Skills reform

Skills bill clears the commons

The bill passed its remaining stages last night

The bill passed its remaining stages last night

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Ministers have seen off a final attempt by MPs to amend the skills and post-16 education bill, which is now clear to become law.

In a three-hour debate last night, the bill passed its remaining “report” and “third reading” stages.

It was the final opportunity available to backbench and opposition MPs to try and amend the bill before it receives royal assent and enters the statute book. Thirty-five amendments were submitted in total however only three were pushed to a vote and were all defeated.

The government succeeded in passing the legislation they wanted, having had several popular changes made by the House of Lords stripped from the bill back in November.

Much of the bill provides the government with powers to put in place its policy objectives set out in last year’s “skills for jobs” white paper. For example it gives powers to the secretary of state to designate the employer representative bodies that will develop local skills improvement plans.

Amendments that would add new sections to the bill around green skills, delaying BTEC defunding, retraining oil and gas workers in renewables and improving adult literacy were not supported by the government.

Attempts were made in last night’s debate to give local authorities, LEPs and mayoral combined authorities the power to consent to an employer representative body being formed in their local area. An amendment tabled by Labour’s shadow skills minister Toby Perkins to this effect was defeated.

Backbench conservative MP Peter Aldous, who is also chair of the all party parliamentary group for further education, received cross-party support for his amendment which would require the secretary of state to review universal credit conditionality rules which he says are a “barrier” to unemployed and low earning people accessing further education.

Skills minister Alex Burghart rejected Aldous’s plea stating that existing flexibilities were enough and challenging MPs to provide examples of courses that claimants can’t do because of the rules.

Harlow MP and education select committee chair Robert Halfon moved three amendments in last night’s debate, however didn’t move them to a vote. This is a common tactic by MPs from a governing party to have issues raised to receive verbal assurances from ministers.

Halfon’s amendments included adding provisions for prisoner apprenticeships to the bill, which are now being developed.

In a passionate speech about careers guidance, Halfon tabled a popular amendment to enhance the baker clause – a law requiring schools to provide advice and guidance on the full range of FE and apprenticeships options.

During last night’s debate, he said the baker clause “has not been implemented properly” and that it “grieves” him that schools are not providing good advice about apprenticeships.

Responding, skills minister Alex Burghart said that he “expects schools to take note” of the new unit for future skills, which he says will provide schools with the data that shows the positive outcomes of apprenticeships and technical education.

“I am trusting the government to move some way on his,” Halfon said.

A government-backed amendment that gives the Office for Students powers to publish regulatory reports and decisions and protection from defamation claims was passed. This was, in the end, the only main alteration made to the bill in last night’s debate.



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