Clause 2

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 5th February 2008.

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Duty to participate in education or training

Amendment proposed [31 January]: No. 4, in clause 2, page 1, leave out line 12 and insert—

‘(1) A local authority in England shall enable and assist a person belonging to its area to whom this Part applies to—’.—[Mr. Gibb.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking amendment No. 15, in clause 10, page 5, line 35, leave out from ‘applies’ to end of line 36.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Good morning, Mr. Bercow, to you and all Members of the Committee. It is a delight to be back again considering clause 2. I will speak relatively briefly on the amendments, because we covered quite similar ground—our concerns about the compulsion and criminalisation elements of the Bill—under clause 1. However, I would like to express the Liberal Democrats’ support for amendments Nos. 4 and 15, which would turn the provision into an entitlement rather than a duty.

That is very much in keeping with our approach to the Bill, and specifically our three concerns, the first of which relates to the Government’s approach to 16 and 17-year-olds in assuming that compulsion is reasonable, in spite of their adult status in many other respects. Secondly, we are concerned about the lack of flexibility and support for many vulnerable young people, which we discussed under clause 1. Thirdly, we are concerned about young people’s employment prospects, which we may discuss later. For those reasons, and because we believe that young people will engage more effectively with education and training if they do so on a voluntary basis, we support the amendments and await the Minister’s reply with interest.

I want to pick up a couple of points made by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton when he moved the amendments. He raised the issue of the sanctions which would follow if the amendments  are not successful and if the provisions in the Bill remain an obligation rather than an entitlement. In his evidence to the Committee, the Minister stated his view that the Government’s estimates regarding the use of sanctions were at the bleak end of the scale of enforcement. We asked whether he would be willing to set out for us in detail in a written note, or perhaps in an oral response, what assumptions were used. In oral evidence, there was an indication that the assumptions

“are based very precisely on the nearest equivalent we can find in the existing system for the rates of default and so on.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 208, Q481.]

The Committee will remember that we had some very precise estimates of the effect of the sanctions, including 111 default orders, 667 parenting orders and 33 breaches of parenting orders. It would be interesting to know what the assumptions were and what were the nearest equivalent enforcement mechanisms that were used to produce those estimates. The Committee will want to consider whether those equivalent mechanisms for enforcement are comparable, given some of the challenges that will be faced as a result of the Bill.

Will the Minister say more about the relationship between the various categories of sanction that he set out in numerical terms in his evidence to the Committee? The following figures were given by the Minister: attendance notices, 6,000; fixed penalty notices, 1,500; youth court fines, 278; youth default orders, 111; parenting orders, 667; and breaches of parenting orders, 33. Looked at in very broad-brush terms, those figures suggest a compliance rate of 75 per cent. with attendance notices—I may be missing something—and 75 to 80 per cent. in relation to youth court fines. Many of us would feel that those estimates imply a high success rate in enforcement. We wonder whether those estimates of the effectiveness will be realised. Will the Minister say something about the underlying assumptions?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

To facilitate the proceedings of the Committee, let me say that I intend either to speak in detail to the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised when we discuss chapter 5, which deals with attendance notices and enforcement, or to have written to the Committee by then setting out my thinking. I do not intend to respond in detail to those points today because I think it is more appropriate to deal with them under chapter 5.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I raised those points because they came up when the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton moved the amendments. I am happy for the Minister to respond as he wishes, but if he is going to produce something in writing, I urge him to do so as soon as possible. In other Committees, which have not always met the high standards that I am sure he sets, documents have had a habit of turning up rather late—sometimes on the final day of the Committee, if not later. It would be welcome to have the information well in advance.

Will the Minister also confirm that the figures that he cited regarding the enforcement mechanisms are based on the assumption that the take-up of education and training places among these cohorts will increase  in line with the Government forecasts between now and 2013 and 2015? If that does not happen, and the Government are not successful in raising participation among that age group up to 90 per cent. from 80 per cent., the numbers could become much bigger. I hope that he will also say something about the relationship between parenting orders and breaches of parenting orders, where there seems to be even more optimism than about attendance notice enforcement.

As the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton pointed out, the non-attendance rates for young people in education and training are already incredibly high for those coming up to the age of 16. About 10.5 per cent. of the year 11 age cohort are persistently absent. Although the Committee discussed what that meant—the new figures from the Government will shed some light—such statistics give us cause to be sceptical about the extent to which an enforcement mechanism will work with the most hard-to-reach cohort—the top 5 per cent. We must pause for thought about how effective these sanctions will be in terms of pursuing those individuals. That is one reason why we believe that an approach based on opportunities and entitlements, with appropriate provision offered, is not only more in keeping with Liberal Democrat philosophy, but is also likely in the long term to be more effective and meet the concerns of not only liberals and liberal Conservatives but some of the other Conservative Members.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I have listened with care to the debate. Hon. Members have rightly identified the amendments as central to the debate about the Bill. The question I would put to you, Mr. Bercow, is this: is the status quo enough? Is it enough to say that we want every young person to have the benefits of participation but not to will the means to achieve that end? For the truth is that the status quo is what the amendments would leave us with. By taking away the element of compulsion, they would take away the most important elements of the Bill: its impact on the wider system of education and training and its ability to galvanise the system to achieve change.

The Committee does not need to take my word for the central importance of compulsion to achieving the result that we want. We heard it time and again from witnesses representing many different parts of the system. The National Union of Teachers said:

“The fact that it is a requirement to stay until 18 triggers a culture shift on its own.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 145, Q335.]

Barnardo’s said

“ultimately, after all the safeguards within the Bill, our position is that we support compulsion as a means of ensuring that the most disadvantaged young people have their horizons broadened and are prepared for a world of work, rather than a world of benefits and long-term poverty.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 4, Q1.]

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said:

“In our view, without the end point of the legal duties, and the compulsion through the law, the remaining changes to culture, the NEETs strategy, and things such as diplomas and apprenticeships, will have an effect, but there will not be the expectation that” participation

“is genuinely and seriously the norm and that it is the way to do things.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 72, Q174.]

We see that the picture is perhaps not as clear as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton would have liked to present it. The Association of Learning Providers, for example, said:

“The message clearly embodied in raising the participation age to 18 is that it is in every young person’s interest to be on a quality route with quality training. Clearly, that is the right message,”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 122, Q299.]

The Local Government Association said:

“We do not disagree with the intent, but that intent should be seen in the context of the overall direction in which to go—not as one of the prime elements but as a final sanction to be applied in extremis.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 72, Q174.]

I do not disagree with that. I have already said that I expect the enforcement of the duty to be a last resort. I say the same as many of our witnesses—that placing a duty on young people to participate is crucial to achieving our goals, which the Opposition say they share, of meeting the future skills needs of this country and ensuring that all our young people have the best possible chance to succeed.

The duty to participate does not take away from young people the responsibility to take decisions about their own education, as the hon. Gentleman claimed. As we have discussed, the range of options that young people will have to fulfil the duty is extensive. We expect young people to take responsibility for making decisions about which of those options is appropriate for them, supported by their parents, schools and the Connexions service. The only option we are removing is that of doing nothing, and we are doing so with the backing of strong evidence that remaining in education or training is in the best interests of young people.

Of course, compulsion must be backed by support and by other duties across the system, and the Bill puts those elements in place. Local authorities will already have, under cause 10, a clear duty to promote effective participation. In addition, we have the Connexions service, which supports young people and helps them to participate. The duty to ensure that that service is provided currently rests with the Secretary of State, but clause 54 will transfer the responsibility directly to local authorities. The service is part of the vision that we set out in “Youth Matters” for integrated youth support services delivered by children’s trusts in every local authority area. Under the Bill, local authorities will also be required to have regard to tough new national standards to ensure that the advice and guidance that they provide is of good quality.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Does the Minister not believe that the provisions he is putting in place—those increased opportunities—will not be sufficient to increase participation?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I agree with some of the witnesses that I have quoted. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services, for example, has said that the provisions will certainly have an effect on participation. We were putting in place measures to achieve our target of 90 per cent. participation, but they will not be  sufficient to have an impact on every young person in the country, which is the clear aim of the legislation.

The Learning and Skills Council already has a duty to ensure sufficient and appropriate provision for all 16 to 19-year-olds. The Bill does not affect that duty. From this year, we implemented the September guarantee everywhere—guaranteeing for the first time an offer of an appropriate learning place for every young person leaving year 11. We have also announced that we will introduce an “age 17” guarantee. We are improving the choices that young people have at 16 by increasing access to apprenticeships, which we know are popular with young people, and introducing new diplomas. From 2013—the year that the legislation first takes effect—all young people will be entitled to study for a diploma in any one of 14 lines at three levels. From the same date, any young person who wants to and who meets the entry requirements will be able to pursue an apprenticeship.

We are developing the foundation learning tier—I have been through these things with this Committee before—and we announced in the children’s plan that we will be piloting a new return to learning programme, which I will talk about more when we discuss clause 4. Young people have access to financial support to participate in learning through the education maintenance allowance. Evaluation shows that the EMA has had an impact on participation and attainment.

The combination of clauses 2 and 10 ensures that local authorities must support and enable young people to participate. Amendment No. 4 adds nothing to that—but it would remove the crucial ingredient. Compulsion is the catalyst which ensures that the duties, the reforms and the programme of change transform the operation of the system, so that the system understands that every young person must be engaged, every need must be met and no-one must be left out. Without the requirement on young people to participate, the incentive on the system to engage the hardest to engage is removed, and the requirement to get a full entitlement in place for every learner is reduced. The urgent need to support every young person—no matter how great their need—is lost.

As long as we have an optional system, the young people who are least likely to choose to participate are those who are most disadvantaged and most marginalised already, yet it is they who potentially have the most to gain from continuing their learning. I have consistently argued that it cannot be acceptable for any young person to be deemed to be too hard to engage. We must raise our expectations of these young people and their expectations of themselves.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 10:45 am, 5th February 2008

The whole Committee shares the Minister’s anxiety about those young people who are lost to the system, and his determination that young people should be encouraged to acquire a thirst for learning, but, in essence, is he not really saying that compulsion will be introduced and to meet its objectives, a series of exciting and attractive measures will be put in place? He must surely acknowledge that those exciting and  attractive measures will of themselves encourage much greater participation. Would it not be better, therefore, to consider compulsion when we have had a chance as a Committee, as a House, as a Government to look at the effects of those measures?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I can see the temptation to think that, but I argue that if we give people the opt-out, we remove the momentum. The duties in the Bill are balancing duties—duties on young people balanced by duties on local authorities. The enforcement process is costly to local authorities, it is something that they would have to administer, and it is therefore more of a driver for them to put the necessary support measures in place to avoid the need for enforcement. I would argue that, by having some clear and definite measures in place, with a definite end time of 2013 and then 2015, we will create the momentum we need to get those measures in place early. We know that the current cohort finishing primary school will be the first year to whom the set of measures apply, and we need to ensure that their educational journey from now on is configured around the duty to participate applying to them in 2013, and not the possibility that it might apply to them in 2013, which just changes the mindset completely.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I understand the Minister’s argument that the measure will be a catalyst. It is, on the face of it, plausible; but he must have considered with his colleagues other ways in which participation could be encouraged. Indeed, there are all sorts of carrots and sticks that could be used without using this enormous cudgel of criminalisation. I just wonder what other ideas he tested before concluding that he must use the nuclear option.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I do not see compulsion either as nuclear or cudgel-like. I have described it as being slightly more forensic than that, because it certainly has to be applied on an individualised basis. We have considered everything, and everything that we think is reasonable, we are deploying. We were already looking to deploy what gave reasonable value for money in terms of effectiveness and affordability in order to achieve 90 per cent. but, as I have consistently argued, our analysis is that we need to go further through this balancing set of duties in legislation to get to 100 per cent.

Turning to No. 15, if we are going to place a duty on young people to participate, we need to have the means to make that duty real for young people, and that means being able to enforce it. The proposed amendment to clause 10 would remove the ability of the local authority to enforce the duty to participate. Without enforcement, the galvanising effect of compulsion is lost. The pressure on the system to provide what is needed goes away.

I see enforcement as a necessary deterrent that should be used only as a last resort and only once all other avenues have been exhausted. I am absolutely clear that where a young person needs extra support or faces significant barriers to participation, such as homelessness or drug or alcohol problems, the support services will focus on overcoming these first. No young person will enter the enforcement system if there is a reason why they are not participating and if they are taking the right steps for them towards participation.

The role of the local authority is crucial because it will be responsible for encouraging participation and making sure the young people get the support they need. The Connexions service will play a big part in that. I have already set out some of its role. The local authority will be well placed to make sure that young people enter the enforcement system only if it is justified because, as I have just said, it will consider each case individually and take full account of the young person’s personal circumstances. The attendance panel will provide further checks and balances on the process by reviewing the steps the local authority has taken to make sure there has been sufficient opportunity and support for the young person to engage voluntarily. The panel will confirm or dismiss the attendance notice and be able to recommend that the local authority take action to meet the needs of the young person.

The duty to participate and the ultimate possibility of enforcement are at the heart of the Bill. Removing it would significantly reduce the impact of what we are proposing and I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

There is an inherent contradiction at the heart of the Government’s rhetoric. On the one hand the Minister and the documentation say that the compulsion is a last resort and that the real measures in this Bill are the increased opportunities for young people to participate and the duties on local authority to promote participation. The essence of the amendments, particularly amendment No. 4, is to put into legislation the essence of the rhetoric that it is a large resort—that the crucial part of the thrust behind the policy is not the element of compulsion, but the aim of increasing opportunities and encouragement to young people to participate in the system.

We agree with that. If that were the essence of the Bill, I suspect the Committee stage would already be over. We are concerned, however, about the compulsion element. The Minister cited the NUT as evidence of outside bodies that are in favour of compulsion, but it says in its briefing:

“The NUT is concerned that the focus in the Bill on sanctions and criminalisation for failing to participate may be counter-productive.”

Similarly, the TUC says:

“The TUC has some reservations in particular around a compulsory approach that could result in young people being forced into learning.”

Despite a number of questions from the Minister to the TUC witnesses, they refused to backtrack on that view. Despite persistent questioning—until they got it right—they continued to get it wrong, from the Minister’s perspective. I think the TUC and the NUT are right.

The Minister says that if we do not have the compulsion in the Bill that would amount to doing nothing. He cannot say it is doing nothing and then say that the other measures in the Bill to promote participation and increase the number of opportunities are so important. As far as we are concerned, those measures do not amount to nothing. I am promoting the Minister in saying that these other measures in the Bill are likely to be very effective. I wish he had the same confidence in his own measures that we do.

The essence of the issue is whether we can reach 100 per cent. The Minister said, in giving evidence to the Committee, that,

“it is always difficult to get 100 per cent.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 207, Q476.]

He is right. Reaching 100 per cent. is probably impossible. The question is how we get as near as possible to that figure of 100 per cent. The type of young people we are talking about will not respond to compulsion. They have had compulsion thrust upon them for years, and they have resisted and resented it for years. That was the view of the bodies that work with such young people day in, day out—Rainer, the Prince’s Trust and Fairbridge. They are all adamant.

Fairbridge deals with the type of young person that the Prince’s Trust is unable to deal with: very difficult, very hard-to-reach young people. Its witness was firmly of the view that compulsion will not work for such young people, given the problems they face. As local authorities start to monitor those young people, we will end up with a very bureaucratic procedure involving attendance panels, attendance notices and the range of sanctions and penalties that arise from failing to comply with the notices and orders. Those measures will be expensive and will simply not work in getting those young people on to the training and education ladder and helping them to make something of their lives. For this reason, I wish to press the amendment to a vote, as it goes to the essence of the difference in approach between Members on these Benches and those on the Benches opposite.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Division number 2 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 2

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘shall be entitled to’.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 144, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out from ‘applies’ to end of line 20 and insert—

‘has the right—

(a) to participate in appropriate full time education or training,

(b) to participate in training in accordance with a contract of apprenticeship, or

(c) whilst in full time occupation, to participate in sufficient relevant training or education in each relevant period.’.

No. 145, in clause 10, page 5, line 35, leave out ‘fulfil the duty imposed’ and insert ‘exercise the right conferred’.

No. 146, in clause 12, page 6, line 22, leave out ‘failing to fulfil the duty imposed’ and insert ‘not exercising the right conferred’.

No. 147, in clause 13, page 6, line 34, leave out ‘failing to fulfil the duty imposed’ and insert ‘not exercising the right conferred’.

No. 149, in clause 39, page 20, line 23, leave out ‘fulfil the duty imposed’ and insert

‘participate in required education or training as required’.

No. 150, in clause 39, page 20, line 27, leave out ‘fulfil that duty’ and insert ‘participate in required education or training’.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

It is a delight to be working again with such a talented team, and none more talented than you, Mr. Bercow. The amendments focus our attention once again on the central issue of compulsion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has argued, without proper consideration of that element of the Bill, much of the rest becomes fruitless. That is not to say that there are not good things in the Bill, or that we do not support many of the measures which the Government suggest, and it certainly does not mean that we do not share the aspirations that underpin much of what the Government have said both in Parliament and outside. However, those things might be better achieved without reference to legislation. They can be achieved in all kinds of ways. No one in the House, let alone in Committee, is more enthusiastic than I am about rejuvenating the apprenticeships system, but I am not sure that the Bill is the right means of doing so.

The amendments deal with the issue of compulsion through a series of apparently minor or semantic changes. Amendment No. 3 removes the word, “must”, which signifies the determination of the Minister and the Government to compel young people into education. However, as Barnardo’s has said, if education at 16 to 18 is to succeed, young people must choose to participate if they are to maintain their motivation. I am interested in the Minister’s arguments, which he makes with typical flair, that without compulsion, there will be no incentive or driver—“catalyst” was the word he used. However, I am not sure that the case has been made persuasively. It certainly has not been proven, and it is not the view of many organisations that work most closely with the disadvantaged young people whose interests we are so passionate about. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire spoke about that in an earlier sitting. In his experience of working with young people, unless they thought they had made a choice to participate, the catalyst the Minister described would not apply. It is the catalyst of their commitment that counts, not the catalyst of the law. My hon. Friend made that point with alarming eloquence, and I am surprised that the Minister did not spot it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I am happy to give way, just to get another dose of my hon. Friend’s eloquence.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks, but Barnado’s, which did a survey of young people, was not the only organisation to come to that conclusion. The British Youth Council reached the same conclusion, so there is support for his argument from the available evidence of what young people think.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I shall deal exhaustively, in the all too few words that I shall use when speaking to this group of amendments, with other organisations that have made the same point. However, we do not need simply to rely on their expertise, as we know what they say is true from our own real-life experience. Have we not grasped that from work in our constituencies and our knowledge and understanding of young people? Do we not know it from our personal experience? The things which we choose to do are usually the things that we do with most enthusiasm. There is a philosophical problem with the Minister’s argument, which supposes that if someone wants to do something, they have to be forced to do it. I am not sure that that obligation sits comfortably with the desire to do something.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I appreciate that the school leaving age is a different proposition, but there has been a cultural shift in parents’ expectations as to how long their children will be in education. Does the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that in the early 1970s the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16, and that subsequently it was raised from someone’s 16th birthday to the end of the academic year? That changed parents’ expectations of how long their children would carry on learning, and that cultural shift could only be achieved by a measure of compulsion. That compulsion was applied then, and it would similarly be applied with the Bill?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Minister’s argument is not without merit. There is an argument that says, and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire parodied it a little unkindly, that it is not the attractiveness of the product or the ability of Government or any of the agencies that are working in the education sector to inspire young people—it is not about the thirst for learning that might derive from those things—that is likely to be successful but the obligation: the fear, or the threat of force.

That would certainly have some effect, and I think it would do what the Minister says to some extent. However, I am not sure it will reach the people he most wants to reach, because he said earlier—and this is the flaw in his argument—that he believed 90 per cent. of young people in the target set by the Government would participate without compulsion, but that there was a stubborn 10 per cent. that the Government would not be able to attract or inspire in the way that I have described. I am not sure that compulsion will help us to engage that stubborn 10 per cent., because we know from the figures—I will not say “on truancy”, as the Minister would quickly identify absence from school as a factor—that if we add authorised and unauthorised absence in year 11, we are nudging up to 10 per cent. in schools. I do not believe that the figure  for ages 16 to 18, if the Bill comes into law, is likely to be less than the existing figure in schools. In fact, I would assert that it is likely to be more. When young people reach the age of 16 or 18, they are more challenging and difficult: there are other draws on their attention and energies that are altogether more seductive than the Minister and his policies. I am not sure, if the Minister’s argument is that compulsion will succeed in engaging the 10 per cent. that other methods have not engaged, that he will be proved right. That is why amendment No. 3 removes the word, “must”.

Amendment No. 144 similarly leaves out, “applies” and adds, “has the right”. Although we are concerned about compulsion, we are passionately in favour, as I have made clear—and my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, with greater knowledge and understanding has made it even clearer—of encouraging as many young people as possible to achieve their potential by staying on in education or training. The explanatory notes to clause 2 are worth considering in detail, because clause 2 creates the central duty, as the Minister said when dealing with a previous group of amendments,

“to participate in education or training”.

It details the ways in which that duty might be fulfilled, both by young people themselves and by the institutions entrusted with the mission of bringing about that purpose. The eligible forms of education and training, to which the amendments refer, are listed in the notes as

“appropriate full-time education or training...a contract of apprenticeship”—

The minister mentioned that a few moments ago—and

“part time education or training towards an accredited qualification as part of full-time occupation or alongside occupation of more than 20 hours a week.”

The purpose of our amendments—and I make no bones about it—is to qualify that duty and pare down the Bill. We do not deny the fact that all those things I have listed are desirable, but we doubt whether the means to achieve them are right. The Minister, untypically—I will not say, “disingenuously”, because I think he was unwise, with an untypical lack of wisdom—suggested that was the only means of achieving those ends. He said that “we must will the means to bring about this end”, as if compulsion were the only means or route to that end. When I intervened on him to ask what assessment he had made of other means to those ends, he said that the Government had looked at almost everything. He did not elaborate in the detail that I think the Committee would have liked, which would have enabled us to judge what measures he had considered, how he had tested them, and what notional judgments he had made about their success. Would they have reached 85 per cent. of people, or 70 per cent. or 97 per cent.?

We were not given a clear indication as to when the Government came to the conclusions about compulsion, having considered and exhausted other options because, in the Government’s estimation and projections, they were found to be inadequate. I would want to look at the measure in considerably more detail, and test more rigorously some of the alternatives before moving to a position where we criminalise young people—that is what it is; there is no point in making any bones about it or mincing our words—in the knowledge, as the Minister  has admitted, that 100 per cent., despite the measures in the Bill, will not participate. It is not possible to achieve 100 per cent. participation in anything that people are obliged to do, and that is certainly true in education. Some people, as a direct consequence of these measures, will gain a criminal record at a very young age. That is not acceptable without a very convincing argument that that is the only way forward.

The explanatory notes include details of the duties to which educational institutions are subject. They have a duty to notify the appropriate service provider if someone is not participating and they believe that that person is not fulfilling the duty. The Bill define services providers and puts into place all the mechanisms for enforcement. Our amendment No. 149 suggests that we delete “fulfil the duty imposed” from clause 39 and insert,

“participate in required education or training as required”.

Again, in the same spirit, our aim is to encourage the end but to amend the means. In a similar fashion, amendment No.150 would leave out, “fulfil that duty”, and once again insert,

“participate in required education or training”.

We believe in exercising rights rather than imposing a duty. I should qualify that. I am not terribly enthusiastic about rights, particularly natural rights. It is responsibilities about which I am most enthusiastic, for I am, as the Committee knows, a Conservative. As I have argued before, if we limit people’s liberty, we must have a balancing product—an offer that is so attractive or compelling that that loss of liberty can be justified. The nature of government—and there can be no better example than this—is surely to remove liberty only where there is a compelling, overwhelming case for so doing

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith PPS (Mr Phil Woolas, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman mention responsibility. Does he not agree that we should ask young people to take their responsibilities seriously, and that there should be a duty on every young person to participate in some form of activity between the ages of 16 and 18?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

That is an interesting question, because once or twice in our considerations, the Minister of State has made the remark that the only liberty that we are taking away is the right or opportunity to do nothing. I am with Proust rather than the hon. Lady on these matters. I do not know whether we are going to have much opportunity to explore Proust—

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

Mr. Bercow, I look to you when I speak for a certain sobriety to balance my levity. I hope I can rely on that, as I do not want to be impertinent.

Proust advocated the notion of spending time doing precisely that—nothing. Proust said that the good life—the fulfilled life—depended on our spending considerable time doing nothing. I rather suspect we should all be doing a lot more of that and thus a lot less than we do now. We should—and I recommend it to the hon. Member for Llanelli—spend more time contemplating, meditating and considering—not the Bill, but all those gentle and beautiful things to be found beyond this place. So I am with Proust rather than the hon. Member for Llanelli, although I do not know whether Proust enjoyed quite so much expertise in dealing with young people as the hon. Lady.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 11:15 am, 5th February 2008

Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing is for sure, Proust could read and write—[ Interruption. ]—and add up?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

Proust was a chronic hypochondriac, and spent many years wrapped up in several overcoats and blankets. He went out in a moment of folly, caught a cold and died, so whether he could read and write or not, one would not want to rely too much on his advice. However, I think that he was probably right about that willingness to do nothing. An important part of freedom and liberty is the choice to do nothing. One aspect of liberty is the business of saying, “Well, I do not want to get involved. I do not want to participate.” It may not be what we would advise young people to do: we would tell them that that is the wrong judgement, and we would encourage them or—and I used the word in a considered way—inspire them to get involved. However, that is quite different from saying that we will take away someone’s right to meditate and contemplate—to emulate Proust.

Before the Committee tires of those wider, tangential remarks, I shall come straight back, like an arrow, to the target—the amendments, which very much reflect the views of a panoply of organisations that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, have resisted the Government’s argument. They reject the central tenet of the Bill because their experience leads them to believe that it will not succeed. At an earlier stage in Committee proceedings, the hon. Member for Yeovil and I had a brief exchange—I do not think that you were there, Mr. Bercow; you were probably doing nothing, and I congratulate you if that was the case—in which we discussed the difference between philosophical objections to the Bill, which can plausibly be made, and my objection, which is that it will not work. It will not do what it is intended to do. It will not do what the Minister hopes it will do.

That is rather reflected by the third party organisations to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton referred—how much I enjoy working with him in Committee and elsewhere—including Rainer and the Prince’s Trust, which both gave evidence to the Committee that raised doubts about the Minister’s argument. Those doubts were not about the philosophy of the measure but about whether the Bill will work: will it reach the most challenging young people, for whom we have a responsibility to do more?

Barnardo’s has been mentioned several times, but I make no apologies for mentioning it again, because its words are highly relevant to this part of the Bill and to our amendments. Its report, “School’s out, or is it? Young people’s views on staying on in education or training to 18” offers a very clear message:

“Choice is best...the young people consulted in Barnardo’s alternative education and training services...felt that choosing to participate was critical to their motivation to attend and achieve.”

The important words are, “choosing to participate”: those young people made a commitment critical to their subsequent progress.

On the subject of enforcement in relation to young people, the Association of School and College Leaders said:

“Our preferred approach to achieving full participation is by persuasion rather than coercion. In particular we do not support the potential application of criminal penalties for what is a civil matter”.

The Minister may want to leap to his feet and tell me whether the Government considered only criminal sanctions, whether they looked at the possibility of including civil sanctions in the Bill?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to leap to my feet, and may I take the opportunity to say that civil sanctions are built into the measure, but criminal sanctions are at the end of that civil road?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

That is true, but for the second time today, I am tempted, against my instincts and against my highly co-operative and generous style, to accuse the Minister of being rather less than straightforward. While there are indeed civil penalties, there are not civil penalties alone. He knew very well what I was inviting him to clarify: whether he, his advisers or his colleagues in government had considered leaving out the criminal sanctions at the heart of the Bill, as well as the coercion identified by the Association of School and College Leaders, and replacing them with solely civil measures. The National Union of Students, an organisation with which most of us were probably associated in some shape or form a few years ago—more than a few in my case—says:

“Compulsion and especially criminalisation of those young people who opt out of education will not be a fair or effective solution.”

The Young Women’s Christian Association says:

“Education at present does not work for many disadvantaged young women and without significant changes to the system these young women will struggle and the situation will get worse.

Compulsory participation in formal education does not necessarily lead to learning. Non-formal education and youth work awards, accredited by QCA or appropriate body, should be recognized as valid forms of training for those most disengaged and disadvantaged”

Time and time again, we hear that the young people in greatest need—those who face the most challenges and are most isolated from the thirst for learning from which we have all benefited and that we hope might be spread more widely—are the least likely to benefit from a Bill that coerces them and, ultimately, if they do not abide by their duties, criminalises them. That is the message that we have heard loud and clear from any number of experts, and it is the issue addressed by our amendments. Clause 2 is a vital part of the Bill, and the amendments are the summation of the Opposition’s view as to why it is not fit for purpose. To that end, I hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, will listen to the evidence—what is the purpose of evidence if we do not listen to it and act upon it?—and take note of the arguments that have been made in Committee, and which will me made time and time again. I hope he will rise to say that the Government might just think again. His share price would rocket if he did so, and not just with my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, although that would be a prize worth  having, but with everyone outside the House who knows that I have made a reasonable case and that his argument is less than persuasive.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

We all enjoyed hearing about amendments No. 3, amendments Nos. 144 to 147, and amendments Nos. 149 and 150 much more than we expected. I did not initially intend to speak, but such is the enthusiasm with which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings put his case that it would be discourteous not to enter the debate, even for a short period of time.

This debate was similar to the previous debate on amendments Nos. 4 and 15, which is why I do not intend to speak for long. We have essentially heard the same tune from the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, but with a different conductor and, occasionally, a few different notes. However, I am very pleased that we have managed to find some common ground between a liberal Conservative—the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton would, I think, be happy to fly under that flag—and the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, who is a self-styled illiberal Conservative.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I did not realise that there were any high Tories left. Indeed, we have managed to find a coalition of views between a Liberal, a liberal Conservative and a high Tory. I hold out some hopes for the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, because he sounded veritably Cameronian when he started to discuss the benefits of meditation and inactivity. I expect at some future date to see proposals along those lines on the front page of The Observer or The Guardian, as informed by his thinking.

The hon. Gentleman made a powerful case for a more voluntarist and permissive approach to the Bill. I wait with interest to see whether he has convinced the Minister, as his hon. Friends and I were not able to do so. I was not convinced by the Minister’s explanations of what he has described as a forensic rather than a nuclear or sledgehammer approach. How one can have a forensic process of compulsion or a forensic sledgehammer, I am not sure—or convinced that one can. However, having felt compelled to lend my support to the amendments on the basis of the robust case made for them, I look forward to seeing whether the hon. Gentleman has convinced the Minister.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I, too, enjoyed the opening speech on this group of amendments by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings. I fear that he may have missed his vocation—it was like listening to an episode of “Just a Minute”, only with Nicholas Parsons missing. Perhaps I am wrong, because it did not take just a minute for the hon. Member to conclude his comments. We have discussed at length in the debate on the previous group of amendments the essential importance of compulsion in achieving the aims of the Bill.

These amendments seek to replace the central duty to participate with a right, or entitlement, to participate, and they make corresponding changes to the duties on local authorities. As the hon. Gentleman said, that  strikes right at the heart of the Bill, and—I would argue—would effectively neuter it. We had the benefit of hearing from a wide range of witnesses during our oral evidence sessions. They set out for the Committee their clearly and often passionately held views about this issue on both sides of the debate. Plenty of them discussed whether it was right to compel young people to participate in education or training. I will not detain the Committee by citing every supporter of the principle, but there were many of them and I will give just a few examples. The Association of School and College Leaders said:

“We certainly agree with the idea that it should be compulsory for young people to be engaged in educational training up to the age of 18 and we welcome the fact that the Government intend that to be the case.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 58, Q146.]

The Campaign for Learning said:

“If every young person who is 11 now has an expectation that they are going to stay in learning until they are 18, and their parents and employers know that, we think that will be effective in making a difference to the way people think.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 124, Q301.]

That goes to the heart of my argument. Even the Prince’s Trust, which did not hold a clear view either way, said:

“If you make it compulsory and you put in adequate resources...then it would make a big difference because, yes, you would get that shift on the ground.”

It went on to say that

“in the experience that the trust has had...where young people have been sent to us compulsorily, we have not seen a difference in the outcomes.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 21-26, Q52-63.]

Nigel Haynes of Fairbridge addressed the question of choice:

“I think choice has to have consequence, and as far as most of our young people in the Green Paper surveys are concerned, they do believe that if there is a degree of compulsion, for some that is going to be appropriate.”

He went on to say that

“we get round it in quite a subtle way, in that there has to be some choice...a young person coming to us through a YOT or from a YIP will have two or three choices.”

Choice and compulsion can therefore go together in Nigel Haynes’s opinion. He added:

“In the overall sense of the Bill, there are options and pathways for them to take that I think are opening up more than they were previously.”

He went on to say:

“From looking at what there is on the book, I am not so sure that the range of options needs to be increased.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 193-96, Q445-51.]

I am sure that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is aware of what Nigel Haynes said on the subject.

I believe that the measures in the Bill are right, necessary and proportionate if we are to achieve our aim of full participation for all young people up to the age of 18 in England. I have explained my position at length in relation to the previous group of amendments. I have set out why I agree with our witnesses that  compulsion will galvanise the system in a way that no other approach can do. An entitlement or right to participate, as established by amendments Nos. 3 and 144, would not in isolation achieve the goals we have set ourselves. Giving young people a right to participate adds nothing to the current position on post-16 education and training and, in some ways, it weakens it. Young people are already entitled to participate, and we are doing everything we can to encourage them to do so.

As a result of the reform programme that we have put in place, we expect many more young people to choose to participate, but that is not enough to ensure that they all do so. We believe that a voluntary approach could take us to 90 per cent. participation at 17 by 2015—I am trying to be as precise as I can to help the hon. Gentleman—but that means 10 per cent. not participating, left behind and increasingly marginalised.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 11:30 am, 5th February 2008

The Minister has been precise. He suggested that a non-compulsory approach might achieve a target of 90 per cent, as I said.

I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills a question, but as I did not get a straight answer, what estimate has the Minister for Schools and Learners made of the likely non-attendance among that remaining 10 per cent., even given that they will be legally obliged to participate? Is it going to be roughly the level of non-attendance in year 11 at school?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

As we have discussed, the level of non-attendance at school is difficult to quantify for those who are truanting, in common parlance, so it is difficult to draw comparisons with what might happen post-16, particularly as we will put in place a range of measures to support young people as part of the legislation. I therefore cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer to that question.

The figures we have given in respect of enforcement are at the top end, because I anticipate that the informal training that will be put in place to re-engage young people, as well as support to help those with particular difficulties—we have already discussed that and we will go on to discuss it again in the next group of amendments—will account for a range of circumstances, so there will be people who will not be failing in their duty but will not be fully participating, either, because they are on the road. It is therefore difficult to define an answer to that question.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

Can we at least get it on the record that no one actually believes that even with these sanctions we are going to achieve 100 per cent? It would be ludicrous for this Committee not to hear from the Minister that even he, with all his confidence in this measure, acknowledges that we are not going to achieve 100 per cent.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

On 29 January, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton asked me:

“Do you think you will reach 100 per cent.?”

I replied:

“We do not quite reach 100 per cent. for pre-16, because various circumstances have to be taken into account...and there are a number of reasons why people of compulsory school age  are absent from school. There are reasonable excuses for people not participating. I do not know exactly how the statisticians measure participation, but it is always difficult to get 100 per cent.”

So I think I have been relatively clear on that issue. Later, again in response to the hon. Gentleman, I said:

“I believe that we can effectively get to 100 per cent.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 207, Q476-477.]

The word “effectively” allows the wriggle room for some of the difficulties around definition that may or may not emerge, depending on how statisticians in the future choose to measure those people who are not fully participating but who are en route to participating through the re-engagement activities in the return to learning-type programmes we will be developing. I hope that is helpful.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

We will not get to 100 per cent. I read the Official Report to which the Minister refers. I will ignore the gobbledegook about statisticians—that is a red herring. We are not going to get to 100 per cent., so we are really doing this, not for the 90 per cent. and not for—let us be generous—the 3 or 4 per cent. who are not going to participate, but for about 6 per cent. Is that what we are really saying?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

No. I know that the hon. Gentleman is probing to gain clarification—he is not deliberately being obtuse. We are clear that we want to design a system for 100 per cent., so that there is no particular type or category of person who has a different aspiration or expectation from the system about their participation up until the age of 18. The system will explicitly be designed for 100 per cent., be it 100 per cent. participation or 100 per cent. engagement.

As long as we have an optional system of participation, the young people who are least likely to choose to participate are those who are the most disadvantaged—the very ones who most need to continue to learn. It cannot be acceptable to deem any young person to be too hard to engage. We must raise our expectations of those people and their expectations of themselves. As drafted, clause 2 is key to bringing about the essential culture change that we are looking for. It is about changing the expectations, not only of young people—the Opposition seem to think the duty to participate is laid on the young people themselves in isolation—but of their parents, their teachers and the others who advise them. That is crucial. The question should no longer be, “Will you stay on?” but, “What will you do?”

We will start with the young people who are now in year 6 and starting secondary school in September. It is worth adding that in school now you cannot distinguish between who is there because they choose to be and who is there because they have to be. Even if they are not choosing to go, by and large they are still learning and gaining from that education. We want to extend that.

Local authorities’ duties are central to the proposals that we will be debating and to the delivery of the reform programme. The existence of a clear duty on young people will ensure not only that local authorities act with urgency but also that they have the moral authority to lead the rest of the system locally to  deliver what is needed for every young person. Removing the drive provided by the duty on young people, as amendments Nos. 145 to 147 would do, would both reduce the impetus for local authorities to respond with urgency and reduce their ability to cajole other services to respond. We heard precisely that from John Freeman of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, in one of the most memorable quotes from our evidence sessions. He said

“as a director of children’s services, I have a range of powers that I never use. However, if I did not have them, I would have different conversations with a range of people...without them, my leverage on the activity would be much reduced.”—[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 72, Q174.]

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Does the Minister agree that those bodies do not seem to be using those powers very effectively in relation to those children in year 10 and 11 who are not complying at all with the attendance obligation?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Certainly, I agree that the performance of local authorities in using those powers is not consistent. It is variable, and I would like to see some use the powers more readily than they do. However, I have no doubt that because directors of children’s services have those powers, they are able to have conversations where everyone who is taking part in that dialogue knows at the back of their mind that there are enforcement powers that can be used, but that it is desirable to move on because of the process involved. I hope that the powers that we are putting into legislation through the Bill will have a similar effect.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The efficacy of the powers, if they are not used but they have an effect, is as a kind of threat. When challenged by the hon. Member for Yeovil about the variability of the application of the powers, the Minister said that he agreed that there was inconsistency. There is no inconsistency in their having the powers, so why is there inconsistency in the effect that those powers have when they are not used? It is an extraordinarily illogical argument to say that they all have the powers, and in some cases the powers frighten people, and in other cases the powers do not.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I think it is fairly obvious that if people do not believe that a local authority is going to use the powers, the powers do not have much effect; but if they see that the powers can be and are used, that informs the conversation.

I do not want to get into a lengthy debate about enforcement today; there will be plenty of time for that later on. However, local authorities’ duties in relation to enforcement will only have the impact that they must have if they relate back to the central duty set out in clause 10.

To avoid being accused of disingenuousness by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, I would add, in respect of the exploration of whether or not it should remain a civil matter and be enforced by the courts, we discounted that option for a number of reasons. Unpaid civil penalties are registered as a debt with the county court for enforcement. A warrant is authorised, which a bailiff attempts to execute, but bailiffs cannot act in relation to individuals under 18,  because young people are classed as vulnerable, so the bailiff would have to withdraw. The cost of the original debt would increase as a result of bailiff fees being added. That is not a position that we want to see young people in. As a result of the spiralling fine, the young person could be taken to county court. County courts and their sentencing are not designed to deal with cases against young people, and it is unlikely that any suitable action could be taken.

Throughout that process, of course, the costs would keep mounting. It is therefore very unlikely that the debt could be enforced at the end of the process. Either the costs would then be left with the local authority and the council tax payer, or the authority would seek to recover the whole amount from the child, none of which would be means-tested. In the youth court, however, the proceedings are set up expressly to deal with young people: the amount of the fine is means-tested, has a maximum limit and does not increase over time. I hope that that is a logical and reasonable explanation of why we do not pursue the civil penalties.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Minister is being immensely generous, Mr. Bercow, and that should be acknowledged.

Barnardo’s made two arguments relating specifically to the matters that the Minister has just raised. To paraphrase, it does not want a young person who has failed to participate to be left with a criminal record, which could jeopardise their future employment. Barnardo’s believes that the sanctions—the record—should be spent after a certain period of time. It also argues that there should never be a custodial sentence for failure to pay a fine or for non-attendance. Has the Minister considered those points, and does he agree with Barnardo’s?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am looking at the evidence that I gave the Committee, but I believe that I set out the legal position in respect of a criminal record then. That was that these offences would not remain on the criminal record for longer than, as I recall, two and a half years. Also, they would not be a recordable offence: the offence created in clause 45 of failing to comply with an attendance notice is not punishable by imprisonment, so it is not a recordable offence, it will not be placed on the police national computer and it will not be disclosable in a Criminal Records Bureau check. If a young person chooses to go through the whole enforcement process, all the way through the youth court and all the way through to developing a criminal record, the effect would be seen for, at worst, two and a half years after that conviction. I think that that is a reasonable and balanced approach, and largely deals with the concerns that Barnardo’s has raised, although obviously I cannot speak for that organisation.

I ask the Committee to resist amendments Nos. 149 and 150. The duty to participate and the message it sends to all those involved are at the heart of this Bill. Its removal would render the legislation a little more than a restatement of the current position, which we all agree is not one that we wish to see continuing. I therefore ask the loquacious and articulate hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendments.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne 11:45 am, 5th February 2008

Thank you very much, Mr. Bercow, for calling me to speak on this Bill. It is my debut appearance in Committee and I have discovered my tongue.

As I said to the Minister on Second Reading, I sincerely want this Bill to succeed, I really do. It is just not acceptable in a civilised society for any child to be left behind. It is not in their long-term emotional, spiritual or social interest, nor is it in the long-term interest of society. I genuinely believe that the Bill will get participation rates up from 90 per cent. to 96 or 97 per cent. Then, the compulsion will come into force and another 2 per cent. will be added to that.

That will still leave 1 per cent. of the most excluded, and although 1 per cent. sounds like an extremely small number, in total it is still many thousands, many tens of thousands. I am still not sure how, despite the powers of compulsion, we are going to get this 1 per cent. into training and education. We all have them in our constituencies: they are very hard to reach, they shy away from authority and even go so far as to confront authority on almost every occasion. There will be powers to levy fines on these youngsters, but I do not imagine they will pay the fines. They will then reappear in court and the fine will be increased, or another fine will be placed upon them. Again, I do not imagine for a second that they will have the desire or the means to pay that fine. Then, we get to the question of what we do with them after that.

This is where I am concerned, because the natural extension of the legal system for someone who refuses to participate or abide by rulings imposed on them is some form of custodial sentence. Perhaps that is where we need to go if the measure is to have any teeth at all. If youngsters know that they can get away with being fined time and time again and there will be no long-term sanction, perhaps they will feel they can continue as they want to. I am not suggesting that it would be desirable to lock up recidivist offenders who refuse to pay the fine, but I am struggling to understand how we are going to deal with that small minority. What sort of resources will be at the disposal of local authorities and the Government to sit them down and make them see sense—to re-engage them in the mainstream?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I was struck by the Minister’s point about Barnardo’s. Some organisations have been prayed in aid as supporting compulsion, but when one looks at what they are actually saying, I question that. I wonder if what has happened is that the Minister has spoken to various charities and organisations and said, as he said to us, “If you want to get the money out of the Treasury for education between 16 and 18, go along with this and you can be pretty sure there will be no real compulsion here.” In other words, there is something going on behind the scenes which is not entirely in accordance with what is being said clearly on the record.

To give an example, having done a survey, Barnardo’s reports:

“’Choice is best’ was the clear message from the young people.”

It goes on to say that what is important is adequate support. Barnardo’s says that the penalties should be really quite small,

“reflecting the level of financial support available to the poorest young people.”

It says that advocacy must be available, that there must be no criminal record and that never, in any circumstances, should any sort of custodial sentence be imposed. Is not Barnardo’s really saying: yes, let us have education to 18 by all means; let us have it funded by the Treasury; but let us not criminalise these young people?

I felt that was the message from a number of the people who have been prayed in aid. The Association of School and College Leaders was very anxious to say that keeping the last 10 per cent. of recalcitrant young people in education and training will not come cheap, which seemed to me to tie in with that message. The comments made by Fairbridge fit in with that analysis. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services goes through the various civil elements of the enforcement programme, explaining them and talking about the need for lots of support, but when it comes to the criminal elements, it comments:

“local authorities will need carefully to assess, on an individual basis the action that is most likely to secure the desired outcome.”

The ADSS is not exactly saying, “Let’s move to prosecution”. Will the Minister comment on whether those organisations genuinely want very vulnerable young people to be criminalised?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I say to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire that those organisations understand the momentum that having criminalisation at the end of the road gives the system, but they, like all of us, want to minimise the number of young people who are criminalised. In the same way, the hon. Member for Broxbourne, when intelligently discussing whether imprisonment should be a sanction—I would argue that it should not be and that that would be a step too far—said that he has no desire to see young people imprisoned for failing to participate in education or training. His question was about whether we need that sanction on the statute book to prevent people from not taking this seriously enough.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

The Minister is correct: the last thing I want to see is youngsters imprisoned. What I really want is recognition of the fact that helping that hard core of 1 per cent. will be immensely challenging. We need a detailed action plan or business plan to make sure that the infrastructure is in place to keep them out of prison and get them back into training and employment.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is looking forward to the stand part debate on clause 4, when I will set out those plans. We will need to do much more between now and when the duties come  into effect in 2013 and 2015 to get all the support measures in place. I do not intend to speak at any great length for a second time on this set of clauses, but I hope that that is helpful to the Committee.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I, too, have no intention of speaking at any great length. However, as I listen to the Minister respond to the arguments that have been made on the amendments, I am forced to conclude, with considerable disappointment, that he has not, in my judgment and in preparation for this work, even glanced at “Remembrance of Things Past”. I do not think that even a passing familiarity with Proust has graced the Minister’s research—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Order. I simply say to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that his invocation of Proust and his impersonation of Demosthenes may well have been equally entertaining and—possibly—illuminating to Members of the Committee, but it is fair for the Chairman to point out that Demosthenes was not subject to the constraints of a programme motion, whereas Members of the Committee are. I invite the hon. Gentleman to bear that point in mind as he summarises his argument.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I am delighted, Mr. Bercow, that you have drawn me back to the straight and narrow when Members of the Committee have tempted me to digress from our duty.

The Minister recognised in his remarks that the amendments lie not only at the heart of the Bill, but at the heart of the difference between the sides of this Committee—between Opposition parties and the Government. The arguments could be amplified at length, but I will simply say that I have yet to hear from the Minister a persuasive case for why the ends that we share would not be better achieved by more agreeable means and without some of the unacceptable consequences of his option. To that end, I am obliged, more in sorrow than in anger, to ask the Committee to divide on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division number 3 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 2

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I beg to move amendment No. 71, in clause 2, page 1, line 17, leave out from beginning to end of line 8 on page 2 and insert—

‘(c) be in full-time occupation (see section 5).’.

Amendment No. 71 moves us on to the beginning of what I think will be one of most important debates on the Bill. So far in Committee we have touched on the principle of compulsion and criminalisation and spent some time debating, on amendment No 70, exceptions and vulnerable individuals who might find it difficult to engage in education and training. Amendment No. 71 invites us to consider what for us is the third salient problem with the Bill. The amendment would allow 16 and 17-year-olds in full-time employment not to have to be in education and training.

We advocate the amendment essentially for two principled reasons. The first relates to evidence that we heard during the evidence sessions. We received many representations about the potential employment consequences of this part of the Bill and the danger that it could increase unemployment rates among 16 or 17-year-olds as a consequence of employers deciding not to take on young people who would then have an education and training obligation.

The second concern that the amendment seeks to address, which is linked to the first, relates to the representations made to us by some of the same people concerned about whether obliging people in full-time employment to take on particular qualifications at a particular time was going to be useful to them, or whether it could saddle them with qualifications that are either useless or of very low quality. It might also get in the way of people taking up their entitlement to some of those qualifications at a later date, which might result in a more useful qualification that could be quite beneficial to their future prospects both within and outside of the labour market.

Later clauses deal with the same issues as those before us now, but I shall regard this argument as having been made. With your patience, Mr. Bercow, I shall therefore spend a little time setting out the evidence.. I promise not to return to it in every succeeding clause. It is worth examining some of the evidence that we received on the employment effects of the Bill.

One of the most powerful and impressive witnesses we heard, and with whom I thought even the Minister dealt with kid gloves, knowing that she is a national expert, was Alison Wolf. She has recently published a paper called “Diminished Returns: How Raising the Leaving Age to 18 Will Harm Young People and the Economy”. She gave evidence to the Committee on 24 January, which is worth some reflection. She said:

“the negative impact that the Bill will have, by effectively destroying the labour market for 16 and 17-year-olds, is enormously underestimated. That might be justified if one were confident that they were going to be doing something that was extremely valuable. Since one is not, and since we know that on-the-job experience is demonstrably extremely valuable to people, I think we have to take the impact on the job market extremely seriously. I think the effect will be very serious and almost totally negative.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 107, Q272.]

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden PPS (Mr Michael Wills, Minister of State), Ministry of Justice 12:00 pm, 5th February 2008

I bow to no one in my admiration of the work that Alison Wolf has done over a long period. However,  does the hon. Gentleman agree that when she was questioned on the evidence base of her assertions, , not least by myself, it became clear that it was very thin. It seemed to be strongly focused on her experiences of the economy, job organisation and age ranges in France.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that such matters are surrounded by a large element of uncertainty. Alison Wolf was honest and straightforward with the Committee, including in response to his questions, by acknowledging that uncertainty about her calculations. Had she been a politician, she probably would not have given such a candid response. I remember the hon. Gentleman indicating assertions that had been made about the impact that the minimum wage would have, which have not all come to pass.

I remind the hon. Gentleman not only that we received a lot of evidence on the subject, to which I shall come in a moment, but that in the Bill’s impact assessment the Government assume that there will be a significant impact on small employers. It estimates that half the young people who would have been employed by smaller employers will lose their employment opportunities as a consequence of the Bill. That is by the Government’s own estimation, which I assume is not pitched pessimistically.

Of course, we should subject the claims that have been made to scrutiny, but we should take seriously the risk that some young people might lose opportunities that can be extremely valuable, particularly for those who have disengaged with the formal education process and could learn a wide variety of valuable disciplines by being in employment. We must also take seriously the risk that we will place upon such young people a duty to be in a form of education, training or qualification that gives them skills that do not have a high market value. That is our concern.

Alison Wolf continued in her evidence to talk about some of the people who could be the losers from the proposals. She said:

“The people who are likely to be the largest losers from this are the notional equivalent of today’s young people—many of whom have left school with perfectly good GCSEs...who have made a decision at 16 to leave school, who are in jobs, who are getting a great deal of valuable on-the-job training often and who may be getting formal training as far as the labour force survey data is concerned, but who are not in jobs where their small and medium-sized employers can, with any ease, move to releasing them for a day, or entering into an extremely complex apprenticeship contract and so on.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 108, Q273.]

She is concerned that they are the individuals who might lose job opportunities. She went on to set out her concerns about the alternative approach that I put to her to keep people in the labour market: to widen the accreditation for young people who are in employment but not getting education and training. She said:

“the local training provider can come in and tick them off for an NVQ—well, yes, I guess you can do that. I do not know why you would want to. In fact, I can think of one reason why you would not want to. The reason why you might not feel that it is a particularly important use of Government money is that many of those young people will already have level 2 GCSEs.”

She went on to explain that if young people at that age are obliged to take up particular qualifications, they may expend their level 2 entitlement, even though they might more usefully access that entitlement later. She said:

“If they then want to go to the local college or whatever and take another qualification, they will be told that they have already had their full level 2s”—[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 109, Q275.]

That whole case is set out in great detail in her paper.

We also heard a lot of evidence on this from business organisations. We had written and, I think, oral evidence from the CBI. Its written evidence, submitted on 22 January—in the context of support for some of the proposals in the Bill, which I do acknowledge—stated:

“The CBI fears that firms currently offering valuable work opportunities will be discouraged from providing these in the future by the requirements on employers to police participation and the financial penalties for employers who inadvertently fall foul of the law.”

It went on to say:

“The Government must be mindful of the potential unintended consequences that could result from its proposals if young people who would have chosen employment opt for unemployment rather than attending training at school or college.”

We heard similar concerns from other bodies. On 29 January, we took evidence from Mr. Harris, Head of Education and Skills Policy for the Institute of Directors, and from Mr. Ehmann, Head of Regulation and Enterprise Policy at the Institute of Directors, and both highlighted the fact that these parts of the Bill could have an adverse impact on employment. Mr. Harris pointed out that

“the Department, which estimated something like 5,500 16 to 17-year-olds will be displaced because of the lack of small employers’ ability to respond flexibly to the requirements

Mr. Ehmann said:

“If you look at IOD members, 75 per cent. of those with less with 50 employees have no human resources support whatsoever. There is a very real possibility that small businesses may choose to employ older members of the work force.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 167, Q372.]

This is not only a concern of academics, and it is not only business organisations that are drawing attention to it. I have found it to be a real concern across the country amongst those who represent the interests of young people or those who work with very challenging young people who might have disconnected from formal education long before 16 but who the education system is increasingly looking to put in part-time work placement prior to the age of 16. From my part of the country, Peter Renshaw, the chief executive of Connexions in Somerset, wrote to me saying:

“Whilst it will be important to ensure high quality provision in education or training the burden of increased administration and bureaucracy must be avoided or employers will not take part.”

He cites the recent Ernst and Young survey that indicated that, although migrant workers are beneficial to the British economy as a whole, an estimated 100,000 or more young people appear to have been displaced from work opportunities as a consequence of the recent large influx of migrant workers. He goes on:

“The implementation of Raising the Participation Age will rely on the involvement of employers, there is therefore a danger  they may ‘vote with their feet’ by seeking labour from abroad thereby reducing training costs and denying young people opportunities.”

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman carefully, but it is difficult to envisage any new, young and inexperienced employee going into the workplace and not learning something. The employer would of necessity have to give them some instruction or training so that they could carry out the duties—whatever they happened to be. Does the hon. Gentleman think that small employers, whose employee numbers are below a certain threshold, ought to be exempt from the provision?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and that is one possible course of action. We prefer, in the amendment, however, a provision regarding full-time employment, which might have the effect that she envisages, because we acknowledge that many larger employers already provide a good deal of formal education and training, and one would not expect them to withdraw it as a consequence of any such amendment. I should prefer to remove the compulsion to provide additional education and training, acknowledging, as the hon. Lady said, that young people who engage in employment often learn skills and pick up, on the job, information that can be far more valuable than many qualifications—particularly vocational—that successive Governments have created and which, Alison Wolf, in another book published by some time ago, demonstrated are not always good value for a considerable period.

We have evidence from economists, business groups, groups that represent young people’s concerns and the British Youth Council. James Cathcart, chief executive of the British Youth Council, said that the provisions requiring 16 and 17-year-olds in employment to be in education and training “could discriminate against them.” He continued:

“I think it is an area where we can forecast or project that it could. If employers, for example, feel obliged to recruit a particular age group, there is a possibility that they will then just seek to recruit people who are over 18 or 19, rather than take the risk of having unwilling or unable young people who would have to be released—whether it is one day a week—to take part in that training.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 192, Q443.]

We have heard concerns from one set of individuals who represent the interests of young people. It has been suggested that there may be a substitution for migrant workers, and we have heard other groups who are concerned that 18-year-olds may end up substituting.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden PPS (Mr Michael Wills, Minister of State), Ministry of Justice

I am sorry to intervene on the hon. Gentleman again, because I do not wish to interrupt the flow of his argument unduly, but does he agree that one weakness with the British Youth Council’s argument, with other evidence and with the thrust of what he says this morning, is that it takes no account of the potential flexibility in training and education for the cohort of 16 to 18-year-olds who will come under the Bill? There was no reference in the British Youth Council’s evidence, nor indeed in what the hon. Gentleman has just said, to the possibility of training in-house, after work or at weekends, which small and  medium-sized businesses can be quite good at, if encouraged and supported.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

We are in favour of flexibility, but compulsion takes away many flexibilities that young people need to act in their own interest. For example, a young person who left school at 16, went into employment, managed to re-engage their interest, learned useful work skills and became more skilled, might want to re-engage with the education system not when the Minister compels them at 16 or 17, but perhaps at 18, 19 or 20. In one witness session, I asked a head teacher from my constituency about his views on the Bill. He said that he knew many young people who were completely disengaged from the education system at 15 or 16 and who had all sorts of different problems—medical and otherwise. They often rediscovered an interest in and conviction about the value of education at a later stage in their life, which is when we want people to be able to take up these opportunities.

We want to amend the Bill to give those young people an entitlement to take up those opportunities later on. A powerful criticism of the system, which we have had for too long, is that the young people who most need state-funded educational support are those who end up with the lowest value of support as a consequence of leaving the education system at the age of 16. Many youngsters from more affluent backgrounds have gone on to have free or subsidised education until the age of 21 or beyond. If part of the aspiration of the Bill is to ensure that every young person has an entitlement that is equal, which they can take when they are ready, we welcome that.

We are concerned about the hon. Gentleman’s comments about flexibility, but we will deal with that under a separate clause so I will not prolong the point. We would also be concerned if there were to be an obligation on some young people to take education and training outside their hours of work. If they are working for a long time anyway, one has to ask whether it is fair to ask them to do that training outside of a full-time employment commitment.

There are reasons why we should be concerned about the employment consequences of the Bill, and we know that the Government are also concerned about that because they have been candid on pages 26 and 27 of the impact assessment. They have acknowledged that it is likely that the process will cause some unemployment among 16 or 17-year-olds. The Government point out in a rather yes ministerish manner that employers will have time to adapt to their employment patterns so that they employ 16 to 17-year-olds on an appropriate basis in the first place, which is shorthand for saying that they will not actually be employing those 16 or 17-year-olds. Consequently, the Government estimate that 5,500 young people will not be able to take up employment opportunities between the ages of 16 and 17.

One of the important services done by Alison Wolf in her paper is to highlight the assumptions on which the figures in the impact assessment are based. As I understand it, the figures are quite optimistic from the Government’s perspective, even though they assume that, for small businesses, half of all the youngsters  between the ages of 16 and 17 who would have had employment opportunities will not have those opportunities in the future. I invite the Minister to comment on the points made in Alison Wolf’s paper, in which she indicates what the upside risks are in relation to the 5,500 figure. The first upside risk is that the Government simply will not succeed in securing their objective of 90 per cent. participation in education and training by 2013. Potentially, the stock of young people who could end up suffering as a consequence of the proposals would be much larger. That would have a significant impact on the estimates. It would be helpful if the Minister and his officials could say what the estimate of employment losses is if the participation rate is stuck at around 80 per cent., at which it has been for some time.

The second point that Alison Wolf made in her evidence and in her paper is that the Government appear to be using labour force survey data that assumes that a larger number of people are already in some form of education and training that would meet the requirements of the Bill than is actually the case. In her evidence to the Committee and in her paper “Diminished Returns”, she raised a concern about whether the assumptions are right about how many people in employment are in the type of education and training that would be credited under the Bill. We would be grateful if the Minister could say whether he thinks there may be an underestimate in relation to that.

The impact assessment also assumes that there will be no impact on the employment of 16 and 17-year-olds in larger companies. At the moment, the Bill assumes that there will be an impact on only small firms and that those in larger firms will not be affected. I wonder whether that is a realistic assumption. It seems to me that if 50 per cent. of those in smaller firms could lose their employment opportunities, there is a significant risk of some impact on medium and larger employers.

The impact assessment also touches on the 5,000 or so self-employed 16 and 17-year-olds. Paragraph 5.29, on page 27 of the assessment, argues in slightly obscuring language that those individuals might find that they are more likely to have to look outside their organisation to find the necessary accredited courses. I would have thought that many of them would not be in anything looking like an organisation and that they might find it difficult to access accredited courses. Has the Minister made any assumptions about the impact of the proposals on self-employed 16 and 17-year-olds?

All those criticisms lead on to the section in Alison Wolf’s paper in which she questions the economic assumptions and conclusions in the impact assessment. On page 24 of her paper she argues that if those assumptions turn out to be incorrect, the impact would be dramatic both on employment and through the consequential knock-on effect on colleges’ education and training budget. She states that if the figures are wrong in the way that she believes, the direct cost to the Government would rise to approximately £1.5 billion, rather than the £774 million under the 2016-17 prices used in the Bill. The production losses would then be between £169 million and £321 million—in other words, considerably higher than in the Bill—and the benefits would reduce. Her conclusion is that the  amended costings suggest that there might be a net loss ranging from £211 million to £1.8 billion per cohort. The Government’s very optimistic assumptions about the potential benefits of the Bill would be turned on their head by that change in assumption, and by others that Alison Wolf mentions, some of which, in fairness, touch upon education and training issues, and not purely on the employment issues.

Alison Wolf then underlines the huge value of employment to many of those young people, which is a point that has been raised by a number of hon. Members in this sitting already. She states:

“The current obsession with formal training reflects successive governments’ endless pursuit of qualifications, and...reflects a profound misunderstanding of the labour market”.

She continues:

“Employment has a major, positive effect on future employment prospects. Indeed, it is a far more effective way of breaking the cycle of unemployment and deprivation than any form of formal training.”

She goes on to talk about the Government’s new deal programme for unemployed youngsters between the ages of 18 and 24 and argues that an analysis of the programme confirms the primacy of getting many young people into employment even without education and training. She states that the programme

“involves an intensive period of assisted job search, followed by several options”,

which include being in full-time education and training, being on an environmental task force and being in employment. She continues:

“Of these four options, only subsidised employment has offered effective help in moving young people into permanent employment. The fulltime education and training option has had no positive impact on the employment prospects of young people”.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith PPS (Mr Phil Woolas, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:15 pm, 5th February 2008

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the world of work is changing rapidly and that the number of jobs available to people with no skills will diminish considerably in the next 10 to 20 years? We can all understand that once a young person is in a job, it is a way of growing up and has a profound impact on them, but does he accept that even in that job, there is a need for continued training if that person is to participate in the world as it changes in the next few years?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Lady makes an important point, to which I have two responses. First, for some youngsters, re-engagement often requires them to be in employment rather than in education and training. We should not underestimate how many things of great value young people can learn and pick up in employment without having to be in something that is accredited.

Secondly, I do not know whether the hon. Lady has had a chance to look at Alison Wolf’s report, in which she seeks to demolish the argument that the hon. Lady used at the beginning of her question—the belief that there will be no jobs for people without qualifications in future. Wolf says that the figures in the Leitch report, from which I think the hon. Lady is implicitly or explicitly quoting, are an estimate, not of the number of jobs that do not require skills, but of the number of people in the work force at that time who do not have those skills. In other words, it is tautology,  rather than an indication that there will not be any low-skilled jobs available. It simply indicates that, at that stage, most people in those types of jobs will have certification of one form or another.

My modest amendment opens up a debate to which, I suspect, we will return many times in Committee. I shall therefore set aside issues of enforcement until then. This is our third big concern about the Bill after compulsion and criminalisation, and the need to ensure a flexible system for young people with very high needs. Employment is central to the adverse impacts that the Bill could have. We hope that the Government will acknowledge that there are significant risks in this area, and seek to amend the Bill to reduce the risks of disadvantage to precisely the group of young people whom they seek to help.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The hon. Member for Yeovil spoke at length and in some detail to make the case for his amendment. He argued that it pivots on two essential points: first, the effect on employers and the likelihood of their employing young people, and, secondly, the primacy—he was paraphrasing Alison Wolf—of getting young people into jobs. There might be a third and perhaps a fourth point, but let me explore his arguments.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the effect on employers, because that is what they tell us. Some people—I count myself among them—have experience of employing young people, and have bought and sold things for a living. That is a great virtue in this place, because it gives us real-life experience of these things. From my experience and the evidence cited by the hon. Gentleman, small employers and, perhaps, medium-sized companies, would be particularly deterred from employing young people. That was the case made by Alison Wolf, although I agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool, South that she did not provide powerful evidence to support her assertion when questioned. That is a fair criticism, but, none the less, having spoken to the Federation of Small Businesses, which does good work in Lincolnshire and elsewhere, as well as to other employers in my constituency, I must say that Wolf’s view is supported by many employers. They will simply look elsewhere for workers, as the Government would acknowledge.

As the hon. Member for Yeovil made clear, the Government say in their impact assessment:

“We assume that the reaction of employers...will be split between either choosing to employ older workers and avoiding the duty, or releasing their employees for education and training.”

The Government clearly recognise that there will be a division among employees, but I hope that the Minister will explain precisely how they see that split developing. Are they worried that half of small employers will not engage young people? Is it 10 per cent. or is it the majority? It is not clear.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I shall attempt to do so. The Committee should read paragraphs 5.24 and 5.25 together, as they show that the assessment of about half of 16- to 17-year-olds being affected refers to the 27 per cent. of the full-time 16 to17-year-old cohort who are in jobs without training, earn below the 18-year-old national minimum wage and are employed in small firms. That total is 3,360 young people. Therefore, the total of those we assumed would be affected by small businesses not wanting to employ them is 1,680. I hope that that is sufficiently precise.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

It is helpful. Indeed, one could reach that conclusion from reading those two paragraphs. However, one could not conclude, except by speculation, which is all the Minister has offered us, what impact he expects the Bill to have on those employers. In other words, how many of them will henceforth choose to have little or nothing to do with young people? In making his point about the effect, he assumes a constant level of employment, but the labour market changes over time, as we know. We would expect the reaction of different employers to be different, as the subsequent paragraph suggests. I do not know whether Alison Wolf is right that the proposal will have a devastating effect as she argued in her paper and in evidence, but I will be interested to know whether the Minister expects all or any small businesses to continue to employ young people. My guess is that it will be a mixed picture, but I should like more detail.

There is no detail about medium-sized companies and still less about very large companies, which will be similarly affected and, as the hon. Member for Yeovil said, some of them will respond in a similar way. The likely impact on employment patterns, which formed a great part of Alison Wolf’s evidence, is central to the amendment tabled by the hon. Gentleman. The Minister will probably argue that the numbers are sufficiently small not to be likely to have a profound effect on the economy, which brings me to the second argument advanced by the hon. Member for Yeovil which he described, paraphrasing Alison Wolf, as the primacy of employment in young people’s interests.

I shall add a suffix to his argument, which I hope complements the points he made: for some of the most challenging and challenged young people, that primacy assumes even greater significance. For disabled young people who are supported in employment, for young people from homes where employment is not the norm, and where there is no expectation of regular employment, and for those who have had a very difficult time at school, getting a job assumes a disproportionate significance. The hon. Gentleman is right that for those young people, that might be more important than getting into a job that brings immediate training. There is an issue not just about young people per se, but about those groups of young people for whom getting a job at the age of 16 is a life-changing experience.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s argument. I do not disagree with him about the importance of employment to 16 to 18-year-olds as a means of improving their life chances and increasing their maturity and so on. Would he not  agree that it is important that those jobs, or the experience of that employment, gives them prospects? Most young people who are in jobs without training are easily dispensed with. They move in and out of employment, and they only have a future in employment if they raise their level of qualification.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

Yes, I think that raising the levels of skills might be a better way of putting it. Of course skills are not just about training. Some skills are acquired by doing the job. Let us be clear that getting a job at the age of 16 for some young people may be highly significant. It brings with it implicit virtues such as experience and increased skills, not least the so-called soft skills acquired through the disciplines and obligations associated with working life. I suspect that that is disproportionately so for the most challenged young people.

Training in the first year or so may not happen in great measure beyond what I have described. I remember taking on young people from school, sometimes young people with poor soft skills, and not putting them into further training immediately, because they needed to bed down in the job, and acquire those fundamental strengths before they were equipped to take on such training. It may well be the case that once a young person has got into a job and has a foot on the ladder, climbing the ladder will take place over a number of years.

I can remember one young man whom we took on who subsequently rose in the company to a significant position. He joined at 16, with poor academic qualifications and very poor soft skills. I am not sure whether we put him on training courses for the first year or two, but I know that he was skilled and trained, and retrained and up-skilled, over subsequent years. There is therefore strength in the hon. Member for Yeovil’s case.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Is there not something missing from the Minister’s case, as he is not really concentrating on the needs of the business? One might employ a 16-year-old to do a very basic task but if, for example, a receptionist goes on maternity leave, her replacement might be sent on a course to learn reception work. The training is all part of the needs of the business. With a small business, there should not be such a rigid programme.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

There is a rigidity in the Government’s position, and that characteristic permeates their approach not just to this part of the Bill, but to the Bill as a whole. That inflexibility sits uncomfortably with the dynamism that is part of business, all the more so as our economy and businesses become ever more advanced. The required skills change rapidly, so upskilling and reskilling become more and more important.

The young gentleman I described was taken on as an assistant warehouseman at the age of 16—as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said, one does not think of that as a demanding job—and subsequently became a leading salesman in the company and, as a result, probably extremely wealthy. So it is in business, but sadly not in the life we have chosen,  Mr. Bercow. However, we have sacrificed those opportunities for our commitment to the common good. In his final words on the amendments, the hon. Member for Yeovil made an underpinning point. He said that he had a series of reservations about the Bill, and listed three of them. What unites those reservations is the sense of the Government’s stubborn determination that the Bill should be an inflexible measure, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire pointed out a few moments ago.

The Government have resisted an argument made not just be the Opposition but by many people who were consulted about the Bill. We believe that when it comes to difficult young people, skills and education, commerce and industry, it is not stubbornness that is required, but a willingness to be flexible, so that we can respond to changing circumstances, both as they affect individuals and the needs of our economy. The hon. Member for Yeovil is right that that stubbornness, which is personified by the Minister’s handling of these matters, although not in every other aspect of his existence is, to be blunt, unattractive.

It is because of that stubbornness and inflexibility—that lack of reasonableness—that the Bill has perhaps not received the welcome that the Minister and the Government expected. I think that the hon. Member for Yeovil was right—his three reservations are well-made criticisms of this Bill, and his amendment is a probing one. Unless the Minister can do rather better than he has done so far, I do not think he will satisfy the hon. Gentleman, who will choose to do what he will, but whatever that is, he will certainly have a sympathetic ear from the official Opposition.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I shall make a brief contribution in the run-up to lunch.

I would just say to the Minister that, in a perfect world, all companies and small employers would offer training. Like him, however, I know that we do not live in a perfect world. As a Member of Parliament, I am a small employer and I do not think that I, or the taxpayer, have funded one ounce of training for my staff since I have been in the House.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

Yes, that is a great shame, and it is something I hope to correct in the future, having been enlightened by this excellent debate.

To be seriously, businesses make commercial decisions. Those decisions they make may not appear rational to the economy at large, but they are rational for those businesses. Many businesses do not offer training to their staff, because they take the view that it is not commercially viable for them to do so. We may say in the House that they are making the wrong decision, and that they have not weighed up all the facts. If they did so, they would be willing to fund training for their staff. The case as it stands, however, is that many small businesses do not fund training, probably because they are operating on very narrow margins and are extremely cost-sensitive. Perhaps those businesses are run by extremely good and decent people who would like to be in a position to offer  training, but who simply believe that the bottom line is that they could not afford to fund it. I am concerned that the Bill may have unintended consequences, and it is right for us to debate them in a civil manner.

If we place formal training requirements on employers, there is a danger that there will be some form of displacement, particularly for young people. Small employers may turn to alternative sources of labour that appear attractive but which have resisted up to this point—for example, qualified workers from eastern Europe who can come into a business and make an immediate contribution. By placing a training requirement on employers, perhaps we will tip the balance so that the commercial pressure to take on people from Poland and other eastern European nations becomes overwhelming.

Many small employers offer informal on-the-job training. When something goes wrong, a person running a small business needs all hands to the pump. Many young people working in small business obtain a far more diverse experience of the workplace and its challenges than a youngster working at the checkout in a supermarket. That youngster is hired to do that job, and if something goes wrong, the store manager gets the person who deals with things going wrong to deal with it. That is the young person’s job—they stay there eight hours a day; they come in, do their job and go, and they get paid.

Although small employers may not offer formal training, there are exciting opportunities for on-the-job challenges. As we develop our discussions on the Bill, we need to consider more closely how we help small employers to formalise and accredit as a qualification what they are already doing. Like many Members, I was extremely pleased to see that McDonald’s—I know that it is a large employer—is to give its young workers an accredited qualification. Too often, we dismiss that work as a burger-flipping job, but McDonalds is a hugely successful company, and many youngsters who work there go on to have exciting careers running their own franchises or move on to other parts of business and the service sector. I want the Bill to be a success, and we must ensure that we encourage small employers to retain their youngsters and recruit more.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 12:45 pm, 5th February 2008

I have one small point to make. A contract of employment is, in its own way, an important discipline for both the employer and the employee. It contains important rights and duties of both. For the employee, there are the hours of work, for which it is important that they attend, the discipline that they are expected to accept, reasonable training to have the capabilities for the job and a whole range of duties. It also has the duties of the employer to pay the wages, take account of health and safety and the other rights that the law imposes on employers. It is important to say that entering the world of work with a contract is not a minor thing but a major step forward.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is making an important point. Does he agree that the 16 and 17-year-olds who are the most difficult to reach, who may have failed at school or been chronic non-attenders, might flourish in the sort of environment  that he is describing, whereas they would be the least likely to knuckle down to day release at college, for example? A small minority of young people will be best suited to being in full-time employment.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I am sure that that is right. I have heard a kindly employer say to a young worker, “You are not on student hours now.” That approach gives people discipline. Young people are quite proud to have their contracts of employment and to be in work. Often, as a result of their package of rights and responsibilities, they are taken under the wing of somebody more experienced, such as a supervisor or their employer. That is the beginning of the training experience, because the employer wants that person to get on almost as much as they themselves do, for the sake of the business.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, I very much recognise the valuable skills and experience that young people can get from working. However, ultimately, I do not agree that working full time should exempt a young person from participating in education or training. That is best exemplified by our commitment to expand apprenticeships, which combine the world of work and training towards a qualification.

The Committee will debate in full the duties on employers when we come to chapter 3 of this part, so I will not delay it unduly by going into any great detail about those duties. However, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire talked about the importance of focusing on the needs of business. I will just say in passing, in reference to the matters that we will debate in relation to that chapter, that it must be a case of balancing the needs of employers and of young people. Obviously, we think that we have the right balance in the Bill, but that is what we are debating.

At the commencement of employment, employers can discuss with young people what training would be appropriate for them. I do not think that that is an onerous burden, as I have mentioned before. Employers then have the choice of releasing the young person, which I would not encourage; providing the training themselves—we have discussed the Maccalaureate and other options that have been developed lately; or arranging hours around training. I would stress that there is no requirement for employers to fund that training.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I will give the Minister a practical example. Yesterday, I went around an engineering factory. Recently, another part of the production process was converted to computer-aided manufacture, and everyone who was involved in that part of the business had to be trained. Staff who had been there previously but who had not been trained in that area were trained. That was the reason that the training happened. It was not because the Minister had told them to do it.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Clearly, that is a good thing, and there is nothing in the legislation that would stop that continuing. Indeed, if a programme of training was set  out for the work force, there are a number of means of accrediting that training, which we will discuss as we go on to debate chapter 3.

As I have said again and again, I believe that all young people should continue to participate in education and training up to the age of 18, in order to equip them with the skills and qualifications that they need for a successful adult life in their present and future employment. There is clear evidence that those people who do not have a level 2 qualification at the age of 16 and who go into jobs without training are barely more likely to get a level 2 by the age of 19 than those who are not in education, employment or training. Therefore, there is evidence that to simply go into work and not go into some form of accredited training affects their life chances and ability to go on to other employment.

There is a danger that the debate is based around a romanticised notion that many young people go into honest, worthwhile permanent jobs at 16. That can happen: young people can go into a low-skilled, warehouse-based job, not receive any training, and then go on to be wonderfully well paid executives driving nice BMWs and contributing large amounts to the economy. I do not see anything in the legislation to stop that. All we would say is that, in conjunction with their warehouse employment, they should be doing some form of accredited training, which need not involve their having to take time out of work, if the arrangements can be made flexibly.

However, I think that the reality, reflected by evidence, is that many young people go into temporary, casual, dead-end jobs and are the most vulnerable to being laid off by employers when things become difficult. There is a lot of churn between the NEET group and the group comprising those who are in jobs without training, which suggests that, on its own, being in employment is insufficient, and that such people need more than that to improve their life chances. It is precisely those young people who could be left behind in future: with insufficient skills to progress in their careers, they will be the most vulnerable to changes in the labour market.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Can the Minister cite any evidence that the prospects for young people who are in employment are going to be any better if they have the qualifications that appear to give a lower economic return than employment, to which Alison Wolf referred in her evidence?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Alison Wolf was referring to some NVQs that our research shows do not give a great return; however, she ignored a raft of other qualifications. When questioning her, we agreed that BTEC, and City and Guilds, qualifications, for example, give a good return. There is considerable evidence that those who gain qualifications while working can benefit.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Of those youngsters whom the Minister expects to be in work, training and gaining accredited qualifications, how many does the Minister envisage actually gaining BTEC-type qualifications, or qualifications with similar status and value, as opposed to NVQs and other, lower-level qualifications?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Again, one of the difficulties in answering that question is that we do not know the extent to which the landscape of options will change between now and when the measures come into effect. We will have extra apprenticeship places, which we have discussed, people will be able to do diplomas part time, and we will introduce the foundation learning tier for those of lower ability. Various options are still on their way into the system, so it is difficult for me to give a meaningful answer to that question now.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Is the Minister saying that there are no departmental assumptions about the type of accredited qualifications in which young people in employment will engage? Surely the Department has made some assumptions in that respect.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Of course we have assumptions: they informed the research that we commissioned and are obviously informed by current practice. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read the research—he does his own research so assiduously. He will have seen that we have accounted for the current state of affairs before allowing for the effect of diplomas, and that we have pitched that effect about halfway between the effect of A-levels and the effect of some of the vocational qualifications. The effects of the apprenticeship frameworks and the foundation learning tier are also built in to our assumptions. It all depends on the qualification strategy that will be published this year.

Part-time accredited training will allow young people to gain recognition for their achievement and demonstrate the skills that they have gained in a meaningful and familiar way to future employers. The country and our economy need those young people to engage in accredited training. The Leitch report showed that there will be a growing need for more highly skilled workers in future and that level 2 will not be enough.

Compared with 2004, there are expected to be 2.6 million more workers at level 3 by 2020, whereas the numbers below level 3 are expected to fall by around 5 million. The higher lifetime earnings of people with level 2 and 3 qualifications compared with those with low or no qualifications will help to boost our economy. I am sure that that informs the support for the proposals that we have had from employer organisations such as the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce which, in its brief on the Bill, said that it welcomes the Government’s proposal to increase the compulsory participation age to 18 and to expand the number of available apprenticeships.

It being One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.