Amendment moved (this day): 44, in clause 21, page 10, line 16, leave out such persons as the Chief Executive thinks appropriate and insert
representatives of industry, employers, sectoral bodies, the further education sector and other persons the Chief Executive thinks appropriate..(Mr. Hayes.)
It is good to be back to our consideration of the Bill, Mrs. Humble. Our amendments would ensure that apprenticeship standards are what employers actually desire, and would result in less bureaucracy, because those standards would not have to be revisited in response to the concerns of employers. The employment body expressed support for amendments in that spirit during the evidence sessions, which I confess is partly why we are debating it now. The CBI representative said:
priority for our members is to ensure that the apprenticeship programme encourages strong employer involvement and that the programme is more fit for purposedelivering the sort of skills that are in demand by business.
The spokesman went on to say:
The introduction of apprenticeship standards and minimum periods of time off, for example, are making our members nervous.
No doubt we shall discuss that later, when we come to the relevant parts of the Bill. The spokesman for CBI then said:
Standards are fine. It is just specific standards for minimum periods of time off that are not needed. Each framework has to ensure that it accords to the blueprint at the moment.[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 6-8, Q5, 12 and 19.]
I spoke earlier of the dynamic nature of skills needs and therefore the necessity of apprenticeship frameworks to respond to those changing needs. The best way for that to happen is for employers to be in the driving seat. The Minister has emphasised that he thinks so, too. For that reason, we share the view that sector skills councils are of pivotal importance. John Lucas of the British Chambers of Commerce added that he was positive about the planned increase in apprenticeships and that it was a
long-term, positive thing for business and for the economy.
He supported the comments of Richard Wainer of the CBI, but emphasised:
We think that apprenticeships need to be employer led and employed focused. Obviously there has to be a high-quality programme element to them too.[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 9, Q19.]
As I have said, we do not dispute that: it seems to be the orthodox view. What are apprenticeships if they are not things that appeal to employers as much as they appeal to learners? That is implicit. However, it is important that the consultation process on apprenticeship standards is right, and I am not sure that describing that process as being built on persons that the chief executive of Skills Funding thinks appropriate is as clear as saying that representatives of industry and education should be consulted. Why does the Minister consider that it is less important to consult those people than I do?
We are back to the question of consultation. We discussed before lunch in connection with my amendment, but we are now dealing with a different clause, which makes it clear that the Government envisage consultation taking place, but only with consultees determined at the discretion of the chief executive of Skills Funding or, presumably, the National Apprenticeship Service.
An apprenticeship is a triangular relationship between the employer, the employee and the training provider. The needs of employers and the ability of training providers to deliver the training that is to form part of the apprenticeship framework should be considered during the framing of standards. It would therefore be appropriate to consult employers and providers specifically. Having that in the Bill would be appropriate, as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings says.
As the relationship is triangular, perhaps in future the Government ought to give some consideration to the learner voice, although that is slightly outside the scope of the amendment. As apprenticeships evolve and become more popular, not only is it necessary for the employer and the training provider to have a view on what is included in the apprenticeship qualification, but I hope that the views of the learnerthe young person or adulton the quality of provision will be considered as well.
Hello again, Mrs. Humblethat could be a song, could it not?
I have listened to the hon. Gentlemens arguments and sympathise with that they are trying to say. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings quoted Richard Wainer of the CBI as though his remarks during the oral evidence session somehow contradicted Government policy or what is in the Bill. They do not. Every word the hon. Gentleman quoted is correct.
On the issue of responsiveness, we are slightly in danger of misunderstanding how the mechanisms might work. Amendment 46 would affect even the slightest change in The Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England, which is a big documentnot big physically, but in the sense that it is very importantwhich is being widely consulted upon as we speak. The consultation is due to be reported back in mid-May. Under the amendment, even the slightest change would require a full-scale consultation with every stakeholder in the sector.
The hon. Gentleman put that beautifully. The document is admirable in that respect. I shall take that as a congratulatory plaudit for The Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. However, my point remainsin order to vary the SASE document by even the slightest comma, under the provisions of amendment 46 the chief executive would have to undertake a full consultation. To me, that does not constitute responsiveness.
I shall respond to the question about learner voice from the hon. Member for Bristol, West before I press on with some more details. It is anticipatedOpposition Members on both sides of the gangway should be reassuredthat consultation will be wide. The emerging National Apprenticeship Service has already established a key stakeholder group, comprising for example the CBI, FSB, TUC, AOC, ALP, TASSC and LSIS, to provide views and feedback on the SASE.
I congratulate the Minister on his acronyms but, if I interpret them all correctly, they are all learning providers and not learners.
In which case, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his extraordinary command of acronyms. The national learner panel chair is a member of the NAS stakeholder group as well, representing the views of learners.
I fully understand and support the sentiment behind the Opposition amendments and hon. Members aims in tabling them. WeI am sure that I speak for all members of the Committeemust strive to ensure that everyone with a legitimate interest has the opportunity to influence the standards set for apprenticeships in England. That includes industry bodies, employers, colleges and other providers, sector skills councils, learners and others.
The amendments relate to consultation on the drafting and modification of the specification of apprenticeship standards for England. I am sure that the Committee knows by now that we have already published the draft specification, which is out to public consultation until mid-May, as I just said. The consultation has been drawn to the attention of key stakeholders, a number of whom have been involved in its initial development. The specification and the consultation questions are widely available on the internet. I assure the Committee that it is intended that any subsequent significant modification to the published specification would be subject to a similar level of consultation before being laid before the House for parliamentary approval.
I believe that we have sufficient measures in place in the Bill to ensure that the views of all parties are taken into account, without the need for these amendments. Indeed, I would not want inadvertently to reduce the breadth of future consultations by specifying particular groups that must be consulted. I hope that that gives hon. Members the reassurance that they wanted and that they will feel able not to press their amendments.
I take the point that the Minister has made, that all members of the Committee want to see consultation that is meaningful. I also take the point that he believes, as I do, that employer engagement is particularly important in developing standards. Nevertheless, for the record it would be useful to press this amendment to a Division, just to emphasise the significance of consultation with employers.