I anticipate your chairmanship with glee, Mrs. Humble. I welcomed you once in the witness stage but I will not miss this opportunity to welcome you a second time as we begin our consideration of these important matters. I also welcome the Minister who will be looking forward with enthusiasm to his first encounters as he attempts to take this entirely imperfect legislation through the House and, as a result, suffers the slings and arrows of discontent, which I wield only in the interests of learners, teachers and the wider British public. My only function in this Committee is to articulate their needs and to champion their interests. I hope I might be forgiven if I make a few opening words in those terms about the Bill. I am sure that the Minister will want to do the same. With your indulgence, Mrs. Humble, as well as
Let me do that, Mrs. Humble. Clause 1(1)(b)(ii) would enable the body issuing an apprenticeship certificate to charge a fee for so doing. This is essentially a probing amendment to determine the reasons and circumstances under which a fee would be charged.
Having heard what witnesses have said about apprenticeships and other mattersthe Bill has been variously described as a missed opportunity and a bureaucratic muddlewe hope that the Minister, in the context of his assumed rejection of our amendment, will say why he feels that the many people who have criticised the Bill are wrong and he is right.
As we begin our albeit imperfect efforts to make this Bill better, I am encouraged by the fact that I have alongside me as ever my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. Man and boy, for more than 30 years, we have toiled in the name of righteousness. Over that time I, like Dorian Gray, am largely unchanged. He is more like the picture in the attic. Nonetheless, we are united in our efforts to make the Bill better and, with particular regard to this amendment, to ensure that apprenticeships are worthy of their name. I am concerned that the Government, in meeting their ambitious targets to make entitlement a realitya key part of the Billwill water down apprenticeships and so may damage the quality of that brand. The Minister will no doubt want to take the opportunity to reassure me that is not the case but there are real fears. There are risks associated with radically increasing the number of apprenticeships without putting into place the necessary infrastructural changes to ensure that those apprenticeships teach and test real competencies and make the individuals who engage in them genuinely more employable. That was, and should be, the test of the apprenticeship system, which is why this side of the Committee supports it.
We also hope that the Minister will say something about the nature of the reorganisation, which is pertinent to this part of the Bill and the amendment. It is difficult to understand how the proposed changes will make the system more responsive to employers needs, less bureaucratic and more cost-effective. Indeed, I contend that it will achieve the opposite of all those things; the system will be more cumbersome, bureaucratic and expensive. Nothing I heard from the Ministers this morning reassures me; there seemed to be confusion as to whether the changes will cost more, the same or less, as well about the true motives behind the legislation.
This is a David and Goliath battle; the Minister has all the might of the establishment at his disposal, whereas we are merely armed with the slingshot of truth and the spirit of virtue. On that basis, I hope that the Minister will deal with the contextual matters, because they are highly pertinent to the amendment and vital to a proper understanding of the Bill and our attempts to improve it.
The structure that is put in place must not be inappropriate or, indeed, incapable of delivering a demand-led, highly responsive and slimmed-down system of funding and management of skills. We will go some way to fulfilling our purpose if we implement the very structure advocated by the Leitch report, to which the Government at least pay lip service. We regard such a system as essential to delivering the right kind of skills for our businesses and economy. If we receive more unsatisfactory answers, obfuscation and doubts, our profound reservations about the legislation will, frankly, be set in stone. In anticipation of longer and more interesting speeches to come, I look forward to what the Minister and others have to say about the amendment and its context.
I formally welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Humble, and I also welcome all members of the Committee. Having previously served with the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, I am sure that we will hear about bed-time reading, delivered in a phonic style no doubt, in the many hours ahead of us. I will lead for the Liberal Democrats on the clauses emanating from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, while my hon. Friends the Members for Yeovil and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will focus on the clauses emanating from the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
I do not have any comments on the amendment under consideration, except to say that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made some general remarks on this important and wide-ranging Bill, and I look forward to the Committees discussions.
As this is my first opportunity to address the Committee at this stage of our deliberations, may I formally say what a delight it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble? May I also add how grateful I am to all members of the Committee, particularly the Opposition Front Benchers, for their enthusiasm for the task in hand that they showed during the oral evidence sessions? The sessions were a very measured and intelligent contribution, and I look forward to continuing to work together constructively during our scrutiny of the Bill.
We have heard how much time Opposition Front Benchers have spent with each other doing these kinds of things. It is my first time on the Front Bench in Committee. I have spent plenty of time as a Back Bencher in Bill Committees, mainly in the corridor. I am conscious that this will be a learning process for me and that one learns from ones mistakes. I ask colleagues to be tolerant of my mistakes as I learn through making them. [Interruption.]As one of my hon. Friends says, be gentle with me.
In advance of todays sitting I have sent letters to members of the Committee explaining the amendments that I propose to move to part 1 of the Bill and to let them have sight of draft regulations relating to the use of delegated powers proposed in the Bill. Where draft regulations are not available, I have sought to explain what we expect the regulations or orders concerned will cover. I hope that these letters will assist hon. Members in their consideration of the Bill today and as we move forward.
Last year we signalled our intention to put in place more rigorous and robust arrangements to raise the quality of apprenticeships in England and to underpin those by putting apprenticeships on a statutory basis. Part 1 of the Bill is intended to deliver on that commitment. I do not intend at this point to accept the invitation from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings and to try your patience, Mrs. Humble, with a declamatory re-run of the debate on Second Reading or our oral evidence session this morning. We have both put our cases fairly clearly. He thinks that this is not a good Bill and it is a muddle and a missed opportunity. We clearly think that it is a good Bill, it is important to put these matters on a statutory footing, we have achieved a lot and this will help us to achieve a lot more.
Over the next few weeks, rather than trading these declamatory statements, I want us to put the Bill to the test line by line. I am sure it will be imperfect and we will learn together in exactly what ways, but this is a fundamentally good piece of legislation that does some good things. As we go it through it line by line, I sincerely believe that that is the picture that will emerge. I hope that we will be able to convince Opposition Members to soften their opposition to these measures.
Clause 1 sets out the conditions which must be met for a person to be entitled to an apprenticeship completion certificate. It places an obligation on the English certifying authority to issue a certificate where the conditions in the clause are satisfied. In essence, for the majority of people who are working under an apprenticeship agreement, those conditions are that they must have entered into an English apprenticeship agreement in connection with a recognised English framework. They must have completed the requisite training, attained the required qualifications and met the requirements of the framework. Amendment 15 would remove the requirement for them to pay any fee charged by the authority for the issue of the certificate.
I understand the concerns behind what the hon. Gentleman described as a probing amendment. I am happy to confirm that it is not our intention to charge apprentices for the issuing of an apprenticeship certificate. In developing the underpinning statutory framework for our apprenticeship programme, we have understandably given careful consideration to the appropriateness of charging fees for issuing an apprenticeship certificate.
We expect that the programme budget which the Government will make available to the National Apprenticeship Service will cover the associated costs. Nevertheless, we want to ensure that the National Apprenticeship Service has an explicit power to make a charge, if so authorised by the Secretary of State, to offset the administrative costs, especially where it is issuing duplicate or copies of apprenticeship certificates which have, for example, been lost. We can therefore be confident that other apprentices will not be subject to unreasonable financial burdens.
Currently, sector skills councils charge for apprenticeship certificates. In the Bill, we will have a power to retain the legislative status quo of the ability to charge for certificates, but there is no intention to charge in the future, although a charge is levied now. I hope that, having given that explanation, Opposition Members may be prepared to withdraw their amendment.
At the same time, I want to speak to a number of technical Government amendments. Amendment 151 is consequential on a substantive amendment to amendment 152 to clause 4. Amendment 152 makes it clear that the English certifying authority for apprenticeship certificates will be the chief executive of Skills Funding. That reflects our original policy intention and it is a simpler and more transparent formulation than that originally envisaged in the Bill. The chief executive will have the power to sub-delegate the function under clause 79. That will ensure that the necessary flexibility is built into the Bill. There are also consequential changes to clauses 35, 38 and 79(5)(a).
Amendments 153, 154 and 155 are consequential on a substantive amendment, amendment 156, which itself is a technical amendment that gives the Welsh Ministers an order-making power to designate the certifying authority in Wales to issue apprenticeship certificates. Designation by order will enable Welsh Ministers to revoke an amended designation, so that they can replace one certifying authority with a new certifying authority. It will also enable arrangements to be made for the transition from one certifying authority to another. For example, it will be important that the outgoing authority transfers to the incoming authority information about people to whom apprenticeship certificates have been issued. That is necessary in case apprentices need to request duplicate certificates from a new authority at any stage in the future.
I had not intended to intervene at this stage, but I am surprised that amendment 152 is deleting essentially the whole of clause 4 and replacing it with two or three lines. The Minister said that the amendment will bring in the intention as set out in the explanatory notes. However, the explanatory notes say that it is envisaged that the Secretary of State will ask the chief executive of Skills Funding to be the authority that
Will the Minister confirm whether it is the chief executive of the NAS who will be this authority or the chief executive of Skills Funding?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify that point. The statutory certifying authority will be the chief executive of Skills Funding, but it is anticipated that he will delegate the practical delivery of the task to the chief executive of the NAS.
Because it is not intended that the statutory authority should rest with the chief executive of the NAS. The statutory, legal, accounting authority is to be vested in the chief executive of Skills Funding. The day-to-day management will, in practice, be the responsibility of the chief executive of the NAS.
We will come on to certificates shortly. I just wonder, in this case, who will be the signatory on the certificate itself authorising the issue of the apprenticeship. Will it be the chief executive of Skills Funding or the NAS?
Off the top of my head, if we have a policy on the actual physical, graphic signature on the certificate, I am not aware of it. I suspect that that level of detail has not yet been determined and I will certainly undertake to check whether it has been. When it is ultimately determined, I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman to let him know what has been decided.
The change will also ensure that such transitional arrangements are binding on an outgoing authority, which would not be possible under a simple designation in writing. Government amendments 153 to 156 are necessary to ensure the smooth operation of apprenticeships in Wales.
Amendment 188 is consequent on amendment 156. This is a purely administrative matter. Its effect will be that an order under clause 8 relating to the Welsh certifying authority will not be subject to procedural requirements in the Welsh Assembly Government.
We considered that idea. As the hon. Gentleman knows, sector skills councils are currently issuing bodies. We have decided that in future, as the employer bodies, the sector skills councils will be responsible for defining and setting the apprenticeship frameworks and for determining the content of the apprenticeship. The National Apprenticeship Service, as the delivery agency, is the most appropriate body to issue the certificates.
I am sorry to run with this important though detailed point, but the explanatory notes make it clear that sector skills councils are expected to develop frameworks for apprenticeships in conjunction with standard setting bodies. What does that mean in practice? As the Minister knows, sector skills councils are currently issuing bodies. The proposals will diminish their role, will they not?
No, there is honestly no diminution of their role. As I said in the evidence session this morning, sector skills councils remain at the heart of the skills system as the employer body. They will determine what goes into an apprenticeship framework at the hands-on, nuts-and-bolts level of substance and content. By having the certificates issued by the National Apprenticeship Service, there will be a single recognisable apprenticeship certificate rather than 27 different certificates issued independently by the various sector skills councils. As the hon. Member for Bristol, West said, we will discuss the details later.
I understand that and it would be a good argument for having a National Apprenticeship Service with complete competence. However, as we described in this mornings sitting, there is a marriage between the funding agency and the National Apprenticeship Service. It is not only the sector skills councils that have a hand in this, but the principal funding agency and the National Apprenticeship Service. Why can all of this not be done by the National Apprenticeship Service or the sector skills councils? Why do three organisations have to be involved?
I cannot agree that the sector skills councils and the National Apprenticeship Service do the same job. The National Apprenticeship Service is an arm of the funding body, which has the job of delivering apprenticeships and to drive the quality and take-up of apprenticeships in the skills system. The sector skills councils are the employers. The employers do a different job and have a different role. I do not think that they would want that role to be done by anybody else. They want to be at the heart of the system and to determine what goes into the frameworks. The National Apprenticeship Service will sit inside the Skills Funding Agency. It will be part of the funding stream and will issue a single, coherent apprenticeship certificate across the board for everybody.
Can I have one last go at this in order to try to generate some light amid the heat? I am grateful to the Minister for giving way for a third or fourth time. Leaving aside the issue about sector skills councils and the National Apprenticeship Service, which I agree have different functions, and leaving aside the sector skills councils, which do it at the moment and will not do it in the future, what is the virtue in having the involvement of the Skills Funding Agency? Could the NAS have sat outside it, independent of that body? Is it not odd, to say the least, that what is essentially a funding body is involved in standards setting? Is it a standards setting body or is it a funding agency? I thought it was a funding agency.
The National Apprenticeship Service could have been located outside the SFA and we did consider that. The reason we decided to put it inside the SFA was to create a single body with four clear, coherent, identifiable customer gateways, two of which, for employers, would be Train to Gain and the NAS, to make a streamlined, coherent system. As it is, Opposition Members are criticising us adversely for creating too many bodies without sufficient streamlining. The proposed system has fewer bodies, more streamlining and more synergies; it makes sense to me. On the basis of those remarks, I commend the Government amendments to the Committee and hope that the hon. Gentleman feels able to withdraw amendment 15.
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks and for his courtesy in giving way on what is an important matter. It might seem arcane to the casual observer, but getting the relationships rightthe lines of accountability, the reporting functions of the new bodieswill have a big impact on the success or failure of our shared ambition to grow the apprenticeship system. The anxiety I have is that, in an effort to create a new system, the Government have created a more complex, harder to understand, less transparent structure that is not going to be good for either learners or employers. That is at the heart of our complaint.
Our anxiety, reflected in amendment 15, relates to establishing whether the Government will charge. I am still at a lossI hope the Minister might interveneas to why this particular measure forms part of the Bill if there is no intention at all, at any point, to charge.
To be clear, there is no intention to make a general charge for the issue of apprenticeship certificates, as is currently done. The intention is that the cost of apprenticeship certificates will be subsumed in the programme budget, although it is thought that the NAS might, in future, wish to consider charging for duplicatesfor copies of certificates that have been lostin order that the administrative cost is kept within a reasonable limit.
To restate my earlier point, there is currently a charge for certificates. SSCs are independent bodies which currently charge. Clearly, the right to charge currently exists. We are simply maintaining the current right to charge, although we are explicitly saying that we have no intention to charge other than, perhaps, in fairly exceptional circumstances.
That is a useful and helpful assurance. As I said at the outset, this is a probing amendment. The Minister has given us the opportunity to explore one or two deeper and wider matters, particularly in respect of the Government amendment, which forms a part of the group. It has set the scene for a debate that I expect we will have throughout our consideration about whether the new structure is fit for purpose. Nevertheless, I take the Ministers assurances in the spirit in which they were offered, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
provided that such evidence includes evidence of supervised training in the workplace.
Amendment 47, in clause 25, page 11, line 33, at end insert
(d) must specify that these requirements include some element of supervised training in the workplace..
Amendment 22, in clause 30, page 13, line 35, at end insert
(e) that the employer agrees to provide supervised workplace training..
Amendment 48, in clause 80, page 50, line 6, after agreement, insert
that includes specific requirements for supervised training in the workplace,.
Amendment 113, in clause 80, page 50, line 7, leave out subsection (b).
Amendment 49, in clause 85, page 52, line 13, at end insert
(d) arrangements for courses of training at a college or other institution must include some form of specific training in the workplace..
I rise again on the issue of apprenticeships, the matter absorbing the early parts of our consideration. The amendments in this large group concern work-based training and ensuring that apprenticeships are what most average members of the public and laymen would regard as appropriate. By that I mean that they should be work-based and mentored and, as I said, should confer competences by teaching and testing the things that make people more employable. The workplace element in that is essential.
Most people take that as read, but it is important that we are clear about it. Over time, some apprenticeships have become less work-related than we might wish. That is perhaps understandable, given the difficulties of engaging employers in particular sectors and parts of the country. It is certainly sometimes hard to get employers involved in the apprenticeship system. As an aside, that is why it is important in my estimation and that of my party to incentivise them to do so. However, we shall not discuss the glories of Conservative thinking on that subject but address the amendment specifically.
At no point in the legislation as drafted do the completion conditions specify work-based training, the key element of any real apprenticeship. Supervised work-based training should be part of all apprenticeship frameworks. Indeed, amendment 16 would add in clause 1 the requirement that
the person has undergone supervised training in the workplace.
The other amendments in the group follow in the same spirit. Amendment 17 makes it clear that evidence must include evidence of supervised work-based training where evidence of the appropriateness of an apprenticeship leads to completion. According to the explanatory notes, clause 2
would permit the issuing of a certificate where persons have not entered into an apprenticeship agreement or where they have done the training for the principal qualification before entering into an apprenticeship agreement.
The clause as drafted does not specify what evidence someone would have to provide before being issued with a certificate. It would be possible for a certificate to be provided without any evidence of training by an employer, as the principal qualification for many apprenticeships is an national vocational qualification, and NVQs can of course be studied at a college.
I do not want to exaggerate the problem, but I remain concerned that there are apprenticeships where the apprentices foot barely finds its way into the workplace. The lack of a workplace element in some apprenticeships, particularly a mentored workplace element, is an ongoing cause for concern. I know that the Government have focused on that and have offered assurances that they too believe that workplace training should form part of all apprenticeships, but in the spirit of integrity and straightforwardness that the Minister personifies and illustrated in dealing with the first group of amendments, he will acknowledge that that has been a worry for employers, Government and others. Apprenticeships taught in colleges without enough of the workplace element simply do not do the job that they are supposed to do. They do not equip people properly for the world of work or offer confidence to potential employers. In the end, they do not make people more employable, which has to be the acid test of an apprenticeship.
In the light of our discussions this morning, my hon. Friend will be aware of my concern that fulfilling the obligation in the Bill to offer apprenticeship places to everyone could lead to a diminution in the quality of the apprenticeships offered. Many people who gave evidence to the Committee share that view. Does he agree that because of that promise, it is all the more important to put firm guarantees of quality in the Bill, including ensuring that there is genuine workplace involvement?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right that most peoples vision of an apprentice is of someone learning their trade at the knee of an experienced craftsman in the workplace. However, in recent years, many apprenticeships have been virtual, involving little or no employer engagement. In some cases, employers provide little of the training that the apprentices they employ undertake, most of which is provided by a further education college or independent training provider.
That is not just my view. Two of the leading academics in the field, Professors Lorna Unwin and Alison Fuller, describe such schemes as restrictive apprenticeships. Other apprenticeships involve little or no time in the workplace, either in work or in training, as a result of branding training that is not in the workplace programme-led apprenticeships.
One of the doubts that the Conservatives have was articulated admirably by my hon. Friend this morning. In offering an entitlement, the Government could dilute the quality of the apprenticeships that are offered to meet the ambitious targets that they have set. If they aim to entitle everyone to an apprenticeship and set ambitious targets for numbers, there is an obvious temptation to rebadge all kinds of training as apprenticeships, to weaken and dilute the necessary standard and, in so doing, to damage the valuable apprenticeship brand.
The Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills expressed a similar concern when it scrutinised provisions for programme-led apprenticeships in the draft Bill, concluding:
Business was clear that for apprenticeship schemes to work they must be employer led and based in the workplace to make them effective...so called programme-led apprenticeships could provide a useful preparation for an employer-led apprenticeship but they are not apprenticeships within the meaning of the proposals in the draft Bill.
On employer-led apprenticeships, my local FE college in Plymouth believes that some of the group training schemes that it runsthey are not necessarily employer led, but they are popular with employersdo not diminish quality. Has the hon. Gentleman come across those schemes?
The hon. Lady is right that there is a lot of extremely useful pre-apprenticeship training. Indeed, the Committee will doubtless debate this at length as we continue our considerations. In order to get disengaged people into training, it is necessary to provide them with bite-sized, accessible, flexible training. That would not be at apprenticeship level, but would ideally precede it. It would be useful, but it would not be an apprenticeship. The important thing is not that we are dogmatic about the character of training, but that we are clear about different levels and types of training and that we do not include too much training under the umbrella title apprenticeship. As I said, that would have the effect of damaging the reputation and the reality of the brand.
The Skills Commission is shortly to publish a report that recommends that programme-led apprenticeships in which learners are involved full time in college courses with the intention of progressing to a full apprenticeship should be rebadged pre-apprenticeship training in exactly the way that I advocated. It argues that programmes of apprenticeships that take place solely in an FE college on a vocational basis tend to
to progress a smaller proportion of learners than other types of PLAs into employer-led apprenticeship.
Ofsted noted that
not all the college courses offered the specific qualifications needed to support entry on to an apprenticeship and that students finishing these courses had
minimal work experience and an NVQ that had not been assessed in the workplace.
In our anxiety to encourage more people into training, I suspectI accuse Ministers of no ill-will in this regardthat we have included under the banner of apprenticeship kinds of training that should not be there. If we are to revitalise the apprenticeship system, as I want to, we need to be firmer about the frameworks, stricter about the rigour and more certain about the workplace-mentored element. All the evidence from third parties and Select Committees insists that that is the only way to deliver an apprenticeship system which is respected by employers and valued by learners. Indeed, part of the reason for the amendments is to get more people to do apprenticeships. What counts is not just employers perception of what an apprenticeship means, but encouraging people to see them as a desirable route to employment.
In selling apprenticeships, we must be sure that they deliver what they promise, and that is the slight problem with entitlement. I am rather sympathetic to the idea of an entitlement, as long as we can be absolutely certain about the capacity to deliver on it, and that means rebuilding the apprenticeship system from the bottom up. When one hears the great fanfares from Ministers and others about the recent expansion of apprenticeship programmes at Rolls-Royce and similar expansions at other major employers, one is of course pleased, because the apprenticeship schemes at Rolls-Royce, Honda, BT, British Aerospace and others are world class. However, my constituents in Sutton Bridge, in Lincolnshire, live a long way from Derby. Most do not go there regularly, and I suspect that many have never been there in their lives. It therefore matters little to them when they are told that dramatic things are happening at Rolls-Royce in Derby. A potential apprentice cannot get on a bus and go to Derby every morning.
The only way for rural constituencies such as mine, and for small towns and villages across the country, to make the apprenticeship system more attractive to potential learners is to ensure that apprenticeships are available locally through small and medium-sized enterprises. Ironically, the Governments preoccupation with those large employersMinisters are a bit starry-eyed about the glitz and glamour of the corporate sectordisplaces attention from the need to rebuild the apprenticeship system among SMEs, where we could make a significant difference.
I, too, support the idea of an entitlement to an apprenticeship, but such an entitlement should surely not be included in a Bill until the Government have delivered it on the ground through an exercise in political will. Merely putting it in a Bill will not, in itself, ensure that it is delivered, and in so far as it does, that might be at the expense of quality.
Leading academics at the Skills Commission and others are concerned that in providing for that entitlement, the Government might do two things. First, they might boost the number of public sector apprenticeships, which is a good thing in itself, but not provide for the rigour necessary to make them worth while. Secondly, they might boost the number of programme-led apprenticeshipsthe term significant expansion has been usedto present headline figures that tell a story that is superficially impressive only until we look at the real competences the apprentices have gained. Therefore, we are concerned that the entitlement will set in motion a stream of public policy levers, which will not be good for the apprenticeship system and, perversely, may do it further damage.
I am not against entitlement in principle, but we must have the mechanisms in place to make that dream a reality for those many young people who could and should sign up for apprenticeships. We want all apprenticeships to be real and employer-based; we want expansive apprenticeships, not restrictive apprenticeships. Apprentices should receive training both on and off the job under the guidance of experienced mentors. Those are the intentions behind amendments 16, 17, 47, 22, 48, and 49. As you will have noted, Mrs. Humble, with all the diligence for which you are known, they are tabled in this manner because they follow each other consequentially through the Bill. At each point, we intend to reinforce the workplace element of an apprenticeship.
Having spoken about amendments 17 and 47, I shall now turn to amendment 48. The words,
that includes specific requirements for supervised training in the workplace, should be added after agreement to clause 80 on page 50. The reason is clear: it ensures that the apprenticeship functionthe actual carrying out of apprenticeshipsincludes work-based training. Subsection (2) of the amendment ensures that due account is taken of learner needs and requirements in work-based training. Amendment 49 adds the words,
arrangements for courses of training at a college or other institution must include some form of specific training in the workplace.
Clause 85 defines the meaning of an apprenticeship place, but it does not specify the necessity of workplace training. The reference to training at
a college or other institution does not specify work-based training, which is a vital part of all real apprenticeships.
The determination of Opposition Members on the Committee is that apprenticeships should be fit for purpose. I am sure that the Minister shares our ambitions, and I cannot believe that he is any less an advocate of rigour than I am. I find it impossible to imagine that he will not clamour to accept these amendments in the positive spirit in which they have been proposed, as they are improvements that will make his apprenticeship entitlement of greater significance by giving it greater effect. In that spirit, I happily look forward to hearing what the Minister and other Committee members have to say about them.
I am sure that you, Mrs. Humble, and the rest of the Committee will be relieved to hear that I propose to deal briefly with this group of amendments, as we are still on clause 1 and it is 4.49 pm I think that is what it says on the monitor. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is correct that the characteristics of an apprenticeships are a mixture of work-based learning and off-the-job learning, usually provided by a further education college or a private sector provider. That is certainly how a layman would understand apprenticeships, and we are all laymen in this room. An apprenticeship is also a brand. It is very important that the quality of that brand is not diluted.
It is largely for that reason that my hon. Friends and I tabled amendment 113, which would prevent the Government from broadening the definition of apprenticeship training to
any other contract of employment.
That reference appears in clause 80(5)(b). It is important that an apprenticeship is an apprenticeship agreementsome other agreement for employment or training should not be rebadged as an apprenticeship.
I would like the Minister to clarify whether certain scenarios would meet the criteria for an apprenticeship certificate to be issued under the framework. First, does the person need to be an employee? What if someone works for an employer in an unwaged capacity? The Government have their much-vaunted internship programme for unemployed young people. A press release was issued on that, but it does not seem to have been developed any further. Can an intern become an apprentice?
Secondly, what if someone is self-employed? They may be doing the relevant qualificationsNVQs and other formal learningthat will be part of the apprenticeship framework, but who will certify that they have done the work-based training that is essential to become an apprentice if essentially they are apprenticed to themselves or perhaps to a member of their family? In the third scenario, what if someone has done part of the training with another employer or has done the formal qualification with another employer? How will those different elements of the apprenticeship be brought together so that whoever is certifying that someone has met the conditions of the apprenticeship can be satisfied that all the conditions have been met?
I shall start with the three scenarios set out by the hon. Member for Bristol, West. I think that I know the answer in each case: all three are in the Bill, but I have to confess that I cannot remember off the top of my head exactly which bit refers to exactly which bit. However, I am sure that someone can look that up afterwards, if the hon. Gentleman is interested.
I shall describe the exceptional circumstance in which it is assumed that unwaged people could be apprentices. Let us say that an apprentice approaching the end of their apprenticeship, loses the employmentthe employer cannot sustain it any longerand they cannot find, despite the vacancy matching service and everyones best efforts, another employed form in which they can continue it, but they can find voluntary work that enables them to do similar work and complete that apprenticeship, but not for reward. It is envisaged that that would be counted. [Interruption.] I am now told that that is in clause 1(6)(b).
With regard to someone who is self-employed, again the opportunity is in the Bill, in clause 1(6)(a), but it is envisaged that the power for self-employed apprenticeships would be used only in very exceptional circumstances, as I believe is currently the case in, for instance, the film industry, in which the conventional industry practice is that although people might work for someone in a conventional apprenticeship-type way, their employment status is freelance. The hon. Gentlemans third scenario, of switching employer, is in clause 30(4). We envisage that as a much more mainstream part of what should be possible under the new structures, because it is the kind of thing that happens all the time. We want it to be the case that within the same framework, an apprentice can change employer during the apprenticeship, transfer over and complete the apprenticeship.
For claritys sake, on point about waged people and interns, it is envisaged that for the majority of the apprenticeship period the person should be employed and paid. It would only be in exceptional circumstances, through loss of earnings because of difficulties that the employer has got into, that an apprenticeship certificate would still be issued.
That is absolutely right. The fundamental underlying principle of an apprenticeship is that it is a paid job. We have put a power in the Bill which, in very exceptional circumstances, allows someone to complete an apprenticeship with some unwaged work. However, we envisage that being used only in the circumstances that I have described.
Naturally, I do not share the analysis that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made of the Bills deficiency, but I understand and sympathise with the spirit and the intention of his amendments. As he said, I am nothing if not clamorous for quality. This is an occasionand not all of politics is soon which we agree wholeheartedly on the ends and are merely disputing the means. I shall refer to the amendments in detail, then we can move on to talk about the principles behind them.
Amendment 16 would place a further completion condition on the person applying for an apprenticeship certificate under clause 1, and it would require that they have undergone supervised training in the workplace. Amendment 17 would require apprentices applying for a certificate under clause 2 to present evidence of supervised training in the workplace to the certifying authority. Amendment 47 would require the specification of apprenticeship standards for England to include some element of supervised training in the workplace.
Amendment 22 would require the employer to agree to provide supervised workplace training as a condition of the apprenticeship agreement. Amendment 48 would require an apprenticeship agreement for the purpose of the apprenticeship scheme to include supervised workplace training. Amendment 49 would require that for an apprenticeship place to count for the purpose of the apprenticeship scheme, it must include supervised workplace training.
I certainly agree that all apprenticeship frameworks must include supervised training in the workplace. There is no doubt about that, and the Government have never been equivocal about that. Supervised workplace training is central to the apprenticeship experience. It is what all apprentices have a right to expect. It is an experience that all employers who take on apprentices later in their careers will expect them to have. The system of certification that the Bill introduces includes a number of safeguards to ensure that guided workplace learning forms part of the apprenticeship experience.
We will go on to discuss the thrust of the hon. Gentlemans adverse criticisms, which is the notion that under the system as envisaged there is insufficient compulsion on employers to put apprentices in the workplace. It seems a slightly tautologous argument. It is important to pause at this point and note how important it is, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned in passing, to be explicit about the requirements for high-quality guided learning hours away from the work station. An apprenticeship is a job, but it is not just work; it is learning. Although it involves on-the-job learning, it must involve off-the-job learning: theoretical knowledge of the sector, functional skills and so on.
As hon. Members know, we are consulting on the specification for apprenticeship standards for England. We have given assurances that it will include a requirement that all apprenticeship frameworks must set out what instruction and practical experience an apprentice must receive and how many guided learning hours they are to receive per year. The minimum will be 280, which includes guided learning both at work and off-workstation. I can reassure the Committee that we expect supervised training or learning in the workplace to be included as a term of the prescribed form for the apprenticeship agreement. The agreement will have to specify explicitly the quantity and quality of the
I apologise for interrupting, as I should let the Minister finish his sentence. The difference between us is less profound than some might assume, as I think he shares my view about the work-based element of apprenticeships. However, the critical point is whether he thinks that that is involved in the very definition of an apprenticeship. If so, there is a strong argument for including it in the Bill. He is right, of course, that the detail of any particular apprenticeship is not something that could be identified in the Bill, as there are so many different kinds of apprenticeship, but the principle that an apprenticeship must have a work-based elementthat it must be strongly driven by the workplace-mentored elementseems to be a matter of definition that could indeed be included in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about definition, but what is missing from his analysis is the fact that an apprenticeship is, by definition, a work-based experience. An apprenticeship is a job. I do not know whether one can be sold an Aunt Sally
At least I paused halfway through. What is happening is that we are somewhere between being sold a pup and offered an Aunt Sally. We have debated programme-led apprenticeships, on which I think we also agree substantively. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that programme-led apprenticeships can be a very useful pathway to get young people into apprenticeships. However, as he knows, and as we all need to make clear, as long as a programme-led apprenticeship remains college-based, rather than being a job, it is not an apprenticeship under the terms of the Bill. We do not currently count it as an apprenticeship, and it will not be counted as one.
In that case, will the Minister give us an assurancehe can give it now; he does not need further noticethat from now on, programme-led apprenticeships will not be called apprenticeships but will be called something different? Clearly it was a mistake to call them that in the first place.
It is certainly the case that programme-led apprenticeships and what I believe is termed the brand of programme-led apprenticeships are being consulted on now. I cannot remember off the top of my head which consultation that is part of, but it is definitely part of a consultation.
Perhaps I can be helpful. The Minister is consulting me. This is the consultation, and I am telling him to get rid of programme-led apprenticeships, not in substance but in name. Of course we believe that a lot of good work is done leading up to a full apprenticeship. Of course we know that people need to be prepared before they can take that step, but we should not call them apprenticeships. He has more or less said it. Will he have the guts to stand up now and say that he will get rid of them?
The hon. Gentleman says that I have more or less said it. I have certainly told him that the matters he is discussing, such as how programme-led apprenticeships are to be presented and what they are to be called, are under review and out for consultation. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the outcome of the review and consultation, particularly given that Lord Young of Norwood Green is the Minister with responsibility for apprenticeships.
To return to the reason why I started talking about programme-led apprenticeships, much of the hon. Gentlemans discourse has suggested that programme-led apprenticeships are somehow integrated in the mainstream of apprenticeships or in other arrangements. They are not. An apprenticeship is a job and can be conducted only at work. Where else are jobs done, but at work? Under the Bill, an apprenticeship must be a job. The apprentice must be employed under a contract of service. The Bill also makes it clear that an apprenticeship is not just a job, but must include a formal training component. To specify that a job must occur in the workplace would be a truism.
The Minister is a courageous man so I am disappointed that he has not gone the extra mile and followed through the logic of his argument to say that programme-led apprenticeships should not be called apprenticeships. He has said that apprenticeships should be employer-based. How many employers of current apprentices are providers, whose sole or principal business is the provision of training?
I cannot give that number off the top of my head, but I will look into it. If the information is available, I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. My point remains that Opposition and Government Members want exactly the same thing and are more in agreement than it might appear. We are all committed to apprenticeships being jobs that occur at work and which contain a high-quality formal learning portion.
I am following this debate with great interest. Should not the employer be engaged in the same business that the apprenticeship will give rise to? If the employer is a training provider, the apprenticeship certificate should relate to the business of training and not to engineering, for example. Engineering may be the subject of the apprenticeship, but it is not the business of the employer if he is a training provider. Is that not the issue?
No, I do not think so. In only a small minority of cases will the employer be a training provider. The more conventional model is for apprenticeship employers to be businesses. Off the top of my head, they make up about 55 or 60 per cent. The rest break down into a dozen or so categories, of which training providers are a relatively small proportion. It is more conventional for there to be an employer, a learner and a training provider to provide the training portion.
There are arrangements through which training providers and coalitions of companies can club together in group training associations, which are now called apprenticeship training associations. They effectively hire out apprenticesthat might be the wrong termto smaller businesses that would struggle to bear the burden of a full-time apprentice. A group organisation can share the burden. That model has been very successful in Australia, where about 20 per cent. of apprentices are retained in that way. It is not something that we would like to lose. It is something that we intend to encourage and extend but it does remain a relatively small part of the total package.
I share the hon. Gentlemans enthusiasm for group training associations. Are the Government planning to give extra resources to group training associations to make that vision a reality?
We are looking into, again formally, how we can develop and extend the work of group training associations.
The concern on both sides of the Committee is that we should not have fake jobs as part of an apprenticeship scheme. As the Minister rightly says, group training, where small employers share employees who genuinely go into the workplace, would be fine. The fear is that, in order to meet statutory and mandatory targets, people might be employed by no more than a training company which does not bring people properly into workplaces where they can learn about the operation of the industry for which they are training.
I have not seen any evidence that group training associations or apprenticeship training associations are culpable in that respect. As the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said, the general sense in the sector is that they are a good thing, whose particular role will be to make it easier for smaller businesses to take on apprentices, perhaps in more rural areas that might not otherwise be able to bear the burden. The issue of fake jobs is the Aunt Sally I talked of earlier. I do not think that there are lots of fake apprenticeships. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, which I think relates to the programme-led apprenticeship example, but we have moved beyond that. It is clear that an apprenticeship is a job. I do not see fake apprentices doing fake jobs. The apprenticeships in place now are of high quality across the board and these measures will develop and extend that.
I want to close off this point about group training associations. I tabled new clause 13which at this glacial rate of progress I doubt there will be time to discusswhich asks that the new national apprenticeship service should include promoting group training associations in its remit. The Minister mentioned that that is being looked at. Is it his intention that these will be promoted by the NAS because I understand that that would be welcomed by small businesses represented by the Federation of Small Businesses, and not just in rural areas? The one place they exist at the moment is Londonthere are many small employers in cities as well. They find the bureaucracy of accessing funding and meeting all the requirements of apprenticeships quite difficult and a group training association might help them.
The hon. Gentleman makes a welcome and constructive intervention. I can tell him and the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that I have just remembered that we have announced a prospectus for a £7 million funding stream to be published in April to help fund the expansion costs of ATAs and GTAs, which I know will warm the cockles of his English heart.
The apprenticeship agreementthe key contract between the apprentice and the employerwill set out the core responsibilities and what each can expect as part of the apprenticeship experience. As I said earlier, I have written to hon. Members setting out the prescribed terms that we consider an apprenticeship agreement should cover. Our intention is that the agreement should state that the employer should provide opportunities to learn and practise the skills demanded in the apprenticeship framework and will provide supervision and mentoring support to the apprentice.
Clause 2 is intended to ensure that the apprentices who, for example, might have completed the course of training for the principal qualification before entering into an apprenticeship and who would not therefore satisfy all the requirements in clause 1, can still receive their apprenticeship certificate.
I stress, as we have stressed in the explanatory notes, that we would only expect certificates to be issued under clause 2 in the most exceptional of circumstances. Apprenticeships in this position would need to satisfy all of the requirements of the framework and we would expect the certifying authority to ensure that appropriate work-based learning has been undertaken during the course of the apprenticeship, so that a certificate can be issued.
I hope that Opposition Members will accept that we share their concerns about this issue and that supervised work-based training will form part of all apprenticeships, including those offered as part of the apprenticeship scheme part 4, and that there is already adequate provision for that, both in the Bill and in the core documents that flow from it. Having given these reassurances, I hope that they might be prepared to withdraw their amendments.
Amendment 113 is slightly different. Clause 80(5) defines apprenticeship training very broadly as that connected with:
(a) an apprenticeship agreement,
(b) any other contract of employment, or
(c) any other kind of working in relation to which alternative English completion conditions apply under section 1(5).
Removing paragraph (b) would mean that apprentices would either have to have an apprenticeship agreement to fall under the chief executives responsibility or would need to be in other kinds of work outlined in paragraph (c). The Government have made very clear their commitment to apprenticeship agreements, and the inclusion of paragraph (b) is not intended to undermine that commitment. When the chief executive takes on responsibility for apprenticeships training provision, he will inherit apprentices who will not have apprenticeship agreements but who may have acceptable contracts with employers all the same. The inclusion of paragraph (b) allows current apprentices and employers to continue their arrangements as they stand, without needing to sign retrospective agreements.
For the sake of clarification, the Minister says that the justification for clause 80(5)(b), which would be affected by this group of amendments, is that the chief executive of the SFA will inherit apprentices who do not currently fall within the parameters of this legislation. Does that mean that this provision will only apply in the short term, so there should be a sunset clause in the Bill relating to it?
I take the hon. Gentlemans point. Yes, in the first instance the intention is as I have described and he has just summarised. However, it is conceivable that there may be other groups in the future, for reasons that are not covered by the explanation that I have just given, who might profit from the same transitional arrangements. For that reason, there is no sunset clause. Nevertheless, the clear intention is to move to a position where all new apprentices have apprenticeship agreements as soon as possible, which will render the whole issue historical. I hope that, having given that explanation, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will be persuaded to withdraw his amendment.
This has been a useful debate at the beginning of our consideration on what we see as the core elements in an apprenticeship. We have heard from the Minister that he shares our determination to ensure that apprenticeships are indeed worthy of the name, which means that they should have a significant work-based element. As he was speaking about programme-led apprenticeships, I thought that he began in a kind of ursine fashion and ended in a soricine fashion. He began like a bear and ended like a shrew, as he claimed, or certainly flagged up, that he was about to acknowledge that apprenticeships that did not have a work-based element should not be called apprenticeships, but ended by saying that he wished to consult further on that contention, as though there was some doubt about it. One may think, as I do, that they should be called something different. It is not that they lack value; it is absolutely right that there should be all kinds of pre-apprenticeship training.
I think that the hon. Gentleman might inadvertently have said that I said that they should be called something else. I did not say that; I said that his point was reasonable and that the question of whether the training should be differently branded was worthy of discussion. That is being considered, and if he awaits the outcome of the review and the consultation he might be happily surprised.
The Minister has moved from being a shrew to being a tame shrew. Not only is he not prepared to follow through his original bold assertions, but he is not even confident of the outcome of the consultations. Indeed, he might change his mind halfway through if there is a sufficiently strong case that those programmes should be considered apprenticeships, yet he acknowledged in earlier that the very definition of an apprenticeship was that it was related to employmentbased in a job as he put itwhich means in the workplace. Surely then he simply cannot have an apprenticeship without a significant work-based element.
You will remember, Mrs. Humble, that when in 1994 Lord Hunt of Wirral, then a Member of Parliament and Secretary of State for Employment, created the idea of the modern apprenticeship its calibre and status were signified by the fact that it would be the equivalent of A-levelsa level 3 qualification. As the excellent report soon to be published by the Skills Commission points out, in 2000, the Government renamed a level 2 national traineeship scheme an apprenticeship, so at a stroke adding many existing training places to the number of apprenticeships. We know that there is pedigree, or perhaps I should say history, in this regard: apprenticeships can be what one chooses them to be.
I was trying to be generous, as we have only just begun our work, but the hon. Gentleman is right. There is form by Governments of different persuasions, and certainly in this case, by a Government of only one persuasion. In 2000, apprenticeships were rebadged to increase their number. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said that most of that increase was the
result of converting government-supported programmes of work-based learning into apprenticeship.
It is not just the Opposition, in this instance in alliance with the Liberal Democrats, who are suspicious about the definition of apprenticeships. All kinds of other authoritative bodies and organisations have looked at the background and concluded that it is tempting for Ministers to rebadge training as apprenticeships, given that they have set out an ambition to increase the number impressively and quickly, and all the more so given that they have established an entitlement to apprenticeships, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness made clear in a pertinent intervention. It would be immensely embarrassing for Ministers, if one, two or three years down the line, it became clear that such an entitlement was nothing more than an empty promise. One therefore imagines that in their less noble moments they might consider rebadging other training as apprenticeships to avoid that eventuality.
What if there is such a failure? If a shortfall in the number of apprenticeships against the number set down in the Bill produced no diminution of quality, how could a learner who wanted an apprenticeship, as promised in the Bill, demand an apprenticeship? Would a judicial remedy be available?
My suspicion is that the Government have not anticipated the eventuality that my hon. Friend describes. If an entitlement is established with no realistic prospect of being able to deliver it, it might be challenged by, say, a learner who is desperate to be an apprentice but who is unable to find a place. I mentioned my constituency in rural Lincolnshire where, frankly, the chances of delivering an apprenticeship entitlement, given the local economic profile, are hard to imagine. I do not want to be unnecessarily sceptical, but it is hard to imagine growing apprenticeship numbers sufficiently in my constituency and many others to deliver speedily on the entitlement. Potential learners will be appalled if that happens, which is why I suspect that it is entirely possible that the Government will change the definition of an apprenticeship to suit their policy ambitions; I am not citing the noble ambitions that the Minister began with, but the rather less impressive ones with which he ended.
Because we suspect that the Government will attempt to swell apprenticeships by adding training for existing employees that is not sufficiently work-based, or training, particularly in the public sector, that should not count as an apprenticeship, we intend to press the amendment to a Division. This is an important matter, and it should be on the record. Given the Ministers bold assertion that he agrees that this lies at the heart of the definition of an apprenticeship, I look forward to his voting with the Opposition, so that we can begin, as a Committee, as one in our ambition.