HC Deb 09 December 1971 vol 827 cc1494-7
27. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the Government's plans for the future of the National Institute for Housecraft.

52. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals the Government have for future support of the National Institute for Housecraft.

Mr. Bryan

The institute has done very valuable work both in the setting of recognised national standards and in training for domestic employment but, in the light particularly of alternative facilities developed to both these ends over recent years, the progress of which my right hon. Friend will continue to watch, he has decided that the annual grant my Department makes to the institute can no longer be justified and the institute has informed him that it will, in consequence, have to close down.

Arrangements are being made to enable the institute to fulfil its commitments for the present academic year and consideration will be given to means for securing the continued recognition of the institute's diploma.

We shall enable the institute to give proper compensation to its long-serving staff made redundant as a result of this decision and my Department will do all it can, when the time comes, to assist those of the staff seeking other employment. It employs about 40 people, many of whom work part-time.

Mrs. Castle

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this further petty little economy by the Conservative Government to finance tax reliefs for the well-to-do will be treated on this side of the House with the contempt it deserves? Is he further aware that the purposes for which the late Ernest Bevin created this institute 25 years ago are as urgent as ever—namely, reflecting the need to get recognition of domestic employment as a worthwhile job and career and requiring proper training skills and adequate rewards for those who reach the recognised standards of proficiency? What do the Government intend to do to ensure that this important work is continued? In particular what steps is the hon. Gentleman taking to establish a national standard of skill and examination to replace the diploma which was issued by the institute?

Mr. Bryan

It is precisely because the situation has changed since the days of Ernest Bevin that this change is being made. My right hon. Friend has taken a very close personal interest in this matter and has studied it very carefully. He has concluded that local education authorities and the major employers of domestic workers, such as hospitals and hotels, have developed facilities which to a large extent have replaced those which are offered by the institute.

Mrs. Castle

May I ask for a reply to my last specific point, namely, what steps are being taken to establish a national standard of skill in examination to replace the diploma?

Mr. Bryan

The diploma is being retained and, as the right hon. Lady will know, examinations are already taken by trainees who do not attend the institute. The diploma will remain.

Mrs. Short

If the Government grant is to be withdrawn, how does the hon. Gentleman expect diploma courses to continue without Government support? Furthermore, what discussions has he had with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to see that an adequate substitute is provided in colleges? Could he say what alternative will be accepted by the hotel industry and, for example, student hostels, old people's homes and other establishments of that kind which in the past have relied on the institute's diploma?

Mr. Bryan

To answer the last part of the hon. Lady's question first, my right hon. Friend has consulted the following parties: the Chairman of the Catering Industrial Training Board, the Chairman of the Local Government Industrial Training Board, the Department of Health, and so on. Although they all have great good will for the institute, they have reached the same conclusion as has my right hon. Friend, namely that the duties and achievements of these centres in the past have now been taken over by other institutions. Perhaps I may give the figures. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Last year some 203 people took the housecraft diploma whereas 6,250 candidates took courses of similar type in other institutions, so the size of the task has got out of all proportion.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my hon. Friend aware how much this decision is regretted by those of us, such as my noble Friend Viscountess Davidson and myself, who were in at the beginning of the establishment of this institute? [HON. MEMBERS: "Keep it short."] Will he give an assurance that everything possible will be done to see that staff made redundant will get good jobs in the future? Will he also pay great tribute to those who were connected with the concept of the institute? We accept the decision with very great regret.

Mr. Bryan

On behalf of my right hon. Friend, perhaps I might pay tribute to all those who created the institute and their work in it over the years, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that my right hon. Friend has given great consideration to this matter. I assure her that my right hon. Friend greatly disliked taking this action. He did so on its merits.