which I have added my name. I support the other amendments in this group as well. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, when she introduced this group and said that she considered herself no great expert in this area of skills. I consider myself no great expert on climate change, so we sort of meet somewhere in the middle.
There is a bit of a problem, in a way that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was referring to, that in education debates, when we start talking about climate change, people glaze over and say, “Well, it is not really our concern; this is not really our business.” Equally, when we have climate change debates and start talking about education, people say, “Why are you talking about education? That is not really anything to do with it.” The reality is, however, that the two are critically important. It is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, shocking that the Government ultimately do not quite get it, in that the policy and the Bill are silent on sustainability and that we need to address that somehow or other in this Bill.
First, at the time of chairing COP 26, if we are going to be credible, we need to show that we are meeting our treaty obligations that we signed up to in 2015 in the Paris Agreement, particularly in Article 12, which says that,
“Parties shall co-operate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education” and training.
Secondly, there is growing pressure to ensure that the education system plays its part on climate change. The Climate Change Committee recommended that the Government consider
“the wider role of the education system in supporting the transition to a net-zero economy and preparing for the risks of climate change”.
Education can play a critical role in driving the behaviour change that we need every citizen of the world to adopt if we are to meet the targets that we want to agree in Glasgow. Some 80% of those participating in Parliament’s climate assembly believed that climate should be a compulsory subject in all schools; this would extend to colleges, which are covered by this Bill because we are talking about provision for 16 to 18 year-olds. Of course, participation up to 18 is now compulsory.
Thirdly, post-16 students want and expect this. According to the Association of Colleges, 91% of students agree that their place of study should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development, while 83% want to see sustainable development actively incorporated and promoted through all courses. Their lecturers agree: 94% of people working in FE colleges believe that all UK learners should be taught about sustainability issues, not just the knowledge. Also, 84% of them feel that, for the sector to be fit for purpose, education policy needs significant change, with the formal curriculum cited as the biggest barrier as to why environmental sustainability is not more prevalent.
Of course, on the narrow issue of skills, these arguments may not be strong enough to persuade Ministers, so I will have a go at coming at it from that angle. If Governments around the world are prioritising this skills agenda because of the rapid deskilling effects of globalisation and technological change, and see in the rust belt—or the red wall seats in this country—the political consequences of people feeling left behind, the stakes are high. The sense of abandonment in those communities is a sign of a reactive skills system that is tortuously slow.
The Bill carries the risk of local skills partnerships responding by planning their immediate skills needs rather than anticipating their future skills needs. They will then wait for the necessary qualifications to be developed and approved if they do not already exist. Then, they will need the necessary staff and learners to be recruited, by which time their skills needs may well have changed. This slow process of deskilling and reskilling needs to factor in now the impact of decisions that we are making on climate change, so you add climate change to the deskilling effects of technological change and globalisation. The transition from a carbon-based to a zero-carbon economy needs to be a just transition.
Look at cars. We all welcome Nissan’s announcement in Sunderland last week, but what of car maintenance? It was truly shocking to me when, last month, Wrexham College appeared to become the first FE college in the country to be able to proclaim proudly that it is now training its students to maintain electric vehicles. I am flabbergasted that we did not have that training going on in this country already—and that is just maintenance. The motor industry does not really want us to talk about the possibility of converting our internal combustion engine cars to electric ones, but those who are selling conversion kits and carrying out that work are doing a roaring trade and cannot sell their kits fast enough. There are huge economic opportunities for us if we can get the skills story right just in that one area. I am supportive of Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which concerns repairs and is in the similar territory of being more sustainable because we would be making the resources that we already own last that bit longer by repairing them and converting them to zero carbon.
This needs cross-cutting knowledge beyond technical skills in the silos that, to some extent, it feels as though the Bill wants to trap us all in by making us think mostly about STEM skills as the qualifications for which the Government want to be able to approve funding, rather than the creative—nay, imaginative—skills and cross-cutting thinking that we need to work across silos. According to the Association of Colleges, just one in 200 of our further education qualifications covers education for sustainability; its audit of the T-level curriculum identified similar deficiencies. This is not good enough.
There is evidence of the need for provision in the national curriculum for schools, which I will look to address in my Private Member’s Bill a week on Friday; if anyone is interested in signing up for that debate, the list is open. However, climate and sustainability are similarly lacking post 16, so we have to do this. The problem then, in the post-16 environment, is how to shift the sector towards prioritising this because we do not have a national curriculum at the post-16 level for us to impose things. As I have already said, it is not in many qualifications and there is not really much of a pastoral role post 16.
So how do we do it? In this Bill, we are moving to a demand-led system so, through the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, we are seeking to influence that demand by trying to influence what is going on in terms of the local skills partnerships’ demand for this sort of thinking, mindset and learning. In my Amendment 52, I am asking for the qualifications regulator also to have to think about this. Given that IfATE has already issued a non-mandatory sustainability framework, I am seeking merely to ensure that that framework has proper status and that the regulator must continue to have regard to it.
On my other two amendments, we need teachers who are confident and competent in talking about sustainable development and climate change across the curriculum and across different subjects. I am doing some work with the Eden Project at the moment; some of the work it has done to point out how you can teach learners about—and give them confidence on—sustainable development and climate change across the whole curriculum, not just geography and science, is really instructive.
In many ways, my inclination would be to leave it to the professionalism of teachers to get on with that, but that is not really the style of this Government. They like teachers to be told what they are supposed to do in their training; yesterday, they announced a consultation on initial teacher training in which they are trying to prescribe absolutely everything. Oxford University and Cambridge University have already denounced this, saying that, in that case, they will abandon ITT. I will not get too distracted by that but I will say that, if the Government want to prescribe initial teacher training, they need to prescribe putting climate change and sustainable development in it.
Finally, I am still thinking about whether we might want to put in a new clause amendment around an entitlement for post-16 learners to be able to access sustainable development education, but I will first listen to what the Minister has to say in response to this group before I decide whether I am persuaded that we need to go down that road.
I will speak in support of Amendment 25 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Sheehan and Lady Morgan of Cotes, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. It contains a very interesting idea. It proposes that, when a local skills improvement plan has been devised for, say, Plymouth or Newcastle or Doncaster, the Secretary of State should examine it to see whether it accords with the national skills strategy and—this is of particular interest to the noble Baronesses—the UK’s climate change and biodiversity targets; it could include other things where there are clear targets as well, of course. The sadness of this is that the noble Lords talk about the national skills strategy when there ain’t no such thing, I am afraid. I wish that there were, but it simply has not developed. It ought to develop because there is no doubt that there is a substantial deficiency across the country in skills in a whole variety of different industries.
The Government used to publish skills gaps. The body that did it was called the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It was abolished by the Government in 2016 because a group of advisers said to them that they did not really think much about these skills gaps because they are often speculative guesses. I am afraid that this is a further example of a Government who are not listening because there is certainly a large number of skills gaps in our country.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I are both members of the Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, which now takes evidence twice a week. We are getting a lot of evidence not only from businesses but from students themselves that there are skills gaps. For example, we had evidence from one think thank that had examined 1,000 companies in Britain, large and small, stretching from national audio technology to pubs. Of those 1,000 companies, 76% of the CEOs said that the thing that was holding them back most was the absence of data employees—data analysts in particular—and people who understood artificial intelligence. That was the biggest inhibition on their growth and development. If that is not a skills gap, I do not know what is, quite frankly.
There are skills gaps in a host of other industries. One recent example that I am sure Members of this House have seen is that we have suddenly discovered that there is a skills gap of 10,000 HGV drivers. I would have thought that this might have been anticipated at some stage and we would have realised that we were desperately short of these people. So many of them have gone back to eastern Europe and the Balkans, and they are not being encouraged to come back. The transport ministry should have had some idea of what was likely to happen in this area.
One body, the education think tank the Edge Foundation, of which for a time I was the chairman, tried to fill in the gap. It produced a series of reports. It established large committees for each industry involving industry and academics, estimating what the skills gaps were. The first one was on engineering. The skills gap there was 203,000. That figure was agreed and supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. There was another one on digital skills. It was well over 100,000 two years ago; I suspect that it is much higher now. There was one on the creative industries, which showed a skills gap of 150,000. Yet, because these were not formal government statements, the Government took very little interest in and paid little regard to them. How can you fashion an education system if you have no idea what your national economy wants in the way of skilled workers? There is a dysfunction between the education system based on academic subjects and the needs of industry. There is absolutely no doubt about that. This is one of the causes of the high level of youth unemployment at the moment.
I suggest that the Government consider asking a department—not the Department for Education because it has very little connection with industry, but perhaps the DWP—to estimate and publish on a regular basis skill gaps for various industries. Without that, how can you shape education and training systems, and indeed an apprenticeship system, without knowing exactly what is needed by the local and national industries in our economy?
My Lords, we listened with interest to some rather engaging and forceful Second Reading speeches on the first group this afternoon. I noted that my noble friend Lord Adonis took one view that this was a terrible Bill and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green took a different one that this was actually a good Bill. I find myself somewhere in between, but I want to be more pragmatic than they are. This is Committee. We have some opportunities in Committee to make a Bill better. I hope that that is what we will achieve at least in some respects.
At Second Reading I chose to talk largely about the missed opportunity in the Bill to try to link what we do in the educational system with the huge challenges that climate change and getting to our net-zero target by 2050 pose for us. I hope the Government will take the amendments in this group really seriously, because they at least begin to do just that.
I strongly support Amendments 3, 9 and 25, which are in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Sheehan, my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, who sadly is not here today. The others all spoke very eloquently and at some length on why it is important that the Bill should be amended to take account of the Government’s policies on climate change and their goal of a net-zero target on carbon emissions by the middle of the century. I do not want to add anything new to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said in her opening speech because she covered it all. I endorse with some passion the position they have taken.
I say to the Minister that if the Government reject these arguments and these amendments, it will demonstrate a lack of joined-up thinking across government between those who are concerned primarily with climate change issues, such as Defra, and the Department for Education. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, just said, other departments of course have a relevant interest in this, such as the DWP and the business department, but it would be perverse for the Government to push these amendments back.
I also very much support what my noble friend Lord Knight said. As I implied, he is absolutely right to want to link climate change issues and educational issues and objectives. He has come up with a mechanism in Amendment 52, to which I put my name, for how we might begin to do this. Before I get into that amendment, I will pick up what he said about students. We know from countless opinion polls that many young people are very concerned about these issues. We have some obligation to take them seriously in their wish for more to be done in their educational experience to discuss, debate and find routes through how we will prevent the planet collapsing under the serious impact of climate change later this century.
I turn to Amendment 52. There are in this country hundreds—indeed, thousands—of different qualifications in the wide range of skills that students seek to acquire after the age of 16 and then throughout their careers. I am talking not just about young people; this is a lifelong learning Bill. Indeed, there are probably too many of these qualifications. There have been countless attempts at rationalisation, including back in the days when I had ministerial responsibility in this area. I cannot say that I was all that successful and I do not think that people have been successful since. Any modernisation or restructuring of skills qualifications must surely take into account the importance of the climate change and biodiversity targets.
This would place a big responsibility on the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in regulating qualifications. To create a genuinely green economy we must provide training and the skills required. We must also think, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, about the large numbers of unemployed people. They must be given help to acquire some of these skills. To fail to meet our targets because there are not enough skilled and qualified people to undertake the challenging work needed across many different sectors of the economy would be a truly tragic failure.
The Bill has a role in trying to avoid that failure. It is a great opportunity to put in place the mechanisms needed to signal approval of qualifications that properly address needs in this area and disapproval of those that fail to do so and, worse, which incorporate approaches, whether in the materials or operations deployed, that damage the environment. It is key that we do something about this. I hope the Minister will agree that leadership, accompanied by transparency on the part of the regulators, will encourage apprenticeship and technical education systems to be at the forefront of the delivery of skills to the green economy.
Lastly, I will speak to Amendment 73, to which I have also added my name, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. The Secretary of State is to keep a list of relevant providers. It does not seem a lot to insist that one of the conditions to be on this list is that the provider should be committed to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss by having created a strategy to do so that is made openly available by publishing it. I cannot think of any FE college given this challenge that would not want to rise to it—and it is true not only of FE colleges but of other providers in the skills training sector. So, once again, I hope the Government will take this seriously and come back with a response that will give us at least some hope of achieving in this Bill what I set out earlier in this short speech: the bringing together of education and climate change objectives.
My Lords, I would very much like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has just said, and I hope that the Government will find a way of bringing forward amendments that take into account the spirit of all the amendments that have been tabled. This is self-evidently necessary.
We have a great debate going on in part of government about how on earth we are going to replace our gas boilers, and there is a big debate about who is going to bear the cost. Is it going to fall disproportionately on the poor? Well, it is all very well having this theoretical debate, but what I am sure of is that there are not the people available with the skills to do this job within the five-year, 10-year or 15-year timeframe that has been talked about. The Government have to be more joined-up about these things if they are serious about addressing the climate challenge.
But there is a more general point here that exposes another potential weakness in this Bill. The emphasis of the Bill is on local skills improvement plans. This is looking at the present local situation, not at future requirements, and there has to be some means of injecting future requirements into the preparation of these local plans. The noble Baroness talked about the productivity and skills that are going to do this job for us, we hope. I welcome this, because I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, said: it was a great mistake to abolish the UKCES; it was a very good body that produced very good work.
There are things such as skills gaps, and the fact is that, particularly with Brexit, with leaving the European Union, you would have thought that a Government determined to make a success of us having left the European Union would be looking at the skills consequences of our exit for the future. But what evidence is there that this is being done? We need to have a serious think not just about new skills required by climate change but about new skills that are necessary in our economy as a result of the changes we have imposed on ourselves.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this group to express my support in particular for Amendment 25, in the names of my noble friend Lady Hayman and others, about the requirement for approved LSIPs to take account of “any national skills strategy”. I think the clue is in the “any”. I fully support that idea, and I am wondering how it could actually be met. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, pointed out some of the challenges in the absence of such a plan. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us anything about what sort of national or central co-ordination there will be and how that might work in terms of alignment with LSIPs. What sort of processes or feedback mechanisms will there be to ensure that there is that alignment, and indeed that it is clear what the LSIPs are seeking to align with? My noble friend described it as “joining the dots” with national strategy. What is the flow of communication in reporting and monitoring between LSIPs and the centre?
My noble friend Lady Hayman also talked about a cross-cutting, long-term, aspirational skills strategy, which would be splendid. The word that struck me there was “aspirational”, because the main challenge when I used to work with young Londoners on employability skills was their lack of aspiration and lack of knowledge of what to aspire to—which is why I was so passionate about careers education. Yet it is aspiration that has driven most successful education strategies in the past and created forward movement. This Bill is essentially an aspirational Bill, and that is why I welcome it quite strongly. So I suppose the question—which I am not sure whether I am asking the Minister or myself—is: how will it actually raise aspirations? And how can it build on young people’s enthusiasm, which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, mentioned, for issues relating to climate change and biodiversity to create momentum that will feed in, hopefully, and perhaps through the LSIPs, to drive the objectives of the Bill?
The only other point I wanted to make is that I am rather less enamoured of Amendments 73 and 75 in this group, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and others, which would require independent training providers to have a climate change and sustainability strategy and a delivery plan. Many of those independent training providers are SMEs: they can be very small; they tend to specialise in certain areas; they are often operating with limited resources on extremely narrow margins. I am already concerned about some of the other conditions being suggested for them to be on the list, and this seems potentially disproportionate. I would certainly encourage them to have such a plan as far as it is relevant to them, but putting it on the face of the Bill would seem to be overkill.
My Lords, as a member of Peers for the Planet, I rise to support all the amendments in this group, for the reasons so eloquently given by the movers and to simply emphasise two points. First, as many other noble Lords have said, students themselves want to take part in reaching our zero-carbon targets. Arguably, they are more committed to this than the generations with power, like ours. These amendments would increase their motivation for further education and training, and their confidence in politics and democratic participation.
Secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, following the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, may I say that this potentially most useful Bill seems to have been drafted in ignorance of the most long-lasting world crisis of our time: the climate emergency? Surely, all government departments must play what part they can in avoiding climate-borne disaster and in adapting to climate change. There is scant evidence that the targets set out by the Government have been taken on board by all departments and integrated into all their policies. These amendments would go far to assist the education department in fulfilling this aim.
My Lords, if there was an outbreak of consensus across the Committee on the previous amendments, I am afraid I am going to ruin the party in this group. If the aim of the Bill is to expand opportunities and horizons in terms of training and skills acquisition that will allow wider access to jobs, I think we need to be wary of any attempts at narrowing what is on offer, especially if it is being driven by satisfying political hobby-horses. Surely that is what this series of amendments does, in a way, in trying to limit post-16 technical education and training by aligning them with net-zero, climate change and biodiversity targets. I am opposed to them all.
For some time, we have heard from Governments—not just the present one but previous Administrations—a lot of hyperbole about the green jobs revolution. I have yet to see many of those jobs materialise; the targets set rarely mean much. I have no problem at all with new skills being developed or taught potentially for these green jobs—for example in solar, or electric vehicle maintenance at Wrexham college, my local college, which I was delighted to hear about. Well done to the college for having the foresight to do that, but I wonder about the implications beyond that.
I want to ask the signatories to the amendments whether they would oppose those who, never mind training in electric vehicle maintenance, want to just be car mechanics working on those old-fashioned evil diesel vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, talked about HGV drivers—are they allowed? They are hardly going to fit in with the net-zero carbon targets. What about the nuclear industry? I happen to think that nuclear is a good source of energy for environmentalists, but most of the environmentalists I know disagree with me. Will the amendments approve of training, for example, in mining engineering in Cornwall in order to access the local lithium that is so important for battery-driven technology, or is mining verboten? After all, valuable job opportunities in Cumbrian mining have been put on hold after eco-lobbying stopped Whitehaven creating domestic coking possibilities for the steel industry.
What about fracking? I know that not everybody agrees with me; that is why it is a debate. There is now a moratorium on fracking, but say, for example, that that moratorium was lifted by the Government and it was revealed that this was a safe source of energy that would create new jobs and therefore need new skills and training. I am just not sure whether this would fit in with these amendments. In other words, will they allow young people to train as pilots in the airline and tourism industries, in plastics, or in construction and planning if those areas clash with green targets? Noble Lords get the gist of what I am saying.
The noble Baroness talked about the need for reskilling to transition from carbon-intensive industries. At the moment, there is a political attempt at forcing the closure of those carbon-intensive industries; they are being closed for political reasons. I personally was involved in fighting Margaret Thatcher over the closure of the coal industry, and now I find myself trying to defend industries that progressives and radicals argue should be closed.
I think there is a broader issue here of a philosophical clash between an ambitious industrial growth strategy—which, by the way, I admire; at least the Government are trying to go for it as part of a levelling-up agenda, and I hope that the Bill might help to reskill and upskill many workers and young people as part of that ambitious industrial growth—and the philosophical association around environmentalism with sustainability, low growth, limiting innovation and so on. There is at least a tension there.
I have another couple of points, particularly in relation to some of the things I have heard so far in Committee. On education, at least some of us have worried historically when Governments of all stripes have interfered in the schools curriculum to push a particular political agenda. I always worry when NGOs or lobby groups attempt to inveigle their way into schools to push a particular political agenda.
However, I am no keener on the pushing of a political agenda by this Bill, or the politicising of the skills agenda. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, called this mainstreaming, but I would say that it is an attempt to shoehorn the climate emergency into all areas of FE and training. Practically, it feels like an environmentally correct net zero straitjacket that will limit choices and create ever more hurdles in the way of accrediting courses, apprenticeships and so on.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Knight, who said that further education had no national curriculum, which was very unfortunate, as it meant that we could not change it. To me, that is like hijacking the national curriculum, and that should not be done either. It is a sort of brainwashing—or at least an attempt to brainwash.
Many rank-and-file lecturers in higher education, although not necessarily the trade union bureaucrats, are totally exasperated by the institutional signing up of their universities and colleges—usually by their HR or PR departments trying to earn brownie points—to all sorts of politicised charters and strategies. They complain that that can often compromise academic freedom, mandating one view of the world in relation to sustainability, with no debate allowed. For example, lecturers in architecture, engineering and economics have all said that because their institution is signed up to some sustainability charter, their views, which clash with that, get them into trouble.
The last thing I want to do is to impose these orthodoxies on the further education sector. Those who say that the only reason they are pushing this is because it is what students really want, rather than what people in the House of Lords want, are being a bit opportunist, to say the least. I am not convinced, because this is a Bill about training, and we should stick to that.
My Lords, I apologise for my confusion when I was mistakenly called earlier, and mistakenly responded. I declare my interests as chair of the advisory board of Weber Shandwick UK.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I was unable to be here for Second Reading—although had I known that people can make Second Reading speeches in Committee, I could perhaps have done that today. But I will not. Also like the noble Baroness, I am no expert on education. However, because climate change covers so many areas, I am finding out that in this context we have to try to learn quickly. I am particularly nervous about making a foray into the field of education and skills in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who was Education Secretary when I was at school, so I do this with some trepidation.
I support the objectives of all the amendments in this group, including those in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to whom I pay tribute for her exemplary work as co-chair of Peers for the Planet, and those in the name of my noble friend Lady Sheehan and others. Amendment 7, in my name and in those of my noble friend Lord Storey and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks, as do other amendments in this group, to rectify the lack of any focus in the Bill on the wide range of skills that will be required if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate and ecological emergency. It does so in the specific context of the skills capability and expertise required in particular areas, to contribute towards national and regional decarbonisation strategies.
We need to recognise that the local needs for skills to tackle our climate and biodiversity challenges will differ between areas. Different expertise will be needed in different areas, so we must ensure that the skills required to achieve net zero are reflected in local skills plans, and are locally appropriate.
The local dimension is often missing from thinking on net zero, so local input will be critical, and it is important that there is joined-up thinking from all the parties involved and that the important role of local authorities in this regard is fully recognised. I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, had to say. She will not be surprised or distressed, I imagine, to hear that I disagree with her. Climate change is a little bit more than a political hobbyhorse. It is a very alarming fact of life that we are facing and hoping to deal with.
The recent debacle of the green homes grant illustrates the problems that we have with skills. Half a million homes were to receive energy efficiency upgrades under the programme. In fact, a tiny fraction of them were delivered before the scheme was closed. However, in the short time of its operation, the one thing that was clear as day was the desperate shortage of skills to deliver the massive programme that is required. Something like 28 million homes will need to be upgraded, and we have not got much time. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, also highlighted that whatever decisions the Government may eventually make on decarbonising our home heating, at the moment we simply do not have the skills to deliver it.
My attempt to take advantage of the green homes grant scheme and get a contractor to provide exterior wall insulation for my house was entirely unsuccessful. All the contractors capable and approved were not taking on any more work because they lacked staff with the skills to deliver to the demand that had been stimulated by the Government’s policy initiative. Across the country, that absence of skills was obvious, but by closing the scheme in the peremptory way that they did, the Government compounded that skills crisis by undermining any faith that contractors might have had that it was worth them investing and engaging in the skills training process. If we are to get ourselves out of the climate and ecological crisis that we face and that we have created for our planet, we must start by providing skills for young people in our workforce, and we must start at local level by identifying and addressing the needs and requirements of local areas and harnessing partnerships between local authorities, national government and education and skills providers, as these amendments seek to do.
Above all, we must provide the policy stability that will give private sector employers the confidence to invest in skills training. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, rightly said, beyond the needs of employers and the economy, we must also take account of the desire of young people to have these issues addressed in their education. I do not think that it is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said, some opportunist comment from us in the House of Lords. If you go into schools and FE colleges and talk to young people, they are desperate about the situation that climate change is causing because they will have to deal with it much more severely than we are, and they want those issues to be addressed. We must react to that.
As this debate has underlined, it is, in the word used by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, extraordinary that in the year when we host COP 26, the year when the Government have published their 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution and the year when the Government have committed to a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a 78% reduction by 2035, they have brought forward a skills Bill that has no reference whatever to climate change or to the need for green skills for the future. It is no wonder that we had a despairing report from the Climate Change Committee last month that the Government are woefully short of the measures required to come anywhere meeting their targets.
What is going on in the Department for Education? Is it not aware of the climate and ecological emergency that we face? Was it not apprised of the Prime Minister’s promise of a green industrial revolution, or does it think that it can be delivered without skills? Whatever the reason, it is certainly extraordinary that the Government appear so unjoined-up.
I worry that there is little coherent understanding across government about the scale of what has to be done to meet the targets that the Government sometimes seem so blithely to set. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, sometimes they just do not seem to get it. This is not the first Bill that we have been engaged on where there is no mention of climate change. The Financial Services Bill earlier this year contained not a word about it until, with the encouragement of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, me and other noble Lords, the Government were constructive, engaged and finally brought forward an amendment. That should not have to be the case, but I am very glad that we had a Minister in this House who listened and got his department to listen, so I very much hope that out of this debate the Minister will understand the strength of feeling on this subject, take the issue away in a similarly constructive vein and come back with government amendments that can address this gaping chasm in the Bill.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the many excellent contributions in this debate. Much has been said so I will self-edit as I speak, in much the same way as I used to five minutes before the bell rang at the end of the school day.
It is extremely disappointing that the Bill fails to link the Government’s goals on decarbonisation in energy, transport and buildings, sustainable land management and carbon sequestration. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, noted in her persuasive opening speech, there should be a cross-cutting skills strategy. It is worth repeating that there is currently not a single reference to climate considerations in the Bill. The needs of the education sector and industry are liable to change the skills of tomorrow, as mentioned in the previous debate, and cannot be put aside. Monumental changes are needed to include net zero and biodiversity at every level, and targets should be embedded in the LSIPs to provide sustainable jobs in future.
Our Amendment 36, which will come up in the next group, sets out conditions for ERBs, including the requirement to have regard to national strategies, including the decarbonisation strategy. Not only will those entering the labour force for the first time need to be prepared for green jobs—green jobs already exist, and they will exist much more in future—but many who currently work in fossil fuel sectors will need retraining. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, everything needs to be done for the economy and the environment is a subset of the economy. Her point, among many others, regarding the need for repair skills was particularly apposite. My noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth’s amendments regarding education policy are extremely important in affirming our future behaviours.
Does the Minister agree that there should be a requirement for skills improvement plans to refer to national objectives on the green economy, including the net-zero targets, or associated sector-specific strategies, such as the industrial decarbonisation strategy, the transport decarbonisation strategy, the energy White Paper, the nature strategy and the heating and buildings strategy? I hope the Minister has taken note of the cross-party consensus on this issue and that she will be sympathetic to the thrust of the amendments and include references to climate considerations, net zero and biodiversity in the Bill.
My Lords, I think there is a theme here, with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asking about putting this in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was incredibly gracious when she referred to the nature of the Bill and the fact that it is, as I outlined, a framework to enable the flexibility that the employer representative body would need to make the local skills improvement plan.
As the Minister for COP 26 and for sustainability in the Department for Education, overseeing the department’s capital budget and with over 60,000 blocks within our school estate, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Oates, that it is a serious matter. On
I assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that there will not be a green gap in the guidance. I think that we are back to an agreement that this is an incredibly important priority. We have passed the legislation embedding this, but it is a case of whether it is placed in the Bill or is something that is for the guidance.
Before I address the specific amendments, I just want to outline for the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lord Baker that the Skills and Productivity Board, which is the national specialist on our skills, will publish three analyses this year about three questions that were posed by the Secretary of State. The first considers the most significant skills shortages in England, and the board will consider net-zero skills shortages as part of that. Obviously, it is an independent board, so I do not know what the outcomes and recommendations will be, but we are looking specifically at what the skills gaps are.
In June 2019, the UK became the first major country to legislate for this net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050, making it clear that a systems approach was needed to drive behaviour across all areas of the economy to guide decisions by citizens, businesses and investors. I think that we are back to that interesting legal question: once you have put it in that piece of legislation, what then flows in terms of legislation we are passing? But as I say, on the basis of this, the guidance will be very clear in relation to the net-zero target.
The Green Jobs Taskforce, which was launched in November 2020, is working in partnership with businesses, skills providers and unions to help the Government develop plans for new, long-term and good-quality green jobs by 2030, and advises what support is needed for the transitioning industries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox.
I turn to the amendments, seven of which are closely related to Clause 1, concerning the local skills improvement plans, supporting the transition to a net-zero economy and biodiversity. These are from the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Bennett and Lady Sheehan. Reference was made to the fact that there is now that biodiversity target which will also be in legislation, mirroring the net-zero target. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked whether the Secretary of State would approve an LSIP that was not compatible with net zero or biodiversity, and I will answer her straight on. The Secretary of State will want to be satisfied that the statutory guidance has been followed in the process of developing a plan to approve and publish it and, in developing LSIPs, statutory guidance will require ERBs—employer representative bodies—to have regard to skills needs relating to national priorities such as net zero and green jobs. I hope that I have answered directly that putting it in the guidance will not diminish the requirements there will be on the ERBs.
I can assure noble Lords that net zero, green technology and decarbonisation were common themes in the proposals that we received from the employer representative bodies seeking to lead our local skills improvement panel trailblazers. Again, we will be ensuring through the guidance that this remains the case for longer-term implementation. We are not seeing any lack of consideration of this in the initial pilots, but in developing the local skills improvement plan, the statutory guidance will require the ERBs to have regard to skills needs relating to these national priorities. The expectation is that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 will reflect zero-carbon goals as businesses and employers respond to climate change and the biodiversity agenda. As I have outlined, the process for approval by the Secretary of State will very much be based on what has been taken into consideration and whether the statutory guidance has been followed. The presence of these targets within that is key.
Amendment 42, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, seeks to introduce the requirement for colleges to include considerations on reaching the UK’s net-zero target as part of the regular review. In regularly reviewing their provision in relation to local needs, colleges will play an active part in strengthening the alignment of their curriculum offer with skills needed and the job market in their local area. Over time, we expect the environment agenda to become an increasingly integral part of the curriculum offer, reflecting wider changes across the economy and society, including the changing skills needed by employers.
I turn to Amendment 52 in name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about our ambitious technical qualification reforms. He mentioned the commitment of the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education—IfATE—to the UK’s biodiversity and climate change targets. That is why it has already embedded environmental and sustainability aims within its processes for developing and updating employer-led occupational standards. These are the standards on which apprenticeships, T-levels and higher technical qualifications are based, and on which a broad range of technical qualifications will be based in the future. Along with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the institute has identified the need for integrating sustainability across technical education to support us in achieving our commitments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, also referred to the sustainability framework developed by the institute, which sets out the key themes for employers across all sectors to consider when developing the occupational standards. It acts as a guide for those involved in the development of standards and ensures that when considering the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for any occupation, they have considered sustainability, net-zero carbon and the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, which include a goal on climate action. I reassure noble Lords that this really has been embedded and is perhaps another example of where primary legislation might not be the correct place.
I turn to the amendments in relation to initial teacher training. I assure noble Lords that specific steps are already being undertaken to ensure that teacher training programmes cover appropriate content, including specifically around sustainability. Our reform of FE teacher training is founded on new occupational standards for FE teaching, which we expect to be available for use in the next academic year. It has been developed with a group of employers across the sector, including colleges and other training providers. Again, we expect the standard to include a requirement for teachers to integrate sustainability into their teaching, including through modelling sustainable practices and promoting sustainable development principles in their subject specialism. Again, I hope that it will not be necessary to put that on the face of a piece of legislation when it is actually happening.
There was some disagreement among noble Lords in relation to Amendments 73 and 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, commented on the issue here. We would be putting a requirement on SMEs that is not placed on businesses in many other contexts. Perhaps more pertinently, the purpose of the list of registered providers —independent training providers, not those in FE—will be to protect learners and reduce the disruption to provision if a business fails. This was a matter for discussion in Your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Technical and Further Education Bill four years ago. I am pleased that we are now looking at this, but the singular purpose of the clause is to protect learners in the event of provider failure. It would not be appropriate to extend it to achieve a very different policy objective, which would not be consistent with the requirements for businesses in other contexts. As I set out earlier, however, we will continue to work with the sector to support its move towards embedding sustainability.
In conclusion, the Government recognise—of course we do—the important and vital issue of climate change and biodiversity, and we continue to work towards our target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The reforms set out in our Skills for Jobs White Paper and supported by this Bill will, I believe, help towards achieving that agenda. I hope I have answered many of the questions posed by noble Lords and that they are reassured. I therefore hope the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will feel comfortable withdrawing her amendment, and that other noble Lords will not feel the need to call theirs when we reach them in the list.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this very long and extremely important debate. I will carefully look at what the Minister said about this being covered in other ways and not needed in the Bill, but I think the passion and desire, along with the understanding in the House of the need for systems thinking, is clear. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment now, but this is certainly something we will come back to.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I am glad we gave the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, the opportunity to have her fix of controversialism for the day—although I was rather surprised to hear what I innocently thought was a reasonable set of probing amendments, on an issue of globally recognised seriousness and urgency, described as some sort of Stalinist implementation of a political hobbyhorse.
However, be that as it may, I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for her comprehensive response. I am glad to know that we have, within the department with responsibility for COP 26, a Minister who is taking this Bill through the House. I have absolutely no doubt about her seriousness and good faith in wanting to ensure that the issues which so many people from so many sides of the House have raised today are taken seriously; that we equip our economy to respond to the direction of travel in future; and that our young people, and those whose working lives are changed, have the ability to go forward in other new jobs in the future.
I suspect the Minister will not be surprised if I say I am not totally satisfied with the argument that we do not need anything in the Bill. I am slightly emboldened by my experience so far on this issue—in fact, I feel like a cracked record in taking this forward. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, spoke about the work we did on a cross-party basis on the Financial Services Bill, where we had exactly the same sorts of debate with the Government reassuring us of their good faith and their ability to do things external to the Bill. Eventually, through discussion, we managed to find a way forward to put something into the Bill. We did the same thing on the Pension Schemes Bill, where we had exactly the same arguments that it was not necessary to do this. I am delighted to say that now, if I ever I go to a meeting or listen to anything about pensions, I hear Ministers proudly proclaiming how, in the year of COP 26, we are the first country in the world to include climate considerations and net-zero in legislation on pensions.
I am encouraged that we may be able to take this further. I hope that we can do so on a consensual basis and that, perhaps, between Committee and Report, we will be able to have discussions with the Minister about whether that is possible. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.