I shall begin with some housekeeping points. I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available on the Table. I also remind Members that adequate notice of amendments should be given. As a general rule, I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that might be reached during an afternoon sitting. Members can take it as read that they may remove their jackets while I am in the Chair.
I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meting at10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 12th June) meet—
(a) at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 12th June;
(b) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 14th June;
(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 19th June;
(d) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 21st June;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order:Clauses 1 to 13; new Clauses relating to Part 1; new Schedules relating to Part 1; Clauses 14 to 21; new Clauses relating toPart 2; new Schedules relating to Part 2; Clauses 22 and 23; new Clauses relating to Part 3; new Schedules relating to Part 3; Clauses 24 to 27; Schedule 1; Clause 28; Schedule 2; Clauses 29 to 32; remaining new Clauses; remaining new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) the proceedings on the Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 21st June.
It is a pleasure to be here, Mr. Atkinson, and I look forward to serving under your chairmanship. This is the first Bill since 1992 to focus on further education training, which is important for a sector that is often felt to be neglected and undervalued. The Bill will help us to reform the supply side and to shape up to the skills challenge that Sandy Leitch set out clearly in his recent report. It will also address aspects of the Learning and Skills Act 2000.
The further education sector in this country provides learning opportunities for more than 5 million people a year. Those opportunities are crucial in providing skills for securing productive, sustainable employment, and they promote community and personal development. Sandy Leitch’s report should have cleared out any sense of complacency on the issue.
Although this is a relatively small Bill, it is an important one. It underpins our agenda to transform further education, which we set out in last year’s further education White Paper. The Bill includes the restructuring of the Learning and Skills Council, and it will make the council and the wider further education system more responsive to the needs of learners, potential learners and employers. It will also enable further education institutions to award foundation degrees only and will modernise arrangements for industrial training levies.
I have tabled amendments to make arrangements for improving unsatisfactory further education provision. Those and other matters that are covered in the Bill are important, and I am sure that we will discuss them in great detail. The programme motion proposes that the Committee meets twice today, twice on Thursday and twice on Tuesday and Thursday next week. That gives us a total of eight sittings, which I think is right to cover the Bill’s wide content. The motion was agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee, and I commend it to the Committee.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. Your perspicacity is matched only by your legendary benevolence, on which we lesser mortals will depend as we consider this important matter.
The Minister has set the scene by describing this as an important Bill. It is certainly an important subject. He referred to the Leitch report, and Opposition Members cannot help but conclude that the Bill would have been more fit for purpose if it had included more of the report. It is curious that the Further Education and Training Bill makes almost no reference to the content of the Leitch report and, indeed, the Government response to it. Having said that, I agree with the Minister that the further education sector is vital—it provides opportunities for people across the country to gain skills, to train and to be educated—and we celebrate the work of further education colleges as, I know, do all Committee members.
The Bill is important in a number of respects, which we shall debate at length. The Opposition want to tease out the unsatisfactory aspects of the Bill and support those that point in the right direction. However, we are disappointed that the Bill does not provide a more fundamental review of the circumstances affecting further education and training, together with a series of recommendations about how they might be improved. The programme provides sufficient time to debate the matters that are before us, and we look forward to doing so in a co-operative but sparky spirit, so that the legislation is scrutinised in an appropriate and thorough way. We support the programme motion.
I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship. I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Corby on the Committee and hope that he will not find it too unpleasant an experience. This is a relatively brief Bill and, with the exception of the provisions relating to foundation degrees and intervention powers, it is also relatively uncontroversial, so I suspect that we will be able to deal with it rapidly.
In common with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, I am disappointed that the Bill does not herald the implementation of the recommendations in the Leitch report, but we assume that we will be back in Committee soon to debate those.
We are happy with the programme motion. If we are all brief and to the point, we should be able to get through this by the end of Thursday. Today, we will seek to probe issues relating to the relationship between local authorities and the Learning and Skills Council, and on Thursday we will express our serious concerns about the proposals regarding intervention and foundation degrees.