HC Deb 23 May 1973 vol 857 cc506-72
Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 20, at end add: 'and to secure the implementation of sections 6 to 12 of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944'.

Mr. Speaker

It will be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 51, in Clause 12, page 15, line 14, at end insert: '(c) of the Commission and all officers designated by the Secretary of State to advise registered blind or disabled persons about their opportunities for employment to include not only sheltered workshop opportunities but also those available in open industry, and it shall be the right of the blind or disabled person to choose between these two types of employment'.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Walker

Amendment No. 3 refers to those sections of the 1944 Disabled Persons Employment Act which provide for the quota system. I am grateful to the Minister of State for having carried out the promise he made in Standing Committee to send me a copy of the consultative document on the quota system when it was ready. We received it last night, on the eve of the debate. Obviously, I have not had time thoroughly to study it, but I have gone through it.

At the risk of over-simplifying, I would say that the quota scheme at present requires that firms employing more than 20 people should take at least 3 per cent. of their work force from the ranks of the registered disabled. Contrary to popular assumption, it is not an offence not to fill this quota, but it is an offence to go below the quota without the permission of the Department of Employment. In comparison with some of the schemes set out in the appendices to the consultative document—those of West Germany, France, Italy and Holland are mentioned —ours seems very modest.

Table I of the consultative document presents statistics that show that we are discussing the employment prospects of over 600,000 people—a figure which, although smaller than in previous years, is still a large one. Table II, however, shows that compliance with the quota has also diminished over the same period.

Any comfort that we may have gleaned from the falling numbers of registered disabled in the table is offset by the knowledge that their employment prospects seem to have weakened. Although the numbers of registered disabled were previously higher than at present, until 1961 the quota obligation was largely, year after year, being fulfilled. But, from that year, although the total numbers of registered disabled have fallen, the position in respect of fulfilment of the quota obligation has progressively deteriorated.

In the absence of any information to the contrary in the document, I can only assume that one cause, if not the primary one, has been the fall-off in enforcement of the provisions of the 1944 Act. The figure omitted from the consultative document tables seems to bear this out.

In 1972, over 60,000 firms were within the scope of the scheme. Nearly 60 per cent. of those were not fulfilling their quota obligations. More significant—this is the point on which the document is silent—in that same year, 9,000 of the firms which were not in compliance had not sought the Department's permission to go below the 3 per cent. quota. In other words, 9,000 firms were in clear breach of the law and the Department took no action.

This is astonishing from Ministers who have repeatedly preached the need for everyone to observe the law. It is a matter for regret that they did not apply that philosophy with equal vigour in this crucially important field of the employment of the disabled.

One question to which we are entitled to an answer today, notwithstanding anything in the consultative document, is what the Government propose to do about the 9,000 firms that are in clear breach of the law.

These are the sombre and depressing facts that prompt the amendment. They point not only to the failure of the Department to enforce the scheme but to what seems to be the dereliction of the Department's statutory duty. It is difficult to see how that state of affairs will be improved by the fragmentation of responsibilities which the Government now propose in the Bill.

At present, responsibilities for almost every aspect of the employment of disabled persons are unified within the Department's headquarters at No. 8 St. James's Square. Instead of that, in future we shall have, for example, the disablement resettlement officers and the blind persons resettlement officers working within the Employment Service Agency. The training for the disabled will be the responsibility of the Training Services Agency, yet the rehabilitation units will be run by the Employment Service Agency. So we shall have a division of what is at present a unification of two agencies. Added to that, there is a further division, in that questions of sheltered employment, the maintenance of the disabled persons register and the application of the quota scheme will be looked after by the Secretary of State.

This seems an odd and inexplicable dispersal of duties. In replying to the debate the Under-Secretary will no doubt repeat the assurance he gave when we raised this question, en passant, in Committee. He said then that in his view Nothing will be gained by writing into the Bill…specific provisions that the commission should devote itself to the welfare and to the employment of disabled people. It will do this. Its remit is over the whole field of employment. However, it was the Under-Secretary's following phrase—particularly in the light of the figures that I have given to the House—that worried me. He went on to say that the commission will give it just as much attention as the Department of Employment does at present."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 3rd May 1973; c. 495.] It was the prospect of just that prophecy being fulfilled—that the commission might give it just as much attention as the Department of Employment does at present—that provoked the amendment.

In my constituency over 18 per cent.—nearly one in five—of the registered disabled are jobless, and 92 firms in the Doncaster travel-to-work area are out of compliance with the quota. Yet the Bill offers them the assurance that they will get just as much attention in the future as at present. I should like the Minister to look into this matter and to let me know which firms have not applied for permission to go below the quota. Over 18 per cent. of the registered disabled will be offered no assurance by the Bill. It is no consolation to them to be told by the Minister that they will get just as much attention in the future as they do at present.

I have deliberately avoided any reference to the critique of the present scheme which is contained in the newly published consultative document, or to the various alternatives which are canvassed in it. I may have been ruled out of order had I done so. In any case, the proposals which the Government are now putting forward deserve more careful scrutiny than we have had chance to give them so far. Neither do I want in any way to pre-empt the consultative procedure. To do that might let down the Minister, in view of the kind gesture that he has made. But I hope that, unlike the way that the Government have handled the Robens Report, the House of Commons will be given the chance to express its view before the Government commit themselves to any policy. I see that the Under-Secretary is smiling cynically. No doubt he felt a little sore on Monday when he felt that he had done the House a kindness by making a statement. He may be entitled to feel sore. But had he listened to us he may not have had that rough treatment, and if he listens to us now he will avoid it in the future. He can avoid it if the Government decide to give the House of Commons a chance to express its view.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am happy to debate this matter with him at any time in the future. We are looking forward to having the views of hon. Members in all parts of the House.

I was not smiling cynically; I was smiling warmly to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman is far too old a hand to know that I can decree what type of debate will take place in the House. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. But I will help the hon. Gentleman by conveying what he has said to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Walker

I apologise if I did the hon. Gentleman an injustice about the warm smile that he bestowed upon me. I appreciate that it is up to the Leader of the House. But it is equally within the power of the Secretary of State—the Under-Secretary's master—to say to his colleagues in the Cabinet, "I shall not commit us to any policy, on this or any other subject, until the House has had a chance to debate it." The longer the Leader of the House defers the debate, the longer will the Secretary of State postpone his policy commitment to the public.

I am not arguing that the scheme in the 1944 Act is ideal, or beyond improvement. Clearly, it has not worked. It would be wrong to say that it is the embodiment of perfection when it manifestly is not. When I say that it is not working, I do not mean that the scheme has necessarily failed. Clearly, it is not fulfilling its purpose, but the concept is not necessarily wrong. What is wrong is the absence of the will and the determination to implement and enforce it.

The Under-Secretary means well and is as anxious to serve the needs of the disabled as I am, but to canvas the Inner Wheel, Rotary and Junior Chambers of Commerce on the need for them to help the disabled is not the way that a Government ought to conduct themselves. No doubt the Under-Secretary meant well when he did that, but that is not what we expect from the Government. The Government should say that the scheme will be applied and enforced, and that if it does not work they will look at something fresh. Until that is done we ought to impose on the commission an obligation to do what the present Government and, admittedly, their predecessors have failed to do since 1961.

Mr. Pavitt

I wish to address my remarks mainly to Amendment No. 51, in my name, which covers part of the same subject and the arguments so powerfully deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker). I strongly support everything that he said. It is unnecessary for me to repeat his comments. The Under-Secretary has a formidable task in replying to my hon. Friend's forthright points.

I feel that I am an interloper in the debate. Other hon. Members have served on the Standing Committee and done many hard chores. As someone who has entered the debate on Report, I feel that I must apologise to my colleagues who served on the Committee.

Before tabling the amendment, I read with interest the debate that took place on the Tenth Sitting of the Committee with regard to disabled persons. I wish to address the House on a narrow point, mainly from the point of view of a small section of the disabled—the blind. When one does this from time to time and addresses oneself to a particular section of the disabled, one is always anxious not to divide one section of the disabled against another. My comments arise mainly from the problems of the blind person which are caused by the fact that his situation regarding employment is different from that of other disabled people. Nevertheless, I am anxious that the House should realise that the last thing that we should ever do is to try to make one sector of the disabled, whether it be the deaf, the blind or those who suffer from other disabilities, the prize sector to which the House should give compassion and consideration to the exclusion of others.

5.30 p.m.

My amendment arises as a result of the resolution passed at the annual conference of the National League of the Blind and Disabled, a copy of which the Under-Secretary has received directly from its secretary. The essence of the argument is that the blind or disabled person should have the same freedom of choice on employment as anyone else. The fact that disability limits the scope for employment should not be a reason for leaving it up to the officer of the Department to decide into which employment the disabled person should go. At the moment, because of the way in which the 1944 Act is interpreted the blind person can be classified under Section 1 or Section 2 purely on the judgment of the disablement resettlement officer at the local employment exchange.

The Under-Secretary will recall the all-party delegation which I took to meet him last July. However, perhaps I may remind him of the points he made in the letter he sent to me after meeting that deputation. He said: I understand and fully appreciate the point made by the representatives of the League, that prolonged periods of unemployment may be especially demoralising for some blind people, and create an unemployability complex'. This is indeed one of the reasons why we genuinely try to interpret the constraints placed upon us by Section 15 of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act of 1944 with maximum flexibility. However, these constraints apart, there is always the question of the availabilility of work opportunities within workshops for the blind which for a variety of reasons are tending to decline. He went on to say: It is clear to me that the National League of the Blind and Disabled have genuine fears that some blind people are being deprived of what is in their best interest because of what I might term alleged 'bureaucratic decisions' of some of our officers. I wish to dispel those fears"— I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for that intention— and I am therefore asking our local officers to ensure not only that they themselves keep these cases under constant review, but also to keep in close consultation with social services departments of local authorities whenever decisions about eligibility for admission to workshops for the blind arise. Those fears have not been dispelled, and I remind the Under-Secretary of the case he now has before him, which I should like to put on the record. It is typical of a number of cases concerning the blind. Roger is 29 years of age and has been registered blind for 12 years. He has worked only six and a half years out of the 12. He has had five different jobs in different parts of the country, such as Yeovil, Salisbury, Surrey, and two in London. Some of the jobs he had to leave owing to redundancy.

A period of high unemployment hits the disabled and the blind first. An inevitable consequence of Government policies which led to such a large number of unemployed over the last few years has been that this sector has been hit hardest. The problem is that in industry the last in is always the first out where redundancy is imposed. Therefore, a disabled person who is employed after being trained under one of the Department's schemes is often the first out. In this case the person concerned, Roger, is currently unemployed.

A blind persons resettlement officer arranged for Roger to be interviewed at the Peckham workshops of the London Association for the Blind. He was found to be suitable and therefore acceptable to the workshop management. The London borough of Southwark agreed to sponsor his employment in the workshop, and it was arranged that he should commence work on 19th March last. On 14th March, Roger was interviewed by an official from the regional office of the Department of Employment and was told that the Department would not approve his entry into the workshop. Immediately representations to the Under-Secretary were made, reminding him of his statement to the deputation last July that he would be prepared to consider such cases. He rejected the representations and indicated that Roger had been offered a job by the Department which he had turned down. That is true, but the rejection of the job was in my view based on valid grounds. Roger lives in Camberwell and the workshop is close to where he lives. After a short training period he would receive a basic wage of £24 per week. The job offered by the Department was in Mitcham with a basic wage of £19.40 per week. It would also have entailed an extremely difficult journey for a blind person to undertake.

This kind of decision is made by an official of the Department, but the wishes of the blind person should be paramount and he should not be subjected unnecessarily to the administrative arrangements of the Department. The blind and disabled are the only persons to remain virtually under the direction of labour under an Act passed during the last war. The absolute power of officials to decide whether to classify a blind person in Section 1 or Section 2 according to their judgment and discrimination under Section 15 of the 1944 Act should be altered. If it is possible for the amendment to be accepted the problem will be solved. But if the amendment is not accepted the Under-Secretary can make an administrative change merely by instructing his officials not to be so adamant about not changing the designation of the type of work that a blind person is suited to—for example, that he is suitable only for work in a sheltered workshop, or only for work outside. If such a change were possible my point would be met.

I urge the Under-Secretary to re-examine the representations we made last July and the discussions which took place on the resolution passed at the League's conference at Blackpool at Easter in order to meet this point.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

I wish briefly to support my hon Friends the Members for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) and Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt). The Under-Secretary will recall that I had long correspondence with him about a case concerning the quota system. I shall not reopen that case now because it is not strictly relevant to some of the other things that have been said so far.

We seem to have the worst of all worlds. We have a piece of legislation which on the face of it provides the maximum safeguards and opportunities for disabled people, but which, in the event, is shown to be in default, as the consultative document has demonstrated, so that the intentions of the law are not being carried out. The Department is also making no serious effort to have the law enforced. That is highly unsatisfactory situation.

As the editorial in The Times this morning said, it seems that the consultative document is rather defeatist and it is as if the Government are saying that because it has been difficult to work this law we should perhaps give it up altogether and get rid of the disablement register and the rest. I would have to be strongly persuaded that what the Department put in its place was very much more effective in its safeguarding of the interests of disabled people under the law before I would agree to the proposition that the law should be abolished.

My point is in support of the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West. First, I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to say when the consultative document on sheltered employment will be made available. There have been assertions in the Press that this document has been completed for some considerable time but that, because of the difficulty Ministers face in making up their minds even at this preliminary stage, it has not been published. The original intention to produce the document was announced in 1970 and it is now a matter of considerable urgency that it should be made available because it will be relevant to the points made by my hon. Friend.

In some respects the blind are treated better than other disabled people, at least to the extent that if they are employed in sheltered workshops their basic rates of pay are better than in sheltered workshops for other disabled people.

The basic rate of pay in Remploy for a man is only £16.32 a week at present. It is utterly disgraceful and disreputable that that should be the basic rate of pay. I am not making any particular criticism of the present Government about that, because these low rates of pay are of long standing at Remploy. The basic rate of pay for women in Remploy is only £13.24 a week, which again, in present circumstances, is utterly disgraceful.

In the blind workshops, admittedly, the rates of pay, while still low, are rather better than that, but the whole business of selecting and designating blind persons as suitable for sheltered or open employment is highly unsatisfactory, as my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West has indicated. I have always felt that nothing in Section 15 of the 1944 Act prevents the Government, if they wish, from interpreting it in a liberal way, which would meet many of the objections that my hon. Friend has raised. But successive Governments, despite their protestations, have interpreted it in a highly restrictive manner.

There are examples in Glasgow, as in other parts of the country, where blind people who have been in open employment but have become unemployed are unable, in the circumstances of today—particularly with high unemployment rates—to get back into open employment, and are nevertheless being denied access to sheltered workshops, although the facilities to employ them are available there, the workshops would be delighted to have them, and their entry into workshops, because they are marginally the sort of people who might have made a success in open employment, would very much increase the level of skill in the workshops themselves and therefore, give a considerable filip to the efficiency and atmosphere of the workshops. It is surely deplorable in this kind of situation that blind people are being denied any employment at all when the facilities are there for them in sheltered workshops.

My hon. Friend's amendment would allow a blind person to choose whether he wanted to go into open or sheltered employment. In principle, I go 100 per cent. of the way with him on that. If there are practical difficulties, we should consider them, but if they prevent the acceptance of the amendment there is nevertheless an overwhelming case for a much more liberal attitude by the Government. I ask for that assurance from the Minister today.

I am referring to sheltered employment particularly in relation to the blind—although again I say that there is no intention of singling out one category of the disabled as being necessarily more deserving of our help than other categories, since what is said in this case in many respects applies to the other categories of disabled as well.

The way in which the workshops are run and the Government's attitude to them again leave very much to be desired. There is a variety of workshops throughout the country and a variety of work takes place in them. But still in many of them the old traditional blind crafts of brush making and so on are carried out, often in very depressing circumstances, and the full range of employment opportunities which blind people are capable of carrying out is not being made available to the extent it should.

This raises the whole question of the rôle of the Industrial Advisers to the Blind. There is almost universal dissatisfaction with its rôle, even within the management of the board itself. It has a restricted, consultative rôle. It does not have an initiating rôle, or the kind of rôle that the board itself would like to have in relation to the workshops. Neither the employers' side of the workshop nor the National League for the Blind—representing the employees—is represented on the board, so that it is very difficult for those most intimately concerned to know exactly what the rôle of the organisation is meant to be and for that matter how it sees its rôle in relation to the workshops for the blind.

5.45 p.m.

In this sort of situation, the dissatisfaction with the range of work available, the rates of pay—although these are better in the workshops for the blind than in other workshops for the disabled—and the selection of people for open or sheltered employment receives even more emphasis and causes even more irritation, anxiety and anger among blind people at the present time.

If the Under-Secretary of State cannot accept the full implications of Amendment No. 51 I hope that he will at least give us an assurance that the promises made last year will be discharged, as they have not been so far, and that the Department will adopt a far more liberal and flexible attitude towards the equation of open sheltered employment and therefore provide many blind people, who are at present unemployed, with employment to which they are well suited and which they are very anxious to take up.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

We support the amendment because we are desirous that more should be done for disabled people. We are only scratching the surface in looking after them, in trying to create some kind of independence in their minds and in their hearts, and to give to them a place in society. We are really doing nothing much, although the Minister will say that we are doing better now than we were a few years ago.

Let us consider the situation of some of the blind people, and the kind of lives they lead. They are always cheerful in company and seem to give the impression that they enjoy life tremendously. But their innermost thought must be, "What is society doing to help us?" We talk about training these people, but it is of no benefit to train them without finding them jobs. We must do more about this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) talked about the 3 per cent., but what can we expect of employers when there is heavy unemployment, and when even fit, able and strong men cannot obtain work? The Government must do more and more about supplying jobs for people so that we can try to make certain that disabled persons are looked after. There are so many degrees of disability that it is difficult to define any given section. I sometimes wonder whether we do not leave too much to the private employer.

When we discussed safety and health on Monday, we talked about leaving them to the private employer. We cannot do that, and neither can we leave them to deal with the problem of the disabled people. We must compel employers to carry out the Act as it stands. I am thinking about what we could do in another case. The Spastics Society is helping tremendously in looking after spastics, but finds it difficult. We scarcely think about training spastics, yet many can be trained to do jobs. Private employers are taking advantage of some of these unfortunate people. I use the term "unfortunate" but I do not like doing so.

I have mentioned one of these cases before in the House. It is disgraceful that society allows it to happen. I cannot blame anybody involved. I cannot blame the Spastics Society for what it is doing. Neither can I blame a spastic of whose case I am aware, who is working for about 15p a day and leaving home for about 10 hours.

The person to whom I refer could be trained to do a useful job—for example, a good clerical job. He is not a boy; he is a man, aged 40 years. He is glad to have a job that takes him out of the home for about 10 hours a day, five days a week, and gives his mother some time to do the ordinary housework. His mother is in her seventies.

I know of another case of a man who was injured in the pit. His foot was almost severed, but it was stitched back on. He can stand for only a few minutes. He cannot walk further than 100 yards without pain. He has an industrial injuries pension and a superannuation scheme pension. That man is keen to work and to be trained, but he cannot get a job. There is no job available for him.

What do we do? What does the Ministry do? That man is told "You must sign on at the labour exchange." He draws his 312 day's and then goes on to supplementary benefit. That is then taken away from him. He is now getting what he paid into his superannuation scheme and his industrial injuries pension. As that man has no job he cannot claim any benefit because of the pain that he receives from his injury. Instead of earning £40 a week he is getting about £12 or £13 a week. He and his wife live together. Their children are working, or they have left home.

We talk about training our young people but we do not give a great deal of consideration to the subject. They do not receive sufficient training. The Government—any Government—must be more determined than ever to look after the disabled and to give them more independence. It must be impressed upon them that they are part and parcel of society, that there is a place for them, and that we welcome them. That would be only small recompense for their disability and suffering. I hope that the Minister will take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) has said and accept the amendments.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Our discussion about the employment opportunities for blind persons has been very interesting. It has covered a wide spectrum of employment, including sheltered workshops. One omission in our discussion has been the lack of reference to blind persons who are self-employed. I did not hear or detect reference being made by any of my hon. Friends to the fine contribution which is made by such persons.

I shall place briefly before the Minister the problems which self-employed blind persons face. The Department of Employment has some responsibility for assisting them. My remarks will be addressed to the one-man business. That is a very difficult business for a blind person. I am talking about individuals who have totally lost the sight of both eyes. They make considerable efforts to be employed and to keep their employment, and they receive very little co-operation from some Government Departments and local authorities.

I have in mind a chiropodist who has to go from door to door, house to house, and town to town. He does that along with others who have similar types of employment, rather than be unemployed. Those who are totally blind are now considered to be disabled, yet that type of disablement is not being treated as a disablement at present.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigtown (Mr. Millan) indicated to what extent blind persons are better off, compared with other disabled workers. I shall mention one respect in which they are much worse off. Many blind persons must take their cars with them when undertaking their work. They should enjoy the car parking facilities that are enjoyed by other disabled workers. Self-employed blind persons often require to carry the tools of their employment with them from place to place. They must do so in a car driven by somebody else. As it is driven by somebody else—as if it could be driven by the blind person!—they are denied the parking facilities which all other disabled workers enjoy. A self-employed blind person must be taken from his car and escorted into a house or other premises. He must then be escorted back to his car. He cannot carry out his work by himself because of the nature of his disability.

A senior Minister told me only today that because a self-employed blind person has a driver he cannot have parking facilities. Therefore, such a person may have to walk one mile, one and a half miles or two miles, carrying all the tools of his job, in order to keep himself employed simply because someone in Whitehall is of the opinion that he does not require any parking facilities for his transport, which is indispensable to him in undertaking his form of employment.

I hope that the Minister will say something about the problem of the self-employed blind person. The present situation is a complete discouragement to such individuals, who do their utmost to be able to work. They should be assured of a reasonable weekly wage for their labour. I fully share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), and support his representations to the full. I ask my hon. Friends and the Minister to consider the type of case that I have described. The Minister should say to those responsible, "These people are in full-time employment. They pay for their insurance stamps and they are living off their own earnings and not off the State. The least you can do is to accommodate them by giving them parking facilities for their transport as near as possible to the town or even the house where they are doing their work."

6.0 p.m.

I was deeply disappointed to learn that, in spite of what has been said in the House about disablement, and despite the Act promoted by one of my hon. Friends, in which one of the principal factors was the treatment of totally blind persons as disabled persons, any Department could deny them the simple and elementary right to have reasonable parking facilities for their transport to enable them to carry on a good job. I appeal to the Minister to give an assurance—or, rather, an undertaking—that he will do his best to ensure that the Departments will interpret such legislation more humanely on behalf of the self-employed blind person.

Mr. James Tinn (Cleveland)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the almost total absence of Government back benchers, the Minister may care to ask that further discussion of the Bill be postponed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Tinn

Government back benchers ought to have an interest in this important matter.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I have known occasions when the Opposition benches have been pretty empty. I do not think it wise for the hon. Gentleman to make such a challenge, for there are often important Committees sitting at which attendance is virtually compulsory. Therefore, attendance here does not always reflect the feeling and understanding which Members on either side may have for a particular subject. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman making that observation, for he is an experienced and popular Member.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

It is the quality that matters.

Mr. Smith

I do not want to be deflected from my main task this afternoon.

This is the third time within the last week or two that I have had the opportunity of speaking in the House about the problem of the disabled. First, as I was reminded earlier in the debate, I spoke in Standing Committee when, through the ingenuity of Opposition Members, this matter was raised. We then had a useful and thoughtful debate.

The second occasion on which I have recently spoken on this matter was last week when, unexpectedly, I found myself addressing the Welsh Grand Committee on the subject. I see that the hon. Members for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) and Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who on that occasion suffered having to listen to me, are present today. We then had a constructive and useful debate, and I enjoyed taking part.

Today we are on a slightly narrower matter, I shall endeavour to deal with a number of points which have been raised. I cannot range entirely over the Department's disablement service, but I will try to deal with various points as I go along and to answer the main strictures of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker).

Sections 6–12 of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 are unamended by the Bill. Thus the powers and duties of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State relating to the register for disabled people, the quota scheme and the designated scheme remain unchanged by these provisions.

I accept entirely that it would be sensible for the commission, through its Employment Services Agency, to carry out the main executive functions which are necessary for the quota scheme that we have been discussing. I admit that it is a very controversial scheme. For example, the commission would clearly need to maintain the register for disabled people and to work through its disablement resettlement officer service, which it will be operating to help to get people into employment and to get employers to fulfil their quota.

We believe that it is right for the commission to perform those functions on behalf of my right hon. Friend, and that the necessary statutory duties and powers should remain with him. I can see no reason why the relationship between the commission and my right hon. Friend should cause any great difficulty. I am certain that there will be effective liaison and co-operation between the Department and the commission and its agencies. The whole idea is to have the utmost co-operation and understanding. In the unlikely event of that not occurring at some time in the future, the Secretary of State of the day, in the last resort, has powers of direction under this legislation, and would be able to do something about it.

A number of hon. Members have fairly asked why the Secretary of State's present duties and powers should remain with him. I should like to give three main reasons before dealing more specifically with the quota.

First, the power to make statutory instruments, such as that determining the quota percentage, should be exercisable only by the Secretary of State of the day. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Doncaster nodding agreement. I think that most hon. Members would support that.

Secondly, the commission will be primarily concerned with the provision of employment and training services. If it operates successfully, as we all hope it will, it will be involved in developing a close and cordial relationship with employers and industry. It has to do that if it is to be effective in placing the right people in the right jobs. Therefore, I do not think it is desirable that it should have the duty of enforcing quota provisions.

We have improved the system of inspection of employers' records with regard to the quota by making this the responsibility of the wages inspectorate. It is by and large doing a good job, and there has been an improvement in inspection over the past year or so. The wages inspectorate is remaining with the Department of Employment, so one would believe it right that the inspection procedures should remain with the inspectorate under the Secretary of State for Employment.

There must be consideration of the institution of criminal proceedings in respect of offences under the quota system. I know that there is criticism on this point, and we can go into the matter a little later. I believe that it is right and proper that a commission seeking to obtain very good, cordial relationships with employers should not be saddled with that duty but that a Minister of the Crown should be responsible.

Mr. Millan

When have there ever been criminal proceedings?

Mr. Smith

I am coming to that. I readily admit that there have not been very many. There was a successful prosecution earlier this year, and there was nearly a prosecution in a case concerning one of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Despite the controversy over the delay in that case, his constituent did not suffer by that delay. Full consideration was given to the matter, and it was referred to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate for a legal decision. The decision was nothing to do with us. It was that there was insufficient evidence for further proceedings.

But I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Let us make the hypothetical assumption that it is the will of Parliament that there should be more prosecutions. That is one of the things that must be decided. If we have a sterner approach to the problem, surely it is even more important that the Secretary of State of the day should be the one to initiate the prosecutions, not the Manpower Services Commission, which is so concerned with placing people in employment and gaining the good will of industry and employers. I am sure that on reflection hon. Members will think that it is fairly undesirable to place on the commission the onus of deciding whether to proseccute. It is far better that it should remain with the Secretary of State.

A third reason why this should remain with the Secretary of State and not go to the commission has to do with the consultative document which we have just published. It came out yesterday, and I fully appreciate that because it is a lengthy and technical document hon. Members have probably not had an opportunity to read it. I have not had the change of re-reading it, although I read it a month or two ago during its preparation. There will be wide-ranging consultations and debates when my right hon. Friend will be relying heavily on the advice and opinion of the National Advisory Council for the Employment of the Disabled and other worthy bodies and individuals, including hon. Members. We believe that as there is an air of uncertainty about what is to be done about the quota it is right that the statutory responsibility should remain with the Secretary of State.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Unless the Secretary of State is determined that the employer shall carry out this obligation we shall not be successful. It is simple for an employer to get away by saying that he employs 3 per cent. disabled. There are many registered disabled who have very slight disabilities. Such people assist the employer to get round the legislation.

Mr. Smith

I know the sincerity of the hon. Member's views, which are shared by many. There are others who take a different view. We have published this document in an attempt to deal with these controversies. It is a fascinating document, and I am sorry that The Times was not at all friendly towards it in its editorial, because I believe it deserved a better reception.

This is an honest attempt by the Department of Employment to present the real facts about the quota, not to come to any conclusion but to put the various alternatives, ranging from what the hon. Member wants—a retention of the quota and sterner enforcement measures—to those who say that we should get rid of the quota and put something else in its place to ensure that disadvantaged people do not suffer. It will take time for this document to be studied. I hope that eventually we shall receive useful and detailed advice so that we may carefully consider our course of action.

There is always agitation that something should be done at once. On the other hand, it is possible to fire too quickly and make the wrong decision. There has to be a balance. I believe that my right hon. Friend and all others who are responsible will consider all the evidence and reach a decision which will have the support and understanding of the vast majority of people who have expert knowledge and realise the difficulties.

I know the views of the hon. Member for Doncaster on this subject. He is a little unfair to the Department of Employment, of which he was a distinguished member in the last Labour administration. [Interruption.] All Under-Secretaries are distinguished in that Department. He was a little unfair because, more than almost anyone else, he must know the difficulties surrounding this legislation. It was conceived 30 years ago at a time when handicapped people were in many ways different from the handicapped people of today. Many were returning from the war with handicaps. There was a different sociological approach.

6.15 p.m.

Surely now is the time to look at the situation and see what sort of serious amendment is needed. When the hon. Gentleman talks about the Department being very lax and not wanting to prosecute he must know that the main philosophy has been one of persuasion rather than prosecution. More can be achieved on behalf of disabled people by using sanctions as a back-up rather than embarking on a series of prosecutions which would result in only a marginal increase in the number of disabled persons employed.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there are a number of unemployed but employable disabled persons who will see what he has said and what the Government are doing as part of a massive exercise of beating round the bush? Would he not agree that the major difference between 30 years ago when this legislation was conceived and now is not the technological and manpower changes in the economy but the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House felt then that employers who did not fulfil their social obligations should have the full weight of the law brought against them whereas now, apparently, we believe that they should get away with it?

Mr. Smith

I do not agree. A number of disabled people do not sign the register. This is not because of any laxity on the part of the Department. The whole subject is fraught with complexity because of the various anomalies. For example, we estimate that there are as many unregistered disabled people in employment as there are registered people. If we were to get much tougher with employers it might happen that they would begin searching around in their factories and finding people who were disabled but not registered. They would then have those people sign the register and thus meet their quota.

A lot of people do not register because they do not like to be thought of as disabled. They are as abled-bodied as most hon. Members and perfectly capable of holding down a job. The difficulty about disablement is that there is such enormous variety. As my right hon. Friend said yesterday when introducing this document to a Press conference, "It is possible to have severe polio and become President of the United States. At the same time, having severe polio, you cannot be a man who digs up the road or does heavy manual work".

There is one point which caught my eye in The Times leading article, towards the end, where it says: "Like the Race Relations Act it is intended as an aid to conciliation and persuasion. Prosecution is a last resort and would in most cases be unwise. But the authority of the law ought in theory to make it easier to induce employers to take on somebody whom they would otherwise reject, but whom they find with experience can serve them perfectly well. It is true that there are differing views and that there are these anomalies. One of the biggest is that if all registered disabled people were tomorrow suddenly and miraculously wafted into employment many employers would still be in breach of the quota provisions. There would not be enough disabled people to go round. This is a point made in this document which deserves consideration. It is a question whether we take the view that the most effective way of proceeding is to have a policy of greater enforcement and prosecution or whether we say that there are so many anomalies in the quota system that any Government would be sensible to scrap its provisions and replace them with new ones which would give disabled people a far greater opportunity of obtaining employment.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the powers of persuasion being used at present are totally unsuccessful. Is he aware that in 1961 there were 25,340 firms not implementing the 3 per cent. quota, whereas in 1972 the figure had risen to 34,794? There are still 13,000 firms that have made no move at all and do not have even 1 per cent. disabled persons. He will recognise that powers of persuasion have been totally inadequate, but I think he will agree that there is something radically wrong with the situation at the present time.

Mr. Smith

I do not say it is radically wrong, but because there are doubts we have this document so that we can get people's views and thrash this out on a bipartisan basis. There are no politics in this.

The idea that all hon. Members have is to see better facilities and great opportunities in employment for people who are disabled. It is not quite as easy or as facile as the hon. Gentleman makes out. There are many industries and commercial enterprises where there often is not available the requisite number of disabled people to fill that employment. If a man said "I am available; will you send someone along to me" and that requirement is not fulfilled, it would be difficult indeed for my Department not to issue him with a permit, or, if it refused him a permit, to prosecute him.

Undoubtedly there are backsliders. There are people who dodge their obligations. Please do not forget the large number of employers—despite what the hon. Gentleman has said, they are in the majority—who recognise their obligations to disabled people and employ disabled people, and often employ many unregistered disabled people.

We must certainly look at this matter very carefully and quietly, taking into account all the various opinions which have been expressed which run really from the spectrum advanced by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) to others I have heard expressed by people outside this House who believe that perhaps it might be a good thing to dispense with this quota because it is not really as effective as it should be, and never could be even if that policy were adopted.

What I would stress is that we have an open mind on this, quite genuinely so. Indeed, the quota document does not reach any conclusions. I hope that in due course we shall be able to do so. Certainly the scheme at the present time will continue to operate in its consultative period. It is right and proper that it should remain with my right hon. Friend and that the statutory duty should remain with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment until such time as a decision is reached by the Government—by this Government or any succeeding Government—that there should be a statutory change, that there should be new legislation on the subject, in which case the whole matter can be looked at again. One does not want to put time limits on these things. I hope that over the course of the next few months we shall be able to get some of the best advice we can on the scheme and be able in due course to announce what we should like. I am sure that when the time comes we shall have a definite expression of opinion from the hon. Member on the Front Bench opposite and, indeed, from hon. Members from all parts of the House.

I have gone on rather long, but I did so because I think this subject is important. It is indicative of the interest we have had in the quota scheme that we have had comments from so many hon. Gentlemen today. Indeed, it is a subject which one can debate exclusively on its own, not especially in the context of this Report stage.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)

To what extent is there medical supervision or examination of applicants for employment in sheltered workshops? Are there any terms of reference for medical officers so concerned on physical disability limitations which will enable them arbitrarily to exclude from employment selected applicants who wish to enter sheltered workshops?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is anticipating me a little on sheltered workshops. There is very good medical inspection of those who are concerned with employment in sheltered workshops. Whilst opinions differ, we endeavour all the time to get people into open employment where we can. The main philosophy should be where handicapped people are concerned—whether they are blind or otherwise disabled—that they should be in open employment because it gives them a better chance to be competitive and enjoy a fuller life with able-bodied people.

May I now move to the amendment which was moved, with his usual sincerity and assiduity, by the hon. Member for Willesden, West. We know his great interest in these subjects. The hon. Member raised one case. I apologise to him for not having instantly recognised it, but he will know that we get hundreds of constituency cases from hon. Members every week, and one does not always remember every one. However, I will give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that I will look into this case again to see whether there is anything further that can be done, especially as the hon. Member quoted a letter I had written on the subject.

Under Section 15 of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 employment under sheltered conditions is reserved for disabled people who, by reason of the nature or severity of their disablement, have neither the abilities nor the skills to be employed under normal conditions. The effect of the amendment of the hon. Member for Willesden, West would be to alter fundamentally the statutory conditions set out in that section governing the eligibility for sheltered employment. I must make it plain that since the passing of that Act in 1944 it has been the aim of successive Governments that disabled people should, wherever possible, be placed in open employment. The importance of this objective was emphasised in the Tomlinson Report which led to the creation of the 1944 Act. It was subsequently endorsed by the Piercy Committee, and has been accepted by my right hon. Friend's National Advisory Council on the Employment of the Disabled, not only in our time but also in the Opposition's time in Government, and nearly all others concerned with the employment problems of disabled people.

As recently as last spring the advisory council reaffirmed its view that this policy should continue to apply to all disabled people in the employment field, including blind people, who are mentioned in the amendment.

Perhaps I can illustrate just how successful this policy has been in relation to blind people. Since the publication of the Tomlinson Report, the proportion of blind people of working age in employment has increased from 22 per cent. to 32.4 per cent., and the proportion of those in employment who work under ordinary conditions has increased from about one-third to about two-thirds of the total.

Perhaps I can give the actual figures to the House. In 1941 2,994 blind people were working under ordinary conditions and 6,137 under sheltered conditions. By 1972 the number working under ordinary conditions had increased to 6,708, and the number working under sheltered conditions had fallen to 3,238.

Perhaps I might mention in passing that during the six-month period ending as recently as 31st March 1973 the number of blind people placed in employment reached all-time records. I am sure it is right that employment under sheltered conditions and in special workshops should be reserved for those who really need it. To change that policy on the lines sought in the hon. Member's amendment would, in my view, be contrary to the interests of disabled people. That is not to say that I do not fully agree that the officers of the commission and its agencies will need to discuss the possibility of sheltered employment with any disabled person who believes he is likely to need it.

Perhaps I should also add—this is a point which the hon. Member for Craigton asked me about specifically—that as part of our general review of ways and means of improving our Department's policies and services for helping the disabled we propose to publish a consultative document on the future of sheltered employment later this year. Contrary to what the hon. Member said, there has not been a lot of heel-dragging on this. In fact, it is a difficult and complex problem with large numbers of views to be obtained from people within the sheltered workshop environment. The document is not ready for publication. It is not pigeon-holed somewhere waiting to be printed. It has not been fully composed as yet. Efforts are being made to speed it up as much as possible. It will be an important one. It will be of equal importance to, if not greater importance than, the quota one and deals with specific points raised by hon. Members during this debate—important ones about the future of sheltered employment.

The question of eligibility for admission to sheltered workshops will be dealt with in the document, which will form the basis of wide-ranging consultations about the future of sheltered employment. For that reason alone it is desirable to await the future before making changes in legislation affecting sheltered workshops.

6.30 p.m.

The hon. Member for Craigton commented on the different rates of pay in sheltered workshops and the rôle of industrial advisers to the blind. How best to modernise blind workshops and provide management advice and marketing services will be dealt with in the consultative document. We have those matters very much in mind. We know that there is controversy and difficulty in these areas, and we want rationally and sensibly to consider how best improvements can be made.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) spoke about self-employed blind people being more difficult to deal with than those in public or private employment. We try to give as much advice as we can. Generally speaking the DROs show great sympathy and understanding and are always ready to assist self-employed blind people. We are never completely satisfied that we are giving the best possible service and are always trying to improve it. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not feel that I am deflecting his argument when I say that parking is a matter chiefly for the Department of the Environment. I will take up the matter of parking with that Department to see whether improvements can be achieved. I know only too well the frustrations and difficulties suffered by blind people with transport generally and with parking in particular.

Bearing in mind what we are trying to do on the quota and the document on sheltered employment, it would be unwise for the Government to accept the amendment. We feel that it is right to make the Manpower Services Commission the agent of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Pavitt

Bearing in mind the Minister's comments about changing social conditions and what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said about blind people no longer being expected merely to put bristles into brushes, it is nonsense to say that a disabled person, although capable of working in an open workshop, should not be allowed to work in a sheltered workshop if he prefers to do so. The Minister is only deferring an assurance of more flexibility in the interpretation of the law.

Mr. Smith

The flexibility is already there. If there is a marginal doubt about whether a person should be in open or sheltered employment he will often be given the benefit of the doubt when he opts for sheltered employment, although it might be said that technically he should remain in open employment. As I said in Committee, there is no monopoly of concern. Concern is shared throughout the House and the country. We have to provide the best possible means of helping those who need help. We must never be complacent whilst so much needs to be done. On the other hand, we need not be ashamed of our record under successive Governments. What we have done bears comparison with what has been done by many other modern industrialised countries. We have made good progress and should not under-estimate what has been achieved. Perhaps in the future we shall be more sophisticated and be able to get more disabled people into employment, particularly now that the employment figures are improving throughout the country.

In these circumstances, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Mr. Harold Walker

We have had a good, timely and useful debate which has justified the tabling of the amendment. I look forward to seeing the consultative document later this year and hope that when it is presented we shall have an opportunity to debate sheltered employment. I agree with the Minister that this is a difficult and complex subject, but its complexities should not be used by the Government as a pretext for not facing their obligations to provide the maximum amount of employment opportunities for disabled people.

The Minister is right in saying that the Department's philosophy has been to persuade rather than to prosecute. Although I have held office in the Department, I do not accept that philosophy, nor do I accept it in industrial health and safety. That is a wrong philosophy which needs to be changed.

The Minister gave a full reply, for which we are grateful, but he omitted to say anything about the 9,000 firms which are in breach of the law. Those firms apparently will continue to be in breach of the law. The Department has an obligation to do something about it. In no other area of our social life would we take no action against people who behave in defiance of the law. Will the Minister tell us what he proposes to do about these 9,000 firms?

I was glad to hear the Minister say that the consultative document will put forward alternatives, and that those will not be the only alternatives that the Government will consider. I hope that before long the Leader of the House will give us an opportunity to debate those alternatives and others that we might suggest to improve enforcement of the present scheme.

The hon. Gentleman did not refer to the interim period between now and the presentation of the alternatives. I beg him to consider this carefully and to tell us what he intends to do in the interim period to secure the more effective implementation of the obligation that Parliament has placed on the Department to ensure that people behave in a proper manner.

In view of the publication of the consultative document and the need for hon. Members to study the Government's views, and in the hope that before long we shall have a fuller debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 44, at end insert: '(e) include provisions for the making of arrangements to encourage and enable women and girls to participate more fully in the skilled trades and professions'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 5, in line 44, at end insert: '(e) include provision to ensure that adequate training facilities and opportunities are available for young persons who have not attained the age of nineteen years and who are not in full-time education or employment, and such facilities shall include the provision of such cash grants as the Secretary of State may by Order determine'.

No. 52, in Schedule 2, page 22, line 44, at end insert: `(c) in paragraph (e) after the word "persons" there shall be inserted the words "financially and"'.

No. 50, in page 35, line 30, after 'persons', insert 'financially and'.

Mr. Moyle

Amendments Nos. 52 and 50 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) commend themselves to the Opposition and we shall support them, but in the interests of time I will leave my hon. Friend to put his case for them.

By way of introduction I wish to refer to the White Paper "Education: A Framework for Expansion." The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science flitted briefly through the Chamber, and I am sorry that he has gone out again because what I have to say is of as much interest to him as it is to the Under-Secretary of State for Employment.

The vast bulk of the White Paper, which was presented to the House by the Secretary of State for Education and Science last December, is devoted to the future of the 22 per cent. of the nation who go on to higher and further education after the compulsory school leaving age of 16. The other 78 per cent, of each age group, as they reach the age of 16, are dismissed in a chapter of barely two pages, which concludes: The Government believe, however, that they have identified a gap that still remains in the growing manifold of options that await the choice of school leavers well qualified by their examination results to enter higher education. That, as I have said before, is very like saying that the Atlantic Ocean is a gap in the middle of the British Isles.

However, having identified that great gap in paragraph 109, the Secretary of State says in paragraph 101: The further education system has a vital contribution to make in ensuring that the country has a work force capable of meeting—at all levels—the changing demands of industry and commerce. I take that to mean that, whether the hon. Gentleman or the Department of Employment like it or not, the future of about 78 per cent. of the age groups as they reach the age of 16 is dumped in their laps. Whether they have provision to deal adequately with the problem or not, the Secretary of State for Education and Science has neatly handed the problem over to them.

In those circumstances we have to face the problem, which is that at the moment, under the existing arrangements although I think it is common ground on both sides of the House that the quality of industrial training has improved the quantity has shown no very great increase since the days when the Henniker Heaton report on the future of industrial training was presented about 10 years ago. Yet, in the Bill we are faced with the fact that the levy is to be made the subject of a power instead of being compulsory. So that is to be weakened. The number of small firms excluded in practice now is to be increased and they are to be excluded by law, and education is to be very strictly related to training, if we understand the replies which the hon. Gentlemen have given us in Committee.

So we are moving the amendment in the hope that it will present the Manpower Services Commission with some aim in life and an incentive to exert all the influence and power it can to increase opportunities for the training and, particularly, the education of our younger people under the new dispensation which is being set up by the Bill.

A number of ideas have been put forward from this side of the House as to how that might be carried out. For the benefit of the House, I reiterate that on this side we would like to see the country moving rapidly to a situation in which nobody between the ages of 16 and 18 or 19, whichever is the more convenient, should be regarded as unemployed. They should be undergoing education or training, or they should be at work, or they should be undergoing a combination of both. But certainly, so long as they have not reached the adult stage, there ought to be no question at all of these young people ever again being considered unemployed.

6.45 p.m.

I have moved a little nearer, probably, to the Government since we debated matters relating to this in Standing Committee. The Under-Secretary was then kind enough to mention that it was a question of economics. I suggested that it was a question of Government will for that policy to be adopted. By the way the Government's economic policy is developing, I am beginning to wonder whether there will be any money at all left in the kitty by the time we take over the direction of affairs. I think the policy I am advocating is the one the country should move to, and as quickly as possible.

On this side of the House we have a number of other ideas as well. For example, we think that compulsion to attend evening classes in order to obtain qualifications is a totally unworthy way of going about things in this country at this stage. People should undergo day or block release to obtain education and training to give them the qualifications they need to succeed in their careers and jobs. They do not want a moral obstacle course in which, after a hard day's work, they snatch a quick cup of tea and dash off to a college of further education to work hard again to obtain the qualifications necessary in their trade, profession or education.

We are prepared to accept that many of these young people who leave school at 16 do so because they wish to have no further connection with it. This has to be faced, and the problem of motivation has to be solved if we are to treat these young people properly in our education and training process.

There is precious little sign of the Department of Employment accepting the implications of the White Paper "Education: A Framework for Expansion" in drawing up their policies, and the situation seems to be that they are determined to do absolutely nothing extra to meet the problem which the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has dumped so unceremoniously in their laps. The Under-Secretary, replying to a similar debate in Committee, said: we are here mainly dealing with employment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 29th March 1973; c. 125.] One would expect a Department of Employment to have very much that sort of outlook when it comes to education and training. But that is not the sort of attitude it should adopt in view of the White Paper which the right hon. Lady has placed before the House.

In summary, when it comes to our young people the Department of Education and Science has dumped the 16-year-old school leaver in the lap of the Department of Employment, and the Department of Employment shows no signs of being able or willing to take up the challenge.

I turn to the other amendment on the Notice Paper, which concerns the possibility of the Manpower Services Commission making much greater provision for women to be trained for occupations and professions. Anything I have said when talking about young people generally and the inadequacy of the education and training which they are likely to receive under this Bill can be multiplied one hundredfold when the problem which we are considering is the education and training of young women—and indeed older women as well. I will give some rather gruesome statistics, which I also gave in Committee.

At the age of 16 50 per cent. of the boys who leave full-time education go into a trade where they are able to take an apprenticeship, and, in fact, do take an apprenticeship. At the same age 67 per cent. of girls have no training at all in the occupation which they enter. In fact, only 7½ per cent. of girls who leave school at the age of 16 take an apprenticeship, and of that very small number 75 per cent. go into hairdressing. I am indebted for these figures to the excellent Sixth Report from the Expenditure Committee for this Session on "The Employment of Women". The Sub-Committee was chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), and the report was presented to the House of Commons on 8th March this year. We very briefly mentioned that report during the Committee stage of the Bill, when the Under-Secretary fairly replied that his Department had had very little opportunity to consider its implications. Now his Department has had the better part of two and a half months to consider the items, matters and recommendations in that report.

The Committee makes a very important statement on page 13 of its report: We are also most concerned that the proposed reduction in levy/grant to 1 per cent. will adversely affect the training opportunities of women. Having made that statement of the situation as it sees it, the Committee goes ahead firmly to recommend We therefore think it of maximum importance that the impact of the reduced levy should be closely monitored and that immediate action should be taken to stimulate training should this prove to be necessary. I said in Committee, and I reiterate, that if I had been a member of that Committee the recommendation would have been much stronger than that. Nevertheless, that is the recommendation with which the Minister is faced, and to try to put the recommendation into legislative form we have tabled Amendment No. 5.

Here again, I am prepared to admit that much of the problem is a social one. It is still true that most girls and their families regard a job as a stopover between school and marriage and perhaps as a source of pin money after the family grows up. We must try to alter that and make an improvement in the situation. However, I see no indication from the discussions on the Bill so far that the Government realise what the problem is and are trying to do something to solve it.

So in presenting Amendment No. 5 we are giving the Government a chance to indicate at least their wish to help in the future training of women in their occupations and professions by accepting the amendment. If there is to be any improvement it will come about under the present Government policy only within the industrial training board sector.

The Sub-Committee stated— We therefore think it of maximum importance that the impact of the reduced levy should be closely monitored That should lie well within our amendment. The Sub-Committee was obviously very unhappy about the entire Government scheme. The Government now have the chance to improve on the Bill.

In summary, it is fair to say that everybody now would accept that there is probably as much talent for skilled and responsible work among our women as among our men. The way that we as a nation waste that talent can only be described as profligate in the extreme. In consequence we invite retribution from a world economic system which I hope we shall avoid. We shall not avoid it other than by good fortune unless we mend our ways and take a much more positive attitude to the education and training of women.

Mr. John Sutcliffe (Middlesbrough, West)

I believe that training needs to be given the kind of outright priority that is being accorded to housing in the allocation of resources. Yet no sort of priority is being given to the training of those between 16 and 19, who are excluded from the otherwise admirable training opportunities scheme. Their omission mars the Bill in its vital efforts to get training on the move.

Unemployment among young people tends to be greater in the Northern Region than elsewhere, though there has been a welcome drop. The latest figures published this week show that 600 young people were unemployed in Teesside in the past month—that is, 600 fewer than in the equivalent month a year ago.

But this is a very special year. It is the year in which the school leaving age has been raised. Next year and subsequent years we shall revert to the level of 1972; there will be more than 5,000 leaving school and seeking work in the Teesside area compared with 1,400 this year.

It is well known that the number of apprenticeships within employment has declined. Between 1970 and 1972 in the engineering manufacturing industry recruitment fell by 40 per cent. At all events, it has not been expanding to match the demand for skilled labour, which will be critical in the Teesside area with North Sea oil coming in, with the new steel complex to be built, and with general economic expansion under way. We shall probably be faced with the biggest labour crisis ever if the boom which we expect comes about.

We must look now to the demand five years hence. How are we to meet this shortage? There is no evidence that industry will recruit and train sufficient boys and girls to help meet the shortages which we expect. Neither is there any evidence that we are using all available training capacity to mect the demand for labour and give young people the chance better to equip themselves to do a job. I fear that we are not doing either of these things, and present measures—unchanged by the Bill—amount to a palliative.

The training award schemes in the engineering, construction, and hotel and catering industries in the Teesside area take 38 young people. In all these industries there is a tremendous labour shortage. The skills appreciation courses give a rather more modest training to another 45 young people at any given time over a 12-week period at Imperial Chemical Industries, Billingham and Wilton. There are, in addition, 80 young people applying rather than acquiring skills in Community Industry.

I do not decry these efforts that are being made, but I deplore the fact that there is a total of only 160 young people being given the opportunity of any kind of training. We cannot just bury our heads and say that the training of 16- to 19-year olds is the responsibility of industry and leave it at that. Unless young people in this age group are lucky enough to obtain an apprenticeship or its equivalent, there is no hope for them in terms of training or developing their full potential.

The lack of such a policy discriminates severely against the less academically able. It also denies the need to develop all our resources in the national interest. If only we devoted half the resources to the non-academic or less-academic that we devote to the academic—the students in higher education—what an impact that would have on current and future social problems!

The real long-term answer to the young unemployed is not the creation of more jobs by expanding the economy, important though that is. The real answer lies in sponsored apprenticeships which make full use of available training capacity, and this policy has been backed by the CBI and the trade unions. There is spare capacity not just in industry but in technical colleges.

7.0 p.m.

In this matter of sponsored apprenticeships, 18 months ago ICI took the initiative with my hon. Friend. The proposal came largely thanks to the dedication of the chief training officer at ICI, Mr. Parramore, and it was backed by Mr. Hurst, who is the principal careers officer in Teesside. Teesside is very fortunate to have such dedicated men. ICI wanted to give four-year apprenticeship training to 80 16-year-old boys. At a stroke this would have doubled the training opportunities for school leavers in the area. When unemployment was at its height, as it was 18 months ago, and when the cost to the State of keeping unemployed young people was also at its height, we could have had 80 in craft apprenticeships. In two years or so from now we could have been turning out mechanical and electrical fitters, turners, instrument artificers, welders, platers and plumbers—all these skills which the local economy will desperately need. It would have cost the Government £500 per trainee in wages for the first year, and thereafter for three years a very limited fee to cover some contribution to wages. Between the cost of apprenticeship and unemployment benefit there can be no doubt where the best return on money lies.

The scheme was rejected, and, frankly, I am ashamed of the grounds on which my hon. Friend rejected it. He said that apprentice training was the responsibility of employers, and that no firm should be subsidised to use its spare capacity or others might be tempted or induced to cut back or defer their apprentice recruitment. One wondered just how obtuse the Department could be. It must have known that the ICI scheme was in no way connected with ICI's own recruitment. Here was the Department implying that the company wanted to avoid its responsibilities for its own apprentice training when ICI stated categorically that if at the end of the four-year training jobs were to be offered to those trainees in ICI, which it never foresaw as being likely, it intended to reimburse the Government.

There was another argument against the pilot scheme which was devised to use spare capacity to train a number of unfortunate people and to equip them better to find employment either locally in Teesside or elsewhere where the work was. It was said that one could not justify a pilot scheme to other areas where youth unemployment was high, though not as high as in the Northern Region.

I hope that I have made the point. This is one glaring omission from the Bill, and I hope that my hon. Friend will see it as such.

I turn now to skills appreciation courses. One assumes that these courses were made possible under Section 3(1) of the 1948 Act. It gave my right hon. Friend power to run courses for unemployed persons who were above the upper limit of compulsory school age. This specific power is not spelt out in the Bill, and I should welcome clarification of what the proposed Training Services Agency can and will do for this category of young people who have training potential, however limited. In this connection may I say how much I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) that no person should be regarded as untrainable.

Those instrumental in persuading my hon. Friend to introduce these courses in 1971 have now had a great deal of experience in running them. They have had sufficient experience to realise the benefits to be gained from extending these 12-week courses to 26 weeks. Yet it is now two and a half months since ICI, which runs these courses, and the Teesside education committee, which has done so much to promote them, put up a proposal to which there has been no response.

By extending these schemes it would be possible to introduce day release and give training to develop the personality of the young persons trained. By far the largest category of young unemployed do not possess the academic ability to meet apprenticeship standards. We know that. But we cannot just write them off as long-term unemployed, or as untrainable. If we do that we shall create greater social problems in the future than any that exist at present.

In a booklet published by the National Foundation for Education Research, the chief education officer of the West Riding, Sir Alec Clegg, points out the dangers of those who see themselves as the rejects of a qualification-conscious society. These young people can well turn against society in their resentment at the stigma of failure, and this stigma is felt more acutely at a time of frantic social change.

I make one further plea to my hon. Friend. It is for better training allowances to encourage more young people to go for training.

I shall listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has to say when he replies to the debate. But he will sense how strongly I feel and how much I believe the Bill does not go far enough in matching training opportunities to the need in the crucial years after school. If no more is to be done to gear training capacity to its full extent, I must support the amendment the whole way.

Mr. Dempsey

I wish to speak in support of my own amendment, Amendment No. 52, and also the other amendments being discussed in this group. I do so because in my part of the country we have high unemployment. Among the high unemployment we have the tragedy of young school leavers—boys and girls—reaching the age of 18 without ever having had a job. This is the first time since the Hungry Thirties that we have had this experience in my part of Scotland.

When I first looked at the Bill, I did my best to ascertain whether any financial provision was being made to assist in the training of young unemployed school levers. Failing to observe any such provision, I decided to table Amendment No. 52.

In this part of Scotland we are recovering from our dependence on the old heavy industries of coal, iron and steel. We are in the midst of diversification, and we have still a long way to go before we reach the happy standards enjoyed in the south of the country.

The big question is: what is to be done with these boys and girls when they leave school? Are they to be allowed to roam the countryside? Are they to be allowed to get into mischief here, there and everywhere? This is one of the contributory causes of vandalism. I interviewed nine young teenagers representing a gang of young people. They were well known in the courts for being vandals. I asked: How many of you are unemployed? Eight out of the nine were unemployed. They had nothing to do with their time except hang about on street corners and rampage through our streets in the middle of the night.

Therefore, one of the main problems is finding suitable employment for these young people, and we must ascertain how best they can be prepared for such employment. Surely one of the most attractive elements for any employer when engaging young people is to be assured that they have some degree of skill. So the proper attitude to adopt is to give them training when they leave school. It is because this training is so important that I am speaking to-night. Now that system of training is in danger of disappearing.

If the Bill goes through in its present form, I assure the House that we shall require to put up the shutters on the training of our school leavers. At present they receive a year's training. During that period they are in receipt of a weekly allowance from the Department of Employment. My ambition, in tabling my amendment, is to try to ensure that that element will continue to operate so that we can carry on training these young people.

For example, in my constituency 36 school leavers were taken off the dole to undergo a course of training, and every one without exception found a job at the end of the training period. This shows how training is vital to these young people.

One of the greatest problems in my part of the country in attracting industry is the lack of a pool of skilled labour. It seems ludicrous that after efforts to bring employment to this district to provide full employment we should remove the skill that attracts industrialists into special development areas. Unless the Bill is amended it will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

I wonder whether the Government realise that they have taken leave of their sense on this issue. Throughout the ages Government Departments have felt the need for training unemployed young people. When I left school I was sent along to a training association to receive a measure of training because I was unemployed. That process has been going on for many years. If the Bill is enacted in its present form we shall be unable to provide the staff or the accommodation or the weekly allowance to enable young people to undergo a year's course of training.

When I looked at the Bill I felt sure that the Government had made a mistake. It must be an omission. Surely no Government would consider depriving young people of the opportunity of training. I cannot believe that they prefer to see youngsters roaming the streets at all hours of the night instead of receiving some skill to enable them to find an attractive job and settle into some niche in society at an early age.

We all know that land and buildings capital are important, but I ask the Minister to try to understand that the most important capital of all is human capital. I therefore urge him to accept these amendments.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. James Hamilton

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to these amendments. I was kept fully informed about the progress of the Bill in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan), who unfortunately cannot be here this evening because his wife is ill.

On Second Reading I made special reference to apprenticeship training. I have put down Questions on this matter to the Minister of State over a long period. Between 1962 and 1973 there has been a drastic decrease in the number of youngsters entering apprenticeship training. This was not to the benefit of the country or of the economy. In fairness to the Minister of State, I should point out that because of the pressures that I have attempted to bring to bear, not on him but on the system, we have made tremendous progress and some companies in the county of Lanarkshire have started to take on apprentices.

Recently I visited a sponsored school and discovered that it was totally understaffed for the number of boys attending it. I went to some of the employers in my constituency who send boys on these sponsored courses, and they made it indelibly clear to me that, much as they wanted the boys to be trained for the one year, they found that in many instances there were no jobs for them at the end of that time.

The Minister may say that apprenticeships are the concern of industrialists. I subscribe to that view for the British Steel Corporation, Caterpillars, Honeywells, and all the large companies which employ substantial numbers of people. However, we find that the smaller companies do not have the financial resources which are so vital to give boys these opportunities.

The employers and the trade unions pay lip service to the views that are put forward by both the CBI and the TUC. However, we find that employers are not prepared to accept boys of 17 and 18 years of age because they must pay the wage for the age. This is a decided handicap for boys over sixteen. This point was made very forcibly by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe) when he said that 70 per cent. of our young people do not have academic qualifications. We certainly give opportunities to the 30 per cent. who have academic attainments. We give them bursaries and other opportunities. We give them every encouragement. But the other 70 per cent., who in the main are the boys, and girls for that matter, who enter industry, are given no consideration.

In my constituency there is a training school that is run by the local authority. Boys of 16 and under, before the school leaving age was raised, attended this training school. If they take the full week's training course they receive no remuneration, but if they attend for only three days and sign on at the employment exchange they are entitled to supplementary benefit. Consequently, if the financial resources in the home of a boy who is attending this pre-vocational school are inadequate he will not take full advantage of the opportunity that has been given to him for technical training. I have raised this matter on several occasions—indeed, I raised it with the Prime Minister—but so far nothing has happened.

Unless the Government change their course on this issue, the Bill will have an adverse effect in the county of Lanark. My constituency is cheek by jowl with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). We know the problems affecting our young people. We know, too, that 7.2 per cent. of our people are unemployed. We hope that with the changes that are taking place things will improve, and that when the new industries arrive, as we hope they will, we shall have available a reservoir of trained people.

I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will take cognisance of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham (Mr. Moyle) and others on this side of the House and by his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe), who made an excellent case. I should like to add to it, but as I want to be brief I shall confine myself to asking the Minister to consider seriously the points that we have made and accept them not only in the interests of young people but in the interests of the country as a whole.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I have a considerable amount of sympathy with the views expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. However, on reading Clause 2(1) which provides that it shall be the duty of the Commission to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for the purpose of assisting persons to select, train for, obtain and retain employment suitable for their ages and capacities it seems to me that the Minister can in any case meet the point which hon. Gentlemen opposite have in mind and that there is no need for an extra subsection. I hope that the Minister will be able to make noises and express a view that will justify my having said that the subsection covers the point at issue.

There is a need to give special consideration to young people, particularly at a time of high unemployment. The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) raised an important matter. There is nothing worse than a young person leaving school, perhaps having a certain amount of part-time education afterwards, looking for a job and not being able to find one, being idle for about two years, and then trying to take up an apprenticeship, only to find that he is too old. The result is a waste both from his and the country's point of view, and it leads to the situation that young people who might at a later age be skilled are unable, by force of circumstances, to acquire those skills.

The responsibility for that state of affairs does not rest entirely with the Government. Employers and trade unionists bear some responsibility for it, because sometimes they are extremely remiss in that they do not accept people into apprenticeships at the ages of 17 or 18 if they have not taken them up in earlier years. There should be more flexibility in terms of the period of the apprenticeship and the age at which it might be undertaken.

I remember talking about this matter in the 1959 Parliament. There has been some progress since then. Some apprenticeships have been reduced from five years to four, but for many trades an apprenticeship of three years could thoroughly equip the person for the work that he would be called upon to do. That is particularly so in the construction industry, in which there is a shortage of skilled workers. One reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is cutting back on local government building operations that were to go ahead in 1974 is the lack of skilled labour to do the work required. If we are to complete our housing and school programmes, there must be more trained people in the construction industry.

The Government are not the only people involved in this problem, but they should grasp the nettle and endeavour to stimulate training through their centres. The process must be assisted by employers and unions acting together to produce, for example, more bricklayers, joiners and plumbers. Unless people with those skills are available, the housing programme will not be completed. There is a great waste if young people are ready to take up these skills but are not able to do so. The debate on Friday brought out the fact that the "lump" is not conducive to providing the number of apprenticeships that are needed in the construction industry, and the more that the Government can do to help the situation the better it will be for everyone.

For years we have been talking about the need to increase training. We have a 5 per cent. economic growth target. We are hitting that target, but we shall fail to take advantage of the growth that is open to us unless we get the necessary skilled labour. There is, therefore, a good deal of sense in saying that the commission should make sure that young people who leave school in any part of the country are given the advantages of further education and of the skills that come from training for a job that will eventually enable them to give us the very growth that we are expecting and seeking.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Middlesborough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe) on an excellent and most thoughtful speech. One of the most important things said by him is that we are now living in a technological age, and the most worrying feature of it is what is to happen to those youngsters who have no pieces of paper and no qualifications.

The people with whom we are dealing are in the age group 16 to 18, and those about whom I am particularly concerned are those who are not up to normal apprenticeship standard. It is interesting to read some of the educational reports that came out between 1943 and 1947. There were some wonderful visions. There was something called a county college. I wonder what has happened to the county colleges that were envisaged in the 1944 Act and in educational reports of that time. I wonder how many county colleges there are today. There seem to be few indeed which fulfil the original concept of the county college.

I believe that in Committee I was the first Member—though my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham (Mr. Moyle) rather stole my thunder today— to say that there should be no such thing as an unemployed person under the age of 18. I go further, and say that I want to see introduced as quickly as possible a scheme under which youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18 are released from education to work, rather than the other way round. The first step is to do something to improve the whole question of day and block releases. There are scandalous differences in practice between industries on the question of day release. The situation is particularly bad in the distributive trades and it is worse for girls than for boys. Some industries are good, but others are appalling.

Capacity is available in technical colleges to provide the necessary education for these young people. It is not a question of having to build large numbers of new technical colleges. My first priority, which I hope will be brought into being, would be compulsory day release for those in the 16 to 18 age group. Whether it was day release or block release would depend on the individual case. I look forward to the day when we can say that up to the age of 18 a person shall be based educationally somewhere, but that he shall be released from that education to go to work.

This is a modest amendment. It is by no means what those who served on the Committee would have liked. We should have liked something much stronger, but I must not go into that now. We should have preferred this matter to be tied up rather less with the commission and rather more with the youth advisory and careers services. There was a long discussion on this matter in Committee. I accept that much of this will now be the responsibility of the commission. The least that the Government can do is to accept this modest amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

I hope that the Government will either accept the amendments or at least reconsider the position of youth training before the Bill goes to another place. Every speaker has said that the Bill represents a missed opportunity in regard to youth employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) said that this was to some extent the result of a failure of co-operation between the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science.

Ever since the Plowden Report, the Department of Education and Science has been sold on the principle of positive discrimination in favour of those who, because of social background or housing difficulties and other problems, have not been able to measure up to the achievement of children from more favourable backgrounds. Money has already been pumped into those areas which are deprived. Now that the Halsey Report has been published, I am sure that opinion in that Department is in favour of every possible discrimination in favour of children from deprived areas who did not succeed at school.

It is no accident that a high proportion of the 70 per cent. of young people mentioned by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe) will be the very ones who have not succeeded at school, who will therefore be anti-education, and who will move into dead-end jobs or no jobs at all. This is what we are desperately concerned about. It is time that the Department took a leaf from the book of the Department of Education and Science and thought in terms of positive discrimination in favour of these youngsters, of which there is little or no evidence in the Bill.

This is a modest amendment to draw the attention of the Manpower Commission to the importance of this subject. The training boards scheme does not apply to this age group, so their opportunities for training are limited to those firms with good apprenticeship schemes. A very good example is the firm of Harvey's, in my constituency, which has a magnificent scheme. But what about a youngster who goes into an industry or a firm that does little or no training or who enters those areas in which under the Bill's proposals, the levy will not be so serious, which means the stick to encourage firms to train will be less serious? What concerns some hon. Members on both sides of the House is the fact that the levy will be a much less serious encouragement to firms to operate training schemes of their own, and that training for young people will therefore actually decrease.

With changing technology and the existence of declining industries in which there will inevitably be a declining need for skill, there is every reason why the training of young people should be on the decrease in some industries and some parts of the country. It is vital that decisions about youth training and the financial resources made available for it should be made in the interest of the young people, and not, as is obviously predominantly the case now, because it is in the interests of the industry or the firm concerned to have a training programme.

I hope that this debate will be taken seriously and that the Department will start thinking about positive discrimination in favour of these youngsters.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I assure the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett) that my Department takes seriously every debate on this measure.

I shall try to reply to every point that has been raised in this interesting and wide-ranging debate. I hope that I shall not take as long as I did on the last amendment, since many hon. Members wish to speak on later amendments, but hon. Members are apt to be very irritated if their questions are not answered.

The amendment confers no new duty on the commission, except to include among its powers one to encourage women and girls to participate in skilled trades and professions. That is a perfectly sensible, laudable and understandable point of view, but the amendment is unnecessary, because the commission already has a duty under subsection (1) which is wide enough to cover the encouragement of more women to take up skilled work. Indeed, the commission has a duty, subject to the Secretary of State's approval, to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate. If it considers certain arrangements in connection with the training of women to be appropriate, it is its duty to make them, and I hope that it will consider this point seriously.

We are therefore left with the question whether there is value in this exhortation, knowing the philosophy behind the amendment. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) is trying to do, and sympathise with him, but it is not as simple as that. If the Bill made special reference to services for men, there might be a strong case for saying that it should also make special reference to services for the disabled, the socially disadvantaged, older workers, coloured workers and many other deserving groups. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, indeed."] The hon. Member may say that, but there are potential dangers in such an approach.

If we were to spell it out that services could be offered to various groups, we might find later that we had not defined those services widely enough. As time went by we might come to recognise other special groups which required special services, but if they had not been mentioned in the Bill there might be some doubt about the commission's ability to do anything for them. It is far better to have a comprehensive approach, and in a Bill like this it is better to rely on the broad and general duty imposed in subsection (1).

At present 5,000 women are in training under the training boards scheme, compared with only 1,000 in 1971, so the progression is forward. Perhaps it is not enough, but I am sure that it will go on improving. The Government are well aware of the need to extend the employment opportunities for women and girls. This is a fundamental problem which was the subject of the Expenditure Committee's important report which was published only recently. In due course we shall be publishing a document on the consensus of all these reports, as is the usual practice in the House.

In debate on 14th May in another place on the recommittal of the Sex Discrimination Bill, my noble Friend Lord Colville announced that the Government are working on legislation of their own design to assist in the removal of unfair discrimination on grounds of sex and to promote the opportunities open to women. As he pointed out, it is not possible at this stage to say what form that legislation will take, but it is expected that it will be concerned with unfair discrimination in employment, including training.

Discrimination is a major manifestation of unequal treatment. It has been said that it is a social problem. I agree with that. The Government recognise that the reasons for inequality of opportunity are complex and deep rooted, and that measures of legislation will not be sufficient to bring about the major shifts in attitude needed to secure improvements even though they may be advantageous and helpful.

My Department has engaged in a study of the whole problem of the unequal treatment of women in employment and training with the object of determining what kind of action will be effective in improving the range and level of employment activities of women. I have been very much involved in this study. We are taking it very seriously and attach considerable importance to it. I very much hope that as a result of this very intensive inquiry some useful ideas will develop.

Turning to Amendment No. 5, which runs in harness although on a different subject, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) is correct in what he said. Already there is power under Clause 2(1) —indeed, there is a duty—for the commission to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for assisting people to train for employment. The words in subsection (1) clearly include a duty to make such arrangements as the commission considers appropriate to assist the training of young people under the age of 19 just as much as the training of other people.

Equally, there is already sufficient power in the Bill to pay training grants under subsection (2)(c).

There have been many criticisms in the debate about the inadequacy of training for young people. It should not be underestimated that the Department of Employment is providing substantial training facilities for young people. The problem relates mainly to areas of high unemployment. I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe). He represents an area which has had very high unemployment, and it is still too high there. But in the areas of high unemployment we are providing short courses for young people with no reasonable prospects of employment, and training is now proceeding at the rate of over 1,000 courses a year. It is still not enough, but it is certainly increasing considerably over what it was. These facilities are likely to be extended in the near future. There will be more facilities for assessment and an examination of the probabilities of a wider range of occupational skills for those concerned.

We have these matters constantly under consideration. It is important to remember that the Department of Employment is giving a great deal of attention to this area. This matter was also raised by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett). I must tell him and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West that the Government remain firmly of the view that the primary responsibility for training of young people rests with employers. Industry has generally taken this view in the past. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may say that employers do not do it, but very many of them do. It will be the job of the Employment Service Agency to make sure that more employers do so. Therefore, as a result of that approach there are well established spheres of craft apprentice training, in other fields, and there are also many admirable training schemes for young entrants.

It would not be right for the Government to seek to assume industry's responsibility in this area, nor would it be right for us to provide to young people of an age to take apprenticeships or similar training the sort of accelerated training available under the training opportunities scheme. The training opportunities scheme is a retraining scheme designed to meet the needs of adults. In addition to what is being done in the adult sphere, there is a better overall approach, certainly, for the training of young people, and it will be invigorated by the activities of the Training Services Agency once it gets under way. A great deal is being done in this area.

I was sorry to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West that young people on industrial appreciation allowances are not particularly happy. They have a lead of up to £1 over supplementary benefit rates, which are subject to periodical reviews. They get their lunches or an allowance in lieu, and free travel if they live some distance from the training centre. I shall, however, look again at what my hon. Friend has said.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West also raised the question of Imperial Chemical Industries. I do not know the case personally. We can look into the matter. I am advised that we have had interdepartmental discussions and that we shall shortly be replying to ICI. We hope to be able to offer some positive proposals which will be of advantage to my hon. Friend's area.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) raised some interesting points on his amendments. I assure him that industrial training boards will retain full power to mount such schemes where necessary, subject to the approval of the commission, and to pay maintenance allowances as at present for the young people concerned. Again, this is accommodated.

Because it is not spelt out in great detail in the Bill, many hon. Members are jumping to the assumption that many of the duties at present laid upon the Department of Employment will not necessarily be implemented and invigorated by the new Manpower Services Commission. Exactly the opposite is the case. Concerning the expertise of the twin arms of the commission, they will be able to tackle in a very enlightened way both training and the employment services.

Mr. Sutcliffe

Is my hon. Friend saying that he will agree to look into not only the skills appreciation courses, and extending the period of courses that are run by ICI to 26 weeks, and the allowances for those, but also the four-year sponsored apprenticeship scheme which ICI has proposed? Am I to take it from my hon. Friend's remarks that where there is spare capacity in industry the Government will not be seeking to see that training is given to those who at present cannot get that training?

Mr. Smith

No. On the first point, we are looking at this matter, and I can give a guarantee about that. On the other two points, I should like to refresh my memory in more detail before giving a complete answer, but I shall look into that matter.

I was seeking to draw the debate to a conclusion, as many hon. Members wish to come quickly to our later business. I was saying that the fact that it was not spelt out does not mean that the legislation is bad. The legislation is good and will provide a very useful fillip in the areas that have been dealt with by the Opposition amendments.

Mr. Moyle

We have had a very brief but interesting and well-informed debate. I should like the pleasure of replying to all the points raised in detail, but as time is very short I shall confine myself to thanking those who have taken part in the debate.

I can understand the resentment of the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State at the fact that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has dumped this huge problem in their laps. It involves 70 per cent. of the population of 16-year-old school leavers. The Department of Employment is not properly equipped to give a lead in these circumstances, but the Secretary of State for Education and Science has dumped the problem in the

laps of the hon. Gentlemen and they will have to do the best they can with it.

I should have thought that, from their own viewpoint, the Government would have met us. Already their manipulation of the economy is running into the trouble of a shortage of skilled manpower, just as it did in similar circumstances 10 years ago. The Government are back with the same problem they had in 1963. Admittedly, the powers of Clause 2 are wide but, given the context of the Bill, they are not specific. We are disappointed with the Under-Secretary's reply and we intend to divide the House on this matter of principle.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 158.

Division No. 142.] AYES [7.50 p.m.
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis Hamilton. William (Fife. W.) Pavitt, Laurie
Armstrong, Ernest Hardy, Peter Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Pendry, Tom
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Heffer, Eric S. Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Baxter, William Horam, John Prescott, John
Bennett, James(Glasgow,Bridgeton) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Radice, Giles
Bishop, E. S. Hughes, Mark (Durham) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)
Booth, Albert John, Brynmor Robertson, John (Paisley)
Broughton, Sir Alfred Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R' dnor)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Rose, Paul B.
Buchan, Norman Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Sandelson, Neville
Cant, R. B. Judd, Frank Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Carmichael, Neil Kaufman, Gerald Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Kinnock, Neil Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Lambie, David Sillars, James
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Lawson, George Silverman, Julius
Cohen, Stanley Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Spearing, Nigel
Coleman, Donald Leonard, Dick Steel, David
Concannon, J. D. Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Lomas, Kenneth Strang, Gavin
Dalyell, Tam Loughlin, Charles Sutcliffe, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Swain, Thomas
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) McBride, Neil Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Deakins, Eric McCartney, Hugh Tope, Graham
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Maclennan, Robert Torney, Tom
Dempsey, James McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Varley, Eric G.
Doig, Peter McNamara, J. Kevin Wainwright, Edwin
Dormand, J. D. Marquand, David Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Marshall, Dr. Edmund Wallace, George
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Watkins, David
Eadie, Alex Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Wellbeloved, James
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Millan, Bruce Wells, William (Walsall. N.)
English, Michael Miller, Dr. M. S. Whitehead, Phillip
Faulds, Andrew Milne, Edward Whitlock, William
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Foot, Michael Moyle, Roland Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Ford, Ben Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Forrester, John Murray, Ronald King Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Freeson, Reginald O'Halloran, Michael Woof, Robert
Garrett, W. E. O'Malley, Brian
Gilbert, Dr. John Oswald, Thomas TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gourlay, Harry Pardoe, John Mr. James Hamilton and
Grant, George (Morpeth) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mr. Joseph Harper.
Adley, Robert Gummer, J. Selwyn Onslow, Cranley
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Gurden, Harold Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Astor, John Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Osborn, John
Atkins, Humphrey Hall, John (Wycombe) Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Harrison. Brian (Maldon) Parkinson, Cecil
Batsford, Brian Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Pink, R. Bonner
Biffen, John Hayhoe, Barney Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Body, Richard Hicks, Robert Price, David (Eastleigh)
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Higgins, Terence L Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M L.
Bossom, Sir Clive Hiley, Joseph Proudfoot, Wilfred
Bowden, Andrew Holland, Philip Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Bray, Ronald Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Raison, Timothy
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hunt, John Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher James, David Rees, Peter (Dover)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Jessel, Toby Roberts. Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Bryan, Sir Paul Jopling, Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Kaberry, Sir Donald Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Buck, Antony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Royle, Anthony
Bullus, Sir Eric Kilfedder, James Russell, Sir Ronald
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Carlisle, Mark King, Tom (Bridgwater) Shersby, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Knox, David Sinclair, Sir George
Chichester-Clark, R. Langford-Holt, Sir John Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Churchill, W. S. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Soref, Harold
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Spence, John
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Luce, R. N. Sproat, Iain
Clegg, Walter McAdden, Sir Stephen Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Cockeram, Eric MacArthur, Ian Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Cooke, Robert McMaster, Stanley Stokes, John
Coombs, Derek McNair-Wilson, Michael Taylor,Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)
Costain, A. P. Madel, David Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Crouch, David Maginnis, John E. Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid. Maj.-Gen. Jack Mather, Carol Tebbit, Norman
Dean, Paul Maude, Angus Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Drayson, G. B. Mawby, Ray Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon. S.)
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Eyre, Reginald Meyer, Sir Anthony Trew, Peter
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Mills, Peter (Torrington) Tugendhat, Christopher
Fidler, Michael Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Fookes, Miss Janet Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Vickers, Dame Joan
Fortescue, Tim Moate, Roger Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fowler, Norman Molyneaux, James Ward, Dame Irene
Fox, Marcus Money, Ernle Warren, Kenneth
Gardner, Edward Monks, Mrs. Connie Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Gibson-Watt, David Montgomery, Fergus Wiggin, Jerry
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) More, Jasper Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Goodhew, Victor Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Gower, Raymond Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Younger, Hn. George
Gray, Hamish Mudd, David
Green, Alan Murton, Oscar TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Neave, Airey Mr. Paul Hawkins and
Grylls, Michael Nott, John Mr. Bernard Weatherill.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 4, line 33, at end add: ' (6) Nothing in this Act shall diminish the responsibility of the Secretary of State to be accountable to Parliament for the Commission and the Agencies and the exercise of their functions'. It was in Standing Committee that the Opposition became fully aware of the extent to which the Bill diminishes the rights of Members of Parliament. It is fair to say that over the last few years we have seen a steady and progressive erosion of the rights of back-bench Members. We have seen the creation of extra-governmental agencies, boards, commissions and so on and the slipping away of responsibility from Ministers to bodies which are beyond the reach of MPs. I believe that this has caused growing disquiet which is not confined to the House. Obviously, the most dramatic phase in this steady process was our entry into the Common Market, but we shall be faced with yet another severe curtailment of the Member of Parliament's traditional rôle if the Bill goes through in its present form.

Obviously the creation of a body like the Manpower Services Commission must inevitably be accompanied by some devolution of departmental responsibility and by some transfer of parliamentary accountability. We are worried about the amount of power that is being put beyond the reach of Parliament, and about the range of matters involved. My fears and anxieties are only heightened by the reply given by the Minister of State when we raised the issue in Standing Committee. I ask hon. Members to examine the remarks that he made then and compare them with, for example, Questions that have been tabled for the next occasion on which the Secretary of State for Employment is due to give oral answers.

8.0 p.m.

I conducted the exercise last night of going through Questions in the Order Paper and trying to anticipate some of those that, 12 months from now, may well not be allowed. These may be Questions about the executive recruitment service, about location of job centres, about training facilities in Watford, about the numbers of local authority employees and about the employment transfer scheme—some of the Questions tabled for the right hon. Gentleman to answer on 14th June.

My reading of the Minister of State's remarks is that it may be the case that hon. Members, once the commission has been established in this functioning, will no longer be entitled to table such Questions, or may well get dusty answers at best. Some of us recall the introduction of the Post Office Corporation. I remember the interesting and useful Question Time that the Postmaster-General used to have. Contrast that with the limited range of Questions for which the present Minister for Posts and Telecommunications is answerable.

That was a good example of the very substantial whittling away of the rôle that Members of Parliament have played for a long time. But a big difference between it and the subject we are discussing now is that we are dealing in this Bill with matters of much greater importance than, for example, delay in fixing up a constituent with a new telephone. It is not only parliamentary Questions but a wide range of matters about which in future we shall be urged to write to the chairman of the commission.

I put it to the Minister of State that there is a world of difference in writing to some anonymous figurehead, who cannot be openly or publicly questioned and is not directly accountable and does not have to face up to the consequences, politically or otherwise, of his decisions in the same way as a Minister has to do. He will be a person who can make arbitrary decisions, and we shall be powerless to retaliate. He will have the cloak of parliamentary privilege, which is of such crucial importance to hon. Members in giving them the freedom that is necessary to pursue their responsibilities on behalf of, above all, their constituents and their country.

I was told before I entered the House that amongst the duties and responsibilities of a Member of Parliament were first of all his obligations to seek redress of grievance on the part of those whom he represents. One of the first historical functions of a Member of Parliament is to seek redress for those whom he represents. Another is to act as a watchdog over the executive. Both of these functions we have seen steadily eroded over the last few years. If the erosion of the function of watchdog over the executive continues much further, we are likely to be reduced to a pack of whining, impotent poodles.

When I contrast the present Department of Employment with the Department of Employment and Productivity in which I was privileged and proud to serve, with its vast range of responsibilities three years ago, and see the diminished rôle that it has now, I wonder what, by the time we have created the National Health Executive Authority, the Department will then consist of and just what the Secretary of State will be answerable for in the House. We have a responsibility in this House, recognising that Governments can be served by extra-governmental agencies of wide authority, to guard against giving these bodies a licence to govern. That is the responsibility of the Government, answerable to this House.

Because there were only a handful of Members in Standing Committee to hear the Minister's remarks and with the opportunity to participate in discussion, I thought it right that we should bring this matter to the Floor of the House so that the whole House might be aware of what was going on. I understand that much will depend on the attitude of the Secretary of State and his willingness to accept responsibility in the House for some of these matters.

The Minister of State went some way to giving us assurances in Committee. I want him to have this opportunity to repeat not only what he said then but to add to it and to assuage some of he anxieties that I feel. An example of what worries me is the repeated refusal of the Secretary of State for the Environment to give the House figures relating to local authority house building, arguing that it is not his responsibility but that of the local authorities. It is this kind of runing away from responsibility, the diminishing of powers of hon. Members, that I am extremely concerned about. When I look around the Chamber at the handful of hon. Members present I wonder whether their absence is not a reflection of this process, and whether hon. Members are not becoming increasingly frustrated and wondering what is the purpose of coming when the real power is being exercised by bodies to which it has been entrusted and transferred by the Government. It is that process which causes anxiety, on which we must put checks and of which hon. Members must be aware.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I intervene but briefly, because we discussed this subject in Committee. When we have an agreed view across the Floor of the House about setting up a commission of this kind, we must expect much of the day-to-day management of whatever the commission will be involved in to flow from the Department, thereby placing such matters outside the direct responsibility of the House. Therefore, I cannot believe that there can be any misapprehension about this, to the extent that agencies grow within Ministries.

On the other hand, there is so much detail in Government today that it is almost inevitable that this kind of process will go on, and it may mean that we shall have more opportunity to discuss on the Floor of the House the major issues concerning the country rather than to be constantly concerned with the minutiæ. One of the reasons why there are not so many hon. Members in the House today is that the matter has been debated on Second Reading, when there was a reasonably good attendance. It has been discussed in Committee, and hon. Members know that the die is now cast.

I appreciate the reason given by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) for raising this important issue. It is important in terms of the House on two or three counts. In setting up a commission, it is vital that we should be able to direct Parliamentary Questions to the Minister and that there should not be too much restraint on them. It would be unfortunate if Parliament found that it could not probe what the Commission was doing through the Ministry. I am sure that hon. Members would not be willing to accept from the Table Office that Questions could not be tabled which were broadly about policy, and even detailed policy, being pursued by the commission, without getting down to day-to-day matters of great detail.

I agree with the hon. Member for Doncaster that regular statements must be made to the House, on request, which will cover the broad policies of the commission and will indicate how the commission's work is affecting the country in terms of the movement and training of labour. From time to time we must have the opportunity to receive statements from Ministers. Ministers will have less to do in their Departments with the day-to-day management of such affairs. I hope that they will not find it too difficult to indicate to the House what is happening in the country and to answer questions raised by Opposition or Government Members by means of a statement.

From the commission's point of view it is important that that should happen. The commission is involved with an important aspect of our national life and, through the Minister, it should have the opportunity to give to the House an appreciation of what it is doing.

Mr. Guy Barnett

I intervene only briefly, because one matter which I consider to be of supreme importance has not yet been mentioned. The House will obviously be interested in Parliamentary Questions. We look forward with interest to the Minister's reply about them. I hope that he will be in a position to give us some assurance.

I am more concerned about the power of the Minister in relation to the commission. The Minister or the Secretary of State should not from day to day be able to interfere with the affairs of the commission. We would not set up a commission to carry out a series of responsibilities and to legislate on those responsibilities if we did not think it right that the commission should be given a large degree of freedom. But I can conceive of situations in which disagreement arose between the Secretary of State—who is responsible to this House—and the chairman of the commission. In those rare circumstances it is vitally important that on matters of high policy the Secretary of State should be in a position to override the commission—because he is Secretary of State for Employment, and has responsibilities to this House.

I do not find satisfactory the statement which the Minister of State made in Commitee, when referring to Members there, namely, that They will discover from that schedule that, in the ultimate, the Secretary of State, if he believes that the commission is operating in an outrageous and outr'e manner, can dismiss the members from office. That is the ultimate sanction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 12th April 1973, c. 346.] The ultimate sanction should not be for the Secretary of State to dismiss the lot in order to get his way.

My understanding is that at present there is no provision for the Secretary of State, to override the commission on the rare occasions when he believes, as a matter of major Government policy, that it is right to do so and when, in response to pressure from Opposition or Government Members, he is forced into the position of doing so. It should not be necessary for the Minister of State to have to say that the only way in which the Secretary of State will be able to get his way against the commission is to dismiss the members from office.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

This has been a short but interesting debate. I am glad that the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) brought the subject back to the Floor of the House. He said that it was only in Committee that he and his hon. Friends recognised the extent that the Bill and the establishment of the Manpower Services Commission appeared to diminish the power of Parliament. In his later remarks he was content to refer not to a diminution but to a devolution. That is perhaps a better description of what the position will be.

It is true that on Second Reading there appeared to be a considerable degree of agreement between the two Front Benches as to what kind of creature the commission would be and the kind of controls over it which might emerge from our later deliberations. It did not seem to my right hon. Friend and to the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) that they were very far apart. Both seemed to agree that the Secretary of State should not be continually intervening in matters of details within the commission's responsibility. There is a great deal of agreement about that.

We all recognise that in setting up a body such as the commission there are difficulties in striking the right balance between the ultimate responsibility and accountability to Parliament of the Secretary of State for the body's activities and excessive interference in its day-to-day affairs. If I was unable to reassure the hon. Member for Doncaster to the extent that he would have wished in Committee, I hope that my failure was due to my excessive modesty in these matters as much as anything else. It would be a bold person who at this stage would be prepared to say how matters will pan out in the end.

It is clear that there will be an evolving process, just as the relationship between Ministers and the nationalised industries has evolved. Of course, that relationship is much more controlled by statute than is the relationship with which we are now dealing.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett) was a little unfair to me when he suggested that I had said in Committee that the only power or sanction which the Secretary of State will have over the commission will be through the members' dismissal. I am sure that he will accept that at an earlier stage during another sitting I went in some detail into the powers of direction. Those powers are wide. The Secretary of State can direct the commission to do anything that is within its powers to do. Alternatively, he can direct it not to do anything that is within its powers to do. Of course, there is one exception which we discussed in Committee.

There is agreement that the Secretary of State has wide powers. There can be no doubt that the Secretary of State is fully able to control the commission or that he will be ultimately responsible to the House for its activities. His powers are very much wider than a Minister's powers in relation to the nationalised industries. The power of direction is much more extensive. In this case the Secretary of State has power to approve the commission's proposals and to attach conditions to the commission's grant in aid.

Therefore, I think it follows that hon. Members who want to question the Secretary of State about the commission will not face the same difficulties as those that can sometimes arise over Questions about the nationalised industries, because in that case they would have to be restricted to matters for which the Minister was made responsible by the statute concerned. Therefore, with the Secretary of State having wider powers in relation to the commission, the range of matters about which he could be questioned would also be wider.

There is another important point which I omitted in Committee. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration will be able to investigate the commission and agencies, whereas in the nationalised industries are outside his scope of such an animal. It does not follow that the extent to which the Secretary of State would answer questions from hon. Members, or reply to Adjournment debates, ought to be exactly the same in the future as it would be if the commission did not exist. It is right, as I said earlier, that one should be modest in making predictions in this field.

It may help the hon. Gentleman if I give illustrations of what the situation may be in the future. I will try to deal with the matters of Questions and of replies to Adjournment debates. The hon. Gentleman was particularly worried in committee about the possibility that he and other hon. Members might be unable to ask Questions about unemployment in their constituencies. I reassured him in Committee by saying that unemployment figures are supplied to the Secretary of State from the Employment Services Agency. The figures will continue to be published by the Department of Employment, and it will be perfectly right and proper that my right hon. Friend should be asked Questions about them.

The hon. Gentleman stated that he had been looking at forthcoming Questions. He wondered whether in future some of these types of Questions would appear. One of the Questions he had in mind was about the opening of a job centre. I would like to get a commercial in here by stating that the Government are opening 40 of such centres during this year. It would be proper for an hon. Member to ask my right hon. Friend if he would give the commission a direction to do such a thing. I doubt whether my right hon. Friend would say that he would. He would probably reply that he was not prepared to do so. and that it was a matter for the commission to decide. None the less, the Question would have been asked and attention drawn publicly to what might or might not have been a need.

Another example would be the commission's policy on the training of women or of disabled people. These are categories which we discussed in another context earlier today. It would be possible to ask the Secretary of State whether he was satisfied that arrangements made by the commission in this field were satisfactory and whether he would give a direction on the subject to make sure that future programmes of work included provisions or measures to help particular workers. It would be perfectly possible for hon. Members to ask such a Question. What the answer would be is an entirely different matter, for it would depend on the policy view which the Secretary of State of the day took at the time. I do not think that future Secretaries of State could be committed to that.

Another Question that the hon. Gentleman had noticed on the Order Paper concerned training arrangements at Watford. I imagine that it was about the siting of a new training centre. Again, there is no reason why an hon. Member should not ask my right hon. Friend to direct the commission to put a training centre in his constituency, in Watford, or wherever it might be. That would certainly have the effect of drawing attention to the problem that the hon. Member concerned believed to exist, and would no doubt be taken into account by the commission. But it would be unlikely that the Secretary of State would immediately reply that he would issue a direction of that kind on such a matter.

The last example is the question of finding a job for an individual. At one time or another every hon. Member is concerned with that kind of problem. I do not think there would be any reason why an hon. Member should not put down a Question on the subject, even if it concerned a complaint about the commission's handling of the matter. I would guess that the normal way of handling it in the first instance would be to write to the chairman of the commission or the chief executive of the agency and take it from there. But there is no reason why, if he is dissatisfied with the answers, an hon. Member should not raise the matter either by way of Question or on the Adjournment. There is the important safeguard that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration can act. The case for the individual is stronger when we are dealing with the commission than it is with the nationalised industries.

Most of the usual means of pressure to get the Secretary of State of the day to issue a direction are available on virtually any subject within the commission's sphere. I see no exceptions there. I do not believe that hon. Members' opportunities to raise matters on behalf of their constituents are diminished to any considerable extent. There are other opportunities for bringing matters within the competence of the commission before the House. We must not forget that it is the Secretary of State's duty to produce an annual report for the commission, which will be open to debate in the House.

Moreover, the commission must, under the Bill, send a statement of its accounts, and with it a statement of the accounts of the agencies, to the Comptroller and Auditor General. That again is laid upon the Table and can be debated here. There is a great deal of accountability, and I hope it is of a kind which strikes the correct balance between accountability and excessive interference in the day-to-day working of the commission.

I hope it will be felt that I have been able to go a good deal further than I went in Committee, and I hope that in some way I have been able to allay the fears of hon. Gentlemen.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)

In the main I shall be content to listen to these debates, enjoying the distilled wisdom of those who did the work in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) has raised an important point. We are satisfied that the Minister has gone a long way to meet us. We are dealing here with a totally new situation and it is right that we should recognise it. We have accepted the principle of the hiving-off of these functions to the Manpower Services Commission. This is becoming a trend, particularly with the Department of Employment. The proposed Safety and Health Commission is a further example.

We are likely to have a broad measure of agreement about this, in the sense that we want both sides of industry to be involved more and more in running services of this kind. There is great value to the community in this. There is, however, the danger that the whole process will become more remote from Parliament and more remote from the constituent's approach to his Member and his expectation of a reply. The Minister is right to say that this is a different situation from that of a nationalised industry. The constitutional position is different by reason of the clause giving power to issue directives.

We want to see this degree of hiving-off, which must not be disturbed by too much interference. On the other hand, the Secretary of State and the Government will be held responsible for matters such as full employment, overall training policy and the rest. There must be this accountability. How does that apply to matters such as Adjournment debates? The Minister was giving us something with one hand and taking it away with the other. He said that it would be possible to table Questions but went on to say that he could not tell us what answers we would get because everything depended on whether or not the Secretary of State issued a directive. Therefore, he can be questioned whether he will do so, but it would then not be possible to go into the same sort of detail as would be the case if there were direct responsibility. We will have to wait and see about this.

It is important to give as much information as possible, because of the subject matter. There is a tendency to find reasons for not giving information. A distinguished ex-Permanent Secretary is said to have told a seminar that the good parliamentary answer should have three qualities. It should be brief, true, and should add nothing whatever to what is already known on the subject. That attitude does exist in Departments of State.

Ministers are sometimes tempted to give the minimum information. The good Minister in any Government tries to use Question Time to give information and thus create an understanding of what his Department is doing. In these circumstances, with the Manpower Services Commission, a new veil will be dropped over the subject, because it can be said that this is a matter for the commission and that that answer is all that can be given. That would be the wrong attitude. The maximum information should always be given. This is right from the point of view of the health of parliamentary institutions and the public's attitude towards Parliament.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says. I can, however, visualise a reply from a Secretary of State saying, "I have consulted the Manpower Commission and I understand that its view is this, that and the other." That is possibly what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Prentice

We are both being very hypothetical here, but the hon. Gentleman has just said that the reply might contain the words "I understand its view is". I hope that there would be a flow of information from the commission via the Ministers to the House on matters in respect of which the Minister has decided not to intervene in any way but was conveying information to the House wherever possible, always erring on the side of giving information rather than withholding it.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I do not know whether the reply would be likely to begin "I understand its view is". It might be more likely to start—this is a matter which will evolve, I suppose—"As I understand it, the facts are". This is a matter that will have to evolve. We shall have to wait for it to do so.

Mr. Prentice

We shall indeed, but it is important. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would require the maximum information to be given. As I said a moment ago, when in doubt Ministers will err on the side of giving information and conveying views rather than withholding them.

As my hon. Friend said, in many ways Governments seem more and more remote from people. In respect of a growing number of problems, Members of Parliament, when replying to their constituents and meeting people in their advice bureaux, can say that this is a matter on which they can intervene; that they can write a letter to the chairman of this board, or that commission, and convey the problem to him and relay the reply back, but that there is not much else they can do. They can say that they can make representations on behalf of their constituents, but that they have no power in the matter.

We are living in a society in which that sort of thing is increasing. We have to be hypersensitive about it. There may be perfectly sound reasons for hiving off a function from Government, but this is one area where the House of Commons has to be sensitive and take great care. Most hon. Members in the House tonight will probably feel that the Minister has been forthcoming, and my right hon. Friend may consider whether he wishes to press this matter to a Division. That is a matter for him. Anyway, the Minister of State will know that we shall be watching this carefully, and when, in a short time, Members on the Government benches are in opposition, I hope that they will watch us carefully on this point, which is of great importance to our parliamentary institutions.

Mr. Harold Walker

In the light of the full and, on the whole, helpful reply that we have had from the Minister of State, and on the advice of my right hon Friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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