§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the Opposition for choosing the problem of youth employment for discussion today because while, at present, it appears only as a cloud the size of a man's hand, if it is not dealt with it could rapidly become, in the next few years, a storm which could overwhelm our industrial abilities as a nation.
Hon. Members might first like to express appreciation to the Committee which the Minister of Labour appointed, under the chairmanship of his then Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr), for the very useful Report which it produced and, which I am sure, will be the basis of many speeches today. Secondly, I should like to express appreciation to the economist, Lady Gertrude Williams, who produced for us a splendid document, "Recruitment to Skilled Trades", after intensive research, which again will aid 1472 many hon. Members in considering the problem before us today.
We have to recognise that we have, first, the problem of finding employment for young people leaving school —a problem due to the general recession in trade. I will not go into any argument as to whose is the responsibility, because we have had many debates on the subject, but it is a fact that there has been this stagnation in production which, naturally, has a very great effect upon the employment of school leavers. Secondly, we have the problem that we are not training enough skilled workers for the years ahead. Added to those two problems we have what is commonly referred to as the bulge in the number of school-leavers, which is beginning and which will come upon us in full force in the next few years.
While we all welcome the announcement by the Ministry of Labour this morning of the reduction in the number of unemployed, the figures nevertheless show how difficult it is for school-leavers to find jobs. We are all aware, from the matters raised with us by constituents, of the difficulties that parents are having and the anxious time that they are going through, in providing the right kind of employment for their boys and girls who are leaving school. We all hope that, as a result of more stimulus within the economy, the over-all problem of unemployment will ease considerably, although I am bound to say that I am a bit disappointed that the reduction in total unemployment is only 20 per cent. I had expected it to be considerably more.
Perhaps I might say, as an aside, that that bears out the forebodings expressed in the House that the probable result of increased mechanisation and the better use of new techniques in industry, combined with the fact that we are not expanding our economy quickly enough, would be that the hard core would probably be higher than some of us thought at one time.
What is the future of the country? I do not believe that anyone could have had a sharper reminder of the change in the pattern of industry than the announcement made by the Government last week that they have to take special measures to deal with the decline in the cotton industry. On Monday, we shall be discussing the coal industry. Here again, we shall possibly see a contraction 1473 in another very big, basic industry. Both industries were once the biggest employers of labour and upon them we reached the eminence of greatness in the world. We see the decline of those industries. I shall not now argue the why or the wherefore of the decline, but, from the factual standpoint, will look ahead a little and will ask what is to be the future of Britain.
I express the view that the future of the country is bound up not with the proper utilisation of our indigenous raw materials, of which we have, unfortunately, few, coal being the biggest, but with the proper development and use of the most important and most valuable material that we have, our manpower. Therefore, I start the debate on that basis.
Taking into consideration all that has been said by the Committee over which the hon. Member for Mitcham presided, and to whom we are obliged—as we are to all who served on the Committee—I see the future of Britain as being based on the development of our technical skills. If we are to survive as a nation of 50 million people in an island that cannot possibly feed itself, we must sell our skill and brains rather than our brawn. That is easy to say, but it nevertheless means that we have to take very firm action to ensure that our people are highly skilled and able to turn to the new fields of electronics, the development of nuclear energy, of transfer machines and everything else that will make ours the greatest industrial nation in the world. I believe that the inherent genius of our people can produce that result.
We must organise our manpower and give it the facilities to get the sort of education that will enable it to go into those new fields. Therefore, we do not make any apology for drawing attention to the fact that we seem not to be preparing the plans we shall need if Britain is to be a great industrial nation. Although we may not, in international affairs, be of first rank, because we are no longer the nation with the greatest naval and military power, we must, because of our industrial power, always be regarded as a nation whose opinions count when we sit in the international conference chambers. That follows from our industrial strength and the contribution we can make to world economy. Our word will be taken as having the same 1474 value as in the days when Britain ruled the seas.
We have, then, the problem of the bulge and of finding the right number of places for our skilled workers. I would like to deal with the skilled worker problem first. As I read the Report of the right hon. Gentleman's Advisory Council, by 1970 the number of people who will obtain professional qualifications as scientists and technologists must be doubled. Therefore, it is to be assumed that we shall probably produce about 20,000 qualified scientists and technologists a year. For all the army of scientists we shall have produced, there will be required an army of technicians. Our educational programme and the development of our technical education intends to produce what is at present estimated to be required, and that is about five or six technicians to every technologist.
Even if we get our planning right and produce the right number of scientists, technologists and technicians with the right qualifications, they cannot possibly, by themselves, hope to achieve the development of our economy unless they are supported by a vast army of skilled craftsmen. It is no use producing first-class scientists and technologists and the army of technicians which supports them unless there are, in the rear, the skilled craftsmen who have to work out into a machine what came on to the drawing paper.
It is to this aspect, and not to the question of training scientists, technololists and technicians that I want to pay particular attention. We cannot hope to achieve industrial greatness unless we have the support of the skilled craftsmen in industry, and that covers the great bulk of our working-class population. I will go further and say that if we fail to train the skilled craftsmen we shall become a third-class industrial nation. I would regard that as a tragedy not only for us here, but for Europe and the world at large. It is, therefore. right that we should focus our attention upon this problem.
Having carried the Committee with me as far on the need for the training of skilled craftsmen, perhaps I might move to the question of the bulge and try to show objectively the whole problem with which we are all concerned. We come to 1475 this special problem, which is only for the short but very vital period of the bulge in the school population. The number of children reaching 15 years of age today is about 16 per cent. higher than in 1956, but by 1962 the number of school-leavers will not be 16 per cent. higher but 52 per cent. higher than today. If we take the years after that peak, say, 1962 to 1965, we shall still have an average increase of about 35 per cent. in the number of school-leavers for whom jobs will have to be found.
During the last few years we have been taking about 100,000 15 to 17-year-old school-leavers a year to be apprenticed as skilled craftsmen. That has meant that a very large number of school-leavers have not become skilled or been given the opportunities of skilled training, and that is serious. About 36 per cent. of school-leavers are being apprenticed, 1 per cent. are going into the professions, 7 per cent. into commercial and clerical work, but no less than 56 per cent.—over half of all the boys and girls leaving school at 15, 16 or even 17 years of age—are going into unskilled jobs, or jobs that are, at the most, semi-skilled. The House of Commons cannot face that situation with equanimity.
As a result of the bulge in the numbers of school-leavers, it has been estimated that to provide some skilled training, even on this basis—it will not improve the percentage of the school-leavers who will get skilled craftsman education, but will merely keep the figures at this present percentage—we shall have to take into the skilled apprenticeships about 135,000 school-leavers a year. This, of course, is the crux of the whole problem, and is borne out by the Report of the Carr Committee—if I may refer to it in those terms instead of continually referring to the hon. Gentleman's constituency. In any case, it is known as the Carr Committee, and I am sure that however long the hon. Gentleman is in this House his name will be mentioned many times in connection with that report, for which he was largely responsible.
The last Ministry of Labour Report said that in some industries, notably engineering, the number of apprenticeships was insufficient to absorb all the available candidates. In the last few months there has been a good deal of evidence that there are not enough places 1476 to train boys—boys, particularly—who have the qualifications to be skilled craftsmen. I do make that distinction. I do not refer here to boys who would like to be skilled craftsmen, but who have not the educational qualifications.
There are not enough vacancies to take advantage of the number of boys with the educational qualifications to become skilled craftsmen. What is worse, from all the information that I have gleaned, it appears that the number of prospective opportunities of such employment is going down rather than increasing. That is a very serious matter indeed.
There has been a good deal of evidence to show that this is the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) mentioned one case to me which I thought, while it was an individual case, illustrated the terrible social conditions, quite apart from economic conditions, that this situation produced. After all, we cannot always look at this problem purely as an economic one, nor can we always think of manpower as something like machinery. We must always remember that human beings are involved. Boys and girls have social problems when they leave school, and their social problems in that period of adolescence are much worsened if they cannot get a job—and if they cannot get the kind of job that they would like.
The case mentioned to me by my hon. Friend concerns a boy named David Slack—an apprentice pattern maker. The boy felt that he had the opportunity to become a skilled craftsman which would ensure his future but, because of the depression, the firm employing him closed. He was dismissed. The local labour exchanges have tried not only in the Cardiff area, but all round it, to see whether they could fit him in so that he could continue his apprenticeship. They have failed. My hon. Friend took the matter up with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, He was very helpful, and brought to bear the whole resources of the Ministry to try to find this boy—who, with his parent's consent, was willing to leave home and go anywhere in the country to be a skilled pattern maker—a continuation of his apprenticeship, but, to everyone's regret, there is not a vacancy.
1477 I cite this case only because I think it not a bad thing to bring into the hard statistical study of the subject some human reference. I am sorry for this boy, whom I do not know. He has tried his best to be a good pattern maker, but now has to change all his ideas for the future. His type of case can be multiplied hundreds of times. Therefore, when we are discussing these problems, we must remember lads like that, and remember, too, that we are dealing not only with an economic problem that concerns us as a country but with a very human problem which bites deep into the hearts and homes of our people. For that reason, what I have to say is based on this human aspect as well as on the well-known views, that we all share, of our ability once again to be in the van of industrial progress.
We have this situation in towns other than those well-established towns like Cardiff—and I choose Cardiff only because of a personal association with my hon. Friend. The story could be repeated elsewhere. Incidentally, referring to Cardiff, 37 per cent. of the school-leavers who are fitted to be apprentices, and who want to be apprentices, find that there is no opportunity for them to become apprentices. Some, like the boy whom I have just mentioned, having spent two or, perhaps, four years as apprentices, now find their apprenticeships broken because their firms have closed.
As I say, I refer not only to established cities like Cardiff, but, among others, to the new towns. There, the problem is rather different, and it must not be overlooked, as it is more than likely that we shall develop the new town idea. Without wanting to weary the Committee with a lot of statistics, I can summarise all the information I have about the new towns by saying that in such places as Harlow. Corby, Stevenage, Crawley, and others the birthrate is higher than anywhere else in the country. As a result, they will have a proportion of school-leavers higher than the national average, but because of the way the towns have been developed it is clear that of the school-leavers in them, only a very small proportion will be able to find an outlet for their natural wish to be craftsmen in the new towns in which they are horn. If they wish to become appren- 1478 tices and be trained, they will, inevitably, have to move outside.
I mention that now, because towards the end of my speech I want to explain how we think the Government might move. For the moment, I leave that subject except to say that there is a special new-town problem. The number of school-leavers is much higher than the national average and, because of the new towns' peculiar situation, it is impossible for the towns themselves to provide the skilled apprenticeship training for all those boys and girls who may wish to take advantage of it. So far, I have tried very objectively—I do not regard this as a purely political matter—to set out what I think is the problem.
The problem was recognised by the Ministry of Labour in setting up the Carr Committee. I am not disappointed with the results of that Committee's work, but with the fact that the Government seem to take the view that the Committee's recommendations are the last word on what we should be doing about the training of young people. I am not sure that it is absolutely right in this, but the Carr Committee decided, as a matter of principle, thatOur traditional apprenticeship system should form the foundation of future training arrangements.The Carr Committee's general policy decision was that the training of skilled craftsmen through apprenticeship courses is a matter for industry. I beg leave to differ from that conclusion, for some of the reasons which I have already expounded—the bulge and the problem that there are not enough places at present. Are we not asking industry to do a little more than it can possibly be expected to do?
Representatives of the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress sat on the Carr Committee, but it must never be forgotten that the representatives of the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress have not got plenary powers over their organisations. They have to refer to their constituents, in one case thousands of firms and in the other case the large number of trades unions. These firms and trade unions are absolutely autonomous. They can take no notice whatever of the Carr Committee, or they can be co-operative and take some notice of it.
1479 As a result of the Carr Committee's Report, the Industrial Training Council was set up. The Industrial Training Council was based upon the premise that industry was the place to determine the whole concept of arrangements for training of workpeople, and collect and men through an apprenticeship system. The objects of the Industrial Training Council, to paraphrase the words of its chairman, are to keep under review recruitment and training—that is very good—and provide encouragement and help to industries in dealing with the training of workpeople and collect and disseminate information about training, including training practices in other countries.
I emphasise "provide encouragement". It is a purely advisory body. Because of the way in which British industry is organised, I do not believe that a purely advisory council can produce the kind of results which will give every school-leaver an opportunity to be a skilled craftsman.
I wish to refer to the experience of a London youth employment committee, which discussed the Carr Report and came to the conclusion that, if it was to increase the number of places in industry for boys and girls to learn some skills, it ought to have a conference. It invited the industrialists in its area to such a conference. One employer wrote back and said that he would not attend the conference. I do not cite this one employer as symptomatic of all the employers, but merely as a case. He said that he was in business to make money, not to train apprentices. At least, he wrote. Over 100 employers did not even reply to the invitation. So much for "encouragement" in that area.
Again in the London area, 300 employers were invited to a conference to discuss the Carr Committee's Report on the need to train more boys for skilled jobs. Out of 300 employers invited to the conference, 10 turned up. Do right hon. and hon. Gentlemen think, therefore, that encouragement of industry to do things will achieve results if, in the London area, we have responses such as that?
My view is that one cannot, except by persuasion or legislation, get industry to provide the extra training places required, many of them surplus to their present-day requirements. This is very im- 1480 portant. We are asking industry to train about 22 per cent. more apprentices than it needs. If one is in business, I suppose that one has to look at the dividends. Can one afford to take on 22 per cent. more apprentices than one needs? It is costly. Can one afford to do that on the basis of public interest?
I have no doubt that many employers who have the public interest at heart would accept their social responsibilities and do it, but I do not think that enough employers will do so, or, indeed, have the means to do so, for a very good reason. Half of industry is conducted by firms with fewer than 500 workers, and a very large proportion of them have fewer than 100 workers. They cannot afford to do it, because the training of apprentices, from the figures which I have given, must represent between £15 and £20 million a year.
Most of us who are interested in this matter have visited the large companies —Metropolitan Vickers, I.C.I., and others. We have been to their schools. They are the best schools to be seen anywhere, certainly in the Western world. I have seen the schools in France, Italy and Germany, but I have seen nothing better than the schools provided in the establishment of Metropolitan Vickers, I.C.I., and a group of other companies which I could mention.
The large companies are not only prepared to do it, but I believe that they are ready also to accept the increased burden, because they realise that at some stage they will need these extra workers. However, it must not be forgotten that, because many firms will not train apprentices, the other firms will have to foot a bigger bill. There is a limit to what they can do.
It is true that a large number of firms will neither train apprentices nor join the group schemes. Group schemes have been introduced to meet the special problem of the small firm. It is a co-operative educational system, but large numbers of firms simply take no notice. What do they do? I suppose it is the hard-bitten businessman who says, "It has nothing to do with me. If a fellow wants to be trained to be a skilled craftsman, that is his 'pigeon'. Let him find the best way to do it. When I want skilled craftsmen, I will pay another 1s. an hour over the odds and take my skilled craftsmen from firms who have paid to train them." 1481 That is not exercising a proper social conscience, but, nevertheless, that is what happens. This is a hard, workaday world in which people have different views on these matters of social responsibility. It is our task in Parliament to take notice of these things and realise that people are human, with all the human frailties. It is our job in Parliament to try, either by persuasion or even by legislation, to make those who will not fulfil social responsibilities come into line with all the rest.
That brings me to the concluding part of what I have to say in opening the debate. First, we have a situation in which firms with training schemes—the kind of firms I have described—are absolutely inundated with applications from young people whose qualifications are good enough for them to enter an apprenticeship scheme. We have a situation in which many firms are not fulfilling their obligations, and we have, over all, the national requirement, which I tried to put as dearly as I could at the beginning, that, unless we do this job, we shall become a third-rate industrial country.
I believe that the trade unions have a responsibility here. It has been said that we cannot provide more places for skilled apprenticeships because the trade unions have a ban upon more than a certain number of apprentices being accepted, and they want a certain ratio. I have investigated this as objectively as it is possible to do, and I have found that in the printing trade, certainly, and in the shipbuilding industry, with particular reference to welding, that is so. The number of apprenticeships is strictly limited. Everywhere else—and this represents the bulk—there is not a great amount of feeling. There is a good deal of flexibility. Prominent leaders of the trade unions, particularly those who sat upon the Carr Committee, say quite clearly that, given the right economic circumstances, that is, full employment and not unemployment, they would be prepared to use all their influence to help to change opinion in the trade union movement.
The attitude in the trade union movement which has regulated the number of apprenticeships has prevailed not because the trade unions do not want apprentices trained, but because people are still living 1482 in the days of the 1920s and 1930s, when young apprentices were used as cheap labour to push out skilled men. It is this atmosphere which we must change. My view is that it can be changed only in a situation of full employment, security of employment, with a long look into the future, so that a man will feel secure for the rest of his life. Here again, therefore, there is Government responsibility.
I do not want to take up time by reading various references, but from all that has been said by industrialists I think that the case is proved that very many industrialists will not play their part in training. Therefore, we must do something about it. We have also to look at the whole subject of apprenticeship generally. For example, is it really necessary for a boy to serve five years in every craft before he becomes a skilled craftsman? It surely cannot be, with all the multifarious work which we do in this country which calls for skill, that in every single case the magic five years does the trick. I cannot believe that that is right. Therefore, it seems to me that, even if we have to have another committee—perhaps, this time, the Wood committee —to examine some of these problems, it would be very well worth while. I do not think that five years is a magic number of years which turns a boy into a skilled craftsman. The period could be shorter.
Also, I do not regard it as a good thing that we should restrict the entry into apprenticeship to those at school-leaving age, at 15 or 16. I am a Governor of the Queen Elizabeth Training College for the Disabled, at Leatherhead, a duty I am happy to share with the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary. The people we are concerned with are very badly disabled. In the course of taking hundreds a year into the college to train them so that they can earn their own living, we have found that, before we can start to train many of them, we have to give them some education. This shows that, certainly in some crafts, the boy who stays on for one more year ought to have a shorter period of apprenticeship, because he has the educational qualifications to move rather rapidly through the technical developments of his craft.
In principle, I am with the Carr Committee. Let us have this training done within industry. I merely want to add 1483 something to that, which I shall explain in a few minutes. In the first place, we should be prepared within industry to take boys who have spent an extra year at school. This is advisable for two reasons. The first is the one I have already mentioned, that the boy who has an added educational qualification will match up to the requirements of the modern skilled craft more rapidly, perhaps, than others.
Secondly, if boys remain at school, this will help to solve the problem of the bulge to some extent; it will spread it out a little. If we can arrange for boys of 15, 16 or 17 to remain at secondary modern schools it will spread the bulge and produce for industry boys of higher educational qualifications, so that, when the instructor takes them at the training school, he will find that they can more rapidly assimilate those things which are, perhaps, difficult for the boy who leaves at 15.
I am sure that it would be worth while to examine whether it is necessary to have five years in every case. I make no judgment about it. I merely put the question. In some cases, five may well be right. In others, I am sure that three years would be enough. However, that is for industry to work out. Secondly, we must consider whether it is wise to restrict entry at a low age. I am perhaps jumping too far ahead. I do not expect industry to accept this for a moment, but it is my hope that our arrangements will be so flexible that, in time to come, a man of any age will be able to go through an apprenticeship scheme, change his job, and become a skilled worker.
I believe that our pattern of industry will change so quickly—we are an industrial country and it will have to change quickly—that full employment cannot he guaranteed on the basis of a man doing the same job at the same firm all his working life. A man may have the skills to change his occupation two or even three times. If he has the skill, it will make it worth while, provide him with the increased wages which he wants and provide the nation with increased impetus in its economic development. I am not making the case now. I should not dream of inviting the Minister to go to industry and ask people to take on apprentices at 30 or even 40 years of age, 1484 but let us not put it out of our minds. Let us not think that it will not, one day, be necessary.
When I read of the closures of pits, when I see contraction on the railways and in other industries, I wonder what is to happen to the man of 45 who loses his job, if only on the basis of redundancy. There is not another job as a railwayman or as a coalminer for him. Why should he not be given the right to take a three-years' apprenticeship, become a skilled worker, and start again on decent pay? Is not that the way to humanise industry and to make our contribution to the welfare of the nation as a whole economically? Is it not the best thing for the man himself, rather than that he should turn from being a skilled coal miner or skilled railwayman and become an unskilled labourer?
That is bad. It is bad socially and economically. I hope that industry will look at the possibility of making the change. I say at once that, such are the inherent prejudices within industry because of what happened in the 'twenties and 'thirties, that it is not a possibility now. But we should not rule it out. Perhaps I have been too bold in suggesting it now, but I feel that we should give expression to it as an indication of where our thoughts are going over the years ahead.
I come now to the next stage, which concerns the Government. As I said, I accept, broadly, the Carr Committee's dictum that training should be carried on within industry. It is good that a boy should feel industry around him and he working in an environment which is industrial and not wholly educational. Nevertheless, after having visited so many training schools in industry, both here and abroad, I cannot help feeling that, if the apprenticeship course is to be five years, we should probably produce very much better skilled craftsmen if, apart from the companies which are running really efficient schools to which I referred, we ran as part of our educational system for the first two years real training schools.
We could give a boy who did not pass the 11-plus, the boy who finished school at 15, the extra educational qualification which, when he became 17, would give him the opportunity to become an apprentice and skilled craftsman. He would not 1485 feel himself discarded at 11 because he missed the 11-plus. He would not feel that, at 15, he had to go into the first dead-end job he came to because he had to earn some money.
I propose to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, since he is the Minister responsible, that he should first accept that industry will not do this job. I do not believe that industry can on its own. He should consider making a contribution to industry by using some of the redundant Royal Ordnance factories or using some of the redundant Ministry of Suply factories, as Cardiff wanted to do, where there is engineering machinery in abundance and where there are qualified people, and which, for the first one or two years, according to the syllabus set out, could be used for training boys.
What would happen? Instead of the boy being apprenticed to a particular company, he would be apprenticed to the engineering industry as a whole, and after his two years' special training, which would be provided by the appropriate Minister—I have no doubt in association with the employers, the Ministry of Education, and so on—he would then be able to be selected by firms to do the three final years of this apprenticeship course.
I think that this meets the problem of the small firm. There are some small firms which have a public conscience, but which. physically, just cannot do it. The group schemes are voluntary, and as a consequence are not particularly attractive. Some of them are well run, and some are not very well run. If the Ministry were to organise schools, utilising resources now lying idle in redundant factories all over the place, and provide proper instructors—and the Minister of Labour has much experience in this field, with his Government training centres—and if this could be agreed with industry, we should solve the problem which is so clear in our minds—that industry at present just cannot take on these 22 per cent. more apprentices.
Let us take them. Let us level this bulge out, because in these two years within which this sort of scheme could operate, one would expect that the economy of the country will improve. We shall want these skilled workers in the future. No one would argue that we shall not need them; we shall, and they 1486 will be there and could be apprenticed to the firms afterwards.
There is one other thing I want to say about this, which may not be very popular at present, again because of the long history of the matter. Apprenticeships have been going on for 150 years, and perhaps even longer if we go back to the days of the old guilds. Ideas are set. I cannot believe that in this modern age we cannot have an apprenticeship system which, at some stage, should show that someone has reached a certain qualification. At present, anybody who is lucky enough to become an apprentice does five years and is then a skilled craftsman, whether he is good or bad. The boy who has been a first-class apprentice and has become a skilled craftsman, has no measuring rod which, in effect, enables him to say, "I have passed this; I can do all that," enabling him to achieve a certain distinction.
I would not want any examination process by which a boy is turned out after three years as a skilled craftsman. I do not think it is necessary, but I should like some form of certification which meant that when a boy passes he may proudly carry with him a recognised certificate to the effect that he has become a qualified skilled craftsman. This is very important, because if a boy, after two years, is not going to become a skilled craftsman, he could then make up his mind to be a semi-skilled worker, and the earnings of semi-skilled workers may be just as high as those of skilled craftsmen.
It will not do a lot of good to push boys through a machine and say, at the end of five years, "You are now a skilled craftsman." In the field of electronics, for example, it will not do at all. We want people with qualifications. We have qualifications in every other field, and we should give these boys the higher status and dignity of such a qualification when they have gone through their term of apprenticeship and have become skilled craftsmen. Why should we not pick up those boys who cannot hope to become skilled craftsmen and turn them into channels in which semi-skilled people with knowledge will be useful, which would be a great asset both to themselves and to the nation?
§ Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)
The right hon. Gentleman presupposes in this scheme, which, I think, is admirable, 1487 educational training in conjunction with practical training. Does he not think that the machinery is already available through the technical colleges, the City and Guilds examinations, and the national certificate?
§ Mr. Robens
If I thought that the machinery that is there is big enough to tackle this job I should not be putting forward a proposal such as this. It is because, looking at the size of problem, and after very mature consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the facilities are not available, that they will not be made available and that industry cannot do this job on its own, that I am pleading for a change from the principle enumerated in the Carr Committee's Report that this whole job must be left to industry.
I do not believe that the existing facilities are big enough to deal with this enormous problem. Anyone who has taken the trouble to look at the figures must realise that unless the Government comes in on this training, we shall never do the job. Is anybody in this Committee prepared to accept the idea that 56 per cent. of our boys leaving school should be engaged in unskilled work for the rest of their lives in an industrial country like ours?
We should keep unskilled work down to the absolute minimum. A skilled worker can do an unskilled job, but an unskilled worker can never do a skilled job. If a boy has been trained, and a terrible calamity befalls our country, he will be better able to fend for himself, if he is trained and skilled, than if he never had the chance to acquire it. I am pleading today that he should have that opportunity. I am sorry for the David Slacks of this country. So should everybody be, because of the human problem that is thrown up.
§ Mr. Robens
No, I cannot give way; I want to finish, because I have been far too long.
In conclusion, I say that I do not believe that this great problem that faces us can be dealt with by mere acceptance of the main recommendations of the Carr Committee. I am asking the Government to look once again at this matter, not to interfere with industry, but to say to in- 1488 dustry. "We will make a contribution, from the educational standpoint, which would provide the finance and the places into which boys can go and be taught." I believe that if we did that we should then achieve what we seek to achieve—that the boys and girls who want to train for specific skilled jobs will have the opportunity of doing so.
It may well be, and I would be in favour of this, that firms employing a small number of workers, and which find that they are incapable of providing the training themselves, ought to pay a levy towards the cost of such training. Nevertheless, if we are to deal with this problem it may well be that the bulk of the assistance, both financially and physically, in the provision of the old R.O.F. and Ministry of Supply premises, must be a Government responsibility.
I like the Carr Committee's Report. I think that it is always a good thing to maintain, as far as we are able, the voluntary system, with both sides of industry working together towards a common goal. Having studied this matter as well as I am able to do, I do not believe that it is possible for industry to do this job on its own. I believe that Government aid is necessary if we are to tackle this job. I believe that the future of Britain must be built on making sure that our boys and girls become skilled workers and are not left to be unskilled workers. It is not only an economic problem, but a social and human problem, and I beg the Government to look at some of the proposals which I have made today.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Richard Wood)
I have no doubt whatever that every hon. Member will agree that we have listened to a remarkable speech by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). It was forward-looking and objective and it showed both a grasp of the subject, which I knew the right hon. Gentleman possesses, and also a breadth of vision which has started our debate in a way in which I hope, it will continue. It was a most compelling and substantial speech. It was even more substantial than the last speech from the right hon. Gentleman to which I had the pleasure of listening in Standing Committee C yesterday. In fact, it was one of the finest speeches I have heard him make.
1489 This debate is clearly intended to concentrate on questions of youth employment and youth training for skill. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we would welcome the initiative of the Opposition in proposing this debate. We agree entirely. I am particularly pleased, because it will give me the opportunity to do three things: first to make a brief comment on the April figures of unemployment, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned at the beginning of his speech; secondly, to try to put the youth employment position in perspective; and, lastly, to deal with some of the extremely important matters to which the right hon. Gentleman devoted most of his speech.
The Committee will realise that my right hon. Friend answered a Question on Tuesday about the publication of the statistics of unemployment and employment during the month of April. There was special difficulty about the date of publication this month, because it is the custom to publish the employment and unemployment figures together, but this month the intervention of the Easter holiday led to substantial delay in collecting the employment figures. If we were to wait to issue the figures together, we could not have done so until 14th May. My right hon. Friend came to the conclusion that such a long delay was unjustifiable, particularly as the unemployment figures for April in Northern Ireland, which, I am glad to say, show a substantial decrease, have already been issued. Therefore, my right hon. Friend decided to make the figures public as soon as possible.
To explain briefly some of the difficulties, the employment and the unemployment figures in the United Kingdom are taken on different dates and on a different basis. The unemployment figures represent a complete count of the register on a certain day and take into consideration certain later information so that the result is available during the following week. On the other hand, the employment figures represent only a sample count and take much longer. That was why my right hon. Friend reached the decision to publish the figures separately. The industrial analysis of the April figures of unemployment has not yet been published, but will be published within a few days.
1490 One other matter which I would like to add is that because of the subject of this debate and of the interest which the House of Commons clearly takes in these matters, today's figures include, for the first time, an analysis by regions of the unemployment figures relating to boys and girls. It is the intention that that analysis should continue in the future.
The drop in unemployment in April is, as the right hon. Gentleman said, about 20,000. All regions except the North Midlands show a decrease. In the North Midlands, there are fewer wholly unemployed, but there is a fairly large—and, I hope, a passing—increase in the numbers temporarily stopped. This figure of 20,000 is made up of three different figures, which lend particular point to our discussion today. The adult unemployment figure has fallen in the last month by 28,000; the number of boys and girls unemployed, other than those who left school at Easter, has also fallen by 5,000, making a total fall of 33,000, against which must be offset the 13,000 Easter school-leavers who, on 13th April, were not yet in jobs. There is nothing new in this situation. In fact, there has not been an Easter in the last decade, and no August or January either, when the numbers of boys and girls unemployed have not temporarily increased. The crucial test, however, is how soon these boys and girls, who go on to the register three times a year, can be removed from it.
Many anxieties have been expressed about the employment position of school-leavers. I emphasise that I am dealing with the employment aspect and not the other aspects which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with at the end of his speech. I should like to take this opportunity to give the most accurate appreciation of the recent position that I am able to do. To go back, first, to those who left school last Christmas. On 12th January this year— that is, about three weeks after Christmas-90 per cent. of the boys and girls who left school at the end of the Christmas term were at work. On 13th April, which is the date to which I have already referred, of over 118,000 boys and girls who left school at Easter, 12,785 were left without jobs.
I thought that the Committee would be anxious to know what progress has been made towards placing these 13,000 boys 1491 and girls who on 13th April were unemployed. Therefore, in certain parts of the country, chosen not because they are favourable areas for employment, but in an effort to try to choose representative areas, I have asked for unemployment figures to see what progress we made between 13th April and yesterday. I am glad to find that the position is considerably improved for every area for which I have made inquiries.
I will give, first, the figures for two Scottish towns. In the town of Dundee, which is not a very good employment area, as Scottish Members will be well aware, 85 boys and girls who left school at Easter were unemployed on 13th April, but the number yesterday was down to 31. That is a fairly substantial decrease. In Govan, the figures were 41 on 13th April and 11 yesterday. In Cardiff, which has featured much in our discussions, 104 were unemployed on 13th April and 39 yesterday, again a substantial decrease.
The Committee will agree that these figures, including some for England—Burnley, 19 and 9, and Coventry 71 and 49—are encouraging.
§ Mr. Wood
I do not have the Merseyside figure, but the hon. Member will, I think, agree that I have quoted some areas which are not at present in a good employment position. As I say, I have not the figures for Merseyside, but because I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be interested in them, I collected the figures for his own constituency and for mine. In Blyth there is a slight decrease from 24 to 18. In my constituency, Bridlington, the decrease is from 8 to 5. I think that all these figures represent a quite considerable improvement. I do not think that it would be over-optimistic to assume from these figures, that the figure of 12,785 school-leavers who were unemployed a fortnight ago will be cut by about half.
That represents quite an achievement and I think that the Committee would like to join with me in paying tribute to the work of the youth employment officers, who are largely responsible for this excellent result.
§ Mr. Collick
To get the picture clear, we should bear in mind that on Merseyside the figure is approximately 2,000. The figures which the hon. Gentleman has given do not relate to Merseyside.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
The hon. Member has spoken of this as the crucial test. I wonder whether he has available, or whether he could make available to the Committee before the end of the debate, an even more crucial test, namely, what proportion of the 5,000 by which the total was reduced have gone into apprenticeships or jobs which lead to training in a skilled occupation. Can he tell us how that percentage compares with the position a year or two ago? Some figures which the Minister gave me a little while ago are a little disquieting.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Before the end of the debate, will the hon. Gentleman be able to ascertain how many of the 1,523 juveniles who were unemployed in Liverpool on 13th April have been able to obtain employment since?
§ Mr. Wood
I will do my best to obtain that figure. I will make a note of what the hon. Lady has said. To clear up any confusion in hon. Members' minds, so far I have been dealing only with the numbers of Easter school-leavers on the register on 13th April and the reduction in the number of Easter school-leavers between then and yesterday.
Apart from the Easter school-leavers, the total number of boys and girls unemployed—which, presumably, covers the figure that the hon. Lady has in mind—dropped by 5,000 last month—from 28,000 to 23,000. That represents a reduction of 17½ per cent. The reduction in Scotland of just over 1,000 represents exactly the same percentage. I am glad to say that the reduction in Wales, just over 900, represents a reduction of 25 per cent. since March. These figures show 1493 a considerable improvement in the position.
I do not suggest that we can afford to be unconcerned while the figures remain at anything like their present level. I am sure that we were all impressed by what the right hon. Member for Blyth said about the frustration in the case which he mentioned and the personal frustration which each one of these figures represents for a boy or girl. I suggest, however, that taking the country as a whole, the experience of the last few months, particularly in view of the figures which I have given to the Committee, does not justify despondency about the prospects of absorbing these boys and girls in employment.
The need for the most rapid reduction in what I may call the school-leaving registers after the end of the school terms in April, August and January is increased by the phenomenon of the bulge, which is known to all of us. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that for every two boys and girls leaving school in 1956 there would be three leaving school in 1962. As he said, there are considerable local variations. He drew our attention, in particular, to the position in the new towns, where some of the percentage increases are absolutely phenomenal. There are estimated increases of 500 and 600 per cent.
On the other hand, if we are trying to get the matter in perspective, it is true to say that in 1956, which is the base year that I have taken for my comparison and which my predecessor's committee took for its comparison, there was a great scarcity of boys and girls reaching the age of 15 for the very good reason that few boys and girls had been born in 1941. It is easier to get a better idea by comparing the years 1957, 1958 and 1959 with the years immediately ahead. I think that such a comparison leads to the conclusion that the difference between the present situation and the peak of the bulge will be an increase of school-leavers of about 25 or 30 per cent. I think that that is the best way in which to view the problems ahead.
I apologise for talking at some length about the bulge, but it is a most important phenomenon if we are to deal with the situation in the right way. It is important to remember that the high birth- 1494 rate of the war and post-war years followed a very low birth-rate in the 'thirties. I like to think of the bulge as making up a deficiency in our population rather than providing an awkward increase for us to deal with. We should remember that in the next ten years the number of girls reaching the age of 15 will be more or less equal to the number of women reaching the age of 60.
Assuming those two ages to be roughly the ages at which people enter and leave employment, the bulge, as it relates to girls, will not make a great difference to the working population. The same would be true of boys had it not been for the last two wars, in which a great many men who would now be retiring were killed. The net increase of boys, together with the ending of National Service, will lead to an increase in the working population over the next ten years of about 1 million.
Another way of putting the matter is that in the last five years boys and girls reaching the age of 15 represented 2.7 per cent. of the working population. In the next five years, they will represent about 3.4 per cent. Therefore, although the bulge is a very important phenomenon, it is a relatively small element in the working population.
During the last ten years—the figures which I have are from mid-1949, to February, 1959—the working population increased from 22,771,000 to 23,903,000. an increase of well over 1 million. Therefore, even with a moderate expansion in the 1960s, such as we have had in the 1950s, it should be possible in most areas to absorb this extra 1 million in gainful employment. My conclusion is that the bulge has not of itself created employment difficulties, but, where they have existed through the economic situation, obviously the extra numbers leaving school have brought these difficulties into sharper relief.
Therefore, the prospects for boys and girls depend on economic expansion rather than merely on the size of the bulge. The prospects of economic expansion have been dealt with in a number of our recent debates, particularly in the Budget debate by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and others, and the Government have given plenty of evidence of their firm intention, through the Budget and other means, to stimulate a high rate of economic growth. The 1495 Government's policy for the areas of higher unemployment has obviously also a most important significance for boys and girls entering the employment field, particularly those living in those areas.
Their policy under the Distribution of Industry Act and under the industrial development certificates procedure has also been fully discussed and, in particular, was discussed in the debate which the right hon. Gentleman opened in March and in which my right hon. Friend spoke. There have been other steps, which are already well known, such as the building of advance factories and the grants to local authorities. The combined effect of these general measures to stimulate economic growth and the particular measures to bring assistance to high unemployment areas will together increase the total demand for labour from which boys and girls will both benefit.
I should like to come on to the important matters which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with concerning apprenticeships. The first matter which I should like to try to deal with concerns his questioning the five-year period of apprenticeship and the rigidity of the age at which apprenticeships start. He suggested that a committee might be set up to deal with these matters and he made an extremely complimentary suggestion about the naming of the committee. My own impression, which, I think, if I may quote his words, he personally shares, is that these are matters far industry to work out.
We have always taken the view that matters like this are essentially for consultation between both sides of industry, and it would certainly give me the greatest pleasure to see industry actively considering this matter with a view to reaching the kind of solution which the right hon. Gentleman suggested might be reached.
§ Mr. Wood
The general employment prospects for boys and girls over the next few years in most areas do not, I think, for the reason I have tried to show, give great cause for concern, but I am bound to share the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about whether sufficient apprenticeships and other opportunities of training are going to be available.
1496 I would refute one thing which the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr), if he catches your eye, Mr. Storey, would take the opportunity to refute it. That was that the Carr Committee is considered to be the last word on this subject. I think that if it could be considered one of the first my hon. Friend would be delighted. I think we all agree that the Carr report is the basis and the statistical foundation for any advance which we must make in this subject at present.
If I may quote two sentiments from that report, it spoke of the "increased need far skilled workers," which, clearly, has the unanimous agreement of the Committee, and of its belief in the "ability of industry to absorb the extra numbers available and to give training suited to their capabilities." That was the part of the conclusion, if I may so summarise a very large part of the report, which the right hon. Gentleman, I think, basically challenged.
The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss), whom I see in his place, has asked me a number of Questions on these matters, and I know well his interest in them. A few months ago he asked me for a comparison between the numbers entering apprenticeships in 1957 and the numbers entering in 1958. I was unable then to give him the full figures. I said on that occasion that they would be available in April. It is now the end of April and I have the figures, and I think it would be best if I gave them to the Committee. They are not figures, I am afraid, which will give us any cause for pleasure or complacency.
The figures in 1957 of those entering apprenticeships were 95,184, a little fewer than the 100,000 which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. The figures for 1958, last year, were 93,212, which very much underlines a great many of the right hon. Gentleman's points. We know that the numbers available for skilled training and the demands for it are still growing very quickly. The percentage which was already too low before is not, in fact, rising, but is going down.
§ Mr. R. Moss (Meriden)
Are those figures for boys only, or for boys and girls, and are they comparable with the figures which the hon. Gentleman gave 1497 the House in reply to a Question, in which he mentioned apprenticeships and courses likely to lead to apprenticeships?
§ Mr. Wood
I am sorry if I did not make that plain. Those figures are comparable with those I gave the hon. Member before and they include apprenticeships and learnerships and cover boys only; they are on the same basis as the figures I gave him previously.
The hesitation of industrialists, particularly the small firms—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth mentioned a number of the difficulties which the small firms have to face—to take on apprentices because they cannot clearly see the future ahead may be understandable, but it is none the less—and here I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman said—most regrettable, because, as we see it, the present signs, together with the lessons of recent economic history, emphasise the temporary character of this recession. I really do not think that it is over-optimistic but rather highly reasonable, to see a prospect ahead of substantial economic advance in the 1960s.
If we fail to ensure that a great many of these boys and girls—and the right hon. Gentleman suggested a figure of 30,000 or 40,000—who are worthy of apprenticeships now are given training opportunities then there will be not only the many evil consequences, which he mentioned, for those boys and girls themselves, but there will also be the economic disaster of not having them as skilled men -when the expansion comes. Furthermore, the shortage of skilled workers will not only obstruct the pace of economic advance in the future, but it is also highly likely to jeopardise the employment prospects of those at work. We have seen the shortage of skilled men in certain areas lead to employment difficulties even when other prospects were good. I am, therefore, quite convinced that it is to the long-term advantage both of employers and trade unionists to do what they can to increase the number of training places available.
I have addressed a number of meetings during the last year, and I have found that the insufficiency of training places causes very general anxieties. The insufficiency of places has led to many suggestions for short cuts, arid the extreme suggestion is 1498 that industry will not do the job and that, therefore, the Government should do it. This suggestion, as I understand it, goes a good deal further than the one which the right hon. Gentleman made.
If I may, first, examine the extreme position, I should like to make a comment on the rather more moderate suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman made to deal with the problem. I am quite clear that there are several reasons why the setting up of Government apprenticeship centres would be most unsuitable at the moment. The first and most practical reason is that the centres would take a considerable time to establish, and, while they were being established, the Government decision to take over industrial training could hardly be an encouragement to industry to increase the number of training places which are at present available. That is the first—the discouragement—argument.
Secondly, and this impinges to a certain extent on the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, neither the employers nor the Trades' Union Congress could be expected to be favourable to such a scheme as some suggest, and without the active enthusiasm of industry these apprenticeship centres would be in two dangers. First, they would be in the danger of training those whom they could not eventually place. Secondly, there would be the danger of giving the kind of training which industry does not particularly want. I cannot imagine a greater disaster than two such results where either those trained could not find work or would be unfitted for the kind of work that they would be later asked to do.
I have met a good many people who are most anxious to look at this matter objectively, but who have been extremely doubtful—and they echo entirely the doubts expressed by the right hon. Gentleman—first, whether the environment of such training would be sufficiently industrial, and, secondly, whether such training could be sufficiently flexible to meet the very rapidly changing needs of industry.
The right hon. Gentleman has made modified suggestions and I should like to examine very seriously the ideas that he has put forward to us today. The Industrial Training Council, which he mentioned, and the National Joint Advisory Council clearly would consider the suggestions. If anything could be done on 1499 the basis of what the right hon. Gentleman suggested, and such an advance could be made, we would do our best to try to take action along those lines. But I am quite convinced, as I think the right hon. Gentleman was, that there is no easy short cut to overcoming this difficulty which industry has of training a sufficient number of apprentices. I am quite convinced, even after listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that the main burden of training apprentices is bound to rest on industry.
The Government's part in this exercise, must be twofold. The first is to provide adequate facilities for technical education. It would be very much more enlightening to the Committee if I left further consideration and development of that subject to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, who will wind up the debate. The Government's second role is the shaping of conditions in which industry can best do this industrial job.
The first need, as has been said already, is for the development of a strong and effective leadership in industry towards the expansion of training opportunities in each individual industry. I am quite convinced that it is here that the Industrial Training Council, which was set up as a result of a recommendation of the Carr committee, has a most important part to play, and I should like to say a few words about the work done so far by that Council.
The Council decided, as soon as it came into being at the end of last summer, that its first task should be to try to assess the part which industry was playing and to see how much training industry was doing. It therefore wrote to virtually every employers' association. By the end of last year that it was highly doubtful, to put it no higher, whether sufficient places would be provided to absorb all those who deserve them. Therefore, the Council's action has taken two forms. First, realising that the expansion of places available depends upon decisions taken by individual firms, the Council has done what it can to stimulate in all parts of the country local discussion of the Carr report. Secondly, it has asked that the report should have urgent examination by the employers and the trade unions.
I am sure that the Committee would like to join in tribute to the work of the 1500 youth employment committees in all parts of the country, who have organised meetings to press the consideration of the Carr report on employers, trade unionists and educationists and others in their parts of the world. I should like to give a special word of praise to those youth employment committees, some of them in very difficult employment areas, who have managed to arouse in their areas a very keen sense of local responsibility on this question.
While the Industrial Training Council as a whole was taking this action, the British Employers' Confederation was taking two very useful initiatives. The first was to recommend to all their constituents, and member-firms within those constituents, the need to train more workers and, indeed, more than would be necessary for foreseeable requirements. That has been very firmly and forcefully put by the Confederation to its constituents and member-firms.
Secondly, at a recent meeting, the heads of their member-organisations agreed together to press employers to increase recruitment to skilled trades and to train in the years 1961–63, which cover the peak years of the bulge six for every five present apprentices. While the British Employers' Confederation has naturally concentrated attention on the peak of the bulge years, it is very well aware, as it can hardly fail to be, of the existence at present of potentially skilled workers who are not able to obtain apprenticeships. The Confederation and the Industrial Training Council, therefore, are making efforts to try to mobilise what I call the first essential, which is a strong lead from the centre. This strong lead must be translated into action by individual firms.
The main responsibility, therefore, rests on the organisations concerned in each industry, but the Government has been considering for some time the possibility and the methods of helping industrial organisations to do this job, as I have informed the hon. Member for Meriden. During the last year, at meetings which I have attended, I have been given a wide variety of ideas on how the Government might help industry to do this job. After considering them all very carefully, I am convinced that one thing beyond all others stands out. It is the immensely important work that is being done, and 1501 can be done, by training-officers in industry.
I am sure that they can play a very valuable part in the setting up and extending of training schemes and in giving all kinds of practical assistance to industry. The Government, therefore, are most anxious that the number of training-officers should be multiplied, and they have come to the conclusion that we should take some steps to prime the pump.
We propose, with the agreement of Parliament. to make a grant in aid to the Industrial Training Council to further the appointment of training development officers either by the Council itself, or by employers' organisations, joint industrial councils, or other similar bodies.
§ Mr. Wood
That would be a matter for the Industrial Training Council, who is to receive the grant in aid. It would have to consider how best to spend the grant in aid to achieve the objective that we have in mind.
The purpose of such officers, as those connected with this matter already know, would be to stimulate the setting up and extension of training schemes whether in individual firms or covering groups of firms. The maximum of the grant in aid would be £75,000, which would be available over a limited number of years to concentrate its effect on the period in which the development of this training is most essential. The one condition made would that industry must contribute at least an equivalent amount for the same purpose.
This grant is intended to be a once-for-all offer to industry to help industry deal with the potential available through these bulge years. I am convinced that it will be of considerable help to this problem.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
Is there to be any guidance to industry as to how this equivalent amount is to be collected? I have in mind that those employers who do the most work will be the ones who will help with this grant. Is there to be a way in which it can be made obligatory on all people who use skilled labour to contribute towards the grant?
§ Mr. Wood
This is an important point, but I think that it is one that is best left to the Industrial Training Council to decide. The only condition we are laying down is that we are offering the Council £75,000 and we are requiring the expenditure of £150,000 on this attempt to get more training officers in industry.
I have tried to state the apprenticeship position as frankly and fully as I can, and I have not in any way tried to disguise the anxieties that I feel and which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth expressed in his speech. I think that we are all anxious lest the objectives of the Industrial Training Council should not be reached and that there may be many boys and girls who feel frustrated by lack of opportunity. We are anxious, above all things, that if we fail in this endeavour both industry and the country may be severely handicapped in the years ahead.
On the other hand, I have several reasons for optimism. First, I am convinced that compared with last year, immediately before the issue of the Carr report, the appreciation by industry both of the problem and opportunity of the bulge is quite different from what it was in 1958. This is partly due to the impact of the Carr report itself and the discussions to which that has led, stimulated immensely by a great many local youth employment committees. It is partly due to the strong lead which the British Employers' Confederation has given in this matter, and which has been accepted by its constituent members. I am convinced that there is a different atmosphere in industry on this subject compared with a year ago.
More important, particularly in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said, there is a great difference from a year ago in the feeling of public opinion. Public opinion will be increasingly important in this matter. The public, rightly, will demand that we give these boys and girls the opportunities to which they are entitled. The third reason for optimism is that I believe that the grant that we expect to offer to the Industrial Training Council will lead to the appointment of more training officers, and, through them. to the widening of training opportunities in industry.
Most important of all is that we are overcoming the discouragement to 1503 employers who trained boys and girls in the past of the uncertainty of what lay ahead. From the figures that I have suggested, and which my right hon. Friend suggested last month, it seems that the economic situation is improving—as my right hon. Friend suggested it would —rather better than seasonally. This uncertainty which made these decisions difficult for employers in the past is coming to an end. I am convinced that as the country's industrial future becomes clearer so will the conviction that it depends on training sufficient boys and girls now, and, what is often forgotten, on training them sufficiently well. It is no good increasing the number of people trained if we are not to improve the content of that training at the same time.
This debate, started off as it was by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth, will achieve a most useful function by putting the spotlight on what appears now to be a problem, but which I am convinced, before very long, possibly within a few years, we shall regard as one of the greatest opportunities that industry has ever had.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on having the pleasure of announcing to the country the granting by the Government of this £75,000. I believe that the Government are making a useful contribution which will help considerably in solving the problems that confront us.
The debate was opened this afternoon by my right hon. Friend in a well informed and masterly survey of the apprenticeship problem in the country at the present time. Although I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, I feared at times that he was going to make my speech on Cardiff for me. Much as I enjoyed him making the points, I also like to make points when they concern the city I have the honour to represent together with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).
At times I thought that the picture built up by the Parliamentary Secretary was over-optimistic. He tended to give the impression that this problem was largely being solved and we need not have undue anxiety about the scope of the problem or its likely length. I have no 1504 desire to do the Parliamentary Secretary an injustice, and if I am wrong I hope he will forgive me, but I want to refer in particular to some of our problems in Wales.
I believe the change in the climate of public opinion as compared with a year ago is because the Press, in particular the education Press, has campaigned for some action by the Government on this question of apprenticeship because they were by no means satisfied that the Carr Report, welcome as it was, was in itself sufficient. Indeed, the fact that we have this problem is an indication that industry is not equal to solving the problem by itself.
I was able to attend a meeting in the City Hall at Cardiff yesterday. It was a widely representative conference of employers, trade union representatives, educationalists and others, who were discussing this question with a view to helping both the Government and the youngsters. I was asked to convey this resolution to the House, which I will do now in order afterwards to devote myself to my own contribution to the debate.
That meeting of 119 employers and trade union leaders in Cardiff yesterday passed the following resolution:That this representative meeting of employers, trade union representatives, educationists and others convey to the Government their grave concern that young people are not being afforded sufficient opportunities for entry into apprentice training. The meeting also expresses the view that proposals contained in the Carr Committee's Report are not such as will provide sufficient opportunities for entry into apprentice training.The people who formed that conference were hard-headed business people and long-experienced trade union leaders. We have in Cardiff, as I believe throughout Wales, a special problem. On 16th February, The Times pointed out in its leading article thatUp and down the country firms report queues of youngsters waiting for apprenticeships. Unless they have done well as school their chances of being chosen are small, however skilful they may be with their hands. More and more of these youngsters are leaving school as the birth-rate bulge begins to have its effect.Also in the same article there is this statement:It is three years since the Minister of Labour's National Joint Advisory Council set up the Carr Committee to conduct an inquiry into the training of young workers. It is about 1505 a year since the committee reported. Since then a National Apprenticeship Council has been set up. Numerous meetings have been held. …But the apprenticeship system is unchanged and the number of apprentices has declined.Despite the optimistic words of the Parliamentary Secretary's statement, the fact is that in Cardiff alone the number of boys who desired apprenticeships in 1957–58 was 488 compared with 417 for 1955–56, but the number who were unsuccessful last year were 174. We have this year a worse problem, and the youth employment officer, who is one of the leading youth employment officers in the country, supported by a progressive director of education, has told us that the length of time it takes to absorb youngsters leaving school in employment today, or certainly in apprenticeships, is getting longer all the time.
It has taken four months to absorb the last lot of school leavers. It will take at least six months to absorb those who are the residue of the school leavers at Easter and midsummer. Undoubtedly in the next five years there will be in Cardiff alone 1,500 young people who ought to get apprenticeships but who will be unable to do so if things stay as they are. There is one thing youth cannot do, and that is to wait whilst Governments dawdle.
I realise that the Parliamentary Secretary has this afternoon taken a step forward in encouraging authorities to appoint these training officers. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had felt able to deal with the proposal of the Cardiff authority for a local authority apprenticeship scheme. The Royal Ordnance factory that is vacant in Cardiff, as are others in other parts of the country, would be ideal for a training scheme where smaller factories, grouping together, could have their young men trained for the necessary trades in which they were interested.
Some special action of that kind must match the appointment of training officers, because these people will only be able to appeal to industry, as the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend have been appealing. Somehow they will have to overcome both the prejudices of trade unionists, where they are strong, and the fears of employers. If the Government encourage local authorities with a direct subsidy or grant for the 1506 establishment of training centres, the training officer could help as a liaison between the authority and industry to ensure that the youngsters will be both recognised in their training and have work available for them when they have finished it.
I believe that the smaller firms will have to have some other direct means of help. I do not expect that all my hon. and right hon. Friends will agree with me, although I hope they will do so, but I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education tonight will be able to refer to possible taxation help where small firms seek to group together for the training of apprentices? The financial burden is not inconsiderable for very small firms in particular. I hope, therefore, that the Government have not definitely turned their back on the question of giving tax relief or financial aid in some other form.
I understand that the British Employers Confederation has appealed to its members to increase the recruitment of apprentices by 35 per cent. between 1961 and 1965. That would give industry another 175,000 trained men to be added to our skilled labour force of 3 million. That would be an increase of 3 per cent. These are the figures given in the magazine Education, published on 6th February this year.
The two industries which train most apprentices in this country are building and engineering, and their apprenticeship plans for the next five years are the same as at present. This is a most forbidding sign. With the school bulge soon reaching the open market, it will mean that thousands of young people of ability and potential skill will be denied their opportunity simply for lack of planning and initiative and action by Her Majesty's Government.
I believe that the building industry ought to be more confident. After all, when this large population leaves the schools in 1962, within five years, I suppose they will be getting married and adding to the housing problem and to all the other social problems of an adult population. Of course, if we have an expanding economy there is no need for the fear which is holding back the building industry, other than the direct policy of Her Majesty's Government, which is enough to strike fear into anybody.
1507 We are told that the furniture and civil aviation industries might even diminish the number of apprenticeships they have been giving. Both modernisation and technological advances add to our problems. But we cannot avoid facing the fact that these young people are our responsibility. I believe it is wrong for us simply to leave this to industry, when the large firms are already taking as many as they think they want and the smaller firms are handicapped, as we know, by the fact that—