HC Deb 10 July 1973 vol 859 cc1233-4
2. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take urgent steps to increase the labour force in the construction industry.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. R. Chichester-Clark)

Although the principal responsibility should lie with the industry itself, the number of places available in construction trades under the Training Opportunities Scheme has been massively increased and we are still expanding our capacity.

Mr. Hardy

Is the Minister of State not aware that unless even greater urgency is shown in dealing with this problem, unless there is effective and energetic action at an early date, all the proposals listed in the Government's various policy documents on housing and issued in the past year will turn out to be pious hopes and platitudes?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The hon. Gentleman can take that view if he likes. The facts are that the initiatives we have taken mean that the Training Opportunities Scheme now provides about a quarter of the intake of all skilled men in the industry and between 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. of the intake of bricklayers, which is pretty important. There is a limit to the extent to which the taxpayer can be asked to finance industry's needs.

Mr. Idris Owen

While I recognise the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Rather Valley (Mr. Hardy) about the desperate situation in the construction industry, I thought that there was a degree of implied criticism of my hon. Friend. Is my hon. Friend in a position to give me the figures for apprenticeship training in 1970 as compared with today?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I do not have the 1970 figures, but I can tell my hon. Friend that in 1972 the figure was over 27,000 compared with over 20,000 in 1971. The fastest fall in apprenticeships was between 1968 and 1969.

Mr. Frank Allaun

But is the hon. Gentleman aware that in most of the schools for apprentices a very high proportion of the young men come from direct labour departments that train their own apprentices, which private firms do not do? Will he attend to this matter?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I take the hon. Gentleman's point; I am sure that he is absolutely right. Probably one of the greatest discouragements to apprenticeship was the introduction of selective employment tax. I well remember saying so in the House, and certain hon. Members opposite who were concerned about this facet of training, in particular in the construction industry, were notably absent from the Division that followed.

Sir R. Cary

Is it not possible to shorten apprenticeship courses?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Yes. That is one of the matters under consideration. At present apprenticeships last for four years, and a proposal by the Construction Industry Training Board to reduce it to three years is being considered by the industry. If it were adopted, depending on the timetable for introduction it would produce a significant short-term increase in the number of skilled workers, and the effect on productive capacity to which the workers already contribute as apprentices would be much less.

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