HC Deb 01 February 1972 vol 830 cc249-62
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)

I have published today a document entitled "Training for the Future: A Plan for Discussion". This sets out the Government's plans for implementing their commitments to expand the facilities for retraining together with the results of my promised review of the work of the industrial training boards.

The Government have decided to introduce a training opportunities scheme which will bring in a massive expansion of Government-sponsored training for individual men and women. In 1970 the number of people receiving training for this kind was fewer than 17,000. "Training for the Future" announces that this will be raised to 100,000 a year as quickly as possible and as a first step to at least 60,000 to 70,000 by 1975. I recognise that to achieve this expansion we shall need determined action to provide the necessary facilities and also to inform people of the new scale of opportunities open to them and of the benefits of taking advantage of them.

"Training for the Future" also reports the conclusions of the review of the work of the industrial training boards. The boards have great achievements to their credit in changing the attitudes of industry to training and in raising the standard of training generally. We need to build on what has been achieved, but we must also recognise and acknowledge the defects in the system and seek to remove them.

For this purpose it is proposed that, while compulsory levy-grant should be phased out after 1973, the industrial training boards should in general be retained in order to concentrate on the development of their work in the identification of particular training needs of their industries, on the setting of standards and on the provision of advisory services. This proposal is in line with the direction already being taken by a number of the boards.

It is further proposed to establish an agency to co-ordinate the work of the boards and to fill the gaps in the present system. This agency would be given funds of the order of £25 million to £40 million a year to provide advisory services and grants in order to stimulate key training to meet national needs—for example, to meet the shortfall in the apprentice intake last summer or to provide any support which might be necessary for activities such as group training schemes and off-the-job training of apprentices and technicians.

Since it will be necessary to unify responsibility if we are to achieve as quickly as possible the 100,000 target of Government-sponsored training, and since the training plans and programmes of employers and Government also need to be looked at as a whole and to be closely co-ordinated, it seems sensible to make the agency responsible for both sectors. It is therefore proposed to establish a National Training Agency which will be hived off from my Department.

I should like to make clear the status of this document. The expansion of Government-sponsored training which the document announces—that is, the 100,000 target—represents a firm decision with which the Government are proceeding urgently. On the other hand, the proposals relating to the future rôle of the training boards and the establishment of a single National Training Agency are for consultation on the widest basis.

The Government intend to introduce such legislation as may be necessary to implement these proposals in the next Session of Parliament. The document therefore asks all those who wish to comment to do so not later than the end of May so that this timetable can be kept.

We believe that the programme contained in this document will ensure the supply of trained manpower which is vital if this country is to achieve sustained economic growth—growth that is of particular importance in terms both of regional policy and of our forthcoming entry into Europe. Training also has a strong social purpose, for it gives people a chance to improve their economic prospects and to achieve greater satisfaction as they progress through their working lives.

Mr. Prentice

The Secretary of State has announced an expansion of the work of the Government training centres which we would all welcome. Would he confirm that this is likely to have very little impact in 1972 on the present 1 million unemployed? Does it not follow that the Prime Minister grossly oversold this policy last week when he made this announcement one of the main items in his reply to a censure debate on the problems of having 1 million unemployed?

Even taking the long-term view, would the right hon. Gentleman accept from us that whereas the expansion of training may be a useful part of a strategy for full employment it is no substitute for the rest of the strategy and that if he gets the expansion of Government training by 1975 which he is aiming at the whole thing will go sour and will be worse than useless unless there is an expansion of job opportunities to go along with it?

On the right hon. Gentleman's proposals about the future of the industrial training boards, clearly we shall all want time to study the consultative document. But could I react straight away to what seems to me to be the worst part of these suggestions, that the levy-grant system is to be phased out from 1973? Is it not clear that this has been the mainspring of the expansion and improvement of industrial training in recent years?

If this system is now to be abandoned, will it not immediately make a gift to those firms that do no training? Will not the right hon. Gentleman then take us back to a situation in which it will be cheaper for many firms to avoid their training duty but to try instead, by paying a little over the rates, to poach skilled workers trained by other firms? In other words, is not that suggestion likely more than to cancel out the expansion in the Government training schemes?

It seems to many people that on this point the right hon. Gentleman has yielded to the pressure that he has been under for some time from some of the most reactionary and anti-social employers in the country, who have attacked the whole basis of the work of the hoards and have wanted to avoid doing their share of the training in their own industries.

Mr. Carr

Of course training plans are only part of the strategy for achieving and maintaining full employment in a modern economy, but they are a vital brick in the total structure. If the right hon. Gentleman re-reads the speeches which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I made in last week's debate he will see that the training expansion was presented as part of a strategy. But we believe that it is an immensely important part. Of course the provision of training facilities does not of itself create new jobs, but it is surprising how, even in a time of very slack labour demand, one can still place people with requisite skills and how even today in some parts of the country—and it is becoming perhaps most obvious in the construction industry—there are shortages of skilled people.

Mr. Carter


Mr. Carr

If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) took any interest in the economy, he would know where the shortages are and would not need to shout from a sedentary position. There are shortages of bricklayers, for example, in many parts of the country. But I want to reply to the questions put by the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) instead of sedentary interruptions. These shortages—of bricklayers, for example, and of some other skills—are a sign that if we are not careful shortage of skills could, as has happened before in this country, prove a bottleneck in the economic expansion, and we are determined to try to make sure that no such bottleneck arises. I do not accept that we are exaggerating the importance of training expansion. I believe that we are giving it its appropriate place in our strategy.

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said about the industrial training boards and the need to consider their situation. I emphasise that we genuinely want consultation. I would welcome a debate on the subject. I believe that the boards have achieved great success and that in the early stages the levy-grant system was a very valuable and perhaps essential shock treatment to produce the effects that we have seen. But I think there is growing evidence in an increasing number of industries that the effects of the levy-grant system on a compulsory basis are showing rapidly the results of the law of diminishing returns. I think anyone who studies the matter will agree with that. But I repeat that many of the boards have been moving in the direction of my proposals of their own free will and free judgment.

The House should bear in mind that one of the original ideas of the levy- grant system—to redistribute income from those who were not training to those who were—has been becoming steadily weaker year by year because, for example, not only are an increasing number of small firms being excluded from the scheme because of various difficulties but an increasing number of the boards are setting maxima for the percentage of grants which can be earned, and therefore the degree of redistribution is becoming very small.

Dame Irene Ward

I express our appreciation of the Government's plans for the future of training, which will be very valuable to the economy. In the Northern area we are expecting an immediate expansion of training for the skills that are necessary for the area and we have been led to understand that it is to be put into operation. Is the situation of our training centres being examined in view of the need to establish a quick, special training for the skills needed in the North-East? We want quick action in training now as well as arrangements for the future.

Mr. Carr

I assure my hon. Friend that we are getting on with the expansion following our decision. I am glad to say that the occupancy rate of training centres throughout the country has risen from 80 to about 90 per cent. over the last year There are also bottlenecks in some courses which we are urgently seeking to remove. We are also seeking to supplement facilities available in Government training centres themselves by identifying and bringing into use, on a proper payment basis, spare training facilities which exist in industry. I assure my hon. Friend that action is going on and not just planning.

Mr. Albu

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree from his own experience that before the introduction of the Industrial Training Act the level of industrial training, both in quantity and in quality, was deplorably low in this country by any comparable standards? Does he not feel it extremely dangerous to give up the system of deterrents and incentives involved in grants and levies which has encouraged or forced industries to make the rapid improvement we have seen over the last few years? Shall we not see now a slipping back into the old complacency based on the non-interventionist policies of right hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Carr

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that this is one of the central matters about which we have to form a judgment. Our judgment is that the levy-grant system was a valuable—perhaps indispensable—shock treatment. We believe that, now, however, there is evidence of diminishing returns. We also believe that there really has been a "sea change" and that training has been raised in quantity and quality and also in status to a new level of importance in industry from which it will not slip back.

Moreover, our plans involve a training agency, which never existed before 1964. The agency will be given a sum of £25 million to £40 million; that is the best estimate we can make at the moment. We believe that this is equivalent in total to the net degree of redistribution of resources currently being brought about in the levy-grant system. In other words, we are giving the agency what we believe to be the equivalent amount of resources to stimulate re-training wherever the need appears to arise.

Mr. Emery

Many of us are pleased that the Government training and the industrial training are to be brought together under one agency, a course which has been advocated by many people. First, what is to be done with the specialised knowledge of the Central Training Council, which has given a great deal of assistance overall in training matters? Secondly, what proportion of the £25 million to £40 million does my right hon. Friend envisage being applied to the industrial side rather than to the Government's retraining factor? Thirdly, how will this scheme be particularly beneficial to small companies, which have frequently suffered under the levy-grant system but are very often among those which need the greatest support?

Mr. Carr

The Central Training Council has played a valuable part, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to it. The document suggests that the time has come when the council should perhaps be replaced by an overall employment policy advisory council to advise me not only on training but on all other aspects of employment and manpower policy. This is one of the proposals put up for consultation in the document.

My hon. Friend asks me about the £25 million to £40 million. This is apart from the cost of running the greatly expanded Government-sponsored scheme. The cost of running the Government-sponsored scheme will probably be about £60 million a year when we reach the 60,000 level and considerably more when we reach the 100,000 level. The £25 million to £40 million is for the agency to use outside the Government-sponsored training scheme.

My hon. Friend also referred to small companies. I hope that the advisory services which the boards will be encouraged to develop will be of great advantage to the small companies in those industries covered by the boards. With the agency, there will in future be an instrument for giving advice where necessary to all those many companies which do not fall under any training board at the moment and which it is almost impossible to envisage as ever coming under any training board in the present system.

Mr. Pardoe

While welcoming this considerable expansion of the Government-sponsored training service, for which we have been pressing for many years, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that there is a desperate need to ensure that jobs are available to those who are trained? Will he also bear in mind the pattern of bad forecasting of labour in the regions and the immobility of labour between the regions. Is he satisfied that his manpower forecasting will be satisfactory to ensure that the training is for jobs which are available and that the jobs are obviously there for those who are trained?

Mr. Carr

The Leader of the Liberal Party raised this question in last week's debate. We have found that manpower forecasting is a very difficult problem and is far, alas, from being solved. We believe that this development of training must run hand-in-hand with development of employment services and the establishment of local labour market areas with sophisticated, adequate staffing for discovering the real state of manpower needs present and future in local areas, and that integrating the local information into a national picture is the most hopeful way of going about this difficult problem. But that we are going to build up urgently in parallel with training development. We cannot see the future manpower needs very clearly at the moment, and, therefore, there is a great body of guesswork in all the training facilities that one provides, but I hope that as years go on we shall see this more clearly than we do at the moment.

Mr. Scott

Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise at the rather grudging welcome given to these proposals by the Opposition? In view of the fact that the proposals will bring both social and economic benefits to a much larger proportion of the work force, does he not agree—although I welcome the phasing out of the levy—that effective standards will not be possible unless there is some carrot or stick which can be applied by the agency? Secondly, does my right hon. Friend agree that the key to the success of this whole policy is to making training attractive not simply to the unemployed but also to people who are in employment who could widen their horizons and improve their prospects thereby?

Mr. Carr

As to the question of some carrot or stick, I agree that that is necessary. I believe we have reached the point where a carrot is more effective than a stick. The carrot here is £25 million to £40 million, which is a rough estimate of what the agency will have available for small activities. In addition, the individual boards working under the agency umbrella will, I believe, set a standard at least as good as it has been before.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that as we expand facilities it will be necessary, as I said in my opening statement, to make an equal effort to inform people about the existence of the extra opportunities and the benefits to be obtained from them. If I may use jargon, there is as much need for a marketing agreement as for a production agreement in this field.

Mr. Mark Hughes

May I ask about the position of residential training schools and colleges, such as Finchale Abbey, and so forth, which at the moment rely very heavily on private capital for giving training opportunities to the disabled, and whether the overlapping between the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the Department of Health and Social Security will be looked into especially in the expansion—a very sorely needed expansion—of help to the disabled?

Mr. Carr

This is a very important point which is not dealt with in specific terms in this document. I can say that the whole question of the disabled and future policy is under consideration in my Department and there is consultation about this at the moment. I should like to make clear that there is nothing in this document which would in any way make it more difficult for a firm employing disabled persons; on the contrary it will make it easier.

Miss Quennell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that everyone will wish to study the document and to be given an opportunity to welcome these proposals, but is he also aware that in the retraining of mature persons much of his excellent announcement could be undermined unless the social and domestic problems associated with retraining, of married men particularly, are borne in mind and unless his right hon. Friends keep under constant review the grants and allowances available while retraining?

Mr. Carr

Of course this is so. For that reason last July I announced a specific increase in training allowances, which at least makes it financially better for a person or a family to undergo training than to be unemployed.

Mr. Skinner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as has been said by many of my hon. and right hon. Friends, this will not solve the immediate problem of long-term unemployment which we have at present? Perhaps I might suggest to him two suitable cases for consideration. Would he suggest to Derek Ezra, who does not seem to understand that the job of the miner is a rotten, lousy job, that he should have six months' training underground? May I also suggest that he might get on a course in which he could find the price of butter? While we are about it, perhaps the Government Front Bench, particularly the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should take a training course on deficit financing of nationalised industries to find ways and means of reconstructing the capital finances of the National Coal Board so that the miners could get a decent increase in response to the claim they have made.

Hon. Members


Mr. J. H. Osborn

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, regarding the programme for the training in Government centres of 100,000, which is to be welcomed, and following what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell), that it is the attitudes of certain people who have skills, and in particular old and obsolete skills, that have to be changed, and I agree with hon. Members opposite that those attitudes cannot be changed quickly? Will he bear this in mind in considering this policy which includes training for definite new employment opportunities which is to be welcomed?

Turning to the consultative document, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of the smaller industries—particularly in building and amongst motor agents—have been overcome by the damp hand of bureaucracy?

Mr. Carr

In so far as there has been "the damp hand of bureaucracy", I think there is no doubt that my proposals will reduce that. This has been one of the real problems, but we are trying to operate a levy-grant system among very large numbers of individual undertakings, and when doing so in an industry where there are large numbers of small undertakings it is virtually impossible to do so except by bureaucratic methods. This is one of the reasons why it has become counter-productive, but I am sure that we shall reduce that so far as it exists.

On the first point, of course I agree. We have a long task ahead of us as a country and we are starting late compared with other countries in developing the concept of training and retraining throughout working life in the sort of skills that we are beginning to talk about. We are informing and persuading people about the benefits of this, which is at least as important as training for industry.

Mr. Eadie

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that everybody concerned about industrial training will welcome his proposals, which will mean more training and, we hope, more jobs? But would he not agree that he has a further responsibility in the matter of jobs and training, and does he not think it is time that he made a statement at the Dispatch Box on the fact that 280,000 miners are now on strike and that it looks as though many people will freeze because of power cuts? Although on the one hand he produces a responsible statement such as he has made today, is it not the height of irresponsibility for him not to make such a statement on the miners' strike?

Mr. Carr

At the moment I am making a statement about training and am answering questions thereon, and I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about that. As for the second part of his remarks, if I thought it right today to make a statement about the other subject I would do so.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am very much in the hands of the House. I do not want to close this discussion, but I hope that hon. Members will direct their questions to the statement.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

In the proposed reorganisation, does the Secretary of State expect local education authorities to make a bigger contribution, particularly through institutes of further education?

Mr. Carr

Yes, I think this is very important. One of the most important parts of the consultation that we now have to undertake is with the education authorities because in the last year or two we have been making greater use of vocational training centres and colleges of further education. There has been close co-operation in this matter, and it is important that it should be made closer in the next few months.

Mr. Dalyell

What reputable evidence has the right hon. Gentleman of any diminishing returns? I declare a constituency interest in regard to the multi-occupational training centre in Livingston, where many people are extremely worried about cutting down on the levy system and do not wish the boards to be dependent on Government sources for total finance. Are they to have the same opportunity to protect their interests in the Press as the publicly paid employees of Science have done in defending themselves against the Rothschild proposals?

Mr. Carr

I do not think I can go into the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. If he reads the report, which includes as an appendix a fairly detailed assessment of the work of the training boards, I think he will agree that it would be better to deal with those matters on another occasion. The fact that boards have in recent years, without any pressure from the Government, been finding it necessary to exclude the smaller companies and also have been finding it necessary to limit the percentage of grant—and some boards such as the petroleum training board, the food and drink training board and the iron and steel training board have gone virtually the whole way oil these proposals—is an indication that the proposals are in the same direction as the tide is naturally flowing.

Mr. Tugendhat

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the most serious aspects of the unemployment position is the effect on white collar workers? Would he agree that in the context of the whole situation they require special treatment? Is there any possibility of something being done for them in the very near future?

Mr. Carr

My hon. Friend has put his finger on one of the inherent difficulties about the training board system as we know it. There are areas of occupation—and perhaps the white collar workers are such a case—which are spread across the whole area of employment and it does not seem sensible to try to deal with those under 27 different boards. Therefore, I believe that the sort of structure proposed today will give a better opportunity for dealing with the sort of problems my hon. Friend mentioned.

Mr. McGuire

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I, as a miners' sponsored Member, am delighted that he has got away from the stick and has indicated that he believes in the carrot policy? We shall expect a statement on the miners' dispute in line with that attitude. Could I put a narrow, chauvinistic constituency point: will he in considering the enlarged training programme bear in mind the needs of Skelmersdale? Will he see to it that at the end of the day we shall not train men only to see them become skilled unemployed workers rather than unskilled unemployed workers, and that the jobs will follow the training?

Mr. Carr

Yes, of course. The important point to realise is that this goes back to the beginning. It is a central part of the strategy, but is no good on its own. I can assure the hon. Member on that matter. I take note of what he said in the first part of his remarks. I only hope everybody will stop using sticks.