HC Deb 26 June 1995 vol 262 cc581-3

Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 3, line 26, leave out subsection (4).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Miss Widdecombe.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments Nos. 19, 21, 22, 30, 32, 34, 35, 37, 38, 40 and 41.

4.30 pm
Mr. Bradley

I merely seek some guidance and clarification from the Minister. The amendments cover, among other things, prescription in regulation of the definition of training and other assistance. Following the Bill's passage through Committee and consideration in another place, there has been much discussion and debate on definition. Some organisations, especially colleges of further education, have some anxiety. They are worried about how training will be defined and how the reduction in supervised study from 21 to 16 hours will work in practice. That stems from anxiety about the amount of course skills that will be developed during the 16 hours of supervised study.

I seek assurances that there will be further debate and further consultation with all relevant parties as the regulations are framed to ensure that all the problems that have been identified with understanding and interpreting the forthcoming regulations are taken on board. It is important that the regulations reflect the anxieties that have been expressed. We all intend that those who seek further qualification and training, and education generally, are not limited by the benefit rules. We all want successful courses that lead to real qualifications and skills, which will lead to proper jobs.

When will the regulations on definition be laid? What consultation will the Minister undertake with the various bodies that have already been in discussions with her and her Department? Is the hon. Lady able to give us an outline of how she sees these processes unwinding over the coming months?

Miss Widdecombe

We have decided that the move from 21 to 16 hours of part-time study will be introduced in October 1996. There will be an elongation of six months. That should assist further education colleges, about which some concern was expressed, to prepare for the changes that will be introduced. The elongation should also assist students who are considering courses.

It is on the advice of further education colleges that we have decided to take the course that I have described and to seek a firm definition, which is best done on the basis of guided learning hours. The extension of time will make it possible for the colleges to consider the full implications. If, during that time, they wish to raise issues with us, we shall be delighted to take into account anything that they have to say.

The substantive amendments are purely about how we define training. They are designed to tidy up the drafting of the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there were three separate powers to define training in the original Bill. Those powers have now been reduced to one composite power. That was done in response to concerns expressed by the Opposition and in another place. The amendments are purely drafting amendments.

As I think we have explained, the intention is that we should have some definition of training along the lines of "Training for young people"—so we are talking about our 16 and 17-year-olds in this context—"provided directly or indirectly by a TEC under its operating agreement with the Secretary of State". We have specified that definition during proceedings on the Bill both in this House and in another place.

The objective is to be able to take on board such things as modern apprenticeships and to carry forward existing arrangements and define them as training for the purposes of the definition. As we are trying to carry forward existing arrangements and as we have already explained and debated extensively in both places how we intend to define training, I do not believe that further consultation will benefit us. That is not to rule out any organisation putting its views to us if it wishes to do so, but there will certainly be no further formal processes of consultation.

Ms Eagle

I want to take this opportunity to ask the Minister some questions about training definitions, especially as we had a fairly long debate in Committee about quality and some of the reasons for poor attendance.I wish to pick up those themes and seek some reassurance.

Will the Minister give me some idea of how the Department would react to a course I came across the other day? I am grateful to Mr. Gerry Williams of Birkenhead for pointing it out to me. It is called the jacuzzi course and is for people who are unemployed. It is run by Merseyside TEC. The leaflet says that, on Friday afternoon, you will accept a personally engraved key to your future complete a personal Action Plan receive a specifically designed certificate of attendance find the whole experience a piece of cake. It goes on to say that participants will go to the four-star Liverpool Moat House hotel, where they will start every morning at a quarter to nine. It says: You must meet at 8.45 am on each day in the Jacuzzi. This is an essential part of the course so please bring your 'cossie' each day. Each day you will be served a top quality lunch in the hotel restaurant and you may well meet celebrities staying in the hotel. As enjoyable as that sounds, is it reasonable to count that as training for the purposes of the Jobseekers Bill? Should we not try to do something that is slightly more relevant?

I would not define the jacuzzi course as training. I might define it as a nice, enjoyable thing. Perhaps the unemployed should be allowed access to the Moat House hotel, but it seems an odd use of public money. If one of my constituents was offered the jacuzzi course and said, "I would rather try to find a job or do some computer training and establish new skills," he might be told that he would lose his benefit unless he agreed to do the jacuzzi course. Perhaps the Minister could say something about the issue and tell us whether the definition of training will make the jacuzzi course compulsory.

Miss Widdecombe

I am worried that, now that the hon. Lady has read out the details of that course, there might be more applications for it than Merseyside TEC can possibly manage. I have no details of the course. That is regrettable, because it sounds fascinating. The hon. Lady read out selected quotations. I do not know the entire picture. Therefore, I am most unwilling to comment on a particular type of course. However, I am sufficiently fascinated to look into it further. I shall write a letter about jacuzzi courses to the hon. Lady when I have established the facts.

Lords amendment agreed to.

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