HC Deb 23 June 1981 vol 7 cc129-30
12. Mr. Hicks

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many Ministry of Defence craft apprentices are to commence their period of training at Her Majesty's dockyard Devonport in September 1981; what arrangements have been made with the Manpower Services Commission for them to take up the remaining places; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Blaker

We are still considering the total number of apprentices to be taken for training in Ministry of Defence establishments in 1981, including Devonport dockyard. I am unable at this stage to add to the written reply given to my hon. Friend on 1 June.

Discussions are taking place with the Manpower Services Commission about the possibility that it may be able to use the spare apprentice training capacity in the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Hicks

Is my hon. Friend aware that more than 1,200 young people sat the examination in February and are still awaiting the results, when normally they would have heard them a month ago? Is he aware that many of them have left school and that this is creating great uncertainty not only for them but for their instructors and in the Royal Navy as a whole? Will he give an assurance that any shortfall will be taken up by civilian apprentices?

Mr. Blaker

With regard to the time factor, I am advised that notice is frequently given later than on this occasion. Nevertheless, we are not complacent about this and we shall ensure that notice is given to the applicants as soon as possible. A number of factors have prevented our doing so before now.

Mr. Douglas

We must await the Secretary of State's statement and authority for an assurance about the future of the dockyards, but does the Minister accept that in the case of Rosyth, where there have been 10 applications for every vacancy, urgent action is needed to take up the facilities that are available for apprentice training?

Mr. Blaker

I am aware of the impatience in a number of establishments, including Rosyth. The number of applications there is not unusual compared with other establishments. There is great demand for these apprenticeships.

Mr. Jim Spicer

Is my hon. Friend aware that this situation applies not only to apprentices, but to many other recruits for the Armed Forces? Is he satisfied that the Manpower Services Commission is examining as a matter of great urgency the opportunity that is presented to it?

Mr. Blaker

My hon. Friend must address that question to the Manpower Services Commission or to the Department of Employment, but I have no reason to think that either is being slow on the job. One reason why there are many applicants waiting to join the Services is the high level of retention, which itself is satisfactory.