HC Deb 31 January 1984 vol 53 cc139-52 3.32 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Tom King)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about vocational education and training.

The Government are today publishing a White Paper entitled "Training for Jobs". It is presented jointly by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science, for Scotland, for Wales, and myself. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

A well trained work force is essential to a strong economy and to win back jobs; to achieve that, vocational education and training must be properly directed to the demands of the market place.

Two years ago we published our first White Paper on training. At that time we set out three objectives: first, to improve vocational education and the transition from school to work; secondly, to modernise apprenticeship and other skill training; and thirdly, to open up wider training opportunities for adults.

Since then we have made considerable progress. Already more than 300,000 young people have entered the youth training scheme. Our new initiative in co-ordinated technical and vocational education for young people from 14 to 18 was launched last September. Fourteen local education authorities co-operated in pilot schemes, and a further 46 have now been invited to join the scheme, starting in September.

In the reform of apprenticeship arrangements, important improvements have been made in engineering, electrical contracting, printing and the construction industries. The Open Tech programme is now well under way, with as many as 50,000 people expected to take advantage of that new facility next year.

Those specific new initiatives represent a major achievement by the Manpower Services Commission under the energetic leadership of its chairman, David Young, and his fellow commissioners, but they would be the first to acknowledge the part played by employers, trade unions, local authorities, voluntary organisations, colleges, schools and the careers service and, indeed, the support and interest of many hon. Members, to which I readily pay tribute.

The White Paper also sets out the criteria against which we shall make our future plans, and announces certain specific proposals. Central and local government have an important part to play in vocational education and training, but real success depends crucially on the part played by employers and trainees themselves. The decisions as to who is trained, when and in what skills, are best taken by employers—and, indeed. the individuals concerned—who know better where the real needs are. So investment in training must be cost effective, flexible, adaptable to changing technology and free of old-fashioned restrictions.

The Manpower Services Commission recently submitted to me proposals for a new adult training strategy. We fully support the commission's call for a national campaign to raise awareness among employers and all concerned of the vital importance of training.

We support, too, the need to provide wider opportunities for the training of adults to meet new skill requirements. We therefore endorse the commission's proposals to restructure its existing programmes to double the total number of adults trained under MSC courses to over 250,000 a year. That will include a significant increase, to some 125,000, in the number of unemployed receiving training.

The Government have agreed to consider further two proposals by the commission. The first is that there should be some training included for people on community programmes. The second is that some adult trainees could be helped by a guaranteed loan scheme to enable them to obtain training not otherwise available to them. The Government recognise that that could well be of interest to a number of people, and I confirm that we shall be ready to consider it further with the MSC and others concerned.

The White Paper also announces important new arrangements within vocational education. It is vital to get the closest possible collaboration at local level between employers, local education authorities and colleges, and other providers of vocational education and training, in identifying and meeting the real needs for future employment in their areas. The MSC, which includes representatives from industry, as well as local authorities and professional educational interests, and which has an established local network, is well placed to assist in that role.

The Government have therefore decided to ask the commission to extend its range of operations so that it can discharge the functions of a national training authority. We propose to increase the commission's resources devoted to work-related non-advanced further education in England and Wales from some £90 million now to some £155 million in 1985–86 and £200 million in 1986–87. That will then represent about one quarter of the total public sector provision for that area. The resultant reduction in the need for local authority expenditure will be taken into account in settling the relevant rate support grants for those future years.

The commission is being asked to begin consultations immediately with educational interests, employers and other interested parties so that plans can be settled in good time for the beginning of the 1985–86 academic year.

In 1983–84 we expect to spend £960 million on training. In 1984–85 we plan to increase that to £1,100 million. That is in addition to the £2.5 billion spent by employers, and the substantial sums within the further education sector. It is therefore vital to ensure that those funds are all used to the best possible effect. The White Paper sets out the Government's continuing programme to ensure that as a nation we are properly trained to meet the challenges of the years ahead.

Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)

Is the Secretary of State aware that training for young and old must be seen against the background of a continuing collapse in our manufacturing industry and the consequent collapse in the number of apprenticeships available in manufacturing industry? Will he also bear in mind, when he indulges in some of the vacuous self-congratulations that were littered throughout his statement and the White Paper, that this Government's economic policies created the standing army of young unemployed that some of these proposals are supposed to help? Will he come directly to the financial consequences of his statement? He announced certain increases in expenditure by the MSC as the national training authority. The right hon. Gentleman then announced that there would be a resultant reduction in local authority expenditure. Is it not true that not a halfpenny of new money is being provided by the Government for this so-called new advance?

Secondly, will the Secretary of State explain why he made so many references to consultation and the need for collaboration with trade unions, local authorities and others, when he has not consulted any of them, and when this is announced as a White Paper, instead of a Green Paper which is available for consultation with all the interested parties? Will he explain the scarcely veiled reference in the White Paper to forcing people on supplementary benefits to take part in YTS schemes? Is he aware that, if the voluntary character of YTS disappears, it will not be possible to get genuine co-operation from people conscripted from supplementary benefit and pushed into schemes to put up the numbers for the sake of the Government's statistics?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also explain his reference to loans? He will be aware that when the Manpower Services Commission put forward its suggestion about loans it did so in the context of an overall review of the funding of the MSC. The right hon. Gentleman puts it forward on its own, with no such reference.

In the White Paper and in his statement, the Secretary of State referred to the need to make training financially attractive. Is he aware that those of us who have a wider knowledge of the people involved believe that that attractiveness is confined to the employer? Is it not ridiculous that people on the YTS scheme should still receive £25 a week when, in line with inflation, it should have gone up to £34 a week? Is not the time overdue for a substantial increase in the allowances paid to people on YTS schemes?

The Secretary of State announced that another 125,000 adults would be brought within the scope of adult training. However, he did not explain whether any extra money would be provided for that purpose. Is it not true that the same amount of money will be made available for adult training, but that the jam will be spread much more thinly?

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to ask about the educational impact of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but will the Secretary of State confirm that there is little point in having schemes for training people, whether those schemes are short-term or long-term, if there are no jobs for those people at the end? Will it not all be a waste of time, unless there is a recovery in manufacturing industry, instead of its continuing collapse?

Mr. King

I am disappointed by the totally ungracious and unconstructive way in which the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) approaches the White Paper. If he wishes to bandy insults across the Floor of the House, I have to recall that he was a member of a Government who could not even get agreement in their own Cabinet when Shirley Williams, who was then a Member of the House, sought to introduce training schemes. Moreover, what that Government finally introduced was a youth opportunities scheme which had no training content whatever. It was merely a special employment measure.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about consultation, he seemed to overlook the fact that, for example, a considerable part of my statement concerned the Government's response to the Manpower Services Commission's adult training strategy—itself the result of widespread consultation and put forward by the MSC—and that its commissioners, comprising representatives of industry and trade unions as well as educational interests, produced a unanimous recommendation. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that our proposals, particularly for adult training, are the result of close consultation with the MSC. The latest proposal on vocational education and training will now be the subject of substantial consultation.

On the question of supplementary benefit, the White Paper reaffirms the present position. I am glad to say that, on the latest survey figures available to me, only a tiny number of people are affected. When people have the opportunity of a proper training scheme and work experience, and they reject that opportunity on no good grounds—no grounds that would satisfy independent scrutiny—it would be quite wrong to give them the free option of taking supplementary benefit instead of taking the opportunity available.

I was asked about loans and the need for an overall review. The hon. Gentleman will read in the White Paper that we considered in some detail what the respective goals for funding should be and what contributions should be made by the Government, the employees and the trainees themselves towards achieving the most effective training programme. That being so, we feel that we do not need an overall review at the present time.

We do not believe in loans as a substitution for the rest of the programme, but there is a genuine argument, when people in mid-career are looking for an opportunity for additional training that may not be available within the normal services, for such people to be able to get a guaranteed loan. That might enable them to improve their training resources. We shall consider that possibility with the MSC.

The adult training strategy put forward by the MSC involves more effective use of the funds that are being employed at the moment, but, as I have said, we intend to spend a significantly higher overall sum on training in the coming year.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hesitancy shown by many young people towards taking part in the youth training scheme was caused by doubt whether the training was real training for a real job, and a real extension of education? I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would, like me, have welcomed the presence here today of the Secretary of State for Education and Science alongside my right hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is here."]—because those two Departments are bracketed in making a real advance in education and training.

Mr. King

I very much appreciate what my hon. Friend has said. Since I took over my new responsibilities, one of the matters that has made the greatest impression on me has been the work done in setting up the youth training scheme. I have been enormously impressed by the very close co-operation between my Department and the Department of Education and Science on the matter of training and vocational education. Some previous training schemes have been employment measures—just a way of making work—but the youth training scheme now offers some very exciting opportunities to young people and, despite what some people say, will provide, for many young people, the best possible route to a permanent job.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Many will welcome the provision of more training. That must be the right trend. However, can the right hon. Gentleman cut away the verbiage and let us know whether or not net central Government expenditure on training as outlined in this document will increase, when one takes account of the change in the amount of money going to local councils?

Secondly, what sort of courses does the right hon. Gentleman believe the local authorities should scrap? That must be what the statement would entail.

Thirdly, will there not be a further transfer away from democratically elected authorities to the central quango that deals with training and education?

Mr. King

We must distinguish between two things. Our proposal on vocational education is not for next year but for the following year and its purpose is to ensure that the customer—the employer, the trade or the industry—has more say, through the structure of the Manpower Services Commission and its local network of employers, trade unionists and educationists, in ensuring that the courses provided and the training being offered are those that offer the best possible prospect of jobs thereafter.

We wish not to centralise but to ensure that there is more local involvement and a much closer working co-operation with employers, with those providing the training and with the trainees themselves, in order to achieve the best possible prospects of jobs. One of the features of the present situation in training is that a considerable amount of money is being spent, and a great deal is being wasted.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Although I welcome the White Paper and the emphasis placed by my right hon. Friend on vocational education — I fully support all the additional resources being directed to training — how does he equate his comments with Staffordshire county council's decision to close the textile department of the Leek college of further education without further consultation with the Macclesfield or Leek textile employers who send many of their member companies employees to that college and department? Bearing in mind that the textile industry is the country's third largest employer, will he assure me that he will make representations to the Staffordshire county council to reconsider its decision to close that department at the end of this financial year? It took the decision without any consideration about what those in the middle of their course will do about completing it.

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will understand that I am not familiar with the details of that matter. Anyone who has made even the most superficial study of this problem knows that there is a need for a much closer understanding and co-operation between employers and the educational services. We seek to facilitate that by this change.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

How can the Secretary of State talk about securing the greatest co-operation of people locally, including education authorities and further education colleges, when he has announced a major change in the way in which a substantial section of further education is delivered, without any consultation on this point with colleges or local education authorities? Is it not a disgrace that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is sitting alongside him, has allowed this statement to be made without those consultations?

Mr. King

My right hon. Friend recognises and attaches enormous importance, as those who have studied his recent speeches on this will know, to the fact that the education services must be effectively attuned to the nation's needs. The academic side of further education is not an issue here. We are dealing specifically with the technical and vocational education aspect — preparing people for jobs. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What jobs?"] The hon. Gentleman did not appear to show that he was aware that at present the MSC is investing some £90 million in this area. In 1985–86 we are proposing to increase that figure to £155 million, and in 1986–87 to £200 million. I hope that, after all the shouting has died and people get down to consultation, many people in local authority education departments, who are far more forward-thinking than one or two Opposition Members, will recognise the benefits that can come from this scheme.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people leave school without anything that society values, in particular members of the ethnic minorities, will welcome as promising the package of a possible loan in some cases and greater access to adult education and training in others?

Mr. King

I am persuaded of the vital need to adapt training and educational provision to the new circumstances that appertain in this country. Hon. Members have not raised a whole range of different matters — for example the modernisation of the apprenticeship system, which is vital if we are to equip ourselves for the challenge of new technology. It is important in so many different ways, not least that of open access, that at any stage in someone's career or life he is not debarred from acquiring new skills. I endorse what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Jim Callaghan (Heywood and Middleton)

Does the Minister agree that many local authorities, including Conservative-controlled ones, are worried that the Government are holding back part of the rate support grant in favour of Government-sponsored schemes in schools? Does he not feel that this report will further the local authorities' resentment?

Mr. King

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has heard of the technical and vocational education initiative which was launched, with Government support, by the MSC. It gives additional funds to local education authorities to launch four-year schemes in technical and vocational education. That is an illustration of the way in which co-operation with local education authorities can be developed, not in the spirit of recrimination and hostility that the hon. Gentleman is trying to suggest. We have now launched a scheme in which we have invited local authorities to co-operate voluntarily and to which we have had an enormous response.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most colleges are first-class and do an excellent job? However, should we not concede that the Manpower Services Commission is closer to employers than local education authorities? Would not increasing clientship between the MSC and colleges be the sort of effective effort that we wish to see?

Mr. King

I certainly pay tribute to the excellent work of so many colleges in the FE sector, but we would be less than frank if we did not also recognise that some colleges do not achieve the best standards. I am sure that close contact and involvement with the customer is a vital way to ensure improvements.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition are very much in favour of the training of youngsters, but deeply concerned about the lack of apprenticeships? As the upsurge of interest to which the Government refer may be a non-starter, we could be training youngsters only to find that they have to return to the dole.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) about why the Government have not increased the allowance from £25 to at least £27 a week? Will not the Government bear in mind the fact that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) found that he could not live on £26.80 a week? Therefore, how do the Government expect youngsters to live on £25 a week, which is an inadequate allowance?

Mr. King

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. From one or two comments that I have heard, I was beginning to wonder whether Opposition Members approved of training youngsters or merely wished to carp about the statement. The increase in allowances is a difficult issue. As we have finite resources, the question is how those resources should best be applied. If the allowance is higher, the resources available for backing training schemes will be less.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

You have underspent this year.

Mr. King

The White Paper deals frankly with the issue. We have made it clear already that, for this year, we believe that it is not unreasonable to ask trainees in these schemes—which provide excellent training and work experience—to make some contribution to the costs of training through a restrained training allowance.

Mr. Nellist

Twelve pounds 50 pence a week.

Mr. King

It is sadly true that a great deal fewer apprenticeships are currently involved. That is due partly to the change in the industrial pattern in Britain, and partly due to the fact that in the new and emerging industries traditional apprenticeships do not apply—for example in electronics or microelectronics. However, we want to ensure that throughout training we obtain the most effective use of available resources.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome and constructive statement, which contrasts so starkly with the unconstructive and sterile attitude of the Opposition. What will be the long-term implications of his statement for British industry?

Mr. King

We are all aware of the concern of British industry that, when unemployment is far too high, there is yet a shortage of skilled workers in certain key areas. We are also concerned about how the new industries, as they develop, can sustain their position in the market, given the lack of those with necessary skills. I hope that our determination to ensure that the training we provide is effectively directed to the real needs of Britain will be welcomed.

Mr. Nellist

I am sure that it is a coincidence that this anaemic statement has been produced on the same day as my private Member's Bill, which offers a real alternative for training.

If the Secretary of State is prepared to announce today that there are changes in budgetary allowances for training spread over the next three years, why will he not give similar figures about the date when he intends to increase the YTS allowance from 25 quid a week, which represents a theft of £12.50 from the YTS allowance during the life of this Government, to a level more closely related to trade union rates for apprentices, which represent a decent training allowance?

As the White Paper refers in paragraph 29 to health and safety, will the right hon. Gentleman respond to the requests that have been made to his Department—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—that trainees be given a proper——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am anxious to call as many hon. Members as possible, but long supplementary questions make that very difficult.

Mr. Nellist

—that trainees be given a proper contract of employment so that they are covered by all industrial legislation? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure —[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—that every workplace in which YTS trainees go is first inspected by a qualified health and safety inspector to prevent serious and fatal accidents, which are running at 300 a year under his leadership of that Department?

Mr. King

Every time I hear the hon. Gentleman speak I get the impression that he is more interested in making political capital out of any problems that he can dredge up from individual circumstances than directing himself to the real importance of providing an effective training scheme for this country. His never-ending attempts to denigrate the youth training scheme do great damage to the opportunities and possibilities for hundreds of thousands of young people in Britain.

Mr. Richard Needham (Wiltshire, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, regardless of the resource problem, a proposal which for the first time involves both the employers and trade unions, through the area boards, in non-advanced further education should be welcomed as a constructive step forward by Opposition Members, who may not yet have received their proper briefing from the TUC?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments, because I have been extremely surprised at the reaction of Labour Members. Perhaps they thought that they were obliged by being in opposition to oppose rather than to look at the serious and constructive proposals which have been set out, which I think will be widely welcomed by both sides of industry.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have two important Scottish debates to follow and a ten-minute Bill. I propose to allow questions to run until 4.15, but I ask hon. Members to be brief in their supplementary questions.

Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

Although one welcomes any new training initiatives, will the Minister make clear the answer to the question that has been posed to him by other hon. Members? Is any new money, any further funds, being put in as a result of his statement? Secondly, if he is interested in cost effectiveness, does he not consider that the time has come to have one Department responsible for training and education, rather than two, at national and local level, where there is a dual track of training and education development and public funds are squandered?

Mr. King

The answer to the last point is that training under the present structure is closely linked to employment, and I think that is the right approach. There is obviously an argument about which way it should go, but that is the way in which it has been structured. It is the way in which previous Governments have operated it and I believe that it is the right line to follow.

Mr. Nellist

What about money?

Mr. King

Opposition Members keep talking about money, and claim that I have said nothing about money. I said in my statement, and I repeat, that in 1983–84 we expect to spend £960 million and that in 1984–85 we plan to increase it to £1,100 million. If that is not clear to them, I will try to make it even clearer later.

Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in contrast to the carping criticism of Opposition Members, many young people will welcome the opportunity that is being provided, not least the young people in the six high schools and two colleges in my constituency, for whom £1.6 million has just been announced under the technical and vocational education initiative?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his positive response. I believe that his is much more the proper reaction to my statement than the extremely carping criticisms by Labour Members, who show themselves out of touch with the fact that much of what I have announced is the sum of a great deal of co-operation between industry, trade unions, educational interests, colleges—a whole range, across the board. Despite the living anachronism that we see before us—Labour Members living in a world of their own, a world in which they have increasingly little influence—the rest of the country will, I hope, welcome what we have announced.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who have been concerned for many years to see the expansion and modernisation of adult training are very concerned indeed that the Government are taking resources from local government and handing them to the MSC which, despite Government rhetoric, is floundering in its attempts to provide high quality training for young people? Is he further aware that the youth training scheme in practice is often cheap labour getting very low-level training? Now that the MSC is to be handed another chunk of education money, we are likely to see more that is worse, and certainly no improvement.

Mr. King

The hon. Lady specialises, on every occasion that she can find, in destructive comments about the efforts of an enormous number of people who are playing their part in making the youth training scheme the success that it undoubtedly is. I accept, of course, that with a scheme of this size—300,000 and more are already on it—there will be problems, but I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the TUC for the part that it has played. That is representative of the feelings of many more people than the hon. Lady might pretend to represent.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

With skill shortages already appearing in parts of the economy, is not the main objective to get the relevant training to the right places as quickly as possible? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the virtue of his scheme is that it will enhance that prospect?

Mr. King

It is absolutely vital to ensure that we get the most effective use of the training funds. [HON. MEMBERS: "What funds?"] We hear from Opposition Members the same parrot cry on every statement—"new money" or "more money"—but the first requirement, the first responsibility, of every Member of Parliament and Minister is to ensure that we get value for money. The truth is that in the present training situation we are spending a great deal of money training people for the wrong courses, for which there are not jobs, whereas, as my hon. Friend points out, in other areas there are skill shortages, and that is a national disgrace.

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to paragraph 19 of the White Paper concerning Scotland? Will the Scottish participation in the TVEI, which has been grudging so far, take place along with new money? Will any of the schemes which will be involved in the Scotish participation be subject to the kind of local scrutiny and control to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in the statement? In other words, will the Minister ensure that the Scottish committee of the MSC has a larger role in the control of these schemes and that it is not given to Sheffield, which is, to all intents and purposes, an alien education experience if it has the say-so in the new set-up?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood the position; the announcement on the new arrangement within vocational education is not applicable to Scotland, which has recently introduced new arrangements for 16 to 18-year-olds, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland wants to give that time to settle down before taking a view on any changes that might be made. The more technical details of the Scottish arrangements I shall leave as a bilateral matter between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the progressive statement which he has made today is in addition to all that the Government have achieved in this sphere since coming to office? With regard to apprenticeships, is he aware that employers are saying that, after 18 months, there are many youngsters whom they would like to keep in apprenticeships but whom they might not be able to afford to keep without some support or assistance from the Government or the MCS? Will my right hon. Friend take that on board, since apprenticeships are a vital part of training?

Mr. King

I am aware of my hon. Friend's close interest in this matter and I assure him that we are aware of the importance of the point he makes. He will be aware of the changing needs of industry and the fact that the relevance of apprenticeships is changing in a number of areas, in particular with the new industries and with the new technologies applicable in the old industries. Having said that, I assure him that I shall take note of what he said.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Secretary of State has received representations from me concerning a large number of people on MSC projects who are getting into financial distress through the use of bank cards. Will he advise all young people on these projects of the dangers and tempations of getting into debt, particularly in view of the low payments that are being made?

Mr. King

I am not aware of the details, but I will look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous enthusiasm which the YTSߞno doubt this will be the response to the new scheme that he has announced ߞ generated among schoolmasters, lecturers, businessmen, parents and all those in the local community? We have had much experience of this, and I am sure that his statement will be welcomed. Has he made any announcement on the pioneering technical and vocational education initiative, which was taken a year ago? Does that initiative need a further extension? We must begin training for industry right back into schools, and not only at the stage when 16-year-old leave them. Will he make arrangements also for the colleges of higher education to be able to keep the money that they earn from co-operating with local firms and local education institutes in offering their services as consultants so that they may go ahead and provide more training in the local area?

Mr. King

I am well aware of the enthusiasm for the youth training scheme among a considerable number of employers. There is no doubt that it is starting to have a major impact on the induction training that they offer their normal employees. That is a major improvement that will provide lasting benefit.

The technical and vocational education initiative started as a pilot scheme, but it will now build up very quickly. There are 14 local education authorities involved and I have invited another 46 to join the scheme. Those authorities have responded to my invitation and proposals have been offered to them. As we move from the 14 authorities to the full-capacity scheme, about 60,000 children will be part of it.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

The White Paper states: The new Skillcentre Training Agency established by the Commission will ensure that Skillcentres adopt a commercial approach in identifying and supplying the training that the commission and employers want. Will the Minister give an assurance that no more skillcentres will be closed in future and that it will be his aim to ensure that present facilities are fully used?

Mr. King

Obviously, we want the present facilities to be fully used, but if the courses for which the skillcentres are equipped are not appropriate to the needs of the market in the area, it may be difficult to ensure that they are fully used. I have sought to explain—I hope that the White Paper makes this clear—that we must ensure that money for training is used for training people and not for providing subsidies for unfilled places. The moneys must be directed to the training of people if we are to ensure the best use of the funds available. We must try to take an intelligent and constructive approach in the interests of those who need training. Our job is to ensure that the maximum funds are applied where they are really needed.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that for a long time there has been an artificial divide between education and training and that we now have an opportunity to grasp the nettle and close the divide, especially in relation to apprenticeships, so as to allow City and Guilds and other examinations to be undertaken within the education system and carried on into training, thereby allowing full apprenticeships to take place and giving encouragement to the youngsters who will embrace the various skills in future?

Mr. King

The White Paper is supported by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland and jointly presented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and myself. That shows that it is the Government's view that there must be the closest co-operation. The initiative recognises exactly the force of what my hon. Friend stresses—the need to break down the barriers between the tradition of technical education and the tradition of training in employment. I hope that we can combine the traditions effectively. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I will seek to give a lead in that respect. I hope and believe that we shall have the support of many in the education and industrial sectors.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Labour Members welcome real training and real jobs, but we do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman is crowing about the failure of the Government when set against the three objectives which he set. Does he recognise that he has sawn through the bridge between school and work, because there are no jobs, that he has presided over a decrease in the number of apprenticeships, and that wider training opportunities are no more than a mirage as there are no jobs for people to go to when they have completed their training?

Mr. King

That was a rather laboured intervention. It appears that the hon. Gentleman has been infected by the rather sour odour that is floating up to him from the Opposition Front Bench instead of considering the Government's proposals in a constructive spirit.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that in Scotland we have many jobs in high technology and that some trade unions have refused to co-operate with the Government's training scheme. Can he assure the House that the trade unions are being pursuaded to accept the scheme and that the change in training is essential, especially for occupational skills in view of the fundamental changes in attitude, particularly towards training for new industries?

Mr. King

I am sorry to hear that. I am aware that there has been a refusal to co-operate in some instances, and I shall look into that. Otherwise, a feature of the launch of the YTS has been the tremendous efforts made by the trade unions in organising conferences and meetings to explain to their members and officers the importance of getting the scheme off the ground. The attitude of those trade unions is a pleasant contrast to some of the sour comments that have come from one or two Labour Members.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Will the Minister now admit to the House that his White Paper proposals involve no new money? Is he aware that at the beginning of the year the Secretary of State for Education and Science made a speech in Sheffield calling for a new partnership? Does he believe that the best away to create the new consensus is to keep local authorities, teachers and colleges completely in the dark while a secret Government committee plans the future of non-advanced further education? Does he realise that the proposals for further education represent yet another example of central Government interference in how democratically elected local authorities spend their money — for example, penalties, rate capping, the educational support grants and now the MSC takeover of work—related further education and a consequent loss of rate support grant? Where will it end?

Finally, does the Minister accept that the MSC takeover of responsibilities means that, as with the TVEI, the Secretary of State for Education and Science loses out in the Whitehall power battle, educational needs take second place and once again education gets a bloody nose?

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

So dramatic.

Mr. King

If I thought that the hon. Gentleman believed what he has just said, I should be even more convinced of the death wish of the Labour party. He made an appalling contribution. I have been asked about the amazing secrecy surrounding this matter. For once, a White Paper has not been leaked in toto in advance of publication. That appears to be the major example of Government secrecy. We have made it clear in the White Paper that there will be the fullest consultation on the vocational education proposals. It is right that that should be so. I believe, from my discussions and from the comments that have been made to me over the years by those in the education service as well as those in industry, that there will be a much better understanding of the reasons that lie behind the proposals that we are making, which we are putting forward in a constructive sense.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

Hear, hear.

Mr. King

My right hon. Friend is joining me in this approach, which is much more constructive than the hon. Member for Durham, North suggests.

Mr. Speaker

Ten-minute Bill——

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I recognise, Mr. Speaker, that you are not responsible for the answering of questions by Secretaries of State. However, I should like your guidance on a point which has arisen from the recent exchanges. The Secretary of State for Employment was answering questions on behalf of Departments in addition to his own. When he was asked a question of a specific nature which was pertinent to the document that is being introduced, he relegated the question to the level of bilateral discussions between the questioner and the appropriate Secretary of State. Is this not an entirely inadequate system of briefing? In this instance, the needs of Scotland are being ignored.

Mr. Speaker

As the hon. Member has correctly stated, I am not responsible for ministerial answers.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is an issue for Parliament. The matter of the department of pharmacy at Heriot Watt university is the responsibility not of the Secretary of State for Scotland but of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The effects of its closure, if educational needs are to be tailored or attuned to the needs of the nation, as the Secretary of State for Employment puts it, is a matter for the Department of Employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) made a valid point. Will you, Mr. Speaker, consider it and give a ruling tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

I say again that I am not responsible for which Minister of State the Government decide should answer questions or make statements. That is not a matter for the Chair, but is entirely one for the Government to decide.