HC Deb 24 June 1980 vol 987 cc224-6
8. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether, pursuant to his reply, Official Report, 18 March, column 197, he will state over 1979–80 how many apprentice thatchers remain in thatching; and if he is satisfied with the training of thatchers and other practitioners in ancient crafts.

Mr. Jim Lester

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that in September 1979, nine apprentices completed the two-year period of training in thatching under the new entrant training scheme of the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas. All nine remain in thatching.

Information is not really available about those trainees who completed their training in 1979 under private arrangements.

I am informed that COSIRA keeps its new entrant training scheme under review, and I have no reason to consider that the Manpower Services Commission should take further action in relation to training for thatching or other ancient crafts.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the Minister aware that I have only 1 per cent. of my tongue in my cheek when I point out that those of us who considered the National Heritage Bill discovered that many of those who do the skilled jobs that preserve our heritage are over 60 years of age? Do not the MSC and the Department have some responsibility here? Should they not do what small private firms cannot do, namely, provide a basis for skilled craftsmen in arts that are now vanishing?

Mr. Lester

I assure the hon. Gentleman that 540 thatchers are working. The apprentices that I mentioned are aged between 16 and 19 years, and that is clear from the fact that they are apprentices. I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about dry dyking. Schemes are in existence under the youth opportunities programme.

Mr. Gummer

Does my hon. Friend accept that those in rural areas resent the general laughter that follows whenever issues such as these are discussed? Does he agree that we are talking about people and about their jobs? It is not a matter for laughter among Opposition Members that people work in the countryside. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are determined to bring prosperity and employment to the countryside, as well as to the towns?

Mr. Lester

I acknowledge my hon. Friend's remarks. We are talking not only about people's jobs, but about an ancient tradition. A great deal of beautiful countryside is enlivened because we still have thatched dwellings. I do not wish to do anything that will prevent that from continuing.

Mr. Farr

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As special circumstances arose a few minutes ago, and as we have reached only question No. 8, will it be possible to continue questions to the Department of Employment for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour at 3.30 pm?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid not. We had better not start varying our rules.