HC Deb 24 June 1986 vol 100 cc165-8
6. Mr. O'Brien

asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the reorganisation of the Manpower Services Commission.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The commission is reorganising in order to improve the management and delivery of our policies and programmes. From 1 July it will have three operating groups. These will be the employment and enterprise group, the vocational education and training group, and the skills training agency. They will be hacked by two support groups providing personnel, finance and management services.

Mr. O'Brien

Is the Paymaster General aware of the concern that is felt about their future by the skills training agency and the skill training centres, because the guarantee that was given to them terminates this year? Will the Paymaster General assure us that there will be no decrease in the number of skill training centres? May we also be assured that there will be a future for the centres? Furthermore, is the Paymaster General aware of the problems, emanating from his Department, of local members of the Manpower Services Commission because insufficient information is being made available to local organisations, such as Age Concern?

Mr. Clarke

There are two distinct points in the hon. Gentleman's question. First, skillcentres have been put on a trading account basis, which we believe will give management the incentive that it requires and to which it will respond in order to gear its training to the requirements of the labour market. The total amount of adult training that we are able to give and the number of people who are receiving adult training with Government assistance have been increasing. As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we are disseminating as much information as we can about all the Government's policies relating to job training and job opportunities. I commend to the hon. Gentleman and to Age Concern "Action for Jobs". That publication sets out very clearly the full range of the Government's measures on enterprise and employment.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Governments can do only so much? It is amazing that this very morning I received a letter from the wife of a constituent. He is a man with 35 years' experience, but because he is over the age of 52 the firm to which he applied for a job would not take him on, although it had vacancies. It is not just a matter of young people. Firms sometimes need to be encouraged to recognise that older people need job opportunities as well. There is nonsense about all this somewhere.

Mr. Clarke

I find that case as startling and disappointing as does my hon. Friend. Some of the people who are experiencing the greatest difficulty in our society are those who are above the age of 50 who have suffered redundancy because of industrial change. I am glad to say that our network of job clubs is expanding. It is providing jobs for about two-thirds of the people who join them, because they are motivated to seek work. I am glad to say that job clubs achieve surprising success for many of the older workers who approach them.

Mr. Wainwright

Will the Paymaster General ensure the appointment to these reorganised manpower quangos of some of those who are currently registered as unemployed, or who have recently become unemployed, so that these committees may learn at first hand about the problems that they are trying to tackle and so that the Conservative party may practise the supremacy of the consumer, which it so frequently preaches?

Mr. Clarke

I hasten to add that these are not new committees. This is a reorganisation of the Civil Service staff of the Manpower Services Commission to enable the commission to be in an even better position than it is in at the moment to deliver the prgrammes which we have drawn up. Certainly there is a growth of employment within the MSC because of the emphasis that we are placing on its work, but I am glad to say that it is the general economy that is contributing each quarter to the continuing additional growth and additional new jobs that we are now experiencing.

Sir John Farr

Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the MSC programme dovetails properly with existing training programmes for skilled employees? I have in mind that in some big cities, such as Leicester, there is a desperate shortage of knitters and overlockers. They need a five-year training course. Will my right hon. and learned Friend satisfy himself that the MSC two-year programme, which is to be welcomed, dovetails effectively with this training?

Mr. Clarke

I very much hope that the MSC arranges matters in such a way that it does. I know about the particular problem in Leicester, where employers are unable to get the skilled and trained staff that they require. I know, too, that the MSC has been discussing with local employers how the knitting industry in particular can remedy that deficiency.

Mr. Park

Does the Paymaster General realise that his reply about the skillcentres adjusting themselves to the requirements of the labour market is much too facile? Does he not realise that, in order to change courses, very often one needs to train the trainers in the first place, or to go out and obtain different trainers? New equipment may be needed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is putting that on a commerical basis. Where will the funds come from to do such gearing as a result of commercial demand? The Minister's hon. Friend has just said that sometimes courses need more time than they are given.

Mr. Clarke

It is not a commercial objective that one has in mind, except to the extent that training in skills is designed to fit people with the qualifications they require to find jobs that might be vacant in the local industry. If the hon. Gentleman continues to visit skillcentres, as I am sure he does—I visit them from time to time—he will find that they are responding to the challenge of changing the pattern of their employment and are finding exciting new tasks to perform for local industry in providing the skill shortages.

Mr. Budgen

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many Conservative Members will applaud his new proposals for reverse discrimination in favour of young blacks in inner city areas? When my right hon. and learned Friend next adopts some of the more controversial measures of the Labour party, however, will he give us a little more notice so that we may loyally adapt our rhetoric to support him.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend is adopting rhetoric which I have never used. If he moves on from his initial indignation to study what I said in Birmingham yesterday, he will find that we were describing a policy of positive action to improve the employment possibilities in the district of Handsworth. The district of Handsworth has a multiracial population. Therefore, any success in our policies will have a multiracial effect. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not disapprove of that.

Mr. Evans

Will the Paymaster General tell the House whether extra funds will be made available to the MSC to enable it to carry out the various functions outlined in its new corporate plan? For instance, will extra funds be made available to assist the long-term unemployed, hundreds of thousands of whom are aged over 50 years? Specifically, will additional funds be made available for the MSC's programme of training and retraining, which is so essential?

Mr. Clarke

Since the Conservative party has been in government the MSC has received an enormous increase in the funds available to it for its work in the employment field. The budget of the MSC is continuing to grow. It is being expanded expressly, among other things, for the benefit of the restart programme, which will bring individual help to all the long-term unemployed in this country.