HC Deb 22 July 1964 vol 699 cc640-51

11.0 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Industrial Training (Wool Industry Board) Order 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 907), dated 22nd June, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th June, be annulled. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to consider at the same time the two following Motions standing in my name: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Industrial Training (Iron and Steel Board) Order 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 949), dated 24th June, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Industrial Training (Construction Board) Order 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 1079), dated 13th July, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th July, be annulled.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

No doubt that would be convenient.

Mr. Prentice

So far as I have understood the proceedings, for the last three quarters of an hour we have been discussing matters which are obsolete, spent, unnecessary or superseded. I now want briefly to draw the attention of the House to matters which are up to date and overdue, and to welcome at long last the appointment of the industrial training boards proposed in these Orders, boards which would have been appointed long ago if a Labour Government had been in power.

I should like to say on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends that we wish every success to those who have taken on the challenge of membership of these new boards. I can assure them of the active support of the next Government. We hope that they will make a tremendous success of the great task which they have taken on.

However, before we accept these Orders, there are certain matters to be explained about the relationship of the Government and the Ministry of Labour, and to some extent the Department of Education, to these boards. It seems to some of us that a question mark hangs over this new development. Certainly there is a question in the minds of people in industry as to the effect upon them of the Industrial Training Act and the new boards. One hears reports from many areas of the reluctance of employers to undertake the expansion of training because of their uncertainty about the way in which this new system will work out. I regret that and I know that the Minister does, and it is, therefore, important that as much clarification as possible should be given as soon as possible about the way in which the new system is to work.

It is not good enough simply to establish these new boards and say that they are to get on with the job. A tremendous amount of the success or otherwise of this programme will depend on the kind of drive put behind industrial training by the Government themselves. This was one of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when he made a statement at Durham at the weekend, a statement clearly misunderstood by the Minister of Labour, to judge from his comments. What my right hon. Friend was saying and what we say in connection with these Orders is that the programme will succeed only if there is a much bigger central drive in the training programme than there appears to be. It is relevant to consider whether the necessary preconditions are there.

What progress has been made in recent months in developing a central team within the Ministry of Labour? It was true only recently, and may still be true for all I know, that the right hon. Gentleman had one technical officer on training who was appointed during the summer of last year. Under the Act, the Minister will have very important powers in relation to the boards and will need a great deal of technical advice. He appoints the members of the boards and has to co-ordinate their work and to be able to check what they are doing. He has the reserve power of dismissing a board in the final analysis, if he is not satisfied with its progress, and appointing a new board. To do that he needs a variety of technical advice which no one person could give him.

The information we had a few months ago was that other appointments were to be made. It would be valuable if we could be told a little more about that.

It seems to me that there is a great job to be done from the centre in terms of research into training, particularly research into new methods of training, in terms of public relations, in trying to make the country conscious of the changes envisaged, in trying to make management at all levels training conscious, and in co-ordinating the work of all these training boards. I suggest to the Minister that he might make some comments on that.

I think that it would be helpful to know what kind of interim arrangements are to be made to help the boards to start their work. To these boards there are being appointed a number of very busy and responsible people, most of them on a part-time basis. They will begin from scratch, without any staff, and without any premises of their own, although it is intended that they should acquire these. What help is being given to them at the beginning? Is Ministry staff being made available to them? Are premises being made available to them? Will they have people with whom they can begin their work? What money is being made available to them as a sort of pump-priming operation at the beginning before they can make arrangements for charging a levy on the firms, which is to be the more permanent source of their funds?

I suggest that we ought to know a good deal more about the way in which the Minister sees the work of these boards developing over the next year or so. In answer to various questions that have been asked at Question Time from both sides of the House, the Minister has tended to say that decisions, about the levy, the nature of training, and that sort of thing, will have to await the meetings of the new boards. Without wishing to suggest that there should be some sort of tight directive to the boards, it seems that by now there should have emerged in the Minister's mind, and in the minds of his advisers, a certain common doctrine which will apply to the training programmes generally in the next year or two.

How soon does the Minister expect the first levy Orders to be made, and when does he expect them to begin to bite? This matter to which I referred just now of firms waiting to see how they will be affected is very largely a matter of waiting to see what sort of levy arrangements, and what sort of rebate arrangements, will be made. I hope that some indication will be given that the trainees which people have now, and have had since the Act came into force, can be taken into account for the purposes of levy and rebate. This may be difficult to do, but I think that we are anxious to ensure that firms do not say, "We do not know what rebate we will get. We had better wait a while before taking people on". This matter has been discussed for many years during which things have tended to hang fire, and we all want it to begin to bite as quickly as possible.

I suggest, also, that we should be told a little more about the Ministry's view of the way in which the boards should branch out into committees, and specialist groups, and that sort of thing. When we were discussing the Bill a few months ago, many of us were aware that there would be something of a dilemma about the kind of appointments to be made to these industrial training boards.

We are to have on the boards the big guns of both sides of industry who will control things, but we need training specialists on these boards too. Unfortunately, in British industry the training specialist does not go high enough up the ladder. There are very few training specialists on the boards of directors. There ought to be more, and we hope that there will be in future. As I read the appointments, the Minister has done what he can to reconcile those two things, but he has naturally and properly tended to appoint people for the knowledge that they have. We shall need to bring people such as training officers, training consultants, and training specialists, on to the committees responsible to the boards.

It seems that the three Orders that we are discussing will each present a different problem. The construction industry is a large one, spread all over the country, and I would have thought that a lot of the breakdown would have to be regional. At an early stage there -will have to be the formation of regional committees or regional boards in each area.

The wool textile industry, on the other hand, tends to be concentrated in one area, where, presumably, that pattern will not be necessary. As I understand it, the board's provisional headquarters is being established in Bradford, and it will probably be a welcome development in an industry like that to have its training board centred in the area most concerned. I presume that will apply in future cases.

On the other hand, in the steel industry at the moment, under its existing training committee system, it has a national committee and seven area committees in those areas where steel is most concentrated. That appears to be a sensible pattern, which I assume will be followed by the board. The Minister cannot assume responsibility for laying these things down in detail, but I ask him whether he agrees that some kind of flexible pattern of this kind, with devolution to the regions in the case of the larger boards, is something that he would support, so that the people making decisions will be making them in relation to an area where they can have some sort of detailed control.

The other point on which I should like some clarification concerns the rôle of the chairmen and deputy-chairmen of these boards. Most of the members will be part-time, and are not to receive any payment, but the chairman will give either full time or a large amount of time to the work of the board. If it were found better to appoint a chairman who could not do that the deputy-chairman would fulfill that rôle. Is that to be the case in respect of these three boards? As I understand it the Construction Board and the Wool Textile Board have deputy-chairmen, but the Iron and Steel Board has not. I assume, however, that in each case one or two people will be giving a great deal of time to this job.

I hope that this will be the case, because it seems to us that a great deal of the initiative is bound to fall on the shoulders of the chairmen and/or deputy-chairmen. The other people will come to the meetings on a part-time basis. Although we hope that they will take a great deal of interest in the matter, the drive must come from someone giving a large amount of time to the problem.

There are many other points that I would have liked to raise, but in view of the time I shall not say any more. Our purpose in putting down these Prayers was to have some discussion, however brief and however late at night, which would help to give a Parliamentary launching to the new boards and give the Minister a chance to say something about them. We are glad that the Minister is taking part. No doubt he welcomes this one last opportunity to speak from the Government Dispatch Box before the General Election removes him from office. All hon. Members would want to wish every possible success to those who have taken on this new job, and to hope that they can begin quickly to get to grips with the problem and make some real progress after all the years of delay in these important matters.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

I am going to move rapidly to the point I want to raise. In fairness to the Minister I want to be brief. I am anxious that the whole pattern of the scheme should succeed, but I am anxious that the machinery that is there in some parts of the country should be made use of by the training boards which are to be set up, of which the Wool Industry Board is a typical example. There will be four possible sites for training. There is the site occupied by a developed major firm, which is already doing a good training job. There are the Government-sponsored factories, or training points. There may be training points by the new boards which they themselves may set up, and there are the existing technical colleges.

I put it to the House that there is already a little uneasiness whether the boards may tend to be a little inward-looking in their operations and to develop their own boards instead of having, not far away, municipal technical colleges with the right sort of organisation for the purpose of bringing the boffin knowledge in from the industry. I hope that this consideration will be borne in mind and will be advocated inside the Ministry, so that there will not be a waste of energy. We should make the most use of the assets we have and prevent any industry from being inward-looking, and so get a proper cohesion in vocational training.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

I plunge straight to the points I wish to make. On the question of membership, I should like to ask what the term of membership of the boards is to be. I should have thought that it would be three years as in the case of hospitals boards and that it was unsatisfactory to leave it vague.

My second point is in reference to the voting of the industrial members on the levy. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that we criticised this entrenched class of members on the boards. In all cases the Orders are more objectionable than the actual Act was itself. For example, paragraph 7. I understood that the Act said that the industrial members would only vote on the amount of the levy, but here it is relating to the imposition of the levy.

I should have thought that the Orders rather widened the opportunity of the industrial members to increase the spread of their power. I certainly think that the proxy form to paragraph 8 (3) is a little sloppy. It enables a member to appoint a second proxy in the case of the first proxy falling by the wayside. It has a certain legal form, but I should have thought that it needed a witness and also that it is undesirable that after the death or insanity of the principal the proxy should still operate unless the death is notified to the board.

Finally, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman this. To the layman and to the educationist these definitions of what constitutes the particular industries are rather confusing. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give a good deal of publicity to the way in which the particular occupations have been worked out. For example, there is some stress on excluding certain occupations. On the other hand, there is specifically included in all cases people working in the garages of the establishments concerned. Therefore, I would like some explanation, if this is possible, as to the convention by which these sets of occupations are scheduled in particular industries.

One thing is rather confusing. In the iron and steel industry the quarrying or mining of iron ore is included in the Iron and Steel Board and in the case of the construction industry the preperation of stone—I think it is for building purposes—is included in the construction industry. I should have thought that there might have been a case for including these things in mining operations and not in this particular field.

The point I make is that it would be helpful to those concerned in working the Act if we could have some indication of the way these matters have grown up and these exceptions are scheduled.

11.18 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I will do my best to reply to as many points as I can in the very limited time available to me. Unfortunately, we have not the normal time for moving Prayers tonight for reasons which I will not go into. I am grateful, and I am sure the House is, for the opportunity of debating these very important issues. In moving this Prayer the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) has given us this opportunity.

As regards the general question of this legislation, I noted the political point made by the hon. Gentleman in opening the debate. He claimed that this would have happened long ago had there been a Labour Government. I fear that this is not in accord with the facts. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that opinion on both sides has matured slowly on this matter and that there are many in the trade unions, as well as on this side, who supported the Carr Committee's recommendations.

To get down now to more detailed points, I would only say that we really have had a most heartening response from everyone concerned in getting the Act onto the Statute Book, and since then in getting the establishment of the Central Training Council and then the first four training boards.

These four Orders have now been laid, and all these boards have had at least one meeting. In some cases they had to be informal meetings as they took place in advance of the Statutory Order being laid. Such delay as there has been in getting the Orders laid has been largely due to the very difficult problem of definitions surrounding some of these industries, but I think we have now got a fair solution in each case.

The boards are getting down to work, and I believe we have been very fortunate in getting some extremely able men to participate. It is going to mean hard work for them and I am very grateful to them.

The Central Training Council, at its first meeting, considered the priorities as to the industries for which further boards should be set up. The Council's advice on this has been submitted to me, and, in the light of this, I have selected four industries: shipbuilding, cotton, construction materials, and public utilities—that is gas, water and electricity. My officers are now proceeding with consultations which will lead up to the establishment of these boards as soon as possible.

The Central Training Council is meeting again tomorrow, and I understand that one of the subjects it intends to study is its own committee structure, to enable it to deal effectively on a regional and functional basis with the varieties of tasks which face it. So on all these matters we are pushing ahead as fast as we possibly can. It is interesting to consider that the first four boards we have set up already cover over 5 million workers, so it can be seen that this is a very considerable matter.

The hon. Member for East Ham, North asked me some specific questions which I will try to answer so far as time allows. The first question related to the central machinery in the Ministry. He asked what the position was in relation to the building up of our staff to assist the boards.

We now have two Branches, each under an Assistant Secretary, dealing with the implementation of the Act. One is concerned with the preparations for the establishment of further boards, and the other is concerned with relations with the four boards already set up, for example in connection with arrangements for the submission of proposals for the levy and for the exercise of the boards' powers. This is the position we have reached, and we are going ahead.

In addition, we have the technical staff under the Chief Technical Adviser to advise on the technical aspects of training. He now has two assistant technical advisers and a deputy is shortly to be appointed, I can therefore assure the hon. Gentleman that we are pressing ahead here also, and I should like to take this opportunity to commend the good work being done by the Chief Technical Adviser, Colonel Work.

The hon. Gentleman's second point was in relation to the help we are giving in regard to funds for staff and premises. We are giving every possible help we can in this field. In the case of the Engineering and Construction Boards we have made available staff and accommodation until such time as they can make permanent arrangements. In the case of the Wool and the Iron and Steel Boards, staff and premises have been made available by the employers' organisations.

I have also undertaken to make available to the boards financial assistance in the form of grants, within a specified limit, to cover all their costs until they can raise their own funds from the levy. At present the grants range up to £10,000, and we are meeting the needs of the boards in this way. Another important form of assistance which I shall be glad to provide is in compiling the register of firms in each industry. This will be a very heavy task, and I have, therefore, offered the help of my local offices in collecting information about firms in their areas.

On the question of the levy, we have prepared for the guidance of the boards a note setting out a number of points which they will need to consider in assess- ing the levy and working out their levy proposals. It is too early to be able to say much more about this because, among other things, circumstances will vary with the different boards and their requirements. However, we are giving all the help that we can in relation to our knowledge of this subject, and we hope that they will be able to put forward their proposals as soon as possible.

Another point raised by the hon. Member for East Ham, North was about the chairmen and deputy-chairmen of boards. I can tell him that the Construction Board and the Wool Board will each have a deputy-chairman, in addition to the chairman, but the other two will not. Each board can have a deputy-chairman if it so desires. This is a matter for me in consultation with the chairman concerned. In the case of the Wool Board, we have decided that there should be a deputy-chairman, primarily because the chairman does not come from within the industry. We do not think it is wise always to have a chairman from within the industry, but where he does come from outside, then it makes sense to have a deputy with extensive knowledge of the industry.

In the case of the Construction Board, the chairman comes from one side of the industry; he is a builder, and it seemed to me appropriate that he should be supported by a deputy-chairman from the civil engineering side of the industry. Neither of these deputy-chairmen will hold a full-time appointment, nor are they asking for payment.

The Engineering and Iron and Steel Boards both have chairmen from within the industries concerned, and I did not feel, in the circumstances, that deputies were necessary. This was agreed with the chairmen of the boards, and is further evidence of how flexible we are being. We think that this is the best way to move forward.

The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) raised one or two points but I have, unfortunately, not the time to reply to them. I would tell him, however, that the educational members of the boards will be able to assist in some of the points he raised. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) referred to the period of office of members of boards and the answer is that, generally, it will be for three years.

I have noted his strictures about voting on the levy but this is a matter for the industrial members on both sides, and we always made clear our intention that it should be handled in this way.

In closing, I would say that we attach the greatest importance to going ahead in the way I have tried to indicate tonight. I would just remind the hon. Member for East Ham, North that his right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said some very strange things at the week-end. For example, he said that: The Ministry of Economic Affairs together with the Departments concerned will work out with industrialists and trade unionists the ways in which they can be helped to play a real part in this training drive and at the same time be protected from those of their competitors who, while avoiding any part in this, then proceed to poach those who their more public spirited fellows have trained. I would tell him that the first part is what we are doing and the second part is precisely what we are trying to prevent. So clearly he has quite a lot to learn about industrial training. This Government are pressing ahead, well ahead of anything which the party opposite has any intention of doing in this field. Indeed, the party opposite is trying to jump on our band-waggon. I ask the hon. Member to tell his right hon. Friend just what the Conservative Government are doing, and will be continuing to do for many years ahead, and he will then have the opportunity of learning a great deal more about industrial training than he would appear to know at present.

Mr. Prentice

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.