Skills Bill: More government defeats as Lords debate careers, universal credit and apprenticeships

The “report stage” in the House of Lords ended last night

The “report stage” in the House of Lords ended last night

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is one step closer to becoming law having completed its “report stage” in the House of Lords. 

Amendments, including a beefed-up Baker clause and focussing a proportion of apprenticeship levy funding on young people at lower levels, were passed into the bill against the government’s wishes.   

Lord Baker beat the government by 50 votes to make legislation requiring secondary pupils to experience “mandatory encounters” with technical training providers legally enforceable and prescribed within law.   

Baker once again commanded support from government and opposition peers for his amendment.   

Baroness Wilcox, speaking for Labour, said the government’s aim to use secondary legislation, i.e., regulations, to determine the frequency and content of technical education careers guidance wasn’t acceptable because it would mean that the government’s plans couldn’t be scrutinised. 

 The Lord Bishop of Durham, with the Green Party’s Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, won another vote to prevent benefit rules causing problems for adults seeking education and training opportunities if they are unemployed and/or in receipt of Universal Credit.  

Despite a defence from a government minister, who highlighted various ways in which Universal Credit claimants could be supported through learning loans, bursaries and various exemptions within Universal Credit regulations, a cross-party coalition of peers generated a government defeat of 16 votes. 

Commenting on the Universal Credit amendment, Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: “Cutting Universal Credit whilst blocking people’s ability to train and upskill their way into good jobs is just plain wrong at any time, but when employers are crying out for people with skills, then it is even more baffling. 

“This is an important moment as the House of Lords rejects the government’s muddled approach and forces them to think again. We need an urgent review into the system to make sure that the welfare and skills systems are working in tandem.” 

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington successfully passed an amendment that would require special educational needs training within FE teacher training programmes.  

Former MP Ken Clarke (pictured), now Lord Clarke of Nottingham, passed an amendment that would require employers to spend two-thirds of “apprenticeship funding” on level 2 and 3 apprenticeships for under-25s.

Government amendments to outlaw essay mills and allow for the conversion of 16-to-19 sixth-forms with religious character to academies were passed without opposition.   

The House of Lords began proceedings at 12.30pm yesterday afternoon and were still debating at the time of going to press.   

The Lords will have a final opportunity to amend the bill on October 25. It will then begin its journey through the House of Commons. With a Conservative Party majority in the Commons, it is unlikely that all of the amendments passed by the Lords will be passed in to final legislation. 

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