HC Deb 16 February 1988 vol 127 cc825-38 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the White Paper "Training for Employment", which I am publishing today.

In November last year I informed the House of my decision to bring together all the existing programmes for unemployed people over 18 into a new unified training programme. I informed the House that I had asked the Manpower Services Commission for its comments on the new programme and for its proposals for implementing it from September 1988.

I received the commission's detailed proposals last month. I am glad to say that the commission warmly welcomed the new programme and was unanimous on each of its detailed recommendations. The White Paper announces that I have accepted its proposals in full. I should like to pay tribute to the commission for the very thorough job that it has done in designing this new programme.

The White Paper describes the new programme in detail and sets it in the context of trends in the labour market. As it points out, there has been a dramatic transformation in the employment position over the past 18 months. In that time, unemployment has fallen by nearly 600,000, and there have been record falls in long-term unemployment and school-leaver unemployment. Over the past 12 months, the rate of unemployment has fallen faster in this country than in any other major industrial country.

At the same time, there has been a sharp growth in the number of jobs. The labour force survey—which I am also publishing today—shows that between March 1983 and September 1987 the number of people in jobs increased by 1.5 million. The survey also reveals that self-employment increased by 234,000 between 1986 and 1987. Since March 1983, there has been the longest sustained growth in employment for more than 30 years; there can be no clearer indication of the continuing strength of the British economy.

There is new evidence in the White Paper about the volume and nature of the job vacancies that are now available. A survey carried out specifically for the White Paper shows that there are currently over 700,000 unfilled vacancies in the economy as a whole. Vacancies in jobcentres account for only a third of this total. The survey also shows that last year employers throughout Great Britain recruited about 7.5 million employees. That was not confined to the south: two thirds of the recruitment took place outside London and the south-east.

As the White Paper makes clear, the challenge now is to ensure that unemployed people — particularly the longer-term unemployed—can take full advantage of the growth in the economy and in the number of jobs. At the centre of our strategy for meeting that challenge is the new training for employment programme.

The programme will have an annual budget of some £1.4 billion and will be able to provide training for about 600,000 people a year. Training will last for up to 12 months. It will begin with an initial assessment of each trainee's needs and aptitudes, carried out by training agents who will be appointed by the Manpower Services Commission. That will lead to a personal training plan for each trainee, which will set the pattern for his training.

A wide range of training will be provided — from basic skills to training at craft and technician level. Wherever possible, trainees will be given the opportunity to obtain a recognised vocational qualification or a credit towards one.

The new programme will be designed to ensure that the valuable contribution that voluntary organisations and other bodies have made to the community programme can continue. With that in mind, I have asked the commission to ensure that there are at least 170,000 project places in the new programme.

At the same time, it is essential that trainees who begin their training on projects should be able to move on to training with employers, so that they can learn and practise their new skills in a normal working environment. My intention is to involve employers increasingly in training long-term unemployed people.

The Manpower Services Commission has drawn up detailed proposals for ensuring that the new programme provides high-quality training. Training agents and training managers will need to demonstrate to the commission that they can meet the required standards, and the commission will regularly review their performance.

I have accepted in full the MSC's proposals for the payment of trainees in the new programme. Each trainee will be paid a training allowance, which will be between £10 and £12 a week higher than his previous benefit entitlement. In addition, there will be assistance towards travelling costs and other expenses. One defect of the present community programme wage is that it discriminates against the family man with children. Everyone in the new programme will be better off than if they had remained unemployed and claiming benefit.

The White Paper also details the efforts the employment service is making to help long-term unemployed people back into work. New efforts will be made to explain the in-work benefits available to them. In a survey carried out for the White Paper, half the benefit claimants interviewed did not know what benefits they could claim if they took a job.

Unemployment in this country has come down rapidly in the past 18 months and all the evidence is that there are more and more jobs available. We now have the opportunity to train long-term unemployed people in the skills they need in today's labour market. This will help to ensure that, as a country, we have the skilled work force we need to compete in markets at home and overseas. For these reasons I believe that the new training programme announced in this White Paper should command the support of the House.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

It is because the Opposition have repeatedly stressed that Britain now has the worst trained work force in Europe that we positively welcome any proposals to improve training. However, this scheme is a tragically missed opportunity. The Secretary of State speaks of a commitment to training. In that case, why are no extra funds being made available? Does he seriously expect the House to believe his claim that he can increase the number of people on the schemes by 50 per cent. and substantially enhance the quality of training that they receive—all for the same budget as now?

The Secretary of State implies that £10 per week over benefit is an incentive to join the scheme. However, is he aware that it will actually be only £5 per week because the first £5 of work expenses will have to be paid for by the participant? Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that what the scheme really means is that people will be forced to work on £5 a week?

The best incentive is high-quality training. People will queue up for that. However, under this scheme, 60 per cent. of the time will be spent working, and almost all the managers in the field recognise that there will not be nearly enough funding or time for serious training. Is it not a fundamental flaw in the scheme that, because the Government refuse to provide an adequate budget, allowances have had to be cut to a derisory level so that nowhere near enough people will join the scheme voluntarily, and compulsion will then be used?

The Secretary of State says that participation will be voluntary. In that case, why has he taken powers in the current Employment Bill so that he can withdraw benefit from those who decline to join the scheme even if it is unsuitable to their skill needs? Will he give a commitment to the House that he will not trigger those powers in the lifetime of this Parliament? If he refuses, hon. Members will draw their own conclusions. Will he anyway recognise that restart and the tighter availability for work rules already involve creeping compulsion?

Why do the Government insist on regarding training as a cost to get people off the register rather than an investment and an opportunity? The Secretary of State recently visited Sweden. Did he note that, by spending two and a half times more per trainee place and by setting much higher training standards, Sweden has achieved an unemployment rate only one fifth as high as ours? Why does not the Secretary of State look to Sweden's record on training rather than to America on workfare?

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I will take points of order afterwards.

Mr. Bruce

It is relevant.

Mr. Speaker

It may well be relevant, but I shall still take it afterwards.

Mr. Fowler

I do not accept anything that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has said. Frankly, I find his points about Sweden incomprehensible, given that Sweden has the kind of compulsion against which I thought the hon. Gentleman sought to argue. That is the essence of the Swedish system; that is what it is all about. I suggest that he goes to Sweden and has a look at the system.

We are spending a total of £3 billion on training—in real terms, three times what the Labour Government spent on training. The new programme will cost £1.4 billion for 600,000 people, whereas the previous programmes cost £1.3 billion for 500,000 people in the current year. We aim not only for a contribution from employers but to use money better in one programme rather than in the 30 schemes.

On the benefit-plus proposal, in November the hon. Gentleman attacked me on the basis that the plus element on social security would be £4 or £5. We have now increased that figure to £10 or £12. I must underline the fact that we have accepted in full the proposals of the Manpower Services Commission, on which three trade union commissioners serve. I repeat that we have accepted in full what the Manpower Services Commission said.

The hon. Gentleman made allegations about compulsion. Let me say again that this is a voluntary scheme and I have no plans to designate it as an approved training scheme. I have made that absolutely clear. We have debated clause 26 of the Employment Bill and, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, one of the aims of that clause is to get rid of anomalies in the present position as between trainees and employees in work.

There is a need for a unified scheme. The new programme will train 600,000 people each year. It is backed by the unanimous report of the Manpower Services Commission, whose proposals the Government have accepted in full.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, far from being given the grudging greeting that we heard from the Opposition, this imaginative scheme will be widely welcomed out in the field? I am sure that he will understand if I raise the question of those who have been on the community projects who have special needs because they are physically or mentally disabled. Will he confirm that the MSC's recommendation of a supplement of an extra £20, raising it to £40, will be accepted? Does he accept that there will be a need for a staff-trainee ratio of 5:1 instead of 10:1, as there is in the excellent share community project in my constituency? Will he consider incorporating a measure to deal with earnings, incomes and bonus incentives for people working on the scheme, so that they can be prepared for the world of work outside?

Mr. Fowler

As I said, I have accepted in full all the proposals made by the Manpower Services Commission. It is one of our aims to seek to help disabled people with training. If there is anything further that I can do to underline that, I shall willingly consider it.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Will the Secretary of State recognise that the weakness of his announcement is that it is a campaign without cash—there is no new money? He will know that the new job training scheme, which paid benefit and travel, did not command consensus and was a dismal flop. There is widespread scepticism about Government schemes. For this programme to succeed, he needs the support, cooperation and good will of all the bodies involved, including trade unions and local authorities. Why is he jeopardising that success by imposing an unrealistic premium of £10? It will cost almost £10 to get to work, so there is no incentive. Why is he spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar? Why does he not double that puny premium?

Mr. Fowler

Again, I must point out to the hon. Gentleman, who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment, that, as he well knows, and I hope appreciates, the Government have shown their good will and good faith by accepting in full the proposals and recommendations made by the Manpower Services Commission. Among the commissioners of the Manpower Services Commission, as I pointed out to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), there were three trade union representatives. I find it difficult to see how the Government could have done more to show what we want to do, which is to provide good training in this country. The new proposal for benefit-plus will mean that married men with children, who in the past have been excluded from some of the community programmes, will now be able to benefit from training.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the provision of training and the opportunity to be part of the economic revival of this country, will be of benefit to the new skills that are needed for the expanding industries in my constituency and many more? On top of the plus aspect of the benefit, people participating will be better off not only while they are in training but in the future when they are back in employment doing a job that this country needs done.

Mr. Fowler

Yes, that is right. The purpose of the scheme and the programme is to train people for employment. More jobs are becoming available than for many years past. We want to provide the long-term unemployed with skills so that they can take the opportunity offered by those jobs.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his claims that unemployment is falling and that jobs are being created are accepted? Nevertheless, there is considerable concern about the quality of jobs being created, compared with those being destroyed. They are part-time, low-paid and often not adequately protected. In those circumstances, will he accept that his proposals to move to a benefit plus £10 to £12 scheme will be greeted with considerable concern by many organisations which are currently recruiting people, because it is supposed to be a gateway to a proper job?

The right hon. Gentleman said that it is essential that trainees who begin their training on projects should be able to move on to training with employers. If the community programme is so valuable, who will continue this work if local authorities and other agencies are denied the necessary rights, responsibilities and funds to do it?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that, in these circumstances, the community programme operators will feel that they have been sold short and will not be able to train people at the rate for the job, or to offer them a permanent job at the end of the training, unless the Government's wider policies are also changed?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the growth in employment and the reduction in unemployment. However, I do not agree with what he said in the latter part of his question. We look forward to the contribution of voluntary organisations in the new project training and we are making available 170,000 project places. The reform will mean that this will be training, rather than makework, and full-time rather than part-time. We hope to improve on the 30 per cent. who go into jobs from the community programme; we certainly hope that the new training programme will improve on that.

I do not think the hon. Gentleman was right about the record on low-paid jobs. More than a third of employment growth in recent years has been in areas such as banking, finance and business services, which are not noted for low pay levels. Another third has been in jobs in public administration, education and health. I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman said bears analysis.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the tremendous emphasis being laid on improvement in training is welcome? Does he recognise that considerable skill shortages are beginning to emerge in certain critical industries? Can he assure us that the new plan will go a long way towards meeting them?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, there is no question at all but that skills are required for many of the new jobs that are being made available. Therefore, the key to bringing long-term unemployed people back into employment is to provide skills for them. That is the essence of what we are trying to do.

Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)

The Secretary of State asked what more the Government could do. I suggest that they could have had full discussions with the Trades Union Congress and with the individual unions concerned—for example, in the construction industry—precisely to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) about the need for skilled workers. Also, the Government could have entered discussions with the employers in those industries, so that some of the money could have gone to the creation of real apprenticeships in those industries to deal with the skill shortages.

Is it not clear that the Government are not really dealing with training for young people, and with skill shortages in this country? Once again, this is unfortunately another way of trying to decrease the numbers of people in the dole queues rather than dealing with the real issues at stake.

Mr. Fowler

No, I do not accept that. Not only is unemployment falling, but the survey that we have done for the White Paper shows that there are increasing numbers of vacancies. At present, we estimate that there are more than 700,000 vacancies in the economy. In that context, the sensible thing to do is to try to give training and skills to the long-term unemployed to bring them back into work. That is what we are trying to do.

As for consultation, we have consulted the Manpower Services Commission and accepted its recommendations in full. As the hon. Gentleman knows, three commissioners on the MSC are from the trade union movement.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

When taking up the kind invitation extended by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to examine Government funding for training in Sweden, will my right hon. Friend also take the opportunity to examine the position in Japan, where the Government put virtually no money into training, and where training is considered the responsibility of private industry and is done extremely well?

Hon. Members

And they do it.

Mr. Fowler

I am in danger of going on a world tour. I hope to take even the Opposition Front Bench with me when I say that training must be a combination of Government funding and, as my hon. Friend rightly said, funding by employers. We shall want to underline the latter aspect again during the coming weeks.

Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central)

I think that the Secretary of State is aware that we are concerned not only about the quality of training because of under-funding, but also about the element of compulsion to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has referred. However, another issue on which we must touch is the status of the participants in the programme. The Secretary of State is well aware that, in Committee on the Employment Bill, it was made clear that the rights of the participants in the programme could be drastically affected depending on whether they were designated as employees or trainees. Can he guarantee, and reassure the House, that all participants will be covered by all the employment laws and that they will not be affected by the withdrawal of such measures as health and safety, race relations and other equal opportunity requirements that should apply?

Mr. Fowler

The participants will not be afforded all the protection that goes with being an employee, but we made it clear in Committee that they are regarded as trainees. Therefore, we expect and require that such health and safety and discrimination measures should be carried out.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

From what my right hon. Friend said in answer to earlier questions, it is clear that he accepts the importance of ensuring that local training provision meets local demand for skills in existing job vacancies. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the work that has been done by the local employer networks towards meeting such needs? Those networks are involved with tripartite schemes combining local education authorities, the MSC and local chambers of commerce representing industry to ensure, to as great a degree as possible, that local training provision meets local training and skill needs.

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir, I am glad to do that. I believe that those schemes have made an extremely good start. My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that what we want is training that is relevant not just to the needs of an employer, but also to the needs of local employers. That is what LENS is all about.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

In the absence of a statement by the Secretary of State for Wales on this subject, is the right hon. Gentleman speaking about Wales today? May I remind him that, in the Welsh coalfields and the steel areas, unemployment is still extremely high. In some areas, particularly in the valleys, male unemployment is as high as one in four. Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement guarantee good, permanent well-paid jobs? We need such a guarantee in Wales. I urge him not to adopt a complacent attitude when he speaks to Wales on this important matter.

Mr. Fowler

There is no question of complacency. Unemployment has come down in all the regions. Some of the areas where the rate of unemployment has come down fastest are those where the problems have been greatest—for example, areas such as Wales, the west midlands, the north and the north-west. I certainly emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that I am not complacent about the matter.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

May I assure my right hon. Friend that his statement will be warmly welcomed in Wales. Even though Wales has a surplus of labour, we have a serious shortage in particular skills. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how the scheme will work, especially in conjunction with local authorities, to respond to local needs? My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has already made it clear that the response to such local needs is crucial. In my area, there are local needs within the clothing industry. There is a need for much improved co-operation with the MSC.

Mr. Fowler

It will be the responsibility of the MSC, soon to become the Training Commission, to devise and oversee the type of schemes that will be put forward. Clearly, one of our purposes will be to involve employers much more than before. I repeat that the crucial thing is to involve local employers and to see that training is relevant to the local demands for labour.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

The Secretary of State has told the House that, presently, there are 700,000 job vacancies. Will he give us a regional breakdown of that number? Does he agree that the problem of rural deprivation needs to be addressed by the Government? That is a hidden problem. There are still people losing their jobs in the traditional industries such as food processing, and all those allied to agriculture. The problem is that those people are having to leave the rural areas to find work because there is no proper scheme to enable them to acquire skills where they and their families live, which would ensure that they could bring up their children in those rural areas. Have the Government addressed that issue?

Mr. Fowler

Certainly I agree with the hon. Gentleman that some of the biggest differences are not between regions but inside regions. That is one of the problems that the programme will try to address. The survey of vacancies showed that currently there are more than 700,000 vacancies per month. We estimated that there were about 7.5 million vacancies during 1987, two thirds of which were filled outside London and the south-east, 38 per cent. were in the survey area of East Anglia, the west midlands, Wales and the south-west and 29 per cent. were in the north, the north-west and Scotland. Obviously, those are big regions, but they prove the point that the division between north and south is a total over-simplification of the position.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that his statement will be widely welcomed in my constituency, where, in each of the 18 wards, unemployment has fallen during the past 12 months? Will he note that, although local needs should be met locally, and we have skill shortages in hard-pressed north-east England, it is important that the national job vacancy situation is known to everyone? Will he seriously consider expanding the Oracle scheme that currently operates only in three regions covered by television boundaries to a national scheme which would enable people throughout the country, and particularly in the south of England, to see the vacancies which are available in the north of England where we are seeking to attract people with the skills we need?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments, and I shall certainly look at the details of what he is proposing. Certainly, there are areas outside London and the south-east where there are attractive jobs and an attractive environment in which to work.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the work of centres for the unemployed in various parts of the country —including my constituency, where, despite the national fall, unemployment is twice what it was in 1979? Will he give me an assurance that nothing in that document will prejudice the future of the people who work in those centres?

Mr. Fowler

Inasmuch as such centres provide good services for unemployed people, which clearly is desirable, certainly nothing in the document will change their position. I would need to look a little more closely at individual schemes before giving the hon. Gentleman the total guarantee he seeks.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

Exactly how many of those 700,000 vacancies are in the south-east, where more than 600,000 foreign nationals seem to be able to find work and where there are so many skill shortages? Why does my right hon. Friend not toughen up his programme and cut out unemployment benefit for those soft southerners and instead give the money to those from the north to help them with their housing if they are prepared to travel to the south and take the jobs?

Mr. Fowler

The system of unemployment and supplementary benefit is vitally a national scheme. However, my hon. Friend has a point, in that jobs unquestionably are available in the south, where even now there is a great number of long-term unemployed people. We must seek to bring those people into the available jobs.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

The Secretary of State has made much of the fact that he has accepted the MSC recommendations. However, when he appeared before the Select Committee on Employment, it was concerned about two issues. First, that particular arrangement does nothing to help the over-fifties. What can the Minister say about them? Secondly, as important as the acceptance of the TUC commissioners, the Secretary of State will know that his scheme largely depends on voluntary organisations. How many of those voluntary organisations have agreed with the scheme as it now stands?

Mr. Fowler

Broadly, I hope that all voluntary organisations will accept and work with the scheme. That is very much in the interests of the people they represent and the work that they are doing. That would be my hope regarding voluntary organisations. I understand and share the concern that over-fifties should not be excluded in any way from training. Anyone who has been unemployed for more than six months is eligible for the programme that I have set out. Clearly there are a number of priorities—the 18-to-25 group and the 25-to-50 group—but we do not intend to exclude the over-fifties from the training programme.

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my constituency, a major problem is the surplus of job vacancies compared with unemployed people with suitable skills to fill them? The majority of employers cite the shortage of skilled labour as the major constraint to further expansion. Therefore, there will be a warm welcome for his proposals, which will help my 3,000 constituents who are registered as unemployed to acquire the skills needed to fill the vacant jobs and will help companies throughout the Thames valley by supplying them with the skilled labour that they desperately need.

Mr. Fowler

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. If we can train and provide long-term unemployed people with skills in many parts of the country, there is no reason why those people should not very speedily find jobs.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

I am glad that the Minister is now coming round to the idea that there is a shortage of skills and a shortage of jobs. The Opposition have been telling the Government about that for many years.

We now have a complacent statement congratulating the MSC on its co-operation. Does the Minister realise that, although the MSC top brass, who are nothing but puppets of the Government, may be happy, those who implement the schemes are so distressed that some of them today are taking industrial action?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman should take up those last remarks with the commissioners, who have endorsed the scheme. Frankly, when he finds out who they are, he will not regard them as puppets of the Government. As for the case for change, there is a need for a unified scheme. The long-term unemployed must now be the priority. More jobs are available: that is beyond doubt. The labour force survey, published today, shows that about half the long-term unemployed have no qualifications, and that many of them are young, half under 35. That is an opportunity and a challenge.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

My right hon. Friend clearly wants to encourage employers to be more involved in the .training process. Will he give me more details about how he intends to do that and whether there will be appropriate funding? Will he give me more details about the special provisions that might be made for the long-term young unemployed, the 18 to 25-year-olds?

Mr. Fowler

We shall seek to involve employers in the new adult training programme in a way that they have previously not been involved. Clearly, that will depend very much upon getting the co-operation and help of employers. Secondly, as well as training the unemployed, we need training for those who are already in jobs. Again, employers have the first duty in that. The 18-to-25 group is a priority group, and our major efforts will be directed to bringing those people back into employment.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Under the new workfare-plus system, who will be responsible for paying the benefit? Will it be the employers and the agencies, so that there is a pretence or an impression of a low wage, or will that responsibility remain with the Department of Employment and the DHSS, so that the employers and agencies will pay that miserable £10? It is clear that this is nothing more than slave labour-plus.

Mr. Fowler

No, it will come from the Government, but it is a benefit plus premium. We have always said that that was the case. In other words, the principle will be that people will have their social security entitlement, and, in addition, a premium. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that his description of this as workfare is ludicrous and I shall not bother to try to reply to that.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will my right hon. Friend note that one of the most important aspects of his announcement is benefit-plus? We all know of unemployed constituents who are not looking at schemes at present for fear of damaging the benefit arrangements of their families, so will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that this benefit-plus commitment will be trumpeted from the rooftops?

Mr. Fowler

We shall certainly seek to do that. The whole purpose is to underline the fact that people will be better off on the training programme than unemployed. The incentive will be particularly great for married people with children, who have previously been left out of training in Britain.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Is the Minister aware that, in constituencies such as mine, any reductions in unemployment are due more to how he calculates his figures than to any rise in employment? On Derwentside, since 1980, there has been a rise in employment of less than half of I per cent. Even if we forget the arguments about the figures, constituencies such as mine still have high unemployment; fewer and fewer employers who are prepared to take on young people or trainees because they feel that they are struggling at the edges; a large number of people who are currently engaged in the community programme, but largely through voluntary organisations and the public sector; and a low wage economy.

Together, those factors mean that the right hon. Gentleman's proposals are unfortunate for my constituents and for many others in similar constituencies. How can he guarantee that the money for trainees will not be less than it is at the moment and that the quality of training will be better than it has been, so that we really can re-equip people for the future?

Mr. Fowler

The essence of what the hon. Lady is saying is in her last point, on the quality of training. We are changing from the present system because, although schemes such as the community programme have many good features, they are not providing the full-time training that we want to see. We are building upon the foundation laid by the community programme.

I accept that there are variations in unemployment between constituencies and between cities, but the labour force survey, which is published today, shows that there has been faster growth in the employed labour force than we had thought. There has been an increase of 450,000 over the past 12 months, rather than 400,000, self-employment has gone up sharply, and, as I have said, over 1–5 million additional jobs have been created since March 1983.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Is my right hon. Friend aware how much we welcome his bold and imaginative proposal which will give the long-term unemployed the incentive and opportunity to return to work? He said that a large proportion of the training will be on employers' premises, but how does he intend to communicate their responsibility to enough employers, and, in addition, to monitor the quality of such training?

Mr. Fowler

That will be very much a function of the Training Commission. We hope to encourage employers to come forward with such schemes and their quality will be monitored in very much the same way as the youth training scheme, with approved training organisation status and the rest. But, as I said to the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), the crux of the matter is that we should provide not only training, but high-quality training.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Is not the White Paper a whitewash—a con, even—because when we hear the Secretary of State and the statistics, we are really listening to lies, damned lies and Tory propaganda—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Not in this Chamber, please. Will the hon. Gentleman please withdraw that?

Mr. Brown

I accept that "Tory" is a four-letter word, and I withdraw it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw those comments.

Mr. Brown

If it hurts, okay, I understand why. 1 withdraw what I said—reluctantly, under protest. I say that because back in my constituency of Leith we have record unemployment and youngsters leaving school with no hope, no job and no future, thanks to the Government. To talk about another slave labour scheme is an insult to them and their families and they will resist it. They will resent it, and they will fight back.

Mr. Fowler

That is an extraordinarily silly intervention. It even embarrasses the hon. Gentleman's Front Bench spokesmen. Unemployment has come down not only for one or two months but for 18 months in succession, and it is down by over 500,000 in the year to December. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that, but that would be to ascribe to him rather more good sense than he obviously has.

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

Is my right hon. Member aware that his absolute commitment to voluntarism will be widely welcomed throughout Britain, as will his support for voluntary projects and the part that they have played in the community programme until now—and indeed, the part that they will play in the adult training programme in the future? Was my right hon. Friend surprised when he learned, for the first time, that the number of vacancies unfilled in Britain was 700,000? Does he agree that that figure is, frankly, a disgrace, because it represents a waste of human resources—people who should be in those jobs—and a waste of Britain's economic resources, because we are having to support those people in idleness when they could be working? What does he propose to do to reduce that figure drastically, and soon?

Mr. Fowler

We confirm that there are over 700,000 vacancies. We had always believed in the past that the number of vacancies in jobcentres represented about a third of the vacancies in the economy, but the survey confirms, on the latest information that we have, the basis of that previous estimate. As I have said, it means that, during 1987, about 7.5 million vacancies became available throughout Britain. There are certainly vacancies for management and professionals, but 18 per cent. of the vacancies are in non-manual jobs such as clerical work, 33 per cent. in retailing or catering, 21 per cent. in skilled and semi-skilled occupations, and 17 per cent. in unskilled occupations. There are vacancies not only throughout the country but over a range of occupations. The one message that comes through is that, if the long-term unemployed are to take those vacancies, they require training in the necessary skills.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

The Minister said that training agents will need to demonstrate that they can meet the required standards to ensure high quality training. Therefore, will he explain why, when the Scottish Office was asked to supply comparative information on the performance of managing agents under the job training scheme, it responded by saying that it was not the Government's policy to provide such information? Will he assure the House that comparative information on the performance of training agents under the new scheme will be made available to hon. Members so that they can judge whether high-quality training is being given under the new programme?

Mr. Fowler

Training agents are a new concept under the programme. Nothing like them exists at the moment. The idea is that every person entering the programme will be assessed and given suitable training. In other words, people will be given a personal training plan. The training agent may be a chamber of commerce, a voluntary organisation or a training body, but certainly we shall seek to ensure that the standards of the training agents are high and that as much information as possible is given.

Mr. James Cran (Beverley)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in a contradistinction to the dreary but wholly predictable welcome that his statement has received from the Opposition, it will be welcomed in my constituency, which is in the north of England, because we in Humberside also have skill shortages? Does he also accept that critical to the success of his plans is the involvement of employers and that many hon. Members as well as others believe that employers have not done as much as they ought in the past to secure the training of the work force? Will he outline how he intends to convince them of what is in their interests and those of the country?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I recognise his experience in this area. We intend, in the Department and in the Manpower Services Commission, to have talks with the employers' organisations and with the employers themselves to point out to them the advantage of being involved in programmes of this kind. The fact is that a good adult training programme is good not only for the long-term unemployed but for employers and for the economy as a whole.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the north of England a high proportion of people already receive training in their first job? Is he aware that the overwhelming need on Teesside at the moment is for skilled people, particularly in the banking and financial sectors, where employment is rapidly increasing? Is he also aware that 76 per cent. of firms on Teesside recently responded to a survey by saying that they expected to increase their employment opportunities in the next year? Is he aware, further, that there are no Cleveland Labour Members in the Chamber at the present time?

Mr. Fowler

I hear what my hon. Friend says on the last point. I pay a tribute to him for the work that he does in the area. As I have said before, the training that is carried out must be geared to providing people with skills, and those skills must be relevant to the local Labour market. That seems to me to be the essence of the approach that we must take.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

May I put to the Secretary of State again the very important question that was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and not answered? Will he give an undertaking that this scheme will never be designated under clause 26 of the Employment Bill? If he will not say never, will he say at least for the lifetime of this Parliament? Does he understand that, if he will not give that undertaking, he will be breaching the recommendation of the Manpower Services Commission, which said that it was an absolute requirement that the scheme be voluntary? We look forward to the Secretary of State's giving that undertaking.

If the right hon. Gentleman does not, we shall all know what it means. It means that he plans a compulsory scheme. It means that he plans a scheme that will pay people £10 a week on top of their benefit but expect them to pay their own work expenses—and the DHSS says that the average cost of getting to work is £7 a week. It is compulsory work experience, not training, and it is not good enough to call work experience training for the long-term unemployed. It is an insult to the unemployed and it is unacceptable to the voluntary sector throughout the land, which does not want to become a police force for the unemployed but wants to run valuable projects that help the community and the unemployed.

Mr. Fowler

I am not prepared to take lectures from the hon. Lady on voluntary organisations; nor do I recognise her power to speak on behalf of voluntary organisations in this country. I believe that many voluntary organisations — I hope, all of them — will want to cooperate in this programme. The hon. Lady has done her best over the past few months to sabotage and damage the programme—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I very much hope that her efforts will not be successful, because I think that they are against the national interest.

As for the scheme itself, I have made it clear that it is a voluntary scheme; I have made it clear that I have no plans to designate it approved training; and I have made it clear that I accept the Manpower Services Commission's proposals on it. Anyone who has ears to hear will understand what that means.