HC Deb 30 March 2000 vol 347 cc513-98

[Relevant documents: The Eighth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, Session 1998–99, on Access for All? A Survey of Post-16 Participation, HC 57-1, and the Government's response thereto, Session 1999–2000, HC213.]

Order for Second Reading read.

1.27 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I wish to thank the staff in my Department for the enormous work that has already taken place in preparation for the conclusion of the debate and the urgent work that will need to be done in putting in train substantial structural changes, including funding, recruitment and the delivery of services. I wish also to put on record my thanks to the Further Education Funding Council for the work that it has done over many years and the co-operation that it is showing with the proposed changes.

I put on record also my considerable thanks to the 72 remaining training and enterprise councils, to the volunteers who have manned those councils—the chairs, board members and staff—who have done sterling work in many parts of the country. I thank Nick Reilly and the small group that he is leading for promoting the new skills agenda with employers throughout the country. We are grateful to them all for the work that they have done.

One of the greatest challenges facing the country is whether we can modernise and reform the learning and skills that we offer to young and old alike, and whether we can match the challenge of the new knowledge economy with a learning and skills market world wide while coping with the legacy of neglect, which we are dealing with in the Bill.

In a rapidly changing world, our people need the skills to be able to adapt and to cope with changes, as well as to take on board the flexibility and adaptability in the new labour market. To do that, we need to ensure that the majority, not the minority, have higher level skills, access to continuing updating of training, and the most modern and effective support for their training needs. We must make sure that that takes place in co-operation with employers, trade unions and individual learners.

In the past, a minority of people obtained the learning and skills that they required. For the majority of people, getting a job at 16 was the order of the day. It was argued that only a few—an elite—needed higher level skills to succeed, and that their talent would eventually allow wealth to trickle down to the rest.

Those days have long gone. It is time to put in place the structures and support systems to ensure that, in the 21st century, we as a nation, our companies and our people can compete in the global economy, and to allow us to achieve sustainable growth with low inflation and low unemployment, in order to attain the goal of high and sustainable levels of employment and employability that was sought after the second world war.

To do that, we need to invest together in the relevant skills, co-ordinate learning and skills in a way that reflects the new century, and target investment to meet the needs of industry and individual learners.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. As well as being responsible for training, the training and enterprise councils perform economic development functions. Some of their budget deals with their enterprise agenda. My constituency has had substantial funds from the Norfolk and Waveney TEC, which have been used to match-fund European structural funds. What will happen to that enterprise budget as we move to the learning and skills councils?

Mr. Blunkett

The budget will be protected. We have made it clear that the continued use of discretionary funds at local level is essential. That includes securing the funds that would have been available in the years to come, which at present rest in training and enterprise council reserves.

We have therefore been discussing with our colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions how we can ensure that, through the Learning and Skills Council and in co-operation with the Small Business Service and the sub-regional economic development arm of the regional development agencies, we can do joined-up work at local level to ensure that intermediate labour market and other economic development programmes are sustained, and that they are linked to the skills needs of the area.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that, according to a recent written answer, the overall situation of the TEC movement is one of deficit, not of reserves, by accountancy criteria? Will he therefore make it clear to the House that it will be impossible for him to pass on or to raid TEC reserves, if overall they do not exist?

Mr. Blunkett

There are two key points. First, revenue reserves vary enormously across the country—some TECs hold several million pounds worth of reserves in the bank. Secondly, the totality of reserves includes capital stock, such as the premises and the land held by TECs. In my view, those are part of the reserves and will be realised as we develop the new system. Certain properties can be released on assignment as the headquarters of the 47 learning and skills councils at sub-regional level, replacing the existing 72 TEC headquarters.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

On the transfer of some of the TEC functions to the learning and skills councils, will the LSCs still have the powers to apply directly for European streams of funding and for single regeneration budget funding?

Mr. Blunkett

The necessary mechanisms for match funding for European and related funding will be in place. It would be foolish of the Government to remove mechanisms at regional and sub-regional level for achieving that. As part of the overall spending review, we shall also address the issue of ensuring that match funding is available through other sources at Government level to secure the full match funding available, which we have never had before. I remind the House that that includes the adapt funds under objective 4, £80 million of which have been obtained over the past two years. They were never applied for by the previous Government, which is an extraordinary state of affairs.

The present system is succeeding—where it works—despite, rather than because of, the structure. People find ways round anomalies and structural difficulties, but struggle with funding regimes that result in, for example, three-year modern apprenticeships in engineering costing between £3,000 and £10,500, and in business administration costing between £2,600 and £7,500 of public money—all to achieve the same goal, but through different TEC or FEFC-funded regimes. That kind of nonsense clearly cannot continue. One of the great savings—atleast £50 million a year—that will accrue from combining the existing regimes will be achieved by ironing out such anomalies and disparities.

When new legislation is introduced and new structures are developed, the structures—the machinery of delivery—inevitably receive attention, but I stress that, although that is true of the Bill, clear policy objectives override everything else. We are bringing about change not for change's sake, but to ensure that we can determine a new, slimmed-down system that will enable us to meet the goals that I have set out. To do so, we need to change the structure and the systems and break down the barriers between what used to be called schedule 2 and the remaining areas of adult learning. We must do so to achieve a proper synergy between the commitment of employers and business and the public investment, which is substantial.

As we have set out previously, £5 billion of expenditure will be available through the Learning and Skills Council and its sub-regional arms and we estimate that, on average, £100 million will be available at sub-regional level, which will engage partners in such sums for the first time. In two years, £6 billion of expenditure will be available through the national and sub-regional arms and that substantial money will be aimed at transforming the life chances of individuals across the country as well as the labour market.

We seek a public-private endeavour, and I want to reinforce what we have guaranteed previously. We have said that two fifths of the council, nationally and sub-regionally, will contain those with recent or current business experience. The corollary is that we ask businesses themselves to be prepared to match that intent by offering their employees opportunities to train and to gain new skills. The significant investment of public money needs to be matched by the private sector at every level—by small industries as well as large—and businesses must be prepared to take on the challenge of investment in opportunity for the future.

That commitment extends across the country, and I hope that, as well as participating in the new structure, businesses will encourage other businesses to be part of the delivery mechanism in terms of ensuring that their responsibility is seen to be carried through in action. The gas industry has given a first-rate lead in overcoming some of the real difficulties faced by small operators, such as their fear that people whom they have trained will disappear when they finish their apprenticeships—if they did, they would have been a deadweight cost. The experiment with the gas industry, in conjunction with the financial institutions, is an example of how small businesses as well as large can contribute to the skills needs of their sector while protecting individual companies from the risk of seepage. I want to encourage other parts of the sector, including the national training organisations—of which there are now more than 70—to ascertain what can be achieved in their sector.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

The Secretary of State may know that the national training organisations have expressed concern about their representation on the LSCs at national and local level. What role does he think that the NTOs should have in the LSCs, so that they are involved in policy making?

Mr. Blunkett

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have not assigned places to particular organisations and structures, but we are mindful of the need for national training organisations to be represented. They pull together particular sectors of the economy, and should be represented in the sub-regions that include that part of the industrial structure. It is helpful to put that on the record. The same is true of the important role of local government at sub-regional level and nationally. We need to bring together the skills and adult learning endeavours and the economic development functions to which my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) referred.

I want to announce to the House some important investment additional to what was already provided under the spending review and the previous review of further education funding. There will be a considerable expansion of education maintenance allowances for 16 to 19-year-old pupils. We have 15 pilot areas across the country. Given the success in accelerating full-time learning in those areas, and in particular the retention and qualification rate that is being achieved through the development of the education maintenance allowances, we believe that it is important to tackle those areas of the country where staying on in education is not a tradition and there is no culture of continuing learning. We want to match the major programme that we shall set in train in the months ahead with a campaign to encourage young people in those areas to stay on in full-time and work-based learning.

It may be helpful if I announce the additional 40 areas that will be part of the pilot scheme from September. They will be: Liverpool, Knowsley, Halton, Wirral and St. Helens on Merseyside; Sandwell, Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Worcestershire in the west midlands; Hull, Bradford, Sheffield, Barnsley, Wakefield and north-east Lincolnshire in Yorkshire and the Humber; Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Islington, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Brent, Waltham Forest, Ealing, Barking and Dagenham and Wandsworth in London; Sunderland, south and north Tyneside in the north-east; Hartlepool and Northumberland on Teesside; Salford, Manchester, Wigan and Tameside in the north-west; and Luton, the city of Leicester and Suffolk in the east and east midlands. All those areas will be pleased to have the opportunity to encourage and support young people in their endeavours.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

I am interested in the Secretary of State's reference to the fact that the pilot projects for education maintenance allowance have increased staying-on rates. I recently tabled a written question to the Secretary of State on that very issue, and the reply was that the Department did not have any figures on which to base a judgment. Can the right hon. Gentleman now give us those figures, as he must obviously have them?

Mr. Blunkett

I now have the figures, and I am happy to send the hon. Lady the detailed appraisal. There has been an average assignable improvement of 2 per cent. in areas where there is matching, and 3 per cent. in other areas where there has been a substantial improvement and what could be described as a scatter approach, in which young people have been funded on the basis of testing what the change will be in a particular locality. It was an interesting experiment with the Treasury in trying to discover different ways of ascertaining what works and what works best.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthy Tydfil and Rhymney)

Although I appreciate that the Secretary of State can make announcements affecting only the English side, may I ask whether there will be an equivalent expansion of the pilot schemes in Wales?

Mr. Blunkett

I am obviously mindful of my hon. Friend's interest in the relationship between the Assembly and the United Kingdom-wide Government. However, I am absolutely certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be talking to the Assembly leadership about its announcements on developing staying-on programmes and the acceleration of the commitment to post-16 education.

I wish to make a second announcement—on a £15 million boost for 16 to 19 provision, for capital investment in sixth forms and sixth form colleges and further education colleges, not only for upgrading facilities, but for providing greater access and a better environment for young men and women with disabilities. As with the education maintenance allowances, that money will come out of the allocation made, last week, by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Can the Secretary of State explain how that money will be divided between sixth forms and sixth form colleges? He will know that there is great concern in sixth form colleges—particularly in my own excellent Farnborough sixth form college—about the funding disparity between sixth form colleges and sixth forms in maintained schools. Could he also tell the House whether that money will extend the computer support that is made available to teachers in sixth forms in maintained schools to teachers in sixth form colleges?

Mr. Blunkett

As the money is for capital resources, it is potentially available not only for buildings, but for equipment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, sixth form colleges fall into the further education funding sector. One of the great advantages of the learning and skills proposals will be to bring not only greater co-ordination, but much greater parity of esteem, and equality of funding, to the various parts of the post-16 sector.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the revenue disparity that exists, on average, between FE and sixth form colleges and sixth forms. I can increase his joy by announcing that I am allocating from my own departmental reserve another £18 million to the sixth form college and FE sector specifically for 16 to 19-year-old education, to ensure that last week's announcement on targeted funding going directly to schools—the £30,000 to £50,000 for secondary schools—does not disadvantage those in further education because of the way in which that money is dependent on pupil numbers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very grateful for the considerable welcome that that announcement has received from Labour Members.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

I have received representations from people at my local sixth form centre who are very worried that there may be a levelling down of funds, rather than a levelling up. That is my greatest worry. Is the Secretary of State giving us a guarantee that sixth form centres and colleges will be funded at current levels and will not be levelled down in future?

Mr. Blunkett

My announcement today ensures that things do not get worse, rather than that they will immediately get better—I am a great believer in being honest about these things. However, our announcement in November, at the Association of Colleges annual conference—which the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks) made, as I was in the House for the Queen's Speech debate—outlined an extra 10 per cent. next year for further education. That is the beginning of a process of catching up—so that we are levelling up, not levelling down, and so that we narrow and then eliminate the gap between student funding in different parts of the sector.

Yesterday, I was in Welwyn Hatfield, and I saw real co-operation and collaboration in action between the FE college and the area's three sixth forms. They were collaborating in ensuring not merely that they rationalised and reinforced each other's work, but that students shared their courses between the different institutions. I want, through the Learning and Skills Council, to accelerate the programme of tertiary education, so that parity of both funding and quality is available to people regardless of where they live and where they are learning.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

The Secretary of State says that he believes in tertiary education. Will he assure us that schools wishing to maintain their sixth forms will not be forced to close them while they are doing a good job?

Mr. Blunkett

I think that that assurance has been given a number of times, but we are always happy to give it. We spelled out the position in the context of the guarantee that we gave in regard to funding, and that still stands. The issue involves quality, access, diversity and the rational provision that helps the consumer. Consumers of services, including individuals, business and the broader community—we are committed to providing community learning across the board—will be extremely important.

Clauses 1 to 18 provide for the establishment of the Learning and Skills Council, and specify its duties, powers and funding. They also specify the power that will now exist through a duty to have regard to the needs of those with learning difficulties, and to place much more emphasis on equality of opportunity. I think that all hon. Members will welcome that. Clauses 19 to 21 establish local arrangements for the necessary consultation and joint working to develop local plans. Part II—clauses 30 to 40—establishes similar arrangements in Wales, and explains the role of the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I welcome the Bill generally, and I know that a former MP, Cynog Dafis, who chairs the education committee of the Welsh Assembly, looks forward particularly to the establishment of the powers for which it provides.

Will the Secretary of State consider, at a later stage, the way in which he allows the Assembly to confer or impose certain powers on the National Council for Education and Training for Wales? Will he also consider the use of the word "amend"? I know that this is really a Committee point, but that would give the Assembly the flexibility that it needs, and the Bill could subsequently provide a good model for other Bills in giving the Assembly the infrastructure that will allow us to get on with meeting our responsibilities.

Mr. Blunkett

As the right hon. Gentleman says, that is a Committee point. Our deliberations in Committee will include reflections on the role of the Welsh Assembly: my colleagues will be happy to consider those matters. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that in the spirit in which it is meant.

Part III establishes the new inspection arrangements, combining the three existing inspection regimes with the new adult learning inspectorate's remit for those aged over 19 and its collaboration with the Office for Standards in Education in regard to those aged between 16 and 19. I pay tribute to the Training Standards Council and the further education inspectorate for all the work that they have done, and the substantial and rigorous improvements that have been made recently in the quality that we can expect from both the public and the private sectors.

The new inspection regime, together with the powers that the Learning and Skills Council will have, should and must be able to root out the incompetence and, in some cases, corruption—in others, mismanagement—that have bedevilled the sector in recent years. That is true of both public and private providers. We must root out that incompetence or corruption wherever it exists, in the interests of students. A good job has been done, but much more remains to be done. Before anyone asks me, let me add that the same will apply to Wales under part IV.

Mr. Blizzard

My understanding is that, during the transition period, the Training Standards Council and the Further Education Funding Council will undertake joint inspections of FE colleges and work together in a co-ordinated way. During the recent inspection at Lowestoft college, the two organisations did not co-ordinate properly—in fact, it was a shambles. Will my right hon. Friend examine how joint inspections are being carried out, because colleges need to have confidence in the system and to feel that it augurs well for the future? I am not in any way opposing the joint inspection regime.

Mr. Blunkett

The answer is unequivocally yes. Where collaboration and co-operation do not work, they must. The structures are designed to achieve that. A willingness from the leaders of the new adult learning inspectorate and Ofsted will be crucial to ensuring that the system works in the interests of young people.

Part V covers a range of miscellaneous issues, including the assignment of assets and the new powers that I mentioned a few moments ago on post-16 collaboration. It also includes clause 98, inserted by the House of Lords, which withdraws the rights of parents to decide on admissions at local level. Let me make it clear that we shall overturn the withdrawal of those rights in Committee.

Clauses 103 to 112 provide for the new co-ordinated arrangements for the establishment of the youth support service, ConneXions, providing joined-up thinking in provision for 13 to 19-year-olds, linking adolescence with emergence into adulthood and ensuring that, for the first time, the whole of youth support service provision will be within statute. This new co-ordinated approach will cover the delivery and enhancement of careers services and guidance, mentoring, education and social work, the traditional youth work service and the funding of the voluntary and not for profit sector as well as the traditional local government youth support service.

I pay tribute to those at local level who have agreed to provide the pathfinder areas for the new programme. We intend to learn lessons from them in developing a national system. Even though Matthew Parris is somewhere in the frosty cold of the—where is he? [HON. MEMBERS: "The southern Indian ocean."] I shall have to have a geography hour as well as a literacy and numeracy hour.

As Matthew Parris is well across the world, freezing to death, I want to avoid his successor being able to write a sketch about the roll-out syndrome.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

The Conservative reasoned amendment says that the Bill would curtail funding for the statutory and voluntary youth service. The ConneXions report published by the Government describes the Government's intention that local education authorities should continue to provide a youth service and retain the powers to do so and that the ConneXions service will have an important role in ensuring that all youth service activity is effectively co-ordinated and coherent and that gaps in provision are filled. Will my right hon. Friend assure that House that the Government support the voluntary and statutory youth services and believe that they have a major role to play in helping 13 to 19-year-olds?

Mr. Blunkett

I certainly shall. I was a little mystified when I read the reasoned amendment, which I urge the House to reject. The notion that we would not continue funding may be a dream of the Opposition's that would enable them to put out leaflets saying that we have demolished what we value. I regret to tell them that, even in their wildest dreams, we are not going to offer them that opportunity. The amendment also says that we lack strategic vision and continuity for progress to adult life. The youth support service ConneXions is designed to ensure joined-up thinking and action for the 13 to 19-year-old cohort in a way that has not been possible before. I know that the job of the Opposition is to oppose, but, in learning how to oppose, it is best to pick on things that are realistic rather than making things up.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Leaving aside the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to spell "ConneXions", may I test him on one point? There is considerable concern among some career services that the new arrangements may in some way inhibit their ability to provide services to the generality of children in schools. Will he give me an assurance that that will not be the case and that the careers service will still be able to provide the range of services that it does at the moment, particularly in secondary schools?

Mr. Blunkett

We intend to expand, not contract, the role of the careers service, including careers education, to ensure that all young people at school receive the support and help that they need and to ensure that, in the transition, we target those at greatest risk, which makes sense to everyone.

We are happy to work with the careers service in the way in which it has said that it is prepared to work with us to develop the new service. It is one reason why we want pathfinder and pilot programmes, rather than one big bang. There is much to be learned about what works and what does not, securing the confidence of those who are delivering services at the moment.

I thank those in the careers service, youth services and others who are doing a first-rate job, often heavily underfunded. I hope that, subject to my right hon. Friends in the Treasury, we will be able to do something about that in the spending review.

Clause 117 was inserted last week in an extraordinary debate in the House of Lords on sex education, in which one of the noble peers, Lord Moran, said that he believed that stable relationships might apply to necrophilia. That sort of debate has not helped to shed light on the issues that we are dealing with—sensitive, difficult issues that have been grossly misrepresented.

The noble Baroness Young moved the amendment that is in the Bill in a slightly more measured tone, although she chose to eliminate aspects of the amendment that I had negotiated with those involved in a range of organisations and that protected young people against prejudice. We cannot accept something in the Bill that deliberately eliminates efforts in schools to reduce prejudice and misunderstanding. We will remove the Baroness's amendment and come back in due course with the way in which we intend to proceed.

In the meantime, I make it clear that, subject to the consultation, I will issue the guidance to schools, on which there appears to be very little disagreement—which illustrates our difficulty in ensuring that light, rather than heat, has been available on the issue.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that my noble Friend Baroness Young has done a fantastic job in the other place, that she is widely regarded as having stood up for the protection of children throughout the country and that many parents have written to hon. Members on both sides of the House to salute her stand? Is it his intention to reverse her amendment, which was accepted by the other place and which said:

The general objectives are that the pupils— (a) learn about the nature of marriage as the key building block of society? He believes that, but other members of the Cabinet do not. Does he intend to invite the House to remove the requirement that was inserted in the other place that any guidance that is issued should be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Blunkett

I have already made the position absolutely clear. I said that I was intent on the House being asked to remove clause 117 for the reasons that I spelt out. I believe that marriage and stable relationships are key building blocks for community and society. I also believe that we should teach the nature of marriage and family life to children for the raising of children. The structure that we provide to young children in school is crucial to the health and well-being of our society in years to come. I was pleased that the Anglican, Roman Catholic and the free Churches believed that that was a sensible way forward. I regret that the House of Lords did not take that view.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I am sorry to be dim, but will my right hon. Friend clarify whether he plans to remove all of clause 117? My concerns about the clause do not centre on the content of the advice that he has given to schools, but on the wisdom of including such detailed proposals in primary legislation. I hope that he is committed to removing the clause in its entirety, and not just those elements of the Government's amendment that were changed in the House of Lords.

Mr. Blunkett

Given the changes that the House of Lords made, progress will not be made simply by eliminating the words that were used. I intend to go forward with the guidance, which is being consulted on separately.

The original objective of the proposals in the Bill was precisely to underpin the reassurance sought by many in the country that we were not promoting forms of sexual orientation in the classroom. We are not doing that, as the guidance makes clear.

Very few people who have been debating the matter in the newspapers or in the House of Lords seem to have bothered to have read the guidance. That is a great shame, for them and for the rational thinking that democracy demands. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly said yesterday that it would be absurd for us to expect teachers to promote sexuality—their own or someone else's—in the classroom. That is not their job, and we would not countenance it. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) will find that the situation is she would wish it to be.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

The Secretary of State implied that the agreement struck with the Roman Catholic Church and the established Church was an agreement with those institutions, rather than with particular individuals in them. The correspondence that I have received leads me to believe that the individuals spoke largely for themselves, as opposed to the Churches that they represent.

Mr. Blunkett

The leaders of Churches, like the leaders of all organisations, represent their membership and test the waters on their membership's behalf. They speak for, and with, their membership. I should be very disappointed if I were to believe that some of the speeches made in the House of Lords by people who purport to represent the Conservative party genuinely represented the thinking on this issue of the party's rank and file.

Schedule 8 will clarify the arrangements for powers of intervention in failing colleges and institutions. That will be welcomed by all hon. Members, and will ensure that decisive action can be taken, where necessary.

The Bill is timely. It comes at a moment when we are addressing the economy and the education and skills needs of the future. Never before have business and Government had a greater commonality of agenda in terms of the labour market and of the need to ensure that men and women who are out of work can have the skills to take advantage of vacancies in the labour market. Never before have business, commerce and Government recognised so clearly that the knowledge economy poses a challenge to our nation as well as to individual businesses and sectors.

That is why business, large and small, has welcomed the Bill. The managing director of Coca-Cola UK said that he thought that people would be "chuffed"—an interesting word to use: in light of this week's publication, I should say that I am sure that he was on Coca-Cola rather than coke at the time. BP has said that the Bill is an important measure in avoiding the problems that large companies have encountered in developing vocational qualification programmes. For example, some companies have had to deal with 52 different training and enterprise councils to set up such programmes and arrange funding for them.

Those days will be over. There will be co-ordinated planning, funding and delivery of flexible services at local level, with sufficient responsiveness and delegated power to sub-regional learning and skills councils to enable them to respond to the needs of their travel-to-work and travel-to-learn areas. At the national level, there will be coherence in terms of the needs of both sectors and the nation as a whole. That is why I encourage and request the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

2.10 pm
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Learning and Skills Bill [Lords] because it increases bureaucracy and central control in the provision of education to young people over 16 and adults, diminishes the role of democratically elected local education authorities, poses a threat to school sixth forms and the independence of further education colleges, destroys the TEC network and weakens business involvement in education and training, creates an anomalous and incoherent inspection system, and would curtail funding for informal education for all young people through the statutory and voluntary youth service; and because it lacks strategic vision and continuity in the progression of young people from the years of compulsory schooling through the transition to further and higher education and thereby to working life and lifelong learning.'

The House will agree that the training and education of young people post-16 and of adults are important not only for the individuals, but for the country as a whole, and particularly for our economic vitality. Moreover, none of us who hear from employers about the skills gaps that exist today can fail to understand that needs do exist in a changing marketplace and that they must be addressed.

We would wish to associate ourselves with the comments that the Secretary of State has made about the good work that has been done by various organisations involved in this arena in the past and, in particular, the work done over a number of years by the Further Education Funding Council and by those many business men and women who have given their time and efforts to their local TECs to ensure that those TECs are able to provide for the needs of local businesses.

Far from providing coherence and co-ordination in this matter, the Bill provides for yet more bureaucracy and a multiplicity of bodies. I can assume only that the Secretary of State's references to co-ordination are similar to the Government's constant references to "joined-up government", which mean that it is all talk and no delivery. There is no joining up or co-ordination, and what we see is disparity in the arena.

When the Secretary of State announced to the House last year his intentions in this area, I set out the Opposition's view that certain criteria would need to be met by any new proposals for the provision of education and training for young people post-16. They were clear and simple, and aimed at ensuring the best possible provision to meet the needs of young people and those of the country. We asked whether the proposals involved the minimum of centralisation, and devolved power down to local level for local decision taking. We asked whether the proposals minimised bureaucracy and ensured that maximum funding got to students in education or training. We asked whether they ensured a diversity of provision, and hence real choice for students. Finally, we asked whether the proposals preserved the best and improved the rest—not imposing a new structure willy-nilly, but preserving those areas and institutions that have worked well. I said at the time that the Secretary of State's proposals did not meet those criteria. Sadly, nothing that we have seen or heard since—or in another place—does anything to change that view.

What is perhaps most striking about the Bill is that many of the external bodies which have commented on it and on the Government's proposals have started off by stating that they welcomed an intention by Government to provide coherence for post-16 education. However, they have gone on to question the bureaucracy and the practical implementation of the proposals, the confusion that will be created, and the impact on business involvement in defining training needs.

Many are worried about the impact of the Bill. Schools are worried about the future of their sixth forms. Further education colleges fear that their independence will be reduced. Businesses fear that they will not be able to provide input on local skills needs. Local education authorities are worried about the way in which they have been written out of a real role in post-16 training and education. The youth service is worried that its role is being completely changed, and that it will not be able to continue to offer a proper service to all.

Those involved in providing careers guidance worry that the new structure will not provide guidance to all, and those providing adult and community education fear that both are under threat as regards funding and structural changes. The only thing that the Government have so far succeeded in doing with the Bill is to alienate every sector that is affected by it. We see that continually in the responses from every sector to the details of the Bill.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Does the hon. Lady accept that whenever change is proposed, people not unnaturally feel concerned, and that it is not sufficient to simply recite worries that people have expressed? One must substantiate the idea that those worries are realistic, and that they are not counterbalanced by the huge advantages that may be brought to each of these sectors by the Bill.

Mrs. May

I suggest that the hon. Lady stick around and listen, and I will substantiate my claims. It is for Ministers to respond to the concerns of bodies outside this House that are tuned in to the needs of young people and others in training and education and which see real problems arising as a result of the Bill.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill gave life to the structures needed to achieve his vision of a slimmed-down approach to training and education post-16, and a vision for training and education for the future. Far from that, the Bill creates a bureaucratic nightmare: a multiplicity of bodies with some say or responsibility for education and training post-16. The Government talk of coherence, but they are delivering confusion.

The Bill reveals much about the Government's approach, which here, as so often, mistakes central control for coherence. Divide and rule is the Government's approach in the Bill. Let us look at the multiplicity of bodies involved in working together, in partnership, in collaboration, through the centre or as consultees—and this is not necessarily a full list of the bodies that will be involved: the Secretary of State; the Department for Education and Employment; the Government offices for the regions; the national Learning and Skills Council; local learning and skills councils; the national training organisations; the regional development agencies; local education authorities; the Small Business Service; Ofsted; the adult learning inspectorate; education business partnerships; local learning partnerships; ConneXions; and the university for industry. That is before we get to a college, school or work place training facility, let alone to a student, young person or adult in training.

Among this mushrooming of quangos and bureaucracies, the Government claim that the new structure will save £50 million. I was interested in that calculation.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

Will the hon. Lady confirm that the number of systems and organisations left to the Government in this area by the previous Conservative Government was 250?

Mrs. May

I do not know what point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. If he adds up the number of bodies that will be involved in the future, he will find that it comes to far more than 250. His point was wasted.

The Government claimed that the new structure would save £50 million. I asked the Secretary of State how much the system currently costs in administration of bureaucracy, and how much it will cost in future. One would have thought that the answer would be two figures, with the difference between them being £50 million—but no. The Government could not answer, because they did not know the figures. How, therefore, do they know that the system will save them £50 million?

We know that the Secretary of State believes that if one increases spending by £3 billion a year over three years, the total increase is £19 billion, rather than £9 billion. Now he seems to think that if one takes a sum that one does not know away from another one does not know, it automatically equals 50—and this is in maths year 2000. It is yet another fantasy figure from the Government.

One of the central thrusts of the Bill is the change that it brings to the involvement of business in determining training needs. The Bill abolishes the TECs. I agree—there is widespread agreement—that not all TECs performed as well as they could have done, but there was good practice in many TECs, which were doing a good job. The Secretary of State made reference to the work of the businesses involved in TECs, but unfortunately made little reference to the fact that the Government are abolishing a lot of good work and excellent practice that has been achieved by the TECS in meeting the business needs and skills gaps in their local areas.

The learning and skills councils, which replace TECs, have two characteristics that lead us to doubt their ability to do the job that is needed. First, the new structure is focused clearly on the national Learning and Skills Council. Despite protestations from Ministers, it is still not clear to what extent the local learning and skills councils will have discretion, and funding to match that discretion, over the provision of programmes at local level. The ability to determine local needs and respond to them is crucial if the learning and skills councils are genuinely to be able to meet local skills gaps. Yet despite the mention in the prospectus of discretion over 10 to 15 per cent. of funding, the Government have not been willing to include that in the Bill.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

My hon. Friend will no doubt have noticed page 15 of the explanatory notes to the Bill: Clause 20 provides that the local LSC's duties and powers will be those of the national LSC which it chooses to delegate. Could there be a more explicit statement of centralisation?

Mrs. May

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that explanatory note. He is right that the new structure is a classic example of how the Government take power to the centre, removing it from the local level, along with the ability to determine local needs.

The prospectus for the Learning and Skills Council says that the local learning and skills councils will have a range of flexible budgets which, taken together, will amount to around 10 to 15 per cent. of the overall funding for the Learning and Skills Council. Many external bodies have assumed that that meant an element of local discretion to meet local skills gaps. However, the prospectus also sets out exactly what each flexible budget will cover, including marketing and promotion activity, information, advice and guidance. The budget is not entirely discretionary in terms of providing training courses to meet the skills gaps that have been identified in a local area. Not only is the figure of 10 to 15 per cent. not in the Bill, it is clear that it is not even intended to meet the needs of local areas in identifying local requirements.

It is instructive that whenever the Secretary of State speaks on this issue, he refers to the welcome that national companies have given the new structure. He quoted Coca-Cola today—his normal quote is from BP. I can see that a national company would like to work with one national body, but small and medium-sized enterprises and small local companies do not want the training needs identified by a national body imposed on them. They want their local learning and skills council to have discretion, the ability to identify needs and the funding to back them up.

The lack of local discretion is of key concern. The Confederation of British Industry summed it up thus: Employers rely on their local area, and to a lesser extent their region, from which to recruit their workforce, especially for those with skills below professional level. Small and medium enterprises are even more likely to recruit from local labour markets, for all levels of staff. Local labour markets are not only critical but also tend to differ from one locality to another. It is this fact which underpins the CBI's view that the new LSC must operate through a network of local LSCs with strong decision making and financial autonomy. The local LSCs have the key responsibility to adapt national plans … and therefore must have enough flexibility to be responsive to local markets. Yet as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) pointed out, it is clear from the Bill that that strong decision making and financial autonomy will not be available to the local learning and skills councils.

Mr. Allan

I share some of the hon. Lady's concerns about centralisation. The Liberal Democrat solution, which we have argued in another place and will argue here, is for much greater regional autonomy, with links to the regional development agencies and the regional assemblies, such as the Bill proposes for Wales, with the Welsh model. Does the hon. Lady wish the learning and skills councils, as set up with their existing boundaries, to have more discretion, or does she think that there should be a different arrangement for the LSC structure?

Mrs. May

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. If the Government are to put in place the learning and skills councils with the boundaries that have been set out, those councils should have the greater autonomy and decision-making powers for which I have argued. Whether those boundaries are the right ones is a different issue. Many issues will arise as a result of the boundaries that the Government have drawn in areas such as my own, where Berkshire is separate from the Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire areas, rather than having a Thames valley area for a local learning and skills council. The Government should have looked at what is needed in particular local areas; sadly, they have failed to do that, and they will also fail to provide the local learning and skills councils with the responsibilities and powers to be able to do that.

Mr. Chaytor

Is the hon. Lady arguing that the ideal solution would be to decentralise more power to the LSCs that the Government are proposing? Or does she prefer the old system, with complete chaos in the funding arrangements? Under that system, training and enterprise councils not only funded colleges but competed with them in delivering provision. Which does she prefer?

Mrs. May

I have just answered that in response to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan). I suggest that the hon. Gentleman listen to the answers given to previous questions.

I should like to give a couple of examples of the sort of things that the TECs did in bringing partners together to identify local needs. I quote a letter from Thames Valley Enterprise, the TEC that covered the Thames valley area. This example should appeal to the Secretary of State, given the Prime Minister's interest in the internet. Thames Valley Enterprise said: FutureFocus, a Virtual Centre of Excellence, was set up by a partnership led by Thames Valley Enterprise to provide IT training to SMEs. The partnership includes organisations from further and higher education, local authorities and local employers. It offers a choice of more than 200 internet-based training courses covering information technology and management training, together with 24-hour online mentoring and support. That is an example of meeting a local need.

The letter gives another example: Thames Valley Enterprise made discretionary funding available to Newbury College of Further Education to offer training to address the regional skills shortage in the microchip industry. INPAQ, a division of Newbury College, is supported by major industry partners and offers short courses and one-day seminars in microchip design to both extend skills and help people enter the industry. Those may be small examples, but they are relevant to the needs of parts of the Thames valley region. They show that needs could be met because discretion was available at local level. Such discretion will not be available under the Bill.

It is imperative that the national Learning and Skills Council should not simply impose a central agenda. That would lead to what the Institute of Directors said could be a wasteful and ineffective form of centralised manpower planning.

I fear that, yet again, the Bill shows that the Government fail completely to understand business needs. If the sub-regional learning and skills councils do not have the powers and financial discretion that I am talking about, many business men will feel that they cannot contribute or make decisions about local skills needs, and will regard the Learning and Skills Council as a talking shop rather than a body that delivers action. The Government are all talk and no delivery. Given the Bill, it is little wonder that all the headlines since the Budget have shown how the Government's honeymoon with business is well and truly over.

Business involvement is the second characteristic of the local LSCs that causes concern. Business organisations lobbied for a majority of members on the local LSCs to be from business. The Government have given them 40 per cent., but despite statements on that, the figures do not appear in the Bill. There have been Government promises aplenty on the Bill, but we know from experience how worthless, all too often, Government promises turn out to be.

Another aspect of the national Learning and Skills Council concerns local bodies. Quite apart from funding and the power to exercise local discretion, there is real fear that the council will direct that courses be provided at particular institutions, reducing choice and diversity. The Secretary of State referred, in answering a question on sixth forms and sixth form colleges, to the need for rationality. FE colleges, which have valued the independence and freedom given them by the Conservative Government, fear that their freedom will be eroded and their independence reduced. That is typical of the Labour Government, who choose to centralise decision-making power and to reduce local ability to take decisions in local interests.

Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) challenged the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), on the fact that the numbers in further education rose by 1 million under the previous Government, but had remained static under the Labour Government. The Minister's response was typical. He attacked the courses concerned. Institutions were not doing what the Government wanted, so they did not count. Slowly and by stealth, the freedoms of FE colleges are being reduced. Once again, we see the impact of an interfering busybody Government intent on telling people what to do instead of letting them get on with whatever suits their own needs.

The most worrying example of the Government's interference lies in the Bill's threat to sixth forms in schools. Funding is the first issue. The Secretary of State referred to his guarantee that funding will be maintained, provided the numbers in school sixth forms remain the same. What will happen if a sixth form expands? Will funding be provided? Many heads say that maintaining funding while introducing curriculum 2000 and new AS courses is not possible. Schools are struggling, and the Bill will make things worse.

The Secretary of State said that he wanted equality of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds. That precise point has worried school sixth forms and others. They fear that funding will be levelled down and that no account will be taken of the fact that school sixth forms, by contrast with what FE colleges or other institutions offer young people, provide support and services outside of courses.

Dr. Starkey

Will the hon. Lady clarify her meaning? What is her opinion of provision by FE colleges? Is she suggesting that it is proper to fund FE colleges less well than sixth forms? is she implying that FE colleges do not give support to students outside of formal courses?

Mrs. May

I have always said that funding should be based on the offer given to a young person by the institution in which he or she studies. School sixth forms give services and support outside of courses that are often not available at FE colleges. Some sixth form colleges may make such services available, but the approach to education in an FE college is different from that in a school sixth form.

The reactions of Labour Members are telling. As soon as one mentions the possibility of a threat to school sixth forms, they begin to mutter about how terrible funding for school sixth forms is. More than anything else, that makes the Government's agenda clear. I was grateful to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg)—no longer present—for asking whether funding would be levelled up or down. The Secretary of State said that the Government wanted to level funding up. That is exactly what the Government told former grant-maintained schools, but their funding is being cut, not levelled up.

The Bill will change the way in which school sixth forms receive funding. It will top-slice money from local education authorities, but it is not clear whether the slicing will be based on the standard spending assessment or on what is actually being spent on school sixth forms. The money will then go to the learning and skills council, which will make grants through LEAs to schools. On what basis those grants will be made, or how the funds will be guaranteed, we do not know. How can we guarantee that money will not be salami-sliced off by the council or the LEAs?

Schools will have to deal with two funding streams, which may arrive at different times or involve different accounting procedures. There is genuine concern about the Bill's vague references to the way in which grants will be made to schools. The National Association of Head Teachers remains concerned about the powers of the Learning and Skills Council and the local councils to attach conditions to grants for school sixth forms. To date, the Government have not said what conditions they envisage attaching to grants on top of the general provisions in clause 6.

I should be grateful if the Minister indicated what conditions the Government expect LEAs or the LSC to attach to those grants. There is a real danger that local LSCs will want more power over the running of school sixth forms than would be right for the sixth forms or the schools. Far from giving schools more freedom, the Government are yet again taking away power and freedom, imposing control from the centre and interfering.

Mr. Chaytor

Does the hon. Lady honestly think that every sixth form should continue, regardless of its quality of education, its capacity to deliver a broad, balanced curriculum, the extent to which it might subsidise the sixth form by stealing from the lower forms, its Ofsted report, and its A-level and GNVQ results?

Mrs. May

The hon. Gentleman's question relates directly to comments that I was just about to make about the Bill's provisions for declaring sixth forms weak or inadequate and for closing sixth forms accordingly. A trend lies behind what the Government are doing and what the hon. Gentleman has just said. The powers of the Bill would allow them to get rid of school sixth forms, regardless of whether they met a local need.

The Bill's definitions of weak and inadequate sixth forms are very vague, and many sixth forms—particularly small, rural sixth forms that cannot provide as great a variety of courses as larger sixth forms or FE colleges or sixth form colleges—provide courses that local students want in the place where the students want them. Many students in rural areas will have to travel miles—they may not even find available courses anywhere reasonably accessible—if their school sixth form goes.

We hear behind the scenes that the Department for Education and Employment talks of sixth forms being viable only if they have 200 pupils or more. Where does that leave small sixth forms in small secondary schools—rural or urban—which provide good quality courses that pupils want in the environment where they want them? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) may shake his head, but if he is saying that a school with a sixth form—the evidence suggests that schools with sixth forms achieve better GCSE results than those that do not—

Mr. Chaytor

indicated dissent.

Mrs. May

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head again, but I suggest that he read recent written answers on that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. The evidence is that schools with sixth forms achieve better GCSE results. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that a pupil cannot stay in a school sixth form because the Government say that pupils must go to the types of institution of which they approve, he is wrong.

Mr. Blunkett

I have forborne from intervening, but I want to put it on the record that, in the circumstances that the hon. Lady has just outlined, the development of a coherent Learning and Skills Council and its sub-regional arm would guarantee the survival of that site—the sixth form of a school—much more effectively than the existing system. It will be fitted into a pattern of provision that secures access for young people wherever they live in that rural area, presumably reinforced by the ability to get colleges to provide back-up—for example, in terms of expertise in vocational areas where a school could not provide the expert staff. The Bill, far from threatening, will reinforce the existence of sixth forms.

Mrs. May

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that intervention. I take it, then, that the local learning and skills council will determine which courses can be offered at which institutions. [Interruption.] That is exactly what the Secretary of State said and it is precisely one of the concerns that schools have—the Government taking freedom from schools to provide courses that they wish to provide. The intention is clear. Sixth forms need to be clear about the threat that is hanging over their future.

In addition to the sixth forms, there are the issues of the youth service and the ConneXions service. In response to some points and in his speech, the Secretary of State made much of the future of the youth service. The problem is that the ConneXions service is to be funded from money currently available to the youth and careers services. It is to bring together youth and careers guidance and come under a unit that is set up at the Department for Education and Employment.

Local authorities are concerned that they will no longer have the funding to provide the sort of youth service that they believe is right in their area and that the only youth service provision that will be available and funded will be that which fits into the Government's ConneXions model. There has been little information about how ConneXions will be funded since the Government published their proposals.

ConneXions provides a mentor for every young person from 13 upwards. Supposedly the mentors are to be the current youth and careers officers and people working in the youth and careers services, who will come together and give advice across a range of issues. Indeed, when challenged on their role, the Under-Secretary of State said: They are there because young people need somebody to take responsibility for them. What about their parents? The Government are telling young people, "If you need advice, don't ask your parents, ask your Government-appointed mentor." Yet another way in which the Government are usurping the role of parents—[Interruption.] A number of hon. Members are complaining about that interpretation. They should listen to the words of the Under-Secretary, who makes it absolutely clear that the mentor provided under ConneXions for 13 to 19-year-olds is there to take responsibility for them and to take over some of the advice available to them from their parents.

That is not the only issue with ConneXions. There have been reports that the Government's expectation is that the focus of ConneXions will be on the 9 per cent. of socially excluded young people. The danger of that absolute focus is that other young people will lose out and themselves be excluded. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry recently received an equivocal response when he asked Ministers to guarantee that every 16-year-old would receive proper careers guidance. The danger is that there are those who will not and who will choose the wrong future as a result.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks)

The hon. Lady's speech is deteriorating into mere scaremongering. For the record, the ConneXions service will be a universal service for all 13 to 19-year-olds. Far from replacing the parental role, it will work closely with the child's mother and father. That is common sense. There is no room for scaremongering.

Mrs. May

If the Under-Secretary does not want people to be concerned about the future of careers guidance, he might look again at the response given to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, which made it absolutely clear that there would not be careers guidance available to every young person under the scheme. Perhaps, too, he should talk to local authorities who are genuinely worried about the impact that this change will have on their ability to provide careers guidance across the patch to all young people.

There is also the issue of the sort of youth service that is to be provided. The informal youth service of today that provides help for young people where they are and when they need it, and that backs them up and supports them, will not exist under ConneXions. Local authorities are worried that they will not be able to continue to provide that service once the funding has gone into the ConneXions service.

The other place passed amendments in relation to sex education guidance—the replacement for section 28, as the Government would have us believe—and ballots on grammar schools. I noted that the Secretary of State appeared to say that he would remove the whole of clause 117 on sex education and circulate guidance to schools in place of that legislative backing. My noble Friends moved the amendments because they were concerned that, although the Government were claiming that their amendment for inclusion in the Bill replaced section 28, it did not. It was not the compromise that the Government were suggesting it was. That is why my noble Friends' amendment is now in the Bill.

On grammar schools, if the Secretary of State wants us to believe that his statement at the 1995 Labour party conference did not set out the Government's position on selection—he will now tell us that it was not a joke, having described it as such previously—and if he stands by his remarks of a couple of weeks ago in The Sunday Telegraph that he is not hunting down grammar schools, he should accept the amendment of the other place and the proposal that the ballot should be removed. Threats and uncertainty will hang over grammar schools if he brings back those ballots. We have seen the vote in Ripon, and the anti-grammar school campaign in Kent give up on getting a petition together. Those grammar schools should not have their future threatened by the Bill.

Dr. Starkey

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May

No, I have given way on a number of occasions to the hon. Lady.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will my hon. Friend give way to me?

Mrs. May

As this is the first time my hon. Friend has intervened, I will.

Mr. Howarth

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. The Government appear to be in some confusion over their sex education provisions and clause 117. Has my hon. Friend seen the draft guidance that the Secretary of State has distributed, and has she noticed the section entitled, "Working with the Wider Community", which refers to social workers and youth workers? Has she seen this quite disgusting leaflet, "Gay sex now", which was published with £50,000 of public money in Scotland? Does she agree that there is widespread concern about this issue, that our noble Friend Baroness Young has articulated it and that the Government have come up with no proposals to deal with it?

Mrs. May

I agree that there is indeed widespread concern on this matter. It seemed as though the Government would respond to it, judging by the comments of a senior Cabinet Minister at the weekend that if concern continued and the Government were again defeated on section 28 in the other place, they would give up. Sadly, yesterday the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that the Government are intent on going ahead with the repeal of section 28. In so doing, they are acting against the wishes of the many parents who want to ensure the protection of children in schools and other local authority institutions.

The training and education of all young people post-16 is vital to our future as a vibrant economy. With the Bill, the Government had an opportunity to look ahead and to ensure that the system for providing that training and education is the right one to take us forward in the 21st century. In the dynamic and fast-moving economies of today, the key is flexibility—to meet national and local needs.

However, far from producing flexibility and diversity, the Bill will increase bureaucracy, reduce freedom locally, remove business involvement and reduce guidance to young people. It is typical of a Government whose first instinct is always to centralise, regulate and control. It is typical of a Government who are all talk and no delivery.

2.51 pm
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I think that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was elected to the House in 1997. Perhaps that explains the curious and unbelievable pre-1997 world of training that she described. I have been a Member of Parliament for more than 30 years. During 18 of them, I watched as Bill after Bill was introduced by the Conservative Government. They eroded the rights, responsibilities and duties of local government; they created the world of quangos and then changed it; they altered and amended training legislation from one Parliament to the next.

I could not believe or understand the hon. Lady's account of a pre-1997 world in which wonderful, democratic, stable training organisations delivered splendid programmes with no chopping and changing. One of the saddest features of the past 20 years—especially in training—was short-termism.

I do not blame the training and enterprise councils per se—institutions such as the mid-Glamorgan TEC, which covered the communities that I represent—but, at best, they were able to offer only annual contracts to trainers and training providers. Frequently, those contracts were changed, even during that period. During the previous Administration, much of the training provision was hand to mouth—it operated from month to month, or from year to year. The hon. Lady's image of the present system is of a regulated, centralised and bureaucratic quangoland. The Conservatives created quangoland in many of our communities—certainly in Wales.

I should like to offer the hon. Lady a sense of history. The 1980s and 1990s saw the collapse and implosion of what should have been the natural training providers and routes: training by the major public utilities—the gas, electricity and coal boards—and by great national companies such as GEC, BSC, and Hoover. Those institutions often trained beyond their own needs, thereby providing an amazing alternative educational opportunity—especially in the post-war world of the 1950s and 1960s—for many young people in communities such as the one I belonged to and now serve.

In many cases, those companies offered an alternative form of technical education. They picked up young people who had been branded failures as a result of the 11-plus system and the grammar school structure. That alternative system was vital to the development of our economy in the 1950s and 1960s. Those training structures imploded in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the companies closed down their training divisions because they could no longer afford them. In my community, with de-industrialisation came deskilling.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Surely the hon. Gentleman will go on to acknowledge—as did the Select Committee on Education and Employment—the important role played by franchising in developing training opportunities in the 1990s, under the new arrangements introduced by the previous Government.

Mr. Rowlands

I do not condemn everything done by the previous Government. We should certainly have flexibility and diversity in training to meet the challenges of a more complex and diverse 21st-century economy.

I was pointing out that deskilling was one of the consequences of that implosion and collapse, and of the deindustrialisation that occurred in communities such as mine. At the same time, production technology transformed the nature of skills. Some of us can remember that there were ladders of skills in each company, with an accompanying training programme. Many intermediate skills were wiped out by new technology.

Furthermore, in communities such as the one that I serve, there was a shift in the balance between the manufacturing and service sectors. When I first became a Member, between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of the economy in my constituency was in manufacturing; the figure is now between 26 per cent. and 27 per cent. Training requirements have changed because of that.

It is a curious aspect of the Thatcher era that one of the consequences of those changes was the transfer of responsibility for training from companies in the private sector to the state. We had to build a large, alternative set of structures to deal with the gaps left after deindustrialisation. The previous Government acknowledged that. We had to establish organisations to deliver new programmes; there was a growth of training providers and quangos. That was what happened—not what the hon. Lady described. Successive Governments tried to find the best mechanisms to deliver new training programmes. Such programmes must be financed as much by the state as by the private sector.

Mr. Wigley

I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest, because I lived in his constituency during the period to which he refers. Does he agree that one of the changes that has taken place since then is the immense speed of technological development? That often makes it difficult for companies, or for anyone else—even in the public sector—to anticipate what will be needed five years down the road. That point must be taken into consideration.

Mr. Rowlands

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Training is much more complex and diverse. To read future skills markets and needs is becoming increasingly difficult. If, as everyone says, the growth of our economy will be through small and medium-sized enterprises, they will need greater support in order to sustain and adapt training for their current and future work forces. We all accept that we live in a different world. That is why Governments have had to struggle to find the best structures and instruments to deliver training programmes.

I confess to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, when I first read the Bill, my heart sank. Here we go again, I thought. I had watched the previous Government introduce quangos and abolish them: from the MSCs—manufacturing skills councils—to the TECs and now to the LSCs. In Wales, at least, we have been saved from ALI and all the acronyms that go with it. Training has been a fertile breeding ground for acronyms; we have gone from YOPs to YTS—youth opportunities programmes to youth training schemes—and from WEPs to STEPS—work employment programmes to special temporary employment programmes. The Bill will spawn another new collection.

I approached the Bill with some apprehension. I thought it might be just one more in a long line of measures that merely replaced one set of quangos with another. However, the Bill is sensible. It offers a new structure to ensure that there is a meaningful relationship between school, college and training. The relationship will be co-operative. It will not be like the crabby, competitive system created under the previous Administration, in which school heads did not want their children ever to go near a training provider in case they lost them. Colleges were in direct competition with schools; and both were in competition with training providers. That is not the best approach. Choice is essential and we want to create as much choice as possible, but the crabby competition that grew up under the previous arrangements is not defensible. It is wasteful as well.

I have concluded that the arrangements in the Bill are sensible. I hope to goodness that, for a period of time, the system will be stable structurally and financially. That has not been a feature of training for the past 20 years.

Wales will have new quangos, such as the National Council for Education and Training for Wales and the Community Consortia for Education and Training, but not—I am glad to say—the Adult Learning Inspectorate. If I am to accept those quangos, there must be, as the hon. Member for Maidenhead said, a high degree of flexibility as the programmes roll out. I would like to illustrate the need for such flexibility as it relates to the needs of my community.

I have admired the passionate support that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has given—both when he was in opposition and now—to the promotion of staying-on rates in schools. It is a sign of a civilised society that more young people are able to, can afford to and choose to stay on in school because they do not have the economic necessity to leave. I was the first person in my family to receive education after the age of 14. My mother was the most intelligent person in my household, but she was forced to leave school at 14. My generation understands the importance of having the opportunity and the ability to stay on at school and we appreciate the role of educational maintenance. Flexibility is therefore required.

However, it would be foolish not to recognise that, alongside increased staying-on rates, the raising of the school leaving age and the increase in the number of people going on to further education, a growing and large minority of young people are alienated from, and disaffected with, the education process. At the same time as we have increased staying-on rates, truancy has risen in many communities. Although we must push on to improve staying-on rates, we must recognise that many young people are alienated by the education that they are offered. They vote with their feet. One sees far too many young people wandering the streets during school hours. Why is that? Alongside the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced, we must discover why young people play truant so that we can address their needs.

In my community, a fascinating scheme has been introduced. I am sorry to say that it has another acronym—SSUP—because it is the school step-up programme for 15 year-olds. It enables youngsters who are about to leave school to spend days with an employer, and training is provided. To stay on the scheme the youngster must not play truant, and that means that we are reversing the trend. Because young people have the opportunity of work experience and because they would lose that opportunity if they played truant, they are much more conscious of the need to attend school. Such flexible arrangements are essential.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

May I bring to my hon. Friend's attention a scheme between Doncaster college and Edlington school in my constituency? They provide a bridging course on information technology and I was happy to meet some of the students on it. Half of them had not intended to stay on in education after 16. Is not such collaboration at the heart of the Bill? It should be the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

Mr. Rowlands

There are many good programmes of the type that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I have described one in my community. I hope and believe that such schemes can encourage and extend best practice.

My other hope and prayer is that the new training organisations will answer the catch-22 question in communities such as mine. Every economist that I have read or heard has told me that, for my community to have a modern, 21st century economy, it needs modern training and skill opportunities. We are told that we are desperately short of NVQ 3 opportunities and NVQ 3 trained young people. That is where the future lies. How do young people get such opportunities, given the type of jobs that are available in my community? Not one of them offers the opportunity to obtain work-based NVQ 3 training.

A couple of weeks ago, the Treasury announced a scheme to deal with the mismatch between 1 million unemployed people and 1 million vacancies. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer launched the scheme, I took a snapshot of the 115 vacancies that were available at the Merthyr job centre to see whether there was the mismatch that the Treasury talks about. I found that there were vacancies for cooks, cleaners, bar staff and bouncers. There were vacancies for a butcher, a bailiff, mechanics and a hairdresser. None of the vacancies offered a training opportunity of the character that I am told a modern economy requires. I do not deride the people who do such jobs, but that work does not constitute a base for a future training programme that will develop a 21st century economy.

I hope that the new training structures will address the catch-22 questions faced in the valley communities that I represent. Training and NVQs need the same degree of enthusiasm and effort that has been put in to ensuring that school-leaving sixth formers find places at university. For training, we need the equivalent of the Universities Central Council on Admissions. That would enable young people to have better training opportunities than the job market in my community can offer. It would provide mechanisms, training and funding of the kind that we offer to sixth formers who go on to university.

I have not seen such an arrangement in place. Above all, we should use—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been responsible for this—the revitalised Employment Service, in which there has been a transformation. It is not an inward-looking organisation that provides the dole and benefit, but an excellent and proactive employment promoter, motivated chiefly by the new deal.

My worry for Wales is that the Employment Service will not be allowed to become an intrinsic part of the process. The best work-based training programmes that are attached to TECs should be linked to the Employment Service. With the new deal, they could provide the training that young people need.

From correspondence that I have had with Welsh Assembly Secretaries, I understand it that some do not want such provisions and are not willing to accommodate the provision in the Bill. I tell the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who plays a leading part in the Assembly, that the reason for that is that new demarcation lines have been drawn up. Employment services are not within the scope of the Assembly, but TEC programmes and their budgets are. How dare one suggest that the best scheme is not one that is distorted by the demarcation disputes between the Assembly and central Government, but one that would allow the provisions in the Bill to be implemented and would allow the Employment Service to take a leading role in providing work-based training?

Mr. Wigley

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman about the dangers of demarcation, but does he accept that the Bill contains flexible powers that can be adjusted, as appropriate, in either direction, to avoid the consequences that he has described?

Mr. Rowlands

Yes. For England the Bill is prescriptive, but for Wales this is a skeleton of a Bill. I believe in the legislative role of the House and the right of Members to play their full part. The Bill contains provisions for Wales, but we do not know what effect they will have, and there are clauses that do not apply to Wales. We know that there will be a set of new clauses on the youth service. Those are the subject of discussion between Ministers, Assembly Secretaries and, presumably, Assembly committees. Why are not Members of this House involved in those discussions?

If there are to be partnership arrangements between Ministers, Assembly Secretaries and Assembly Members, and if Bills such as this are to come to the House containing only skeleton arrangements, we need a different pre-legislative process that involves Members of the House. Are we expected to nod those Bills through the House? Do not we have a right to seek to amend or expand the provisions for training in Wales? I am sorry, but the likes of me will not nod through legislation—maybe I am a bit old-fashioned. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, those who serve Wales as well as those who serve central Government, that we will have to devise a new way to prepare and deal with such Bills.

At the moment, no one knows what the youth service provisions will contain. We do not have them in draft; they will be introduced in Committee. Will the Welsh Office Minister who is to introduce them come to us and say that they are the Assembly's provisions, so we should not amend them? Will they be presented not only as a fait accompli, but as provisions that we have no right to amend? I am not willing to accept such a legislative role.

As the Member of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, I have as much knowledge on these vital issues as Assembly Members, if not a little more on occasion, and I intend to play a full and active part in ensuring that this is a better Bill when it leaves this place.

3.12 pm
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I am pleased to say that the Liberal Democrats welcome the Bill, although we have specific concerns that we will seek to raise constructively in Committee. I look forward to Ministers' positive responses to those issues.

We welcome the Bill because it deals with this country's skills shortage and is essential not only for individual opportunities but for the general opportunity afforded by a successful economy, which depends on skills. Although the Bill deals with that problem, and that is what I shall concentrate my remarks on, one might be forgiven, thanks to the efforts of Conservatives in another place, for thinking that the Bill was about grammar schools and sex. I shall try to resist the temptation to pursue that argument.

I was pleased, however, that the Secretary of State, whom I am happy to see still in his place, referred to the question of what constitutes a stable, long-term relationship. He noted that my noble Friend Earl Russell challenged the peer who tried to argue that necrophiliacs are involved in long-term relationships. I showed the Hansard report of that exchange to a friend outside the House who said that it was surreal, which is the best word to describe some of the debates on that issue.

The core aim of the Bill, as I have said, is to make progress in delivering skills to young people in particular, and also to ensure lifelong learning. I reiterate other hon. Members' praise of the work of organisations involved, and I single out the Employment Service for particular praise. As a fellow Sheffield representative, the Secretary of State will understand why I think that the service is important, whether it is based in Moorfoot or anywhere else.

The situation in Sheffield highlights for me the importance of skills. I readily recognise that I represent a more affluent constituency, which is perhaps characterised more by employers than by those seeking work, but the whole area depends on skills. Enterprises cannot function for the benefit of Sheffield and South Yorkshire without the existence of skills throughout the community, and there are chronic skills shortages in Sheffield and the region as a whole. That has been recognised by the awarding of objective 1 status, and we are all involved in making decisions about that now. Objective 1 will, rightly, focus on improving skills, and the new provisions will be essential in achieving that aim.

The problems at Rover also highlight the importance of generating extra skills. This is not a party political issue. When one compares the productivity figures of UK industries with those in other countries, particularly in continental Europe, one finds that a key factor behind the difference are the skills bases of the people employed in those enterprises, who play a part in creating the industry's infrastructure. We must seek ways to avoid problems such as those at Rover occurring in future by making sure that our productivity keeps pace with that of other countries and that we have the best possible industry, not only in manufacturing but in all sectors, so that we are truly globally competitive.

We have a background of failure, and I criticise the previous Government for moving in various directions but never getting to grips with skills shortages. Initiatives such as modern apprenticeships have been useful but they are not enough. There is still too much concentration on quantity rather than quality. There is too much emphasis on output targets, such as how many people take courses, rather than on the nature of the course.

People in the engineering sector, which is crucial in Sheffield, have told me that it is difficult to deliver engineering courses within the structure set up by the previous Government because they are expensive and require substantial investment in colleges. To put it simplistically, it is easier to deliver a higher number of courses at lower skills levels or for less appropriate skills than to teach the specific skills needed in an area. The incentives have, to a degree, been perverse.

Liberal Democrats also query the incentives in the NVQ system generally and want quality and standards to be the priority. We hope that the Bill will improve NVQs. There is a suspicion, which seems to be borne out, that the incentives are aimed at getting people through NVQ courses and achieving targets of numbers of people rather than focusing on the quality of each course. We hope that during the proceedings on the Bill we will be able to consider the rigour of the qualifications that we are offering.

There is also the question of stimulating demand. The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education referred to that issue in relation to community education outreach work, which has always been a feature of local government services. It is no good improving the system and putting new structures in place if we are not reaching out into the communities, particularly the deprived communities where people have not previously accessed further education. We must get out there and generate demand. The Bill does not explicitly refer to that, but we want it to reach out to people who are not yet involved.

As I indicated earlier, we would favour a stronger regional structure similar to the Welsh model. The Welsh Assembly is the accountable body to which the local learning and skills councils will report, and there will be a tripartite structure involving the Welsh Development Agency, the Welsh Assembly and the LSC.

Mr. Rowlands

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is right about the Welsh scene. Wales will not have local learning and skills councils. We will have voluntary bodies called CCETs, which will consist of about 20 people, almost all of whom will be from the further education sector. There will not be a comparable structure in Wales.

Mr. Allan

I understand that there will not be local LSCs, but the functions that the council will have in England will be controlled in Wales by the Welsh Assembly, and a regional assembly could do the same in England. We favour that model of accountability rather than the lower tiers of the detailed structure.

In England, we would like LSCs in the regions to answer to a regional assembly, rather than simply to the national Learning and Skills Council, as the Bill currently proposes. We are also in favour of the WDA's involvement, and would like to follow that model in England, which now has a tier of regional development agencies. I apologise if I gave the impression that I thought that there would be exact comparability. We are considering more the accountability route and the involvement of the development agency in the English context.

We seem to be developing a regional structure within England. Much of the old structure for the areas with which we are dealing in the Bill was delivered at regional level by the Government offices of the regions. That structure was set up by the previous Government. We have some experience of that approach and we believe that that would be the appropriate level.

The CBI is considering how we can deliver appropriate training with the flexibility that we want. Yorkshire and the Humber does not have to deliver the same thing as the south-west or any other region. We believe that there could be real flexibility through more regionalisation. In the area that I represent, for example, the engineering sector is looking for things from the regional skills base which perhaps might not be appropriate somewhere in the south-west, where there may be a much stronger focus on other forms of skill.

We have some concerns about business involvement in the structures. Business has not always managed to deliver in the past. Many past structures have had significant business involvement but have not necessarily delivered. Contrary to what has sometimes been suggested, even beefed-up business representation on learning and skills councils is not a magic wand. It will not necessarily lead to any improvement.

In many ways, the public sector is picking up on the failure of the private sector to deliver. Business has not delivered the training for its employees, which it should properly be doing as part of its own structure and viability. The bodies that we are setting up will be picking up the pieces and providing training for business.

Mr. Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare)

I hope that there will from time to time be an emphasis on the smallest businesses within the organisations to which my hon. Friend is referring.

Mr. Allan

One of the key issues will be the relationship between the Small Business Service and the new bodies that we are setting up—the LSCs—in terms of determining how they will feed in their requirements. Mention has been made of the enterprise element of training and enterprise council work. That element was especially valuable to some of the smaller businesses that did not have access to facilities on their own.

I understand that Conservative Members in another place proposed amendments to the formula for composition, with a fixed 25 per cent. for local government and a fixed 40 per cent. for business, for example. We do not favour such a prescriptive model but we are seeking reassurances that there will be broad representation.

Local government has an enterprise function. In that connection, anything that is done about skill shortages and boosting the local economy will invariably have an impact on the broad range of local government services. They are all of a piece. Local government controls education, social services and services in general, and they are all tied into the regional or sub-regional economy. The LSCs will form an important part of that structure. Strong representation from local government will be important but, as I have said, we are not convinced that there should be a prescriptive model.

I have already mentioned representations from the national training organisations. That role will be important, especially in maritime areas, for example, where there is a particular requirement. That role will be important also in other areas.

Some big questions remain about the transition from TECs to the new structures. The discretionary funds have already been mentioned. It has been pointed out to me by the Sheffield TEC that discretionary funds are used not only for enterprise functions but sometimes for training functions. There are extant training programmes that are doing a good job and which the TEC would like to see transferred to the new structures. I hope that we do not lose those programmes as we go forward. We should not assume that the discretionary funds are being used purely for enterprise.

The picture that we get is that effectively everything will be put on hold for a year or two. It is inevitable that in a time of change things will slow down. I see that the Minister is shaking his head. My TEC tells me that it is losing staff all the time. They are leaving the sector and looking for jobs elsewhere. The TEC is putting such programmes as European funding programmes on hold because its experts have applied for other jobs and left because of the uncertainty. That is a real issue that we must address. The Government can do something about it by accelerating the process of informing people and indicating what their long-term future will be.

We cannot afford too long a delay. People should not have their current contract terminated without knowing with any clarity whether they will get a subsequent contract. Their natural inclination will be to leave to find jobs elsewhere. That will happen unless the Government take swift action to put in place some security of tenure. That will be especially necessary in South Yorkshire, where TECs are amalgamating. Objective 1 areas need that more than anywhere else.

I accept that that is special pleading, but objective 1 status covers many areas. We shall be delivering huge amounts of training as part of objective 1 programmes. The Minister will be aware that if we do not get the funding through quite quickly, we shall lose it. As we are entering the programme, it is vital that we have the organisations in place that can deliver the training so that we can get rid of as much uncertainty as possible.

The TUPE implications have been referred to in the context of TECs. We need to know with more clarity what their liabilities will be. I understand that TECs feel that they will be significant. Many of them feel that where they are described as having an asset, they actually have a liability. For example, those TECs which have leased rather than purchased buildings may have to pay money to get out of the lease, rather than realising an asset. 1 understand that in South Yorkshire, the LSC will have its headquarters in Sheffield and that there is an issue relating to the building that the current TEC occupies. Other premises are used by the other two TECs in the area. As we unravel the proposals, I suspect that the financial situation will not turn out to be favourable. I think that it will be rather less favourable than was anticipated.

Mr. Boswell

I agree with many of the points that the hon. Gentleman has been making. Does he agree that there is a particular technical problem with the TEC movement where there is an association with the private sector—for example, membership of a chamber of commerce? Such assets will have to be unscrambled and returned, and a new membership organisation established.

Mr. Allan

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. Some of the more successful TECs have been working hand in hand with chambers of commerce. The situation will have to be unravelled, and that will take time. That process of unravelling will draw attention away from the job of delivering education and training. I hope that the Government will accept that that is a genuine concern raised in the spirit of wishing to see these proposals succeed rather than fail. I know that the Government will try to be positive.

Concerns have been raised by bodies such as the National Youth Agency and the Careers Services National Association as well as by Opposition Members. I know that my noble Friend Baroness Sharp of Guildford managed to secure an amendment on Third Reading, which will be quite useful. I suspect that the Government will seek to remove it, but I would ask them to think twice about doing that. The purpose behind the amendment is to put into the Bill assurances about the range of provision that the careers service will offer.

We believe that we need to concentrate on the few as well as the many. The Government frequently take the opposite approach. In this context, the few are the 9 per cent. who leave education without any formal skills. They are a vital group and they have not been reached before. They have tended to be ignored as targets for general achievement become higher. When we reach an 80 or 85 per cent. target we think that we are doing well, but the 9 per cent. are being left out. We understand the focus and we think that it is entirely right that the Government should want to work on it, but we would argue that that should be additional to what is already being done. We seek assurances from the Government that they can achieve that additionality.

There are two elements, the first of which is funding. If we want to provide individual mentoring services such as one mentor to 10 young people, it will not be cheap. However, that is the sort of intensive service that we probably need. We want to be sure that the funding the ConneXions service receives is sufficient to do the work that it has done through schools for the generality of young people and to offer the sort of mentoring service to which I have referred.

Qualified staff are vital. There is a huge shortage of young people with social work qualifications. If we are sending people out on intensive work with people in the 13 to 19 age group, younger mentors will be of particular value. However, there is a shortage of qualified people across the profession. We have seen the Government enhance funding in other areas. Even if the money comes through, will there be the staff to deliver, and where will additional staff come from? Either they will come from delivering the existing careers service or from, for example, the youth service, which local authorities are using. There are peripatetic youth workers who are involved especially with the 13 to 19 age group. They may be appropriate for the ConneXions service but they cannot be in both places at once.

Mr. Wicks

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about professionals and where they will come from. We must not inadvertently poach good professionals from, for example, social services. I assure the House that we are considering the issue cross-departmentally because we are aware of the danger.

Mr. Allan

I am grateful to the Minister.

I mentioned peripatetic youth workers and said that they could not be in two places at once, but they probably could—that is the definition of "peripatetic". I have seen the good work that they do with the group in question.

I am glad that the Minister has in mind joined-up government in this area. I know that some of those youth workers are funded under Home Office programmes for crime prevention purposes and do good work; some are funded by social services, education departments and local authorities. They almost always work with the same client group as the ConneXions people, and we want to make sure that they all work in a co-ordinated way; otherwise, there will be confusion among that client group and money will be wasted. [Interruption.] The Minister says that that is the reason for the name "ConneXions". We hope that the reality is as good as the Government's sloganeering.

We have concerns about the inspectorate. Some of the issues have already been raised. We are particularly concerned about a double inspection regime. We Liberal Democrats are not the biggest fans of Ofsted, and possibilities in the Bill for the expansion of its role are worrying. Ofsted may move into the FE sector in ways that may be inappropriate. We are also concerned about area-based inspections for the LSCs. We want to know what the areas will be and who will carry out those inspections.

We tried in another place to clarify the roles of the adult learning inspectorate and Ofsted, to avoid duplication of effort. We believe that Ofsted is not the appropriate body to be expanded at this stage and that it already has enough power over education policy.

With regard to post-19 provision and lifelong learning, we are concerned about the difference between clauses 2 and 3. Clause 2 effectively mandates a structure for pre-19 education up to level 3, giving a young person an entitlement to education up to level 3, whereas clause 3 suggests that that entitlement does not exist beyond that age, but that the LSC should take reasonable steps to provide such an education.

We believe that the entitlement to education to level 3 should not be dependent on age. That is also the view of NIACE, which has issued statements to that effect. We should concentrate on getting everyone to level 3 and not worry too much about an age cut-off. I know that my noble Friends considered the matter, and I hope that the Government will return to it.

We welcome individual learning accounts as another aspect of the lifelong learning agenda. That has been our policy for some time. We want individual learning accounts to become the norm for a range of people, to enable them to access lifelong learning, and we hope that the Government will not see such accounts as trivial, merely providing discounts on courses or a low level of support. We hope that individuals will feel that they can build on such accounts and contribute to them throughout their lives, and that their employers will want to contribute as well.

The Bill provides a framework for setting up individual learning accounts, but we do not have the detail of how they will be used. They should be used extensively for lifelong learning opportunities, rather than as a quick fix offering discounts on college courses.

I am sensitive to the issue of sixth form schools. As the Secretary of State knows, I have sixth form schools in my constituency, which is the only part of Sheffield that does. That is because the schools resisted the single tertiary structure offered by Sheffield city council some years ago. I notice a silent Government Member, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), who also has some experience of Sheffield city council.

I have heard the Minister's assurances about the future of sixth forms that are doing a successful job, but questions will have to be answered, particularly where a dispute arises. A local learning and skills council may decide for whatever reason that the sixth forms in its area are not the best means of delivering post-16 education. The LSC may hold that view strongly, the sixth forms will want to survive, and arbitration will be necessary.

The present system for arbitrating between school provision and potential LSC provision is messy. The sixth forms must be able to have confidence in their security guarantee. There should not be battles between the LSCs, which will try to drive the costs down, and the sixth forms, which will argue against that.

There are important questions relating to the expansion of sixth forms. In Sheffield, a number of schools have recently asked to open new sixth forms. Those requests were made under the old funding structure and were not accepted. If a school can make a good case for a sixth form, it will be interesting to see whether the new structure will allow the school to make that pitch, where it will be directed and how it will be assessed.

I believe that demand for sixth forms will continue. Good sixth forms, in co-operation with colleges, is the sort of model that the Government want, although that may involve new sixth form provision in an area where there was none before.

In conclusion, we offer general support for the Bill, but we seek assurances from the Government that they can deliver where previous Governments have promised but not delivered. I am tempted to use phrases that I have heard too often from Conservative Members about talk and no delivery, but that has been the case repeatedly with education initiatives over most of my lifetime, under a Conservative Government.

There are three key requirements for successful delivery, which the Government will have to bear in mind as the Bill proceeds. The first is adequate funds for the further education and training sector. We keep returning to the subject of money, which gives the Government an opportunity to speak about our spending 1p several times, but they have acknowledged that the FE sector needs money. They have proudly boasted of the funds that they are giving, but we must make sure that the money goes to the right places and delivers quality as well as quantity. It is a matter not just of the amount of money, but of the way in which it is delivered.

The second requirement is sufficient trained staff to deliver the programmes. I mentioned that in the context of ConneXions and the mentoring service, but it is equally true in the FE sector. Morale in that sector has not been at its best over recent years, and there are still disputes about pay and conditions in the sector. If it is to expand, we must make sure that people want to go into FE, so that it gets quality staff who stay there and are not tempted to go elsewhere because they are on temporary or short-term contracts.

Finally, we need proper accountability and flexibility to respond to local demands. We must be clear about how the LSCs report, particularly to bodies such as regional development agencies and regional assemblies. If we can work on those elements, the Bill should be able to deliver a better structure than the existing one. We therefore are not inclined to support the Conservative amendment. We believe that all parties should join together to try to improve the system, rather than seeking to damage an initiative that could lead to improvements in our skills base—improvements that are desperately needed if the country is to be competitive and if individual young people are to have the opportunities that they deserve.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Many hon. Members wish to speak, so shorter speeches would assist fellow Members.

3.37 pm
Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North)

I give the Bill a warm welcome. It brings us a long-overdue comprehensive framework for post-16 education and training. It is clear that current structures are letting us down. I know that from personal experience. I worked in the 16 to 19 sector for some years before becoming a Member of Parliament. The college in which I worked was a good college, but it brought me into contact with many other colleges and post-16 providers and made me aware of the needs that must be met.

I commend the wide-ranging consultation that took place before the Bill reached the other place, which gave people and bodies time to respond. Overall, the responses were detailed and positive. Yes, they raised queries, but that is to be expected—it is the point of consultation. It is a hallmark of the Government and particularly of the Department that consultation is taken seriously. Good consultation is the first step to good legislation. That is why it is so important.

The Bill is a serious attempt to address the weaknesses in our post-16 education and vocational training system. Sadly, the problems are not new. I have read that, in 1884, concern was expressed that Britain was increasingly losing out to its foreign competitors. Gladstone set up the Samuelson commission, which argued that neglect of education and training was one of the key factors in Britain's poor performance.

The productivity gap between UK companies and our major competitors is between 20 and 30 per cent., which is a matter of great concern. It is a shocking fact that some 7 million people in Britain lack formal qualifications. That figure is far too high and 2.1 million people lack intermediate technical qualifications at the important general national vocational qualification level 3, which has been mentioned. The skills taskforce estimates that 80 per cent. of the work force will need level 3 skills in the future so clearly there is a great deal to be done. It is also shocking that 170,000 16 to 18-year-olds are not in education, training or employment. That must change.

The performance of further education colleges is variable—some are excellent, some are not—and their drop-out and retention rates should be of great concern to us. The raising of standards and quality in FE is, and has to be, a key part of the Bill's agenda, which is one fundamental reason why it is so welcome. Also welcome are the links between learning and work. The previous Administration brought education and employment together in one Department, and they were right to do that, but they did not establish the key links between learning and skills and between employability and business. On the ground, local providers have struggled to make those links, so it is right that they are part of the Bill. The proportion of 16 to 19-year-olds who receive job-related training increased from 21 per cent. in spring 1995 to 25.6 per cent. in spring 1998. There has been an improvement, but almost half all employers still think that their youngest employees lack the skills to meet business needs and slightly more than a third of all employees have never been offered training by their employer. There is work to be done on both sides of the equation and the structure provided by the Bill, which is a bold attempt to address those serious weaknesses, will enable us to do it.

I want to say a few words specifically about London and why making what the Bill offers a reality is crucial to its future prosperity. London's unemployment is some 20 per cent. above the national average and we have heard it said before in the Chamber that unemployment here is the same as that for Scotland and Wales combined. It is important to consider London in that context. It is often thought of as affluent, but it is characterised by affluent areas existing side by side with areas of the deepest poverty.

Mr. Boswell

I appreciate that the hon. Lady is a London Member and I have visited FE colleges fairly near her constituency recently. Will she concede that there is concern about whether the proposed structure for London and the local learning and skills councils, particularly in the northern sector, will be able to deliver adequately and meet the needs that she has properly addressed? Does she agree that there is also concern across the sectoral boundaries in London about whether it will be possible for colleges to make perfectly sensible collaborative arrangements to secure the adequate supply of high quality training for skills and education across the metropolis?

Ms Ryan

The hon. Gentleman makes some important points and, if he waits a while, I shall come to them.

Some 120,000 jobs are on offer, but people lack the skills to fill them. One in four Londoners has minimal qualifications or none and we need to raise drastically the level of technological skill among young people in London. We also know of the barriers that exist for black Londoners and members of minority ethnic groups, who are far more likely to be unemployed and far less likely to get the job. That is unacceptable. I am therefore pleased by the strength of the Bill's equal opportunities approach.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), London will have five local learning and skills councils. Essentially, three options were before the London Development Partnership, but it did not suggest the one that I favoured. I preferred the "wedges" option—which would have got rid of the inner and outer London doughnut and established travel-to-work areas to slice up the city—and saw sense in the pan-London LSC option as London is essentially one labour market, but our councils have been broadly based on the training and enterprise councils, although there are obviously fewer. I believe that that option can succeed.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said that the Government failed to consider what was needed in local areas, but they and the London Development Partnership considered London's needs and decided that it would be best to build firmly on the good practice and partnerships that are already in place and take them forward. I think and hope that, in a number of years, I will be able to look back and say that the best option was chosen. We are building on good practice and partnership while achieving a coherent structure and a quality agenda.

However, the establishment of the five local learning and skills councils raised some issues, not least for Capel Manor college in my constituency, which is the only specialist horticultural college in London. It has a national and international reputation and is doing an excellent job, but it was concerned about relating to five different councils and thought that it might run into some of the problems that it had faced with local education authorities. It was worried that it would need to be represented on, and have an input to, each council and concerned about sorting out the financial situation across five different bodies.

I made representations to the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), on that issue. He corresponded with the college and took note of what it had to say. He wrote: We recognise that there will be a need for cross London co-operation when planning and allocating provision. We expect that LSCs will work together in London with a light touch co-ordinating mechanism. The exact form that this pan London co-ordinating body will take has not been agreed. However, it will mean that the five local LSCs will be able to agree common approaches to collective problems including developing strategies for sectoral cross regional provision. My college is heartened by that news and in a letter to me it says that it is delighted with the letter from Malcolm as it illustrates a real understanding of the potential inefficiency of small specialist providers, such as Capel Manor College, dealing with individual LSCs. They would welcome the opportunity to report directly to a London-wide body, co-ordinating the servicing of specialist needs across London. That is good news for regional organisations up and down the country, and my college and I have good reason to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for paying attention to those issues.

I want briefly to discuss the work of the national training organisations. The White Paper "Learning to Succeed" said that NTOs have a pivotal role to play in the new arrangements. Many of us are delighted by that and the Bill's strength is that it is more demand led than the current provider-driven system. To ensure that that continues, and in acknowledgement of the work and relevance of NTOs, I am pleased that the Government have backed an amendment in the other place that will mean that, as well as providing a national, regional and local focus on skills, the Bill will ensure that industrial and occupational needs are met. It is right and welcome that national training organisations are recognised by the Secretary of State as the employer voice on education and training issues.

I welcome the LSC prospectus, and especially the reference to meeting the need for skilled child care workers to support the national child care strategy. To date, training and enterprise councils have played a pivotal role in training out-of-school child care workers, and have increasingly been involved in the development and provision of the training infrastructure to support child care for ages 0 to 14. It is vital that that role continues under the LSCs to ensure that the development of this substantial work force is no longer marginalised as low-status, low-paid work, or separated from other forms of vocational training and development.

An estimated 100,000 new jobs in child care and early education and play work will be created in the coming years. As many as 60,000 people will be required to staff new out-of-school provision alone. We must ensure that the emerging Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's national framework of child care qualifications continues to be disseminated to local post-16 providers, and that those providers are supported in offering learning opportunities for workers in out-of-school child care, because there are considerable shortages of provision.

Caroline Flint

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the important issue of child care workers and their training. Does she agree that it is vital that the LSC liaise with early years development and child care partnerships at local level, and enable parents to take part in the courses put on by the providers, wherever they may be?

Ms Ryan

My hon. Friend makes the point well. Indeed, my next point was that local learning and skills councils must work closely with early years development and child care partnerships. We must identify and ensure provision for a wide range of learning opportunities for child care individuals, organisations and employers.

LSC should be the favoured body to oversee the vocational training of child care workers and the development of family friendly policies by employers. We can be proud of the achievements to date of TECs and local education authorities working with early years development partnerships in this emerging area. I am concerned that there could be a loss in this field unless each local LSC has a specific child care brief. That would ensure that the work that I have outlined is co-ordinated, and that specialist knowledge provided by child care development teams informs the work of LSCs. I would like child care to be added to the equal opportunities brief in the functional diagram of a local LSC in paragraph 2.22 of the prospectus.

The measures in the Bill are welcome and necessary. I particularly welcome the whole thrust of the measures to raise standards in post-16 education and of the quality agenda. I welcome the new inspection proposals. The focus on teacher performance and student achievement was and is a great strength of the Ofsted system. Post-16 education will benefit immensely from that focus, so the people who really matter will benefit immensely—our young people and our work force.

Too many people have a poor experience of education. Many see lifelong learning as far removed from their daily lives. Bringing together the work of the TECs and the Further Education Funding Council will mean that the false distinctions that have held back our post-compulsory education and training system will be removed. This will be the first time that we have had an integrated or coherent approach to further education and work force training post-16. That is very welcome.

The Bill is about quality, coherence and choice, and it saves £50 million to boot. That is very good news.

3.55 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) was right to say that there is a great deal to be done. There always has been, and I dare say that there always will be.

The House will no doubt be relieved to know that I shall resist the temptation to launch into a full-scale defence of the previous Government's record in the face of the casual and ill informed criticism that has been made during the debate. Suffice it to say that the previous Government presided over the greatest expansion ever in the number of our young people entering higher education, developed national vocational qualifications, introduced a range of innovative programmes, and created a proper framework within which those programmes could be developed. The creation of those additional opportunities transformed the lives of millions of our people.

I want the improvement in our training and education system to continue, but I have significant reservations about the Government's approach in the Bill, which leaves a great deal to be desired. Its defects were eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). In my brief remarks, I want to concentrate on one aspect only: the wanton vandalism that the Government intend to perpetrate on training and enterprise councils.

I have an interest to declare. TECs were established during my period of office as Secretary of State for Employment. The first became operational in April 1990, 10 years ago almost to the day, and the last was launched in October 1991. I cannot and do not claim any credit for the concept. That properly belongs to my immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). It was his White Paper "Employment for the 1990s", published in December 1988, which proposed devolving responsibility for the Government's training and enterprise programmes to local level, and injecting into them a strong infusion of private enterprise.

The essence of those imaginative and visionary proposals was that the local groups that were invited to submit propositions for the establishment of TECs would be led by employers. The objective of the proposals was set out in the White Paper in these terms: The Government hope to place "ownership" of the training and enterprise system where it belongs—with employers. The logic of that approach was—and is—simple and compelling.

The training of young and unemployed people, on which Governments have rightly spent so much money over the years, has one objective: to help those being trained to get and keep a job. It is local employers who provide those jobs. The direct involvement of local employers in this process—putting them in the driving seat and giving them ownership of the training—is the best possible guarantee that the training will achieve its objective of equipping unemployed people to fill the jobs that are available.

Similarly, employers are likely to know best what help for enterprise is most likely to succeed, and which enterprise programmes are most likely to help firms that are starting or are still small and want to establish themselves and grow.

That was a new and ambitious approach. It involved giving private sector bodies a large amount of public money with which to achieve the goals they were set. One of the most encouraging features in those early years as we were setting the TECs up was that there was all-party support for the initiative.

In the whole of the time I was Secretary of State for Employment, the shadow Secretary of State was the right hon. Member for Sedgefield, the Prime Minister. This is what he said about TECs: The worst thing a Labour Government could do would be to scrap everything that has been achieved and start again. Labour will retain Training and Enterprise Councils but will make them more broadly representative of their local communities. I suppose that if the current Secretary of State had said that and it was put to him now, he would say that he was only joking. However, the Prime Minister is not renowned for his jokes, so we are entitled to assume that he was serious—as of course he was.

The Government are now doing precisely what the Prime Minister said that they would not do: they are scrapping everything that has been achieved and are starting again. They are not retaining the training and enterprise councils, but destroying them. Is there any justification for that change of heart? I do not believe that there is.

The TECs have many, many achievements to their credit. They have been outstandingly successful in attracting the involvement of senior, board-level members from companies involved in all sectors of the British economy, who give their time free of charge. Over 800 have done so, many of them from companies that are household names, such as BP, Mobil, Glaxo Wellcome, Rolls-Royce, Vauxhall, Marks and Spencer, Boots, Coopers and Lybrand, Royal Sun Alliance, Norwich Union—I could go on and on. The commitment and enthusiasm that they have displayed have been quite unprecedented. They have made an enormous contribution. It has truly been a public-private partnership which has been immensely successful.

TECs have delivered year-on-year performance improvements in the main programmes for youth and adult training. They have achieved increasing numbers of jobs and qualifications for the unemployed. They have helped more than 1 million people to gain qualifications in the past five years alone, and the public cost of achieving qualification through the work-based route has been reduced by a quarter in the past three years.

Mr. Rowlands

I am following the right hon. and learned Gentleman very closely, and he is quite right—most of us threw our full support behind TECs in those years. I did not have any problem at all with either the nature or the structure of the operation—it is just that TECs did not deliver. I can only speak about my experience with the Mid-Glamorgan training and enterprise council. We thought that private resources would go into that TEC, and that it would not become a 100 per cent. publicly funded body—but that is what it turned out to be. Employer involvement in training in my area was only marginal.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman's experience of the Mid-Glamorgan TEC is not typical. I was going to go on to make this very point. TECs have increased the sums that they were able to lever in from the private sector—the very point that has just been made—from about £100 million, in the mid-1980s, to £700 million today. That sum is coming in from the private sector to reinforce the money that the public sector has made available.

Mr. Chaytor

I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). In my area, TECs' biggest critics are the representatives of the Engineering Employers Federation. In my recent meeting with engineering employers, they were delighted that the Government are reforming the TEC structure. I do not deny that TECs have some achievements to their name, but it would have been difficult for any institution that was so well funded not to have achieved anything. However, there is no lobby—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Chaytor

There is no representation, no regret—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. When the occupant of the Chair stands, the hon. Gentleman sits. That intervention was far too long.

Mr. Howard

If engineering employers in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) were not satisfied with the performance of their local TEC, the remedy was in their own hands: they could have got involved in the running of the TEC. That was the essence of the whole concept—local employers were in the driving seat, and they were able to drive developments in their own area to ensure that people had the qualifications that were needed to fill the jobs in those areas.

I have so far spoken about the training performance, but of course TECs have become key players in local economic development. They have a solid track record there, too, of successful delivery of Government initiatives and programmes, ranging from modern apprenticeships and Investors in People—which started in my time as Secretary of State, and now is likely to be achieved by more than 70 per cent. of large companies and 35 per cent. of medium-sized companies by the end of this year—to business links.

TECs can be proud of those achievements. They have established an outstanding track record of success. Of course it is true—of course one has to acknowledge—that because the essence of the exercise was to devolve responsibility to local level, not all of them were as good as the best. Of course not all of them were as good as they should have been. Of course that is inevitable. However, the answer to that is to improve those which needed improvement, not to abolish the lot.

All those achievements will now be at risk. TECs have been told that their current licences will end in April 2001 and will not be renewed. They will, to some extent, be replaced by the learning and skills councils, which will not be business-led in the same way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead pointed out, the whole system is to be centralised, with the national Learning and Skills Council in the driving seat.

There are also important questions to be asked about the budgets to be available to those new bodies. TECs' total income in 1997-98—the most recent year for which figures are available—was £1.5 billion. The Secretary of State has said that the local training and skills councils will have discretionary budgets of between 10 and 15 per cent. of the total LSC budget, which has been put at £5 billion. If that analysis is right, the new budget for the local councils will therefore be about £500 million—which is one third of their predecessors'.

The Minister shakes his head. If I am wrong in that analysis, I hope that he will put it right when he replies to the debate. However, if the analysis is right, it is certainly unlikely to inspire confidence in the Secretary of State's promise to give substantial local flexibility to the 47 councils.

It is therefore little wonder that Chris Humphries, chairman of the skills taskforce, has said: The proposed system does not allow sufficient capacity to offer an effective match between the skills demanded and the supply of skills. The flexibility to deal with local skills is totally inadequate. Local learning and skills councils must have sufficient authority and discretion to step outside the room and override dictates from the centre. They must have the power to substantially redress the balance if necessary to meet local needs. It is little wonder, too, that the same Chris Humphries, yesterday, wearing a different hat, told the Financial Times that there is disillusion with the Government's pro-business credentials.

The truth is that, in this as in so many other spheres, the Government are introducing change for the sake of change. They are destroying what works in their desperate search for a spurious novelty. They are driven by the dogma of a determination to be different. We have seen it in their wasted three years of inaction on asylum seekers, with disastrous results, simply because they did not want to implement my Asylum and Immigration Act of 1996. We have seen it in their ludicrous decision to replace personal equity plans and tax-exempt special savings accounts with much more complicated and less successful individual savings accounts—simply because their arrangements have to be different. We have seen it in so many spheres, and we see it in the proposals in the Bill. It is irresponsibility of the highest order, and the country will pay a very high price for it.

4.9 pm

Mr. lain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)

1 welcome the Bill and the objectives for further education and training that it embodies. I should like to concentrate briefly—I am aware that many other hon. Members wish to speak—on one aspect of the Bill that, although it comprises a relatively small proportion of the Bill's content, has wide implications for the structure of local education authority sixth form provision across England and Wales. I refer principally to clause 99.

The clause provides for inclusion within the range of secondary education establishments that may be supported by local education authorities an institution that is principally concerned with the provision of full-time education suitable to the requirements of pupils who are over compulsory school age but under the age of 19.

In effect, local education authorities will have the opportunity to exercise much more flexibility in their arrangements for those aged over 16.

I hope, and believe, that I can convince other hon. Members that there are vast gains to be made in the education that we offer to students over 16 through the development of more varied and flexible forms of provision. Currently there are only two alternatives in sixth form provision—sixth form colleges founded by the Further Education Funding Council for England, and sixth forms attached to LEA-funded secondary schools. The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 prevented any alternative funding arrangements from becoming commonplace. Clause 99 will amend the definition of secondary education in the Education Act 1996, so that the 1992 Act will no longer prevent such arrangements. However, significant practical gains can be secured from the alternatives, which the Bill would make possible. For some communities, there are certainly disadvantages in the alternatives available in the current legislation.

I can give a particularly striking example of the way in which alternative provision can confer benefits. The William Morris academy in Fulham—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) was a much valued member of staff there before she became an MP—is an LEA-funded institution that takes students aged between 16 and 19 from five local feeder secondary schools. However one chooses to measure success, the academy constitutes one of the most successful examples of provision for 16-to-19-year-olds in the country. Its results have been well above the national average each year since it opened, with a 93 per cent. pass rate last year for students taking two or more A-levels.

In terms of A-level points, the academy is ranked as the fifth-best college for 16-to-19-year-olds in inner London, which amounts to a favourable comparison with institutions working in the same educational environment. As for general national vocational qualifications, its pass rates are significantly above national rates. Last year, at foundation level—the first level of attainment in GNVQs—the academy's pass rate was 86 per cent., just under double the national rate of 44.7 per cent. The academy has also achieved excellent results in encouraging participation in higher education: 82 of 122 students studying for A-levels and advanced general national vocational qualifications progressed to higher education last year.

When we examine the background of many of the students who enter the academy and build up a picture of its value-added success, its achievements become all the clearer. Some hon. Members may be unfamiliar with the concept of value-added analysis. It refers to the level of achievement of students who are leaving an institution over and above their potential for achievement on entry, as based on past results. It is an essential way of assessing the extent to which a school or college, or other institution, has determined a student's achievements, as opposed to the extent to which those achievements have been determined by the student's background.

The socio-economic composition of the academy's intake shows high levels of deprivation. According to the classic deprivation measure for education, there was a 38 per cent. entitlement to free school meals in 1999—more than twice the national average for secondary-school-age students in England. The figure had increased by a quarter since the previous year. Even with that deprivation, however, the academy has a record of enabling students who have not done well in GCSEs to proceed to higher education. Many young people who leave the academy for that purpose would not have done so without the support, encouragement, enthusiasm and commitment that they encountered there.

Four students arrived at the academy recently with poor skills and no qualifications. After four years there, they had progressed through foundation, intermediate and advanced levels of the GNVQ course, and all four have now been able to go to university. Students have arrived with low GCSE grades, and have been encouraged to re-take the examinations and realise their potential at A-level in order to go to top-ranking universities.

The academy has a remarkable record of success in helping students with physical disabilities to reach high levels of educational attainment. The disabilities of a number of students would have been a barrier to their studies without the encouragement, support and close attention that the academy has been able to provide.

During its relatively short existence, the academy has developed a reputation in west London for having a supportive atmosphere and an ethos of work and study. It is significant that many students who have moved out of the borough for their secondary education return to the academy for their sixth form studies, and that out-of-borough students from areas throughout west London are attracted to it.

The academy can be judged according to many criteria: its reputation in general, its success in strict terms of results or value-added analysis or its record of sending students from disadvantaged or low-achievement backgrounds to higher-education success. Above all, however, it is delivering the Government's widening participation agenda as reflected in Lady Kennedy's report "Learning works: widening participation in further education", published in 1997.

Ms Ryan

I do not want to delay the House, but I want to say what a joy it was to work at the William Morris academy, and what an excellent education establishment it is—not least because of the commitment shown by the principal, the staff and the local education authority. I know that my hon. Friend played a considerable role in the authority before he became an MP. The academy's commitment to raising standards shows that it can be done.

Mr. Coleman

I do not want this to turn into a mutual admiration society, so I shall try to make some progress with my speech.

The academy provides a truly comprehensive service, catering for young people of all abilities and backgrounds, and adding value for all of them. Its history since its establishment six years ago constitutes an increasingly encouraging success story. When it was established, Hammersmith and Fulham fell between two stools in terms of sixth form provision. The authority had surplus places, and the local secondary schools were too small to run effective sixth forms. The LEA undertook a review, as a result of which schools, parents and governors agreed that the five local secondary schools should give up their sixth forms in the interests of making a better offer to the young people of the borough aged 16 and over in the form of an LEA sixth form college.

Unfortunately, the intervention of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 meant that the academy would be taken away from the LEA and put under the authority of the FEFCE. To our dismay, owing to the policy of the Conservative Administration at the time, the proposal was turned down and the LEA was left to arrive at the imaginative and, as some of us thought, rather dangerous approach that created the current structure of the academy, providing services for 16-to-19-year-olds for and on behalf of its five feeder schools.

The former Conservative Secretary of State ordered an investigation by the FEFCE of the academy's status. The investigation, which took some years, involved visits to the academy by many individuals and agencies, including two FEFCE inspections. I am happy to say that, as a result, everyone concluded that—as local people already knew—the William Morris academy was providing an excellent education for its students. The FEFCE recommended to the Secretary of State that it should not be incorporated as an FEFCE institution.

I am delighted that clause 99 will regularise the academy's position and secure the benefits that it confers to its feeder schools, to students in Hammersmith and Fulham and to the many six-formers from the wider community in London who choose to attend it. I hope that it will continue to provide high-quality sixth form education in Hammersmith and Fulham for many years.

Clear lessons can be learned from the history of the William Morris academy for the purposes of our operation of provision for 16-to-19-year-olds. The academy can give students the benefits associated with both colleges and school sixth forms. The advantages of a college atmosphere are both the independence that a school would not provide, and the benefit of wide curriculum choices and contact with a large number of fellow students. Students also have access to the pastoral care that would normally be associated with schools, and can benefit from close links with feeder schools and the local community.

That is especially relevant to the environment in which the academy operates. The feeder schools from which students come—some of which work in a very challenging inner-city environment—would not otherwise have been able to sustain the quality of sixth form education that allows students to progress in this way.

Collective sixth form provision is a vital option for many communities, but this successful experiment would not have been possible unless the LEA had chosen to function as a good LEA should. The local authority worked in partnership with the schools, the parents, the community and, most importantly, the pupils to secure the most appropriate provision.

Hammersmith and Fulham LEA's flexibility required a creative and imaginative approach. Clause 99 will allow other local authorities to do the same. The Bill will enable the success of William Morris to be shared throughout the country and its good practice to be spread to other areas, where such an arrangement would be beneficial. It is particularly likely to be helpful in a conurbation that has several secondary schools reasonably close together, all with small sixth form provision. In view of the resounding success of the William Morris academy in achieving high standards for its students and promoting the objectives of widening participation and furthering social inclusion, I hope that it will be used as a model for other LEAs to emulate.

4.21 pm
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

It is a particular pleasure for me to speak soon after my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), because I had the great privilege of working as his special adviser for two years while he was Employment Secretary, when he drove through with immense energy and dedication the creation of the national network of training and enterprise councils. I hope that he will forgive me for saying that I doubt whether any other Secretary of State could have created that network as rapidly and as successfully. He was right to point out that although the TEC system was imperfect, as all systems are, it had many historic achievements to its name and it is much to be regretted that the Government appear determined to sweep aside so much good work rather than bringing the worst up to the standard of the best.

I shall make a few general observations and then a constituency point. The subject of learning and skills is important and the Government are right to address it. They have rightly recognised that we cannot stand still. There has to be a process of constant improvement—indeed, to use a new Labour word, modernisation. These things have to change all the time. Businesses are particularly conscious of the fact that arrangements have to be altered and qualifications need to change.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) talked about history and the training that used to be provided by large manufacturing companies. Whatever the political colour of any Government in this country or any other modern western country, the era of the large manufacturing company is probably drawing to its close around the world. Training has to reflect that.

We have to modernise and provide training in new skills and different aptitudes. The idea that large numbers of teenagers will go to one company and stay there for the whole of their working lives is—sadly, in many ways—increasingly absent from the life cycles of people in this country. We need lifelong training. Skills that are at the cutting edge in one decade may be increasingly outdated by a second decade and wholly useless by a third. However, that should not mean that those who have acquired one set of skills are thrown on the scrap heap. On the contrary, they should be encouraged and helped by private sector enterprise and by the Government to acquire new skills so that they can contribute to the wider community for their own sense of dignity and so that the economy can take advantage of all the talents of all the people across the United Kingdom.

Given how economies and businesses are changing, it is regrettable that the Bill will marginalise much of the private sector-led success of training and enterprise councils. The Secretary of State said that 40 per cent. of the membership of local learning and skills councils would be provided by those with business or commercial experience. The implication was that that was a great concession to the business community and in exchange he looked to them to improve their investment in training and their commitment to the development of skills.

However, that is not a great concession. There are two problems. First, why did the Government resist amendments in another place that would have written the 40 per cent. requirement into the Bill? If that is their policy, why do they resist having it spelled out in statute? Secondly, 40 per cent. representation is not what the business community is used to having on training and enterprise councils. TECs were essentially business-led and the majority of the board came from the private sector.

Mr. Boswell

I do not dissent from what my hon. Friend has said. Does he agree that the suggestion that the 40 per cent. business involvement should include people who might have retired from business, albeit recently, is different from the situation with TECs, in which participants were required to be actively employed at a senior level in the businesses that they led?

Mr. Collins

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I was coming to that. The nature of the business and commercial experience in question is deliberately left a little vague, whereas TECs, as he rightly said, were designed to bring active members of the local business community in to provide leadership of the business commitment to the success of the organisations. There will undoubtedly be a huge amount of public-spirited commitment from employers, who are not necessarily party political figures. They will work with any Government, whatever that Government's complexion, but senior business people have a huge amount of pressure on their time and they will want to be involved primarily with organisations in which they feel that their time is well spent and that the business ethos is in charge, not a bolt-on. I fear that there may be a presumption among local business communities that their relationship with LSCs is second class compared with the relationship that they had with TECs.

That is not an imaginary consideration. The Minister will know that the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors have said that they want majority business representation on LSC hoards. We have not heard why the Government rejected that specific request from the main business organisations in the country. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will address that point, because it is important to understand why the Government have decided not to follow the strong request of the business community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) talked about centralisation. I quoted the explanatory notes on that, but clause 20 is even more explicit. It says that a local learning and skills council must perform in relation to its area such of the Council's duties— that is, the national council— as the Council specifies. It also says that a local council may exercise in relation to its area such of the Council's powers as the Council specifies. That is a clear charter for centralisation.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe will recall that when the TEC network was being established, there was constant pressure for more flexibility, more autonomy, more of a chance to adjust from national frameworks, guidelines and specifications to take into account differing local circumstances. That will mean differences around the country. That is the point of having local autonomy and giving people the chance to innovate and experiment and try out different approaches. That is clearly what local business people who are involved in TECs want.

The Bill is a retrograde step. The Government have listened, in a way I am delighted to say that my right hon. and learned Friend did not, to the inherent bureaucratic pressure that will always argue in favour of centralisation and uniformity and stamping out differentiation. Clause 20 suggests that the Secretary of State has listened too much to the siren voices in his Department who say that if he grabs all the power into the hands of the people at the centre, they will iron out all the little differences and remove all the distinctions so that everything is the same everywhere. The United Kingdom is not the same everywhere. That is why it was sensible to have a network that delivered locally.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) said that the answer was to tie the councils in with the regional development agencies and have regional differentiation. Even that does not take sufficiently into account the very different circumstances that can prevail within regions. To take my own region, the north-west, the constituency that I represent in Cumbria is enormously different from inner-city Merseyside or Manchester. For that matter—because in Cumbria there is huge schizophrenia about whether it should be regarded as part of the north-west or north-east—it is also massively different from Newcastle.

The idea that by concentrating power and decision making at regional level we would adequately take into account the differences between different parts of the country is wrong. That is why it was sensible to have a TEC network that was genuinely local and that in many cases took decisions on a county or even a sub-county basis, reflecting the greater distinctions.

Mr. Cotter

Presumably, that is why the Conservative party does not support the concept of the regional development agencies, but our party believes that RDAs will work properly down to local level. That is the idea of RDAs. They should represent the local areas within their area of responsibility, so we do not accept what the hon. Gentleman is saying, although I listen to it with interest.

Mr. Collins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for listening with interest to what I am saying. For my constituents in South Lakeland, the north-west RDA has been a classic example of all mouth and no delivery—even more specifically, all committees and no delivery.

Mr. Boswell

Would my hon. Friend like to add to his collection the thought that I can leave my home, travel exclusively within the east midlands until I reach my regional seat of government in Nottingham and clock 100 miles in my car, by which time I could have gone to four or five other regional headquarters, including the capital, which are considerably nearer than that?

Mr. Collins

My hon. Friend makes his point admirably. It is regrettable that we are moving from a system of genuine autonomy, with 72 or so TECs, to what will be, even at best, a much more centralised system, with 47 local learning and skills councils. By definition, on average, if we move from 72 to 47, areas will be roughly twice as large.

As we have seen, under the Bill there will be nothing like the level of autonomy that there was under the TEC system. That is to be regretted, although I recognise that the Government have approached the matter with the purest of best intentions and are keen to see an enhancement of learning and skills. The Government are acting not malevolently or maliciously, but on profoundly misguided advice.

My next point concerns another element that is inherent in the Bill. There will be a shift from TECs, which were private sector bodies, to a state-delivered system. I congratulate the Minister, who has previously been regarded as the absolute apotheosis of new Labour: he is supervising the first explicit act of nationalisation by the Government. There can be no doubt about it. TECs were private sector companies and the new system will be entirely within the public sector.

If there is any doubt about that, I refer people to page 46 of the explanatory notes, which talks about the effects of the Bill on public service manpower. It states: There will be an increase in the number of staff employed in the public services because some of the activities of the LSC and the ALI were formerly conducted by private companies. In addition to centralisation, we have nationalisation.

Surely even this Government would not openly advocate nationalisation. Many has been the occasion when they have openly rejected it, yet all those reasons should apply here. We know that public sector control, ownership and delivery simply do not work in a business context. At the heart of business competitiveness and training for the future, we see an act of nationalisation. That is to be regretted and is against what the Government said they would do when they were in opposition and, indeed, against what they have continued to say that they were doing in office.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe rightly drew the parallel with what the Prime Minister said when he was the shadow Secretary of State for Employment before the 1992 general election. However, I remind him that the picture continued into the following Parliament.

The Investors in People programme was delivered by TECs. It continues to be a huge success. It has been one of the great achievements in training under both Administrations—before 1997 and after.

In 1995, I well remember that the Labour party announced with great fanfare that, as an institution, it would apply for Investors in People status. It invited local TECs to send inspectors round to validate Labour's internal training programmes. With great celebration, it unveiled the TEC Investors in People award outside what was then Labour party headquarters on Walworth road.

Even in the previous Parliament, there was no remote indication that the Government, on election, would abolish the TEC network. Quite the contrary; Labour was going out of its way to give the impression that it subscribed to all the principles of the network and to all the things that TECs were trying to do.

I know that many business people throughout the land feel, I regret, somewhat cheated. They thought that, when Labour came in, it would not abolish TECs. They thought that it would seek to modify them, to build on their successes and, no doubt, to alter them at the fringes, but not to abolish them outright.

Sadly, there is no doubt that abolition is what the Bill is about. Again, I turn to my favourite text, written by the Government in such admirably clear language. I cannot believe that it managed to get past Mr. Campbell and Downing street. Page 5 of the explanatory notes states clearly: The Government issued contractual notices to TECs in England in July 1999 informing them that their licences will expire on 25 March 2001. As a result, no organisation will be able to trade as a TEC. That is outright abolition. There are no ifs, buts or maybes. It is an act of wanton vandalism, as my right hon. and learned Friend said. It is not a modification or reform of TECs: It is abolition.

Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central)

If the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that it is a wanton act of vandalism, why has the CBI welcomed the Bill?

Mr. Collins

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the CBI has said specifically that it wanted a majority of employer representatives on the learning and skills councils. The question to which I still await an answer from the Minister is why the Government have specifically rejected that advice.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the CBI on many occasions welcomed the establishment of the TEC network. It made it clear throughout the 1990s that it would not wish TECs to be abolished. Of course, the CBI recognises that the Government can decide to abolish TECs. It is full of business realists and will roll with the world as it is, but there is no doubt what their preferences are: an employer-led private sector organisation of the sort that the Government are abolishing, not the state-delivered system.

I mentioned that I would make a constituency point. The Bill deals with the future of the Further Education Funding Council and the new arrangements for that sector. There are two points. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead rightly addressed the concern that a number of us have: the Government seem to have a not particularly well hidden agenda to reduce the number of school sixth forms.

When my hon. Friend set out the strengths of the sixth form-delivered system of education, particularly in rural areas, a number of Labour Members expressed strong disagreement. They made it clear that they were happy to move towards a system of smaller numbers of larger deliverers of such organisational skills. They did not mind too much if rural sixth forms were reduced in number.

My hon. Friend gave many excellent reasons why that was to be regretted, but another should be brought up. Many of the best teachers in secondary schools find teaching in sixth forms the most exciting, intellectually challenging and desirable part of the job. If we take that away from them, undermine it or situate it on a different site, making it more difficult for them to do as much of it as they have, we will further demoralise the teaching profession, which, as we all know, under successive Governments, has been sufficiently demoralised as it is, with all the paperwork and so on that it must deal with. That would be much regretted.

Secondly, I mention the way in which colleges of further education are funded. My local college, Kendal college, is at the heart of a very rural area. I was talking to its principal, Michael Wright, a little while ago. He expressed great concern about the way in which rural colleges of that sort are disadvantaged, compared with urban ones. The way that he put the point was to say that, because they had been very successful through most of the 1990s in attracting increasing numbers of students, they now find that they cannot access much of the genuinely welcome additional resources identified by the Government because they do not have enough of the right sort of students in their catchment area.

That is a genuine concern for rural colleges. I am worried that the new arrangements set out in the Bill will bring about even more centralisation and uniformity. As a result, the small rural colleges—which, by definition, form a minority within the overall pattern—are likely to find themselves more disadvantaged.

I end by saying that I believe that the Government are genuinely trying to get this reform and modernisation right, and that some elements in the Bill are welcome. However, many other aspects betray the natural instincts of a party which—all the new Labour rhetoric notwithstanding—still believes that greater centralisation, state involvement and public sector control offer better provision than services that are led by the private sector and delivered locally. Such services were very successful in the 1990s; if they had been given the chance, they could have been the platform for even greater success in the first decade of the new century.

4.41 pm
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I welcome the Bill, whose proposals I consider necessary.

The first TEC was established in 1990, as has been noted. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who unfortunately has left the Chamber, seemed to be less upset at the Government's intention to change things than at their temerity in wanting to change what he had put in place. He seemed to be digging a large hole, and he should have stopped digging before his speech finished.

1 shall concentrate on TECs, but I shall also mention the Further Education Funding Council, established in July 1992 by the previous Government on the basis of a White Paper published in 1991 entitled "Education and Training for the 21st Century". The structure thus established did not produce what the country needs in terms of education and training for this new century. That is why I consider the Bill both necessary and timely.

The Government have recognised the serious flaws in the present system. I hope that my remarks will make it clear that I do not share the enthusiasm for TECs evident in the amendment and in the contribution from the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe. The Bill makes positive proposals for higher and further education, training, co-ordination, organisation and funding.

Some of the measures associated with TECs remain welcome. For example, the Investors in People awards are well respected, but the record of TECs with regard to training and skills can best be described as patchy. That failing has resulted from the fundamental flaws in the way that TECs were set up.

The first problem was that the previous Conservative Government were so blinded by dogma that they set up TECs as private companies. They were not to be connected, even in a formal way, with the public or the public sector, but were to be separate, private companies—even though they are funded almost totally by the public purse.

A full six years after the first TEC was established, the Select Committee on Education and Employment stated, in its 1996 report, that it was difficult to gain an overall impression of the scale of TEC funding and activity because they are so fragmented. I am sure that I do not need to remind the House of which party was in control in 1996 and to which party a majority of members of that Committee belonged. A full six years after the great innovation established by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, Conservative Members were admitting that no one knew where TECs were going, or how they were using their money. The Government are therefore well justified in wanting to get to grips with that unacceptable situation.

My experience is that nothing much has changed as we begin the 21st century. In my area, the demands of industry for training and retraining have not been met, and the skills gap is growing wider all the time. Recent figures show that the TEC in my area for years has been sitting on a drop-out and non-completion rate of 40 per cent. in its youth training programmes.

TECs have been notable for two other reasons. It is right that enterprise and enterprise activity should be given due prominence in training, but there has been a tendency to give it too much emphasis, at the expense of training. It is nice to have photographs in the press of presentations of Investors in People awards, and of other activities that colleges—quite rightly—undertake to gain public attention, but the day-to-day necessity of meeting, week in and week out, the training and skills demand of local industry and business does not get the headlines.

TECs have also been notable for building up their reserves which, in my area, amount to some £5 million. Given the gaps in the training on offer and the increasing size of the skills gap, it is legitimate to wonder what TECs are doing with such large amounts of money. When I asked that question in my area, I was told that it had to do with the TEC' s credibility as a private company. In 1998, the Public Accounts Committee criticised those levels of reserves.

The FEFC decides on recurring and capital funds, and how they are allocated to individual colleges. It has a duty also to monitor the use of those funds and the financial health of colleges. They have not exercised that responsibility satisfactorily. We have seen well publicised results of that, and the major further education college in my area has suffered.

There has been an expansion in the number of students coming into the sector, but that may have had more to do with the financial health of the colleges than with the needs of business, industry, students and local communities.

Those vital aspects have suffered as a result. The Government proposals for a new framework for post-16 education and training are of profound importance.

I offer the Government some warning signals. I know that they do not intend to do this, but we do not want the creation of TECs mark II. There are some worrying signs that that may be a danger. The local learning and skills council in my area is based on the same geographical area as the TEC. I recognise that it might be appropriate in some circumstances to identify "sub-regional" on a county basis, but that should not apply everywhere.

I appreciate the Government's determination to reduce the 72 TECs to 47 local learning and skills councils. However, those councils are critical, as they must work within a framework set down by the national Learning and Skills Council. That delivery, how resources are used and how the local learning and skills councils raise participation, attainment and skills in their area are vital to the process.

The Bill, the explanatory memorandum and the excellent document produced by the Library all contain references to the word "local", with reference to local needs, the local labour market, local FE colleges, varied local priorities, local development and innovation adapted to local needs—all the emphasis is on local. However, we need to define what we mean by local.

Staffordshire is divided into north Staffordshire and south Staffordshire—completely different areas. North Staffordshire is industrially based, and has had massive changes in its economic base. Some 94 per cent. of students in local FE colleges come from the north Staffordshire conurbation. In south Staffordshire, about 90 per cent. of FE students come from that area. There are distinct local needs in an area such as Staffordshire, which has about 1 million people. That will strike a chord with many hon. Members.

I am not advocating that we increase the number of councils, but it is essential that local learning and skills councils are monitored carefully. It must be made clear that councils must exercise flexibility that truly reflects local needs, which may differ widely within their areas. That is essential.

Although we have heard much from the Opposition about how important it is that training and skills organisations are business led, we have lessons to learn on that. I believe that, for dogmatic reasons, the previous Government set up TECs as private companies. In addition, at a time—the late 1980s and 1990s—when business and industry had effectively opted out of training, the previous Government gave the helm to the very people who had shown by their record that they were not really interested. That is why the previous Government are to be condemned. Businesses wondered what they were doing, and why, and that was a profound flaw.

When we talk about 40 per cent. of the membership of the local learning skills councils having substantial business and commercial experience, let us not, for goodness' sake, make the same mistake as the previous Government. We must not be beguiled by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), who reiterated the old, wasteful argument about public bad, private good. There should be a balance. I certainly reject the idea that the only way in which those essential services will be effectively delivered is by giving the private sector the lead. Many people in the non-private commercial and business sector, the public sector and the voluntary sector have the expertise to make this work.

I congratulate the Government on the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had the courage, in spite of vested interest lobbying, to recognise that the best interests of the country and our young people must come first. We will not go down the dogmatic road that was the tragedy of the previous Government by thinking that the only way in which the system will work will be to pass the whole shooting match over to the private sector and create private companies.

I wish the Bill fair speed. I look forward to the day that it becomes an Act, so that the social and economic well-being and requirements of this country and its young people in the 21st century can be achieved and met.

4.57 pm
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Notwithstanding the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson), I welcomed the contributions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) in their robust defence of TECs. Their remarks tied in with my experience of working with TECs in the west midlands—not as an employer, but as a Territorial Army officer, strangely enough.

Notwithstanding the achievement of TECs and the relative stability of the system, I found myself in sympathy with the early remarks of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), although I do not share his perspective. I come to the question of training as a profound sceptic. However good the partnership may be between the public and private sector and between employers and providers of training services, I do not believe that anyone can foresee with any accuracy industry's training requirements.

The raw material for a well-trained work force is a well-educated work force with a great deal of self-discipline. We require people who are sufficiently well educated to be retrainable at several points in their working life. The best mechanism for delivering that is the school. It is the best way of providing the core training that the work force will require is to be flexible.

That brings me to another concern about the Bill—the future funding of sixth forms. Those concerns were legitimately highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan). I have a fondness for sixth forms; I believe that they are the best mechanism for educating young people post-16. They give them an additional perspective—the ability to administer their juniors. That is of profound importance. It gives sixth formers an experience that they would otherwise lack. I know that hon. Members find that funny, but it is a traditional way of educating young people and giving them immense experience and self-confidence.

I dislike the Bill, but for two clauses added in the other place. First, there are arrangements to put an end to ballots on grammar schools, which bring a truce to that battlefield and stability that is long overdue. Secondly, I have, since coming into the Chamber this afternoon, developed a fondness for clause 117. I approach the clause as a sceptic because I have always doubted the advisability of teaching such things at all at school. The record has not been entirely successful. As I read the Bill, however, and found out what it actually represents, I have been increasingly admiring of it.

Clause 117(2)(a) says that pupils will learn about the nature of marriage as the key building block of society and its importance for family life and for the bringing up of children. That is entirely unexceptionable and desirable. Subsection 2(b) says that children should learn about the significance of stability in family relationships. Who could be against that?

Subsection 2(d) is what particularly impressed me, however. It seeks to ensure that children are protected from teaching and materials which a reasonable person would regard as inappropriate. That is an important requirement, and one that the Prime Minister supports. On his recent visit to Ayr for the by-election, the Prime Minister was—I cannot find the appropriate word—

Mr. Allan


Mr. Swayne

Indeed. He was very forthright in his criticism of what he regarded as the propaganda campaign mounted against his proposals. The Prime Minister said: I've just seen the posters here in Scotland. I don't think I've ever seen a more astonishing campaign in all my born days. People are being told their children will have to play—what was it?—homosexual role playing in school. No wonder parents are concerned. It's nonsense. No child is going to be given gay sex lessons in school. Not under this Government now. Not ever. I believe that the Prime Minister meant that, and that he believes it to be true, but he is wrong.

I know that the Prime Minister is wrong because the leader of Hampshire county council, Councillor Ken Thornber, told me two weeks ago of a case in Hampshire where precisely that had taken place. I have with me a document—"A Practical Guide to Challenging Homophobia in Schools"—produced by the health promotion service in Avon. This pack for teachers specifies, in the form of lesson plans, precisely the role-playing that the Prime Minister is so against and has said must never happen. He is right: it must never happen, but here, in my hand, it is.

I draw the House's attention to "Extra Lesson (I)", in which teachers are enjoined to attribute roles to different members of the class as follows:

  • a 16 year old disabled heterosexual Woman,
  • a 16 year old Asian Lesbian,
  • a bisexual fourteen year old Young Woman,
  • a female sex industry worker—
I think that that is newspeak for the oldest profession—
  • a male to female transgendered person,
  • a married Man who has sex with other men in secret,
  • a 62 year old Lesbian Woman,
  • a transvestite cabaret artist,
  • a Chinese bisexual 15 year old Young Man,
  • a married Woman who has sex with other women in secret,
  • a Black Disabled Lesbian who is also a wheelchair user,
  • 567
  • an Out Lesbian mother,
  • a 16 year old White Gay Man,
  • a Middle aged Gay Man,
  • a White Lesbian Teacher.

One is tempted to ask: what of the needs of the Aztec community in South Nerdley? Why has it been omitted from this litany of roles? Extra lesson plan II adds, for spice, a man "done for cottaging"—whatever cottaging may be—a "Bisexual Granny" and an "S & M Heterosexual Woman". Those roles are to be attributed to members of a class in a lesson so that they can fulfil those roles and have some understanding of the subject matter.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Does the list also include playing the role of an ordinary married couple? Does that feature anywhere in the lesson?

Mr. Swayne

My hon. Friend is entirely right to require me to have some balance in my remarks. I did not want to try your patience too much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I omitted some of the more mundane roles suggested. For balance, it is right to say that the roles of "Catholic Priest" and "Nun" are also available for playing, should children so wish. This sort of guide is precisely what the Prime Minister, rightly, wants to stamp out. Therefore, I was shocked by the Secretary of State's determination—he made himself absolutely clear in his opening speech—to remove the one feature of the Bill that I have grown to love as I have sat here—clause 179, which will get rid of this filth and nonsense. For that reason alone, I will vote to deny the Bill a Second Reading.

5.7 pm

Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester)

In following the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) all I can say is: thank God he is in opposition.

I begin by declaring my interest in the subject. I gained my professional qualifications from a further education college and I taught for six years at a further education college in the city of Worcester. In addition, I am secretary to the all-party parliamentary group on further education.

Today I am delighted to speak in support of the Bill and to receive the welcome news, first, that sixth form colleges and further education colleges will also get direct grant funding similar to that for schools announced in the Budget last week, and secondly, that from September 2000 Worcestershire will be an area that gains from the educational maintenance allowances. I have been in favour of that since my sixth form days and I am delighted that my constituents will benefit from it.

I remember when the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 passed through the House. I was teaching in FE at the time. I welcomed the fact that colleges would gain incorporated status and be freed from local education authority direction. If, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you had worked under the Conservative-controlled Hereford and Worcester LEA and the rulings of Dr. David Muffet, you too would have been glad to get rid of the control of the county council. Suffice it to say, all our hopes that funding for Worcester college of technology would rise to meet the national average were dashed because of core funding cuts under the previous Administration.

I shall press the Minister on a few points and raise some of the points that Opposition Members have also commented on. I acknowledge the longstanding interest of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) in this subject. With all due respect, I found his article in The House Magazine of 14 February a little hard to take, particularly his comment that there is a marked democratic deficit running through the Bill. I found that a bit rich because it was the process of incorporation that removed democratic accountability from FE colleges. There was no LEA accountability and, in my experience, no local authority representation on boards of corporations post-1992. Indeed, where staff governors had been directly elected to the governing bodies of FE colleges, they were booted out. I am pleased that local authority and staff governors are now on the corporation of my former college, even though they were selected by the college rather than directly elected.

Mr. Boswell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks about my article and for doing me the courtesy of reading it.

Is it not true that staff governors have been reintroduced under the current legislation? It would thus not have been impossible to include them previously. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what additional democratic control is imparted by the proposed legislation to a situation about which he has already expressed concern because of the alleged democratic deficit after the 1992 Act?

Mr. Foster

My point about the hon. Gentleman's article is that it is a bit rich for him to decry the democratic deficit when he was party to its creation. I accept that the current legislation allows for staff governors, but colleges' interpretation of it enabled them to get rid of such governors. The then Government were warned about that; for example, by my former union NATFHE—the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education. However, those warnings went unheeded.

I want to press the Minister on consultation with teaching unions and teachers. Will the new LSCs be able directly to consult, nationally and locally, teaching professionals, so that their concerns are taken on board and so that some of the abuses of the past will not become future failures?

I hold regular meetings with the principals of sixth form colleges in the west midlands—organised by the excellent principal of Worcester sixth form college, John Tredwell. The principal of King Edward VI college, Nuneaton, drew my attention to a matter that affects voluntary-aided sixth forms. Will the Minister confirm that the Bill deals with the anomaly that voluntary-aided sixth forms do not have incorporated status? That holds them back; they are not able to borrow and invest in facilities.

In the article to which I referred earlier, the hon. Member for Daventry wrote: Our major single concern is that…it— the Bill— may further increase bureaucratic pressures on those actually teaching and swallow up some of their funding. The LSCs replace three funding systems and more than 250 funding bodies by one route. That is hardly a sign of greater bureaucracy. The reforms will free up savings of at least £50 million a year—money that will be spent on learners. If the hon. Gentleman wants evidence of extra bureaucracy, he should ask colleges the following question: how many human resource managers, college accountants, property managers and administrative staff were based in colleges before incorporation, and what was the number afterwards? If Conservative Members are really so worried about bureaucracy, why has it taken them about eight years to notice it?

I was disappointed by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). She mentioned grammar schools and section 28, but she did not mention the current position of lifelong learning and educational achievements in the UK. No wonder—it makes depressing reading. The hon. Lady did not mention the 7 million adults who have no qualifications at all. Not once did she make a point about the one in five adults with numeracy and literacy problems, nor about the 170,000 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education or training and who do not have a job. The delivery of the hon. Lady's speech and the points on which she concentrated were wide of the mark in a debate on such an important Bill.

Those target groups are the ones it is most important to recruit for lifelong learning. During the past few years, marketing efforts have not been directed at those groups, but at those who already participate in education. I have seen at first hand the glossy prospectuses and the endorsing advertisements and leaflets that colleges produce. Indeed, as a course director, I have produced many myself. They were designed to show what a wonderful college I taught at, what great staff we were and how much students would learn from studying our courses.

All that was true. However, the marketing did not seek to address the need that I have described of the many; it served the self-interest of the few. I do not blame teachers and colleges for that. The demand-led funding formula, post-incorporation, drove colleges in that direction when their core funding was cut from them. It is now the job of those marketing skills to be turned away from competition and towards widening participation.

The Government have set a challenging target of increasing student numbers by 800,000. That represents a massive extension in the availability of education and training. However, given the position that I outlined earlier, that number is only a fraction of those in the target group.

I wish to draw to my hon. Friend the Minister's attention a case of successful lifelong learning. Last week, I visited Jaguar cars to see the Jaguar employee development programme, which has run since 1993. I met staff and workers, and I am grateful for the time and effort that they put in. In particular, I met people such as Ken Wilson who have made the scheme work. It is run along the lines of the Ford employee development programme, with employees offered funding if they wish to undertake education, training or development in their own time. Courses on offer for hourly-paid workers include advanced car driving, bricklaying, computing, degree and Business and Technology Education Council courses, electronics, languages, supervisory management, teaching certificates and welding.

It was reassuring to hear from the workers that reskilling works. Workers who started with no qualifications whatever have successfully completed their degrees and are now considering whether to take a master's course. I have always believed that if people get a successful taste of education—at whatever level they start—they will be attracted to lifelong learning. The workers whom I met last week and the evidence that they supplied me with totally confirm that view. The scheme is clearly a success. It is supported by the company and the trade unions, and it is worthy of Ministers' attention.

It is increasingly obvious that lifelong learning will not be formal classroom-based learning, but will be done at the time, the place and the point of access that workers need. That presents new challenges that the Bill, with its emphasis on partnership and collaboration, is well placed to deliver.

One challenge ahead of us is to improve not only the quantity, but the quality of provision. Professionalism and the highest standards possible must apply to all providers of education. The discussions surrounding a mandatory teaching qualification for all further education teachers are welcome—I speak as one myself—but it should be extended to all providers. I would like the Minister to assure the House on that.

In addition, there is a role for a professional body for those delivering lifelong learning. It should sit alongside the General Teaching Council and the Institute for Learning and Teaching for higher education. I have interviewed Lord Puttnam and I know that he will make a wonderful advocate for teachers. Lifelong learning needs a similar advocate with the same views about education.

It would be remiss of me not to mention salaries in further education. I am genuinely concerned that the salaries of FE staff should not fall behind those of lecturers in higher education or teachers in schools. If FE is going to deliver top-quality teaching, we will need high-quality teachers who are rewarded properly. In return, they should seek to deliver continually improving teaching.

Returning to partnerships, collaboration offers students a broad curriculum, with more courses and subject combinations. Courses can be provided more economically, particularly with regard to small classes. On the subject of class sizes and the Opposition's concern about sixth forms, I should like the Minister to give assurances on the relationship between school sixth forms and sixth form and further education colleges. In my experience, schools with sixth forms have not been particularly keen to allow colleges access to potential students—those who are in year 11.

Mr. Boswell

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's courtesy in allowing me to intervene again. Does he agree that one of the most important factors in brokering what is always a very sensitive relationship between co-existing sixth forms and colleges is access to independent guidance? It is particularly important that all young people have the opportunity to receive independent, out-of-school advice on the best life choices for them so that they can make that decision for themselves.

Mr. Foster

I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman has said, but numerous complaints were made to me about the barrier to access, and I should like the Minister to assure me that schools with sixth forms will in future be more open about the diversity and choice in local provision. It is the students who are important in the context of this Bill, not the structure.

Mr. Rowlands

My hon. Friend has touched on an important point, and I am listening with great care. The key is to remove the funding distortions, which in many ways determine choice and lead to defensive arrangements as between schools and colleges.

Mr. Foster

The Government have given assurances and sought to tackle issues concerning the funding disparity between sixth forms in schools and sixth form colleges.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead made a slur on sixth form and FE colleges when she said that she believed that sixth forms in schools give better pastoral support. I hope that she will now retract that statement or at least modify it.

Mrs. May

I did not say that FE colleges provided less adequate pastoral support. I said that school sixth forms provide services and support different from those of FE colleges. School sixth forms offer education services such as sporting facilities and the opportunity to be involved in drama, which are not generally available in FE colleges. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there are circumstances in which pastoral support in FE colleges is different—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot allow the hon. Lady to make such a long intervention. Back Benchers are waiting to speak.

Mr. Foster

I would welcome it if the hon. Lady came with me to Worcester sixth form college, which has excellent sporting facilities and all the pastoral support that she would want it to have. Having taught at Worcester college of technology and provided pastoral care, I was extremely concerned that she should correct her comment about that provision.

On partnerships and collaboration, I should like lifelong learning to offer a seamless service for students. They should see no difference when they move from adult and community education to further education and then to higher education. With that in mind, I am concerned about potential problems in the collaboration between colleges and universities, and I want those problems minimised.

Locally, I am pleased to say that the relationship between Worcester college of technology and University college Worcester has improved enormously, but tensions can arise when they are competing for student market share. Will the Minister consider giving local learning and skills councils a statutory duty to consult local universities as a way of ensuring that there is collaboration?

On a positive note, learning partnerships seem to have captured the imagination of local stakeholders. A couple of weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State attended the first lifelong learning conference for Worcestershire. More than 150 people attended that debate, and not all of them to hear my hon. Friend's speech. The meeting demonstrated the huge interest in and potential for getting things done at a local level. It involved collaboration from all quarters. It was refreshing to be involved in such a positive meeting, and it augurs well for the future of lifelong learning in Worcestershire.

Further education has been undervalued in the past. I have chastised hon. Members for referring to FE as a Cinderella service, even though I know that their sentiments are well meant. There is much good work in FE and I believe that the Bill seeks to improve upon it. If we are seriously to tackle social exclusion and if we want a highly skilled, highly trained, highly productive and highly paid work force, we must fully embrace the concept of lifelong learning, and I believe that the Bill is a perfect way to make progress.

5.26 pm
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I support the Bill because I believe that it represents bold enterprise. It is a modernising measure that is in tune with what we are trying to do as a Government. I welcome it also because it is an ambitious first attempt to deal with diversity and to develop an integrated system in further education and other areas.

For me, the Bill has four key aspects. The new Learning and Skills Council and its 47 subsidiaries will support education and training. They are there to promote enterprise and employability. They will be in place to deliver skills to business and crucially to regenerate economies on a regional basis and deliver a lifelong learning framework.

It is highly appropriate that it should be a Labour Government who bring forward this comprehensive measure. The Labour party brought the country the Open university. It also brought forward the university for industry. Throughout the century of the Labour party's history, from Kier Hardy through to Neil Kinnock's great speech in the late 1980s and on to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's own concentration today, it has been dominated by the vision of education its outreach to the many instead of the few.

The Bill is sorely needed because despite the advances in numbers that were made in further education under the previous Government, the Conservatives in that process veered between a sense of paternalism and having too much faith in what the market could provide. I exempt from that criticism the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who in his role as the Minister with responsibilities for further education was a significant supporter of that sector.

Overall, however, further education was like Topsy, it just growed. In the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and in exchanges with the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), we heard about the patchy provision under the Conservatives. There was a tremendous amount of overlap. To have 250 individual bodies with three different systems is no way to run a railway.

The Bill and the new structure was needed because we had to address the weaknesses of the training and enterprise councils. I am not saying that all TECs failed; they did not. However, the staying-on rate was too low. There was poor co-ordination and poor coherence and clarity between FE sectors. There was duplication and layering. There was also, as many hon. Members have alluded to, unequal sixth form and FE college funding.

Mr. Boswell

Is it not the case that historically British staying-on rates have been particularly low? There has been a secular improvement, which was further enhanced by the moves in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. We would all welcome a further improvement. I do not think that the present deficiencies can reasonably be laid at the door of the TEC movement.

Mr. Marsden

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree with his strictures about the staying-on rate. My point is that we need a new integrated structure to improve the staying-on rate still further.

I see the Bill as ending the divorce between education and skills and training, treating vocational qualifications seriously and providing a new, integrated youth service basis. The Bill recognises the importance of further education. It is right that we should move away from an unregulated approach which demands unattainable efficiency savings.

The Government have delivered the largest rise in further education funding. In my part of the country, the north-west, that is crucial. There are 63 further education colleges in the north-west, and 670,00 students are dependent on that education.

Because the Bill strengthens the importance of NVQs, secures the entitlement of 16 to 19-year-olds to education, builds on the education maintenance allowances—I welcome the announcement in that regard by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this afternoon—and recognises the growing importance of online distance learning, I agree with the chairman of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, who said that it was a new dawn for further education.

The Bill emphasises partnership, and I shall deal with partnership in four areas. On partnership between the learning and skills councils and business, it is crucial that we attract and involve businesses actively and retain them in the new LSCs, but we do not want people who are professional committee-sitters. The Confederation of British Industry rightly asked for close links, and the Federation of Small Businesses and the Small Business Service stressed the need for close links with LSCs. Enterprise and economic development strategies through those organisations must be delivered by that close link.

I am peculiarly conscious of that in a town such as Blackpool, where we do not have many large employers. The mainstay of our prosperity is still tourism, which is a micro-business. That is why it is extremely important that I have a college, Blackpool and The Fylde college, which is a beacon FE college, where tourism and leisure management training can go on. Such training is desperately needed in a low-skill industry and provides labour-intensive output for the economy regionally.

On co-operation between learning and skills councils and the regional development agencies, the CBI has warned that that co-operation must be interlocking, not overlapping. I echo that concern. I am reassured by what was said in another place by my noble Friend Baroness Blackstone, and by the commitments that the Government have given today.

A positive way to go forward, about which I have written elsewhere, would be for the new LSCs to deliver future local service agreements that might be brokered by the RDAs. Those agreements could be formal and binding on further and higher education colleges over a five or seven-year period, guaranteeing access to students without formal qualifications, in much the same say as the Open university does at present.

In addition, RDAs could have a role in supervising proper kite-marking schemes for access courses in particular, which currently operate with little regulation or input from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

With regard to local education authorities and their involvement with learning and skills councils, partnership between them is crucial. The Government were right to reject a quota approach, but whether at officer level or at the level of concerned and significant local councillors, there must be such involvement. I welcome the assurances in that respect.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) about the co-operation that will be necessary between the LSCs and the universities. Lifelong learning is a continuing process. As we continue to develop lifelong learning and the links between higher education and further education become more closely interwoven, the more important it is that the universities that are currently closely involved with further education, and the universities that have yet to take up their responsibilities, are properly involved in that process.

Baroness Warwick and Lord Dearing expressed concern about that on Second Reading in the Lords and were right to do so, but I am satisfied with the assurances given by Baroness Blackstone and such co-operation does not need to be dealt with in the Bill. However, it is extremely important that the example of Sunderland. Staffordshire, Lancaster and Portsmouth universities—all of which show a strong outreach commitment to the further education sector and to local schools—be encouraged and nourished under the new structures. If anyone doubts the need for that, I refer them to the Select Committee report on post-16 provision, over which the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), presided as Chairman.

ConneXions, the new integrated youth structure, has been mentioned by several hon. Members, but, because of the lack of time, I shall not dwell on it for too long. The advice in the social exclusion unit report, "Bridging the Gap", is crucial. Skill levels in Blackpool are low and a large number of younger people, particularly young families, who come from outside the town, feel socially excluded. The new service must deliver the support that is necessary, although I freely accept that there is a delicate balance to be struck between access for all and targeting the most needy. In targeting 13 to 19-year-olds, we must not neglect the needs of older lifelong learning students.

The Bill deals with the responsibilities for setting up and carrying through individual learning accounts. Many have rightly praised ILAs and the already significant take-up, and the new Learning and Skills Council should seize the opportunity presented by ownership to promote them further. They should be significantly expanded, as should corporate involvement in them, and existing Government contributions should be boosted considerably in the long term, perhaps to between £750 and £1,000. In line with the statements of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the possibility of levering in more money from business, with the appropriate reliefs, should be examined. It is vital that the new LSCs give employers and employees a stake in and ownership of continuous and lifelong learning.

The LSCs will be an important vehicle for boosting the life chances of the 20 per cent. of adults without basic employability skills. Updating skills in the work force is crucial to the role of the new Learning and Skills Council and there are two interesting and significant private lifelong learning initiatives in my area: British Aerospace's virtual university and, in my constituency, the online access provided by Horizon Biscuits. It is crucial to remember that more than 80 per cent. of FE students in the north-west are adults and a significant proportion learn and will continue to learn part-time. The LSCs will therefore have a crucial role in ensuring that there is quality learning for adults as well as for 13 to 19-year-olds.

My experience as a tutor with the Open university and the Workers Educational Association before being elected to the House convinces me that we cannot neglect that issue. More and more, further education is becoming a feeder for higher education. For example, as the young women in their 30s and 40s who live on the estates in my constituency go into further education and progress to higher education—not by going to a college three or four miles down the road, but by taking courses that come to them—the significance and relevance of that tie-up will become more apparent.

My hope for the second term of a Labour Government is that we will move towards universal free tuition to level 3 in education and training and further education. If that target seems too ambitious for the Government at the moment, I suggest that we employ that quintessential new Labour mechanism of pilot schemes in particular areas. Local learning and skills councils could usefully take up that torch.

The inspection regime must be vigorous and transparent. There are bad apples in further education, as in other sectors. Many hon. Members are aware of the problems. That underlines the need for rigorous inspection and expansion in this area. I support Ofsted's involvement. We must take stock of the excellent Select Committee report on Ofsted, under the chairmanship of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North. Intervention in this area is a balancing act, and should be in inverse proportion to success.

I accept what has been said about the role of the adult learning inspectorate, and we should ensure that Ofsted and the ALI can work together harmoniously. I am reassured that my hon. Friend and the Association of Colleges believe that there is a role under the new structure for rigorous self-evaluation. We perhaps need to go beyond the provisions of the Bill and consider how we can more rigorously inspect facilities for adults along the lines of the measures for 16 to 19-year olds.

The passage of the Bill in the House of Lords was distracted by the noises off about section 28 and grammar schools. I do not want to say a great deal about that. The only comment I would make is that I welcome wholeheartedly the commitment by Baroness Blackstone and the Secretary of State to reversing what the Lords have done. I support wholeheartedly what the Prime Minister said yesterday about resisting the forces that promote the retention of section 28. I am only sorry that some Conservative Members in this place have been associated with the bigotry and ayatollandom coming out of the House of Lords on this issue.

I believe that the Learning and Skills Bill offers a great opportunity. It should be used creatively as tertiary education expands rapidly and as globalisation increases. It is essential to have a framework that enables us to develop a seamless web of tertiary education. We can learn from the success of community colleges in the United States and their feeder mechanisms. We can end the damaging dichotomy between skills and education—between the mechanic's and the scholar's view of further education. The Bill balances both, and draws out innate abilities at all levels and all ages: that is its learning aspect. It also recognises the need for the continual renewal and recharging of skills to earn our way individually and collectively as a nation in the 21st century.

It is not a question of either skills or learning: we need both. At the heart of the Bill is a recognition of the age-old justification of education, which is to draw out people's innate abilities. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, but it is true and perhaps shameful that in the past further education has been described as the Cinderella sector. The good news is that Cinderella is being allowed to go to the ball, and is going to the ball for the benefit of the many, not the few.

5.44 pm
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I am tempted to say that I am following a lot of balls, but that is a reference to the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), not to his speech.

The name "Learning and Skills Council" is neither here nor there. It does not matter whether we call it a learning and skills council or a training and enterprise council. However, the way in which the councils are constituted and the responsibilities and powers that they are given are enormously important. There is no doubt that the Bill proposes sweeping change. That change may offer some benefits, but it also poses considerable dangers.

As for the constitution of the learning and skills councils, we are undoubtedly witnessing a very deliberate and determined process of centralisation. Allowing the Secretary of State, in the first instance, to appoint the learning and skills councils will provide an enormous opportunity for a Secretary of State to stamp his or her own ideological slant or to impose his or her own model on the process of post-16 learning and training. There are dangers there. We are potentially moving towards a much more uniform model of post-16 education.

Local learning and skills councils will be appointed by the national Learning and Skills Council. However, the national council will exercise that power with the Secretary of State's approval. It will be important to watch exactly how that process is conducted and what use is made of the powers of patronage and the power to control the make-up of those bodies—which will have enormous power in both schools and colleges across the country.

The proposed system will be more bureaucratic and centralised, and will allow less independence for further education colleges, schools and local education authorities. One of the perverse, slightly schizophrenic aspects of the Government's education policy is that they really cannot make up their mind about what they want to do with local education authorities. In the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, Ministers were determined to get rid of grant-maintained schools and to bring back power to local education authorities. In the Budget, they said that they do not trust local education authorities and that money will have to go directly to schools. In the Bill, funding of post-16 education in school sixth forms is being removed from local education authorities and given to learning and skills councils.

It is regrettable that the new councils will no longer be business-led, as TECs are. That causes some concerns.

Although it is not a black and white matter, I differ strongly from the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) on the distinction between skills and education. He seemed to regard the distinction as entirely spurious, but I think that there is some validity in it. In placing the whole structure of post-16 education and training under learning and skills councils, it is important that we do not risk according a lower status or less recognition to the non-vocational aspects of education. Vocational education occurs in school sixth forms, and non-vocational education occurs in colleges of further education.

Although that is right and proper, if we remove control of school sixth forms from local education authorities or from schools and give it to learning and skills councils, there is a danger that the councils' objectives—which may be far more biased towards the provision of vocational skills and education—may lead to a diminution of provision of non-vocational education. We need to be very cautious about that.

Perhaps it is a slightly old-fashioned view, but I think that it is important to say as often as possible, in the House and when debating education issues, that there is value in education for its own sake. There is value in non-vocational education that is not directly oriented towards training people for work or otherwise providing employment skills. There is a danger that the thrust of the Government's policy might take them too far in a direction that was probably first pursued by previous, Conservative Governments—the belief that all post-16 education should be about skills and jobs. It is slightly surprising that Labour Members have forgotten that danger, as they used to enjoy branding Conservative Members as philistines in these matters. It does not all have to be directly about skills and jobs. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that much important educational work is being done in the provision of the building blocks that can form the basis of vocational training.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) spoke about sixth form funding, a vital issue that the Government must get right. I would be more inclined to accept ministerial assurances about "levelling up" to the per capita funding currently available in school sixth forms were it not for the fact that I, like my hon. Friend, sat and listened to precisely the same assurances when we were told that when grant-maintained status was removed there would be a "levelling up" to expenditure in grant-maintained schools. That simply has not happened. Schools in my constituency lost £120,000 of revenue funding owing to the loss of grant-maintained status.

The Government assured us that the revenue of other institutions would rise, but that has not happened. If the same happened as a result of the transition from the current funding of school sixth forms to funding through the Learning and Skills Council, there would be considerable anger, and considerable problems for many sixth forms. Inevitably, some sixth forms involve a higher unit cost, given the need to maintain a varied curriculum for a relatively small group of pupils.

I have already raised in the House the current problems in the borough of Trafford, where the cost of providing the new post-16 curriculum is not being passed on to local schools by the local authority. That means a loss of some £400,000 a year to local schools with sixth forms, on top of the loss of grant-maintained status in the case of most of my local schools. If funding was levelled down, or if, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, sixth form numbers increased and funds did not increase commensurately, there would be a real problem.

What about the creation of new sixth forms? I return to the question of the objectives and priorities of the learning and skills councils. A very successful sixth form was established a few years ago in one of the high schools in my constituency, New Wellington school. It is developing and becoming an important part of the school; it is popular with pupils, and I think that it should remain. From my reading of the Bill, however, there is a danger that a learning and skills council taking an overview of post-16 provision in a certain area might favour one model of provision rather than another. It might prefer, perhaps for financial reasons, to enlarge colleges of further education, rather than continuing to fund sixth forms or allowing new ones to be established.

My constituency also contains a successful and expanding college of further education, South Trafford college, which is involved in a number of innovative programmes. It provides training in many other parts of the country and has a link with the Army. It is currently providing training in Harrogate. I would not like a loss of independence to restrict such entrepreneurial activity on the part of further education colleges.

The Bill states that learning and skills councils "may" provide funding for local education authorities for sixth form provision, but as far as I can see it does not require them to do so. There is a genuine fear—it is not scaremongering—that the equality of education currently being provided will not be guaranteed.

I shall conclude soon, because I know that others want to speak. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) talked about pastoral care. The principal of South Trafford college said to me last Friday that there are inevitable differences between the pastoral care available in a large further education college and that available in a school sixth form. Those differences are caused by the size of the college and the fact that it has a large number of part-time or older students, so a different kind of care is inevitably needed and provided. Even 16 to 18-year-olds sometimes choose to go to an FE college rather than a school sixth form because they want greater independence in the style of their education.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West, I found two aspects of the Bill that appealed to me: the provision that would have lifted the threat from the grammar schools in the borough of Trafford and the provision that would, in some measure, have compensated for the Government's planned repeal of section 28, which will allow the promotion of homosexuality through local education authorities. I was sorry to hear the Secretary of State make it clear this afternoon that he intended to use the Government's majority to delete both provisions from the Bill. I suspect that that intransigence may give the Government further problems when the Bill leaves this House. I hope that they are eventually prevailed upon to see sense.

5.57 pm
Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South)

Learning and skills, along with innovation and entrepreneurship, are the global currency of the new knowledge economy. Britain's future economic prosperity will depend on having a well-educated, highly skilled work force that can adapt to the massive changes in learning and work that will take place over the next decade or more. It is an indictment of the previous Administration that, in Britain today, more than 6 million adults have no formal qualification and more than one adult in five has a lower level of literacy than is expected from an 11-year-old. The glaring problem of skill shortages across the country, particularly at technician level, is also a result of their failure, which contributes to Britain's 25 to 40 per cent. productivity gap with France, Germany and the United States.

I am the first to admit that the best further education colleges and training and enterprise councils do a great job, but too often their performance has been patchy and disappointing. Drop-out rates in further education and in TECs are far too high. Qualification achievement rates in the FE sector vary from 34 per cent. to 94 per cent. In TECs, course completion rates vary from 40 per cent. to 70 per cent. We cannot afford to tolerate delivery systems that are at best flawed and second rate. Along with the expansion that we want in further education in the coming years, we need modernisation and reform. I am pleased that the Bill provides for that.

On Second Reading in the other place, Baroness Blackstone said: The LSC will focus on customer need, collaboration rather than competition, and on cutting out bureaucracy.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 878.] I fully share her sentiments. Given the limited time available, I shall make three brief comments.

First, it is a bit rich of the Conservatives to criticise us on the grounds that the Bill is bureaucratic. They introduced TECs, which, on average, spend 14 per cent. of their budget on administration. They have a TEC operating agreement that runs to more than 100 pages and monthly, if not weekly, reporting to the Government offices for the regions. Their agenda was strangled by the Conservatives.

However, I am acutely aware that we need to consider whether we can do things better across a range of Government initiatives. I use the analogy of whether we can put foot to floor faster.

Can we get better at moving from voting resources in the House of Commons to delivering them to people on the ground, whether they be students, trainees or workers? We need to look again at the Government model—the traditional civil service model. As a party, we have spent much time thinking about politics and policy, but we have not examined the system to get to the implementation level. Where new Labour thinking is needed is in ways of having a lean production model for getting benefits to those who need them most. I am optimistic that, through the Bill, we can provide a lean-burn model that shows how it can be done.

Secondly, on collaboration rather than competition, I have been around a number of FE colleges. In my local area, we have four FE colleges within six miles. They offer similar courses in mechanical and electrical engineering. All are under-resourced. All offer poorer-quality education and training for that. If they came together and offered one or two courses in a subject, they would be far more efficient. Each of the 10 FE colleges around the Birmingham area employs more people in marketing than Birmingham council did when it covered all 10. That cannot be an efficient use of resources.

We need to develop a system that offers real quality and choice. Across a range of areas, private sector providers already offer training courses that TECs contract with. We need to examine whether the private sector should offer some courses that have traditionally been offered by the FE sector: for example, information technology, law and accountancy. There is strong evidence that private sector training providers already offer courses of a far higher quality than the average further education college in those areas.

Thirdly, I focus on customer need. We need to talk about different types of customer. For the individual, there must be choice and quality provision. For employers, we need to ensure that, as customers, they get the skilled employees that they require and that local learning and skills councils reflect the skill needs in their areas. They need discretion to be able to do that.

There is a community customer need, too. I am concerned that some of the good things that TECs did in economic development should not fall through the cracks in the system. It is clear that learning and skills councils need an explicit local economic development agenda.

I could give chapter and verse on the number of instances where TECs have made a major contribution to local economic development, whether it be building partnerships, preparing business plans or providing resources to make things happen, which otherwise would not. They add value. One local example is Red House cone, which was originally used to make glass in my constituency. A £1.8 million project is in place, with funding from the European regional development fund, the heritage lottery fund, English Partnerships and English Heritage. It would not have happened without the TEC providing some resource, working with the local authority.

Britain faces enormous challenges as it competes in the global knowledge economy. We need modern, efficient delivery systems for learning and skills. I commend the Bill to the House.

6.4 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

The hon. Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson) and I were, in higher education and in Milton's words, although not at the same time, nursed on the self-same hill. It is a pleasure to follow him in such a debate.

My remarks will be brief and certainly briefer than some. I should declare two unremunerated personal interests and ask for one past position to be considered in mitigation. The first personal interest is that, although I doubt whether I am the oldest president of any youth club in the world, I am the president of the oldest youth club in the world: St. Andrew's club, which is within half a mile of the House. Secondly, I am the president—and I used to be the chairman—of the Conference on Training in Architectural Conservation. As a plea in mitigation, I should say that when I was Minister with responsibility for higher education 15 years ago, I also had responsibility for adult education and for the youth service. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), I did not have responsibility for further education or for sixth forms.

Like the hon. Members for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) and for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman), I speak as a London Member. As such, I was proud of the verdict in the 1997–98 report on the London training and enterprise councils from the Government office for London. It said that, in the preceding year, the London TECs had played a leading part in preparing the London development partnership's strategies for competitiveness and skills.

I was proud not least because, given the presence of seven TECs in London, the Department for Education and Employment had voted almost a third of its London budget to the TEC that covered my constituency. I can only regret that that substantial contribution to local economic development was a notable absentee from the "Learning to Succeed" White Paper published in June 1999.

Although my references to each will be brief, I propose to cover five topics in my speech. The first is funding and saving, as that is a national and overarching issue. The second topic is partly related—the substantial local flexibility which the Secretary of State has claimed that the Bill will confer. The third topic, and again it is partly related, is that of sixth forms. The fourth topic is adult education and lifelong learning, and the fifth and last is commercial and business involvement in the new councils.

I begin with funding and savings. The Secretary of State said in his statement on post-16 education made on June 30 last year that employers would be involved in spending £5 billion. On 14 December last year, he told a business audience in No. 10 Downing street that the Learning and Skills Council would have a budget of around £6 billion. An American once famously said, "A billion here, a billion there, and soon you're talking about serious money." No doubt he might give the same verdict on the question of a billion more or a billion less.

Lest the Secretary of State should himself enter a plea in mitigation that the upward statement of £1 billion was an accidental slip of the tongue, made when he was addressing a business audience on a private occasion, I should add that Department for Education and Employment press release 587/99 of the same day confirmed the figure of £6 billion. Yet the figure of £5 billion still appeared on the Department's website as recently as 27 March—this week. It would be helpful if the Minister who winds up the debate would either say which figure is right, or rationalise the discrepancy between them. Unless he does that, I must confess to a certain anxiety about the Secretary of State's personal housekeeping.

In the same statement on post-16 education in which he originally quoted the figure of £5 billion, the right hon. Gentleman compared the £5 billion to the £1 billion under which, he said, the TECs were operating. Given that the present TECs budget is more than £1.5 billion, that also looks like a discrepancy of some size.

That looseness with large figures necessarily increases one's anxiety about the savings figures quoted by the Government. We have already had the exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and the Secretary of State on the £300 million that the Government are expecting to claw back from those elements of the TEC reserves that are funded by the Department for Education and Employment. Some of us will follow the development of that narrative in the future with close interest, as a significant element of the Government's funding and savings scenario depends on it.

On the savings of £50 million, Baroness Blackstone told the House of Lords that the total was made up of £15 million savings in Government office spending thanks to the reduction in staff contracting with 72 TECs. The balance of £35 million would come from the reduction in local branch spending as the number of branches fell from 72 to 47. As the branches have shrunk by about a third, we assume that branch administrative spending was previously three times £35 million, or a little more than £100 million. That figure is another that needs to be verified in Committee.

In his answer to the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) of 14 December 1999, the Secretary of State claimed that the Bill would entail substantial local flexibility. In part, he predicated that claim on the 10 to 15 per cent. of the learning and skills budget that will make up the local discretionary budgets, whose definition of discretion has already been dissected by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. Whether the total budget will be £5 billion or £6 billion will make quite a lot of difference to the amount realised when 10 or 15 per cent. of the total is calculated. With a total of £5 billion, 10 per cent. would equal £500 million, and 15 per cent. £750 million; with a total of £6 billion, the same percentages would come to £600 million and £900 million, respectively. When I was the Higher Education Minister, I would have commissioned a mass out of my own pocket if I had been given an extra £250,000 to spend on adult education nationally.

In that capacity, I was also the chairman of the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education. Our Government created that body to introduce some rationalisation into local authority-funded higher education, but I would never have claimed among its attributes that it conferred substantial local flexibility. Nor would I have said, as the Department press release 473/99 said on 28 October 1999, that key decisions would be driven from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.

On sixth forms, I echo what my hon. Friends have said—notably my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead—about different streams of funding, which historically has been one of the antipathies to Treasury conventional wisdom. I want to dwell for a moment on per capita funding for sixth forms. The permanent secretary at the Department revealed at a conference of the Society of Education Officers, reported by BBC News Online, on 3 August last year that what became the Learning and Skills Council prospectus safeguard—that a schools sixth form budget would not reduce in real terms provided numbers were maintained—does not ensure that sixth forms with increasing numbers will continue to receive the necessary resources, since the permanent secretary had said that per capita funding would not be included.

The LSC only delegates funds for sixth forms to local education authorities for local decisions by them, but its power does involve closing down sixth forms—rather as the mayor of London can only call in planning decisions, and not press for good, but controversial, planning decisions to be supported.

When I lived in the United States 30 years ago, the front page of the Wall Street Journal reported that the recession had become so severe that the mafia had had to lay off two judges in New Jersey. I would not want to carry the analogy too far, but, in this transfer of overall sixth form funding to the LSC, there is a flavour of the mafia being invited to fund neighbourhood watch schemes at a headline level.

On adult education and lifelong learning, I should declare a further family interest, in that my great-uncle, Sir Graham Balfour—chief education officer for Staffordshire and one of the first CEOs to be knighted—chaired the great report on adult education that the Government commissioned immediately after the first war, and my family were close friends with Albert Mansbridge, who dandled me on his knee as a child, but who played a rather more remarkable part in the history of adult education.

I draw to the House's attention the fact that the Bill appears to contradict the learning and skills prospectus, which was published two days before the Bill. The former, notably in sections 4.3 and 4.4, draws attention to the way in which the age profile is rising in the labour force, even over the next 10 years, whereas the explanatory notes for the Bill make it clear that the LSC will give priority to meeting the learning and skills needs of a younger age group.

That goes some way to dilute the high-minded remarks in the prospectus about older learners, when it says: we want the learning and skills council to ensure that high-quality learning opportunities are available to meet the needs of all learners across the range of abilities and aptitudes. The Bill says, more bleakly—in Procrustean mode—that the opportunities for older people are to be of a quality and quantity which the Learning and Skills Council can reasonably be expected to provide taking account of the resources available to it. This underlying attitude was also pinned down when I was the only Member of Parliament to attend a feedback of the university of Lancaster's review of the two past decades in higher education in the UK, which was funded by the EU. We were the one large-country study in a multi-country project. A consultant to the review, who is also a frequent consultant to the Department, said that it was a matter of concern that, in all the current talk of lifelong learning, no significant effort was going into finding out what lifelong learners actually wanted to learn about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) made some effective play with the commercial and business involvement in the councils. The Secretary of State said on 28 October last year that a minimum of 40 per cent. of the membership of both the national and local councils will be those with recent experience in business and commerce, and he said immediately afterwards that the chairman of the national council and the majority of local council members will similarly have had recent business and commercial experience.—[Official Report, 28 October 1999; Vol. 336, c. 1079.] The second quotation—which was in the same sentence as the first—clearly expands the first. However, I appreciate that there may have been a slip of the tongue in the Hansard of the day—later corrected—and that what the Secretary of State meant was the majority of local council chairmen. The briefing issued for the debate by the TEC national council states that there will be 40 per cent. business representation, but that is a case of "put not your trust in princes". As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale indicated, Baroness Blackstone resisted Conservative amendments in the Lords to enshrine in legislation the chairmanship and membership commitments that the Secretary of State gave the House on 28 October last year, and said that they should not be written into the Bill.

Let me make a final plea that the chief executive of the council appointed should be independent of the Further Education Funding Council and the TEC movement, and should have a decent experience of work-based learning.

I wish this sector of education well, and want to give it the best possible chance of success.

6.15 pm
Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

In Bristol recently, within the space of one week, I met two groups of young people. They were in their late teens and early 20s, men and women. The first group was homeless. They had been sleeping on the street, and some were involved in drug abuse. Courageously, they were beginning to find their way back into the wider community. They were beginning to feel confident again, talking to other people and finding their way into their future.

The second group were "live wires", so-called because they were competing for a young business award of that name. With courage, they were stepping into the future and gaining confidence. They were setting up in business—a good business, that they were proud to explain.

The contrast was enormous. The first group on the street was literally on the pavement. The second group on the street had a business address. If we were to analyse the reasons for that, they would be complex and personal. It is too easy to make generalisations. However, the first group is part of the 170,000 young people who have slipped through the net and who have been failed by the present system. I would like to draw briefly on the elements of the Bill that will better serve that group of young people. Before I do so, let me also declare an interest—an interest of enthusiasm. I am an unpaid member of the board of Learning Partnership West in Bristol, which deals in the main with the careers service in the Avon area.

The TEC system—the proud legacy of the previous Government—was fragmented. It did not celebrate the diversity that we want. It was underfunded and, in many cases, inappropriately funded. It was based on individual institutions, not local area needs. It met the needs of high fliers rather than those of lesser ability who needed more basic skills. The new approach looks in particular to the needs of 16 to 19-year-olds from a more disadvantaged background, who would otherwise be less likely to succeed.

I was delighted by my right hon. Friend's announcement today of the extension of the education and maintenance allowances. I look to a third-phase development, when Bristol will be included.

The work of ConneXions and its progress are crucial to the Bill. I know that the careers service and youth support workers have identified that they will still need to make a general provision to serve all the young people in that age range—some 4 million. However, they do not demur from focusing on those with particular need.

I want to say a word about the youth service and its ability to make contact with these young people. We have talked about the wonderful range of qualifications that will be available under a more integrated and collaborative scheme. However, many young people are not connected. The youth service will provide a bridge, giving young people the standard of having to turn up on time for an evening meeting once or twice a week, making contact and having a meaningful conversation.

The young people whom I met who had been on the streets of Bristol said that they did anything to gain safety and security during their first six months of contact with an adult. No matter how apparently supportive those adults were, the young people told them what they thought they wanted to hear. Time and mentoring are needed. Imagination is required, and youth and community workers often give that imagination to their work with young people.

The young people said that they were looking not for expertise, but for people whom they could trust. I want to turn that statement on its head. The Bill, through the youth service and other mentors, will offer people of experience who will trust young people. Every young person has much to offer, and the aspect of ConneXions which we should celebrate is that we shall take account of the views of young people. We can pontificate in the House as long as we like, but unless we get alongside young people and listen to their needs, we shall fail them yet again. The Bill brings new opportunities, and it will enable young people to be heard. Many more of them will succeed as a result.

6.22 pm
Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

I have listened to as much of the debate as possible and have found it most interesting. Like the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey), I am a member of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, and have worked through two reports into further education—one under the able chairmanship of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks).

I hope that the Minister will be the first to recognise that the really great achievement of further education over the past decade came in 1992, when we liberated FE colleges from the dead hand of the local education authorities. In many cases, colleges had been held back, not being given enough funding or an opportunity to deliver as much, or as effective an education, as they were capable of giving. In a written reply to me a couple of months ago, the Minister confirmed that, between 1992 and 1997, the number of full-time equivalent students funded by the Further Education Funding Council increased from 860,000 to 1,084,000—nearly 30 per cent. more students.

By comparison, the Labour Government's more modest aim was half that increase. They intended an increase of not 200,000 but barely 100,000 full-time equivalents over the course of this Parliament. I am disturbed to note that they are in no way achieving even that. It is another case of the Government's being all mouth and no delivery. I asked the Minister about the number of full-time equivalents in our FE colleges since the Government came to power, and, with a bit of cavilling, he eventually admitted that it had dropped by 1 per cent. last year. Fewer people are in further education today than there were when the Government came to power.

The Government have spoken of hundreds of thousands—the Prime Minister mentioned half a million, and 700,000 was mentioned on another occasion—but the numbers are actually down over the first two years by more than 1 per cent. Far from being on course to deliver, they are on course to disappoint hundreds of thousands of people who would depend on further education for their best chance in life—the chance of job with a future.

The Minister gave franchising as an excuse for his Department's failure. Interestingly, several hon. Members have said how they value the role of the private sector in contributing to training and development. They recognise that alliances between the private sector and further education colleges can deliver results. We should not be surprised by that because, in the first report of the Select Committee, that is exactly what the all-party group found. It stated: We believe that high quality franchising can play a valuable role in the FE system, because of the way it can increase participation, extend access and contribute towards a more skilled workforce. The Minister himself became Chairman of that Select Committee. Yet, when he reverts to his partisan political role, he sings a different tune. In his reply to me he talks about the unacceptable aspects of franchising which grew up under the previous administration. The Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot, with his colleagues on the all-party Select Committee, applaud the achievements of the FE sector, which must include the vital role played by franchising, and then try to get away with excuses for his Department for failing to deliver further places.

When the Select Committee delivered the report, we recognised that there was an element of curtailment in franchising because, when we Conservatives were in power, we ended the demand-led element of funding for franchising and in doing that, we acknowledged that there would be a drop in the numbers in further education. When the Prime Minister and the Ministers pledged to increase the numbers in FE by up to 700,000, they knew that this curtailment of enfranchising was in the pipeline. Therefore, it is no excuse now to say that, because of the drop in the numbers in franchising, the target cannot be achieved. The Government must achieve their target knowing now what they knew then—that the numbers in franchising might drop in this period.

We are entitled to ask how, from this stage, the Government can achieve a 10 per cent. increase in full-time equivalent numbers in just over a year. Is it wise to aim still for an increase of 10 per cent? Can the quality of courses be guaranteed by achieving such a massive increase in such a short time? Again, we see the Government talking high numbers, but failing to deliver and not having any clue how they will get there.

The other aspect of the Bill that disturbs me is the instinct for conformity which, I am afraid, is the hallmark of the way in which the Secretary of State runs his Department. He wishes to destroy diversity in our education system rather than build it up. He wants to destroy grammar schools rather than preserve what is good in the education system that they represent. Now, he has set his sights on the sixth forms in schools, which are a vital part of the diversity of our provision.

Let us be clear about the difference in funding between sixth forms and FE colleges and sixth form colleges. The differences are only a few per cent. As the Select Committee report made clear, there is a difference of 4 per cent. per year of funding for students in sixth forms in schools as opposed to sixth form colleges and of 7 per cent. between sixth forms in schools and FE colleges. If one looks at the post-16 provision overall, there is still greater diversity of funding between different colleges offering the same course in different areas.

As the history of the sector since 1992 demonstrates, it is not the amount of money put in that counts, but the sum that we get out. We did not put a great deal more money into the FE sector, but we got out of it a 30 per cent. improvement in the quality and quantity of courses that were being delivered, and that measurably closed the skills gap. This Government are putting in more money, but getting less out. With their agenda on skills, without extra effort and concentration, we will see a widening of the skills gap, particularly in areas such as mine, where the curtailment of the careers service means that children thinking how best they can serve in the fast lane of Britain's economy are not getting the advice that they need if they are to give society what they want to. The Government's short-sighted treatment of the sector will undermine the aspirations of such children. The Minister has much to answer for, when he deals with those points.

6.30 pm
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

In general, the debate has been good-natured and informative. Many Members on both sides of the House share a strong personal commitment—as I do—to further education, to appropriate vocational routes and to the engagement of all young people in the high-quality development of their abilities.

I do not normally think of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment as a mad axeman, although he has taken on that role in the execution of the TECs movement. Even though he may be generally well-intentioned towards adult education and the 16 to 19 sector, it is possible to do much damage by accident or inadvertence.

To pursue the analogy of cutting, the hon. Gentleman would do well to remember the dictum of the mediaeval philosopher Occam, who said that entities should not be multiplied beyond what is strictly necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made a most distinguished speech, when she opened the debate for the Opposition. She analysed in some detail the additional bodies that would be created and that would overlap or interlock—according to the jargon.

Perhaps my hon. Friend did not make enough of the point that consultation will be necessary with the private sector or with non-government organisations. For example, liaison will be needed with employers, with trade unions—who are major education providers—and with the voluntary sector. The Government have not told us much about the local learning partnerships either. Only Uncle Tom Cobbleigh has been left out of my list.

Even if we make the heroic assumption that there is nothing wrong with the Bill—not many of us would want to do that—there is a danger that practitioners in further and adult education, who work long hours for little remuneration and who sometimes have to deal with demotivated or disadvantaged people, may be so busy understanding the new regime, filling in forms, coping with consultation exercises and clarifying the interacting or sometimes mutually exclusive policies from the players in the jigsaw that they may not get around to doing much teaching. If we add to that the problems of those from the world of business, who may feel that the new arrangements will leave them with nothing much worth doing, we have a recipe for failure.

I do not want to overstate the case. There will not be a dramatic or catastrophic collapse. However, the slow atrophy of the sector may be a greater danger—an ebbing of life, enthusiasm and activity.

The Secretary of State graciously acknowledged the amount of staff work that had gone into the measure and the contributions of the predecessor bodies that will be extinguished or transmuted under the Bill. There were many worthwhile contributions from hon. Members, so the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will go away from the debate with some understanding of the increased complexities of the matter—if with nothing else.

There were some distinguished contributions from Labour Members; it would be invidious to list them. I hope that those Members who have even a smidgen of criticism will be able to participate in Committee.

I was delighted to hear the speeches of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). Both of them emphasised the vandalism being done to the TEC movement.

My hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) made serious contributions on the impact on school sixth forms and other school provision.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) concentrated on their experiences. My right hon. Friend referred to his administrative experience as a Minister. Both spoke about some of the practical implications of the measure for further education.

All the contributions should have given the Government food for thought. They tie in with the formal consultation exercises that are still proceeding in some depth and with what I might describe as the mega-consultation exercise that took place recently in their lordships' House when it considered the Bill. That consideration has given the Government occasion to think and a considerably bloody nose in respect of section 28 and grammar school ballots. It remains to be seen what will happen in practice on those matters.

To be fair, a number of useful changes were made, and assurances received from Government, in the other place. However, it is clear to Members of this House that many people—not necessarily card-carrying ideologues of any kind—remain dissatisfied at best or, in some cases, deeply unhappy with the Bill's provisions. I do not want to overstate the nature of any of the objections received, but in the past 24 hours I have received further representations from, among others, the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, the four designated London colleges and the Institute of Careers Guidance. We have also to receive further comments from the national open college network.

Some interesting exchanges took place in the debate about which I can offer some expertise of my own. I live 300 m from both a county and a regional boundary, and interesting points were made about cross-border collaboration between local learning and skills councils areas. The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) also referred to sectoral issues in relation to specialist colleges.

It should be clear to everyone that much needs to be done. I hope that the Government, who have not started too well in this House by rushing in Second Reading a mere week after the Bill concluded its passage in the other place, will not rely on their large majority to ram the measure through. I hope that they will accept in humility that there is a great deal to do even to make the Bill workable, let alone successful.

I return to our strategic objections, which are set out in our reasoned amendment. I would like briefly—although others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, did so more eloquently—to remind Ministers that the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 provided a structure that paved the way for success. However much the point is argued, we increased further education enrolments by 1 million and we freed further education institutions to pursue their mission. All the waffle about franchising and real concerns about quality in some cases cannot take away those substantial achievements. They have not yet been matched by the present Government.

With a fanfare, Ministers have recognised—I would have told them this for nothing three years ago if they had asked me—that there were certain anomalies in the funding and the delivery of education for 16 to 19-year-olds and for adults as well. No first-class honours degree will be awarded for noting the anomalies. However, Ministers have reacted not by seeking a sensible measure of evolution, by building on the framework that had been set or by adopting a genuine partnership approach, except in nominal terms. The Government's idea of a partnership is a compulsory one. They rely on the press release and the White Paper, which pose more problems than they resolve. It is not joined-up but kit-form government.

First and foremost of our concerns is the issue of bureaucracy, to which hon. Members have referred, and that is coupled with the reference to central control. We know that giving independence and their own governance to further education colleges, within the framework of the public sector and continued public financing for the greater part, worked in responding to local labour market demands and in meeting the needs of students. We do not need a local learning and skills council to tell us that. If the new councils are to estimate, for example, how many hairdressers are required by the local economy, that is useful information for further education colleges. However, if that means that the councils say that they will not fund more than 85 places in a region because that is their calculation of what is required, we shall end up in a sad old world of micro-management and manpower planning. That will have the same lack of success as always accompanies that approach.

Training and enterprise councils draw on business for two thirds of their membership and actively involve senior business players. If TECs are destroyed and business participation is shrunk to a notional and uncertain commitment to 40 per cent. membership of local learning and skills councils, which themselves are a branch economy or wholly owned subsidiary of a national body, we are unlikely to get the same positive response from business.

At best, the first year or two after the changeover next April are likely to be dominated by issues about the split of assets, the reconstruction of private sector chambers of commerce where they have been merged with TECs—as they are in my county; there are 16 in all—and the renegotiation of local partnership agreements, particularly where they cross existing TEC boundaries or the new local learning and skills council boundaries.

Business is not the only sector that the Government have upset. It has become clear in recent weeks, not of course in statements to the House but in briefing by Ministers, that the Government are, to put it mildly, increasingly disenchanted with local education authorities, and it is reasonable to infer that they may have an agenda for progressively eroding LEAs' powers. The Bill alters the basis for sixth form funding, but it also threatens adult and community education and the youth service outwith the ConneXions operation.

The threat to sixth forms is separate from, but not unrelated to, the grammar school issue, and those matters are at the centre of our concerns about the Bill. The Minister occasionally gives us helpful written replies, and I received one from him on 20 March about the percentage of pupils achieving grades A to C in schools with a sixth form and without a sixth form in England—there are roughly equal numbers of each. That test, which strictly has nothing to do with sixth forms, showed that there was a huge disparity of 9 percentage points. The figure was 49.9 per cent. for schools with a sixth form and 40.9 per cent. for those without. That convincingly demonstrates that the benefits of sixth forms can spread by osmosis throughout the secondary school, and that is certainly my local experience.

We know that there are great benefits for certain pupils in having the transition from compulsory to post-compulsory education handled within the school framework. They may perhaps lack the confidence to go to college or they may live, as many of my constituents do, scattered over a rural area. In addition, much of that sixth form provision also provides a basis for the conduct of local adult education courses.

By 2003, there will be the flimsiest of safeguards for sixth forms as the money will be top-sliced through the Learning and Skills Council. Any fall in pupil numbers, any expansion in numbers where the unit funding is scaled down or any decision on inadequacy under schedule 7 will lead to the extinguishment of the sixth form in question.

That brings me on to the inspectorate. We will end up with two and a half inspectorates and many anomalies in the provisions for 16 to 19-year-olds. The Government are not prepared strictly to follow their logic to its conclusions and to extend Ofsted's remit to the training of young people in the workplace. I am not saying that they should do so, but that is an example of continuing untidiness.

Other hon. Members have talked eloquently about the exclusion of young people. I do not want the House to feel that we are not interested in those issues. The Government will not solve the problems simply by announcing that there are many people on whom they want to concentrate and that there will be a new service called ConneXions to deal with them and personal mentors if they can be recruited on a basis that has not been fully established. There are many difficulties involved, including fitting that service in with school provision and ensuring that there is adequate careers teaching and guidance. I am deeply worried, as are my colleagues, that the new ConneXions service may well amount to a service for the socially excluded rather than one available to all pupils. I know of no better way of consolidating social exclusion than by categorising teenagers as "in" or "out".

The best that can be said of the Bill is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Perhaps the worst but one comment that I could make is that it will be buried under a pile of bureaucracy. I still feel that there is a strategic failure of imagination. The Government have noticed that there is an administrative problem and an education problem for 16 to 19-year-olds, particularly when the emphasis is put on social exclusion. Yet there is no context for this. There are some moves to look back on the earlier compulsory school years, but that needs a more vigorous approach in relation to curriculum reform and development, and the resources to match them.

There is scant reference to the further transition to higher education, which is already a normal option for many young people, and central to any programme of lifelong learning. There should be a vision of continuing professional development, adult learning and the learning society, and it is not really in the Bill. For all the pretensions of Ministers and for all their claims, this is work in progress. Some of it is perverse, some of it will not help and some of it is certainly speculative. We have expressed our doubts in our reasoned amendment and we shall be opposing the Bill shortly.

6.46 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks)

This is legislation for the 21st century. I believe that the 20th century will be seen essentially as one where we took the education of children seriously for the first time and recognised the state's obligation. We all know that that agenda is still a lively and active one under the Government. In this century, however, school education will be complemented increasingly by learning and skills over the life cycle, enhanced academic and vocational education opportunities for young people, skills for those of working age, and adult education. That is the sheer joy and challenge of education. It applies not least to those in later life as we appreciate that the silly term "retirement" becomes increasingly a new learning zone for older people. It is fitting that the Bill has been introduced in the first months of our new century. It represents a new policy for a new century.

We have had a useful and wide-ranging debate. I think sometimes that those who belittle the House should occasionally listen to it at its best, which I think we have seen today. There has been consensus about the need for change. I am pleased that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that skills and lifelong learning must underpin our drive for a knowledge-based economy.

The Government's vision is clear. We believe that learning is crucial in offering the right start in life and in allowing people throughout their lives to improve their employability, to play an active role in local communities and to help secure the economic prosperity of our country. Learning becomes a common currency throughout the life cycle for the six-year-old, the 16-year-old, the 46-year-old and perhaps for those aged 86 or 96.

It is clear, too, what principles should be at the heart of our system for delivering this vision. We must break down the unnecessary barriers between different funding and planning regimes, which are a recipe for confusion, waste and lost opportunity. We must replace them, as we will, with a single system for all post-16 learning and skills. We must put the consumer—the learner—at the centre of the system. That is why we want employers and individuals to lead, not to provide for us. The Bill is about demand and need, not existing supply. We must equip businesses and our citizens if we are to create the inclusive society.

We must work in partnership with employers and the public and voluntary sectors to build on what is best in our current approach to learning. There are many existing strengths on which to build, and I shall emphasise them. We must combine the benefits of a single unitary system guaranteeing consistency and coherence for employers and individuals with local decision making and flexibility. The system must be strong at the centre and at local level. The Bill is at the centre of our vision. It offers the prospect of a real change of culture in both England and Wales.

The Bill is a fine example of how the National Assembly for Wales can work with Government Departments in Westminster to meet the needs of the Welsh people. It contains radical and important provisions for the reform of post-16 education and training in Wales. Many of the provisions are similar to those for England, but there are important differences, reflecting the circumstances of Wales and the views of the National Assembly. We will have an opportunity to debate the provisions in Committee. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), will join me in Committee to deal with the detailed points raised by hon. Members.

I cannot respond to all the points made today, but I acknowledge the thoughtful contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). He said much about training programmes and described the Bill as sensible, but there is much to reflect on in his speech.

The Liberal spokesperson, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), also made a thoughtful contribution, pointing out the connections with regional development agencies, the Small Business Service and national training organisations—important matters for us to take up in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) highlighted the plight of the 170,000 young people not in education, training or work, and she mentioned the particular circumstances of London.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) produced a robust defence of training and enterprise councils. We agree about many of the strengths of TECs, although our critical analysis would be somewhat different from his.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) focused on the 16-to-19 age group and spoke about the good results achieved at the William Morris academy in Fulham—William Morris being someone who understood both the academic and the vocational aspects of education.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) recognised that TECs were imperfect. He mentioned centralisation, a subject to which I shall return.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) spoke about the problems of the existing system and emphasised the importance of training.

I missed the opening of the speech of the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), but I shall read it carefully in Hansard. He then went into the somewhat strange and the bizarre, and I shall need to read that with a cool glass of water, so that I can understand the full significance of his point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), whose constituency I visited recently, focused on the essentials of the Bill and the importance of further education, and raised some important questions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) made important comments about the links between higher education and further education, and the increasing importance of further education as a route into universities.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) made an interesting contribution, drawing on the experience of his own constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson) focused on delivery, which is a vital issue for us to consider in Committee.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) raised important points about the funding of the new system. I will write to him with a detailed response. I hope that he will forgive me, but I do not have time to reply now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) stressed the importance of young people, the need for a proper deal for them and the need for us to hear their voice.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) raised some challenging points about further education numbers. We have a robust answer, which will have to be given in writing because of the shortage of time. I hope that he will forgive me for that.

I take this opportunity of thanking all the bodies that have done such good work in recent years. They include the TECs, the further education colleges, the youth service, the careers service, the local learning partnerships which are developing so well, national training organisations and many others. Of course we are not abolishing good work. We are looking forward, not back. We will build on good experience in order to produce comprehensive best practice across our country.

I shall deal with some substantive points. Much of the concern expressed from the Opposition Benches was about school sixth forms. The cat has been let out of the bag. We have a document, a letter on Conservative party paper, from the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). It is being sent to schools, I understand, and here it is: The Conservative Party will shortly be launching a campaign to support the retention of school sixth forms. I could not understand why we were hearing gross scaremongering, which will frighten many parents in our communities, instead of constructive opposition. Here we have a crude Conservative party campaign, complete with illiterate questionnaire: Questionnaire for Headteachers whose school have a sixth form. We shall have to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor whether the literacy hour can be extended to Tory Front Benchers, such is their illiteracy.

Let us state the truth about school sixth forms. The best do a superb job and many achieve excellent exam results, but under the last three years of the previous Tory Government funding for secondary schools, including those with sixth forms, was cut by £200 a pupil in real terms. Although we shall defend excellent and good school sixth forms, it is only right to take seriously the opportunity presented by the Bill to take action when school sixth forms fall well short of the standards of education that young people need to succeed in the modern world. Our priority is the decent education of young people in sixth forms—whether in sixth form colleges, further education colleges or schools—and good school sixth forms will be maintained and improved under the Government.

There has been much false talk about centralism from the Opposition. We want a Learning and Skills Council that is strong at the centre and strong locally. For the first time, two funding streams—£6 billion—will come together to enable us to consider education and training. Local LSCs will have not only a 10 to 15 per cent. discretionary spend, but a big say over the whole 100 per cent. in making local decisions about how national strategy affects local communities. The LSCs are about local people making local decisions. That is at the heart of our concern.

As for bureaucracy, we are replacing three funding systems and 250 funding bodies with one streamlined route, which will mean less red tape, shorter contracting chains and greater consistency. The £50 million saving means a £95,000 saving for each and every constituency. We are not prepared to spend money on bureaucracy, as the previous Government did. We are spending it on front-line learning. Surely that is the absolute priority. The ConneXions service is equally important and it is high time we built on good practice to offer all 13 to 19-year-olds proper advice and guidance, but there will be a special focus on the most disadvantaged.

These are new policies and funding streams, and we deal with three major areas: young people aged 16 to 19, skills for those of working age, and adult and community education. That policy is at the heart of our economic strategy because it deals with learning and skills and the knowledge-based economy, but as important for some of us is the fact that it is also at the heart of our social policy. It is about inclusion, the fair society, decent options for young people, and equal opportunities for those with learning difficulties and for others, not squandering the talents of too many of our young men and women. This is an equal opportunity measure—a clear national policy—but local people will make local decisions.

Our policy is fit for the 21st century. Why? Because education is the liberator for the individual, because learning empowers the community and because skills become the engine for economic development. With enthusiasm, I commend the Bill to the whole House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 119, Noes 280.

Division No. 133] [6.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Key, Robert
Baldry, Tony King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Bercow, John Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Beresford, Sir Paul Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Blunt, Crispin Lansley, Andrew
Body, Sir Richard Leigh, Edward
Boswell, Tim Letwin, Oliver
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brady, Graham Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Brazier, Julian Loughton, Tim
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Luff, Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Burns, Simon McIntosh, Miss Anne
Butterfill, John Maclean, Rt Hon David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Chope, Christopher Maples, John
Clappison, James May, Mrs Theresa
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Moss, Malcolm
Collins, Tim Norman, Archie
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Day, Stephen Ottaway, Richard
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Page, Richard
Duncan, Alan Paice, James
Duncan Smith, Iain Paterson, Owen
Evans, Nigel Pickles, Eric
Faber, David Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Fabricant, Michael Prior, David
Fallon, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Flight, Howard Robathan, Andrew
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Robertson, Laurence
Fox, Dr Liam Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Gale, Roger Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Garnier, Edward Ruffley, David
Gibb, Nick St Aubyn, Nick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gray, James Shepherd, Richard
Green, Damian Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Greenway, John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Grieve, Dominic Spicer, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Spring, Richard
Hammond, Philip Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hawkins, Nick Swayne, Desmond
Hayes, John Syms, Robert
Heald, Oliver Tapsell, Sir Peter
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Horam, John Taylor, Sir Teddy
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Townend, John
Hunter, Andrew Tredinnick, David
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Trend, Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tyrie, Andrew
Walter, Robert Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wardle, Charles Yeo, Tim
Waterson, Nigel Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wells, Bowen
Wilkinson, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Willetts, David Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Wilshire, David and
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton) Mr. John Randall.
Abbott, Ms Diane Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Alexander, Douglas Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Allan, Richard Darvill, Keith
Allen, Graham Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Dawson, Hilton
Ashton, Joe Dean, Mrs Janet
Austin, John Denham, John
Banks, Tony Dismore, Andrew
Barnes, Harry Donohoe, Brian H
Barron, Kevin Dowd, Jim
Battle, John Drown, Ms Julia
Beard, Nigel Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Edwards, Huw
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Efford, Clive
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bennett, Andrew F Ennis, Jeff
Benton, Joe Etherington, Bill
Bermingham, Gerald Field, Rt Hon Frank
Berry, Roger Fisher, Mark
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Fitzpatrick, Jim
Blizzard, Bob Flint, Caroline
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Flynn, Paul
Borrow, David Follett, Barbara
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Foster, Don (Bath)
Bradshaw, Ben Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Brand, Dr Peter Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Breed, Colin Foulkes, George
Brinton, Mrs Helen Fyfe, Maria
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Galloway, George
Browne, Desmond Gardiner, Barry
Buck, Ms Karen Gerrard, Neil
Burden, Richard Gibson, Dr Ian
Burgon, Colin Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Butler, Mrs Christine Godman, Dr Norman A
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Goggins, Paul
Caplin, Ivor Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Caton, Martin Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cawsey, Ian Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chaytor, David Grocott, Bruce
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Grogan, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clelland, David Hanson, David
Clwyd, Ann Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Coaker, Vernon, Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Coffey, Ms Ann, Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cohen, Harry Heppell, John
Coleman, Iain Hesford, Stephen
Colman, Tony Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Corbett, Robin Hill, Keith
Corbyn, Jeremy Hinchliffe, David
Corston, Jean Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cotter, Brian Hopkins, Kelvin
Cousins, Jim Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cranston, Ross Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Crausby, David Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hurst, Alan
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian Powell, Sir Raymond
Illsley, Eric Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jamieson, David Primarolo, Dawn
Jenkins, Brian Prosser, Gwyn
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Rendel, David
Keeble, Ms Sally Roche, Mrs Barbara
Kelly, Ms Ruth Rogers, Allan
Kemp, Fraser Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Rooney, Terry
Rowlands, Ted
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Roy, Frank
Khabra, Piara S Ruddock, Joan
Kilfoyle, Peter Russell, Bob (Colchester)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Ryan, Ms Joan
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Salter, Martin
Laxton, Bob Sarwar, Mohammad
Lepper, David Sawford, Phil
Leslie, Christopher Sedgemore, Brian
Levitt, Tom Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Shipley, Ms Debra
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Singh, Marsha
Linton, Martin Skinner, Dennis
Livsey, Richard Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Lock, David Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Love, Andrew Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McAvoy, Thomas Soley, Clive
McCafferty, Ms Chris Southworth, Ms Helen
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
McDonagh, Siobhain Steinberg, Gerry
McDonnell, John Stevenson, George
McGuire, Mrs Anne Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mackinlay, Andrew Stinchcombe, Paul
McNamara, Kevin Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
McNulty, Tony Stringer, Graham
Mactaggart, Fiona Stunell, Andrew
McWalter, Tony Sutcliffe, Gerry
McWilliam, John Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Temple-Morris, Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Timms, Stephen
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Tipping, Paddy
Meale, Alan Todd, Mark
Merron, Gillian Trickett, Jon
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Truswell, Paul
Miller, Andrew Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Mitchell, Austin Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Moffatt, Laura Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Morley, Elliot Tyler, Paul
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Tynan, Bill
Vaz, Keith
Mountford, Kali Walley, Ms Joan
Mullin, Chris Wareing, Robert N
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Watts, David
O'Hara, Eddie White, Brian
Palmer, Dr Nick Whitehead, Dr Alan
Pearson, Ian Wicks, Malcolm
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Plaskitt, James Wills, Michael
Pond, Chris Winnick, David
Pope, Greg Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Pound, Stephen Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil Tellers for the Noes:
Worthington, Tony Mr. Don Touhig and
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock) Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on second or third reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

7.13 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During questions to the Secretary of State for Trading and Industry this morning, the Secretary of State refused to give information about meetings and telephone calls that had taken place between him, or his Department, and BMW. At 1 pm today, I faxed the permanent secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, asking him to make the departmental records available and to place them in the House of Commons Library. I have received no reply, but I understand that at 4 pm journalists from the House of Commons were invited into the Department and briefed on the departmental records—information that was denied to the House this morning.

May I ask through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the records to be placed in the House of Commons Library as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

As the hon. Lady probably understands, that is not an issue that the Chair can directly affect. Those on the Government Front Bench will have heard what she has said.