HC Deb 23 October 1973 vol 861 cc955-60
4. Mr. Redmond

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many persons are under training in the construction industry in the Bolton travel-to-work area and the North-West area as a whole; and what were the comparative figures at the same date in 1970.

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

The most up-to-date figures are for Government training facilities. The number of places in construction within six miles of Bolton has risen from 112 to 173 places since 1970, and in the North-West as a whole from 560 to 697 places. Occupancy rates are very high.

The latest information supplied by the Construction Industry Training Board relates to mid-1972, when 314 approved trainees were employed in the Bolton travel-to-work area and 10,785 in the North-West. These figures compare with 292 and 11,742, respectively, in October 1970.

Mr. Redmond

Will my hon. Friend understand that I tabled this Question originally because of the serious shortage of building workers in the Bolton area? If he looks at today's Order Paper he will see expressions of the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House at the serious situation in the construction industry. In view of the poor figures which my hon. Friend gave us, may I ask whether the Government are doing enough to train more building workers?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I should be surprised if my hon. Friend really wanted convincing of that. In a period of expansion such as we are experiencing it is not surprising that there is some difficulty of recruitment, following as it does a period of depression which started in the building industry in 1969–70 when employers laid off their workers and did no more training.

If concern is expressed on the Order Paper, the answer is clear. The Government are providing and training one-quarter of the skilled craftsmen and about half the bricklayers entering the building industry. My hon. Friend will therefore realise that, whilst one is never satisfied, that is a prodigious effort.

Mr. Leadbitter

Is the Minister aware that the industrial training boards of local education authorities have recommended increases in the standard of charges for construction training in colleges, of a kind that is causing concern to local authorities and employers? Is not this another aspect of the Government's failure to recognise that they are not doing sufficient in this sphere, particularly when local authorities are not building houses at all?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The hon. Gentleman raises a point which is largely not for me, and I take that into account. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is hard put to it to accuse the Government of failure in training people for the construction industry, not least as a result of the record of his own Government, which led to the present shortage of craftsmen in the industry.

7. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are being trained and retrained for the construction industry at the present moment.

8. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many apprenticeships were entered into in the building industry during the last 12 months.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The most up-to-date figures are those for Government training. Under the Training Opportunities Scheme, 3,763 adults were receiving training in construction trades in September 1973 and an estimated total of 6,500 adults will complete courses in construction trades this year.

In the 12 months ending August 1973, 12,890 apprentices first registered under the National Joint Training Scheme of the National Joint Council for the Building Industry, and the latest figures of the Construction Industry Training Board, which relate to 1971–72, show that 114,191 people attended courses of all kinds approved by the hoard in that year.

Mr. Knox

I welcome that answer, but will my hon. Friend review the situation and produce further specific plans for a substantial increase in training facilities?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

We are always looking for new ways of bringing about more training in the construction industry. To this end emergency schemes were started in April, and very good progress is being made.

Mr. Cox

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of the appalling housing position in the country, those are very depressing figures? Is he further aware that in many parts of the country youngsters can enter an apprenticeship only via a local authority building department because of the lump labour system, under which firms will not take youngsters into apprenticeship? Will he therefore tell the House what action he intends to take, because these firms are quite happy to make millions of pounds profit yet refuse to train the craftsmen of the future?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I should have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the figures I gave for first-year apprenticeships were those registered with the Building National Joint Council. There are other figures which are entirely different. The figures are not yet available for the electrical contracting or plumbing national joint councils. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat his last question?

Mr. Cox

Will the lion. Gentleman make private companies which are quite happy to make millions of pounds profit from house building face their responsibilities and train the craftsmen of the future?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I have been very encouraged in recent months by the way in which employers and the CITB, which now commands much greater respect and confidence in industry, have been tackling the problem. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record and at the bulletins put out by the employers, he will see that a new and prodigious effort is being made.

Mr. Idris Owen

Is my hon. Friend aware that the figures are no cause for complacency and that the position in the construction industry is desperately serious? Contractors are refusing to tender for public work for fear of getting the job, with the result that they cannot even start it. Inevitably the situation is reflected in tender prices which the nation is having to pay.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, which I share. I have illustrated the Government's prodigious part in this. But I am sure my hon. Friend is setting an example to employers by taking on a number of apprentices in his own firm, and I hope that his example will be widely followed.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not true that the difficulty has arisen because of the extension of labour-only sub-contracting? Therefore, should not the Government encourage local authority building so that local authorities can do the work and, at the same time, ensure that there is an extension of training for apprentices?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he has studied these matters, just as I have in the past, though for different reasons, that is mainly a matter for the Department of the Environment. What is said about the lump, namely, that it discourages apprenticeship, is not necessarily borne out by the facts. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for 1972 for the recruitment of apprentices, he will find that they are moving steadily upwards for the first time. Formerly there was a recession in apprenticeship which mainly flowed from the imposition of selective employment tax when the hon. Gentleman's party was in power.

Mr. Prentice

Does not the Minister frankly acknowledge that the growth of the lump in recent years has been a major factor which has aggravated the training crisis in the construction industry? Bearing in mind that his party inherited, when it came to office, a Bill which the Labour Government had drafted to deal with this problem, and that over three years have gone by in which the situation has become worse and there has been no Government action, may we expect a Government statement shortly and some proposals in the Queen's Speech next week?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have been involved in discussion with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction on these matters, and he is setting up a committee which is looking not only into this problem from both sides of industry but into specific problems regarding decasualisation raised by the Trades Union Congress.

Mr. Prentice

This industry is the most inquired into in the country. Three or four years ago there was an inquiry under the chairmanship of Professor Phelps Brown. Have there not been enough inquiries, and is it not time that the Government brought forward urgent action on the matter?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

This is a matter for my right hon. Friend in another Department, but I agree that it has been a well inquired into industry in many respects. This committee is being set up from both sides of industry, and it will have a chance to investigate the matter. As regards the Phelps Brown inquiry, I know that the right hon. Gentleman had a Bill of his own on the matter in which I was much interested. I produced a rather better Bill and put it before the House myself. It would not necessarily be relevant today, but this is a matter for my right hon. Friend.