§ [Relevant document: First Report from the Employment Committee ( House of Commons Paper No. 526 of Session 1987–88) on the Department of Employment's Estimates 1988–89.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £281,927,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31 March 1989 for expenditure by the Department of Employment on a grant in aid to the Training Commission (formerly the Manpower Services Commission).—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I remind the House that, under the resolution of the House of 22 June, this estimate is to be considered in so far as it relates to adult employment and youth training.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
I am pleased to be able to introduce this debate, which gives the House an opportunity to consider and discuss employment training.
The Committee took evidence from the Training Commission, the Minister, and the permanent secretary at the Department of Employment. We published that evidence, and I hope that it will illuminate matters and inform the House. As yet, the Committee has not come to a common view on the merits of the new programme. I 1357 emphasise that the views that I shall express in opening the debate are my own and that other hon. Members will speak for themselves.
I fear that, compared with our competitors, training is something that we as a nation do not do terribly well or excel in. In the first half of this century, our survival was often held to depend on military capacity. But from now on it will depend as much or more on the efficiency and effectiveness of our industry, research and development, and investment in the skills of our people. When we compare ourselves with our competitors, there can be no room for complacency.
In the last Parliament, the Committee could not have been other than impressed to see young Japanese people going to school until aged 20, leaving with a thorough grounding in mathematics and science, and then joining the great Japanese companies and receiving a further year's training in the speciality of the company involved. Plainly, such enterprises benefit from a highly competent work force. Today, it is a matter not of just getting state of the art, modern, high-tech equipment, but of having a highly skilled work force to exploit and get the best out of.
Because of time restraints, I shall briefly mention only one other country. A fortnight ago, the Committee spent a couple of days in the Federal Republic of Germany. One had to recognise the thorough, comprehensive training that is given to the whole of the younger generation there. Of the 16 to 18 year group, 20 per cent. were in grammar schools preparing for university, 20 per cent. were in full-time vocational schools, and 56 per cent. were in the renowned dual system of apprenticeships. The average annual cost of an apprenticeship place was £8,000—incidentally, all paid for by employers, who seem to be as convinced of the value of investing in skills of their people as that of investing in their machines. We visited a railway workshop called Duewag making rolling stock. Many apprenticeship places there cost £10,000. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. That firm has a buoyant, flourishing export trade. Coming from Britain—the country that invented railways and once built them all over the world but is now closing its railway workshops and will soon be importing rolling stock—it was an eerie experience to be shown a video of that firm's rolling stock being sold in many countries on every continent of the world. Obviously, training is a vital ingredient of success.
I refer directly to the estimates and, in particular, last year's estimate for the new job training scheme. We discovered that the initial sum that was allowed for the JTS was £215 million. Because of poor take-up, that sum was cut to £156 million, but, eventually, only £64 million was actually spent—in other words, just 42 per cent. of the reduced figure. There was a massive underspend. We must recognise that the programme was wildly unsuccessful. It was hugely unpopular, with an extremely large number of drop-outs. There were resources for 232,000 entrants. Over 100,000 people entered the programme, but, by the end of the year, only about 30,000 were in place, so the Training Commission agreed that the programme had failed.
As there are several similarities between the JTS and the new employment training scheme, we asked the Training Commission what lessons it had learned from the experience. The Training Commission suggested four things: first, to start with realistic, not over-ambitious targets; secondly, to give sufficient financial incentives, both to trainees and managing agents; thirdly, to sell the 1358 scheme better to employers, some of whom were hesitant to take on the long-term unemployed; and fourthly, to gain the co-operation of all the parties involved on whom it is dependent for the delivery of the programme: employers, local authorities, voluntary associations and trade unions. We were told that these are the lessons that need to be incorporated into the new programme.
Before looking at how successfully the lessons might have been learned, may I say that in none of the countries that we have visited has training or training programmes been a cause of acute political controversy between the parties. The approach to these matters has been agreed by all those principally concerned.
In those countries, there is thus a consensus approach, and everyone gets on with the job. Indeed, on a visit to the DGB, the German TUC, I specifically asked whether there were any differences between the parties on training, and was answered with a categoric no.
Only in Britain have these matters been rent by acrimony. Why? The answer is partly the inadequate nature of programmes, and the motives for introducing them. We have had YOPS, TOPS, CP, JTS, and much else—all schemes which, in their time, we were told to be proud of, yet now all scrapped. Therefore, it is not perhaps surprising that there is some cynicism. Few of those schemes were meant to be permanent; they were conceived as temporary palliatives to ameliorate the effects of unemployment.
In answer to question 121 in his evidence to the Committee, the Minister of State, whom I am pleased to see in his place, said of the community programme:You will know that the Community Programme originally was—if I can put it this way without being too crude—to fill in the time of the unemployed in ways useful to the community. That was the idea behind it.The schemes were specifically designed to have a "register effect", in other words, to reduce the unemployment count. I fear the Government's motives were suspected. Many people saw the schemes as a cheap way of massaging the unemployment figures for electoral reasons.
What the country needs is not temporary expedients, not cosmetic palliatives, but high quality, credible, training programmes, ideally aiming to give us a work force as well trained or better trained than any in the world. That needs agreement, and the active co-operation of all parties concerned. It means a national consensus as to what is required. To obtain a consensus people have to listen to each other, and that includes the Government. It is no good the Government saying that they have a huge majority, therefore they can do what they like, because that way leads to disaster. It means, for instance, the Government listening to the trade unions. That is not something that the Goverment have been very good at. They have preferred to regard the unions as the enemy within, to be undermined and eliminated. That is riot the way to reach agreement or consensus. The trade unions must be valued as essential partners.
I turn now to the new employment training programme. It does not, of course, address the training needs of the 90 per cent. of those in employment. That is another story for another time. It is a programme for the long-term unemployed—and lit is targeted on two groups: the 18 to 24-year-olds who have been unemployed for six months, and the 18 to 50-year-olds who have been unemployed for more than two years.
1359 I fully support the concept of a programme for the long-term unemployed. As a result of the seven-year recession that we suffered after 1979, we have between one and two million people who have been unemployed for years. Unless something is done specifically for them many will never work again. Unemployment is not an orderly queue, where those waiting longest are first off. The reverse is the case.
The programme is not, of course, an exercise in job creation. To succeed it should ensure that the long-term unemployed get a fairer share of the jobs which are available. The Committee has paid great attention to the long-term unemployed and in the previous Parliament we produced a report advocating a job guarantee for the long-term unemployed. I do not know whether Ministers have seen that report, but they might care to read it at some point.
The most useful thing that I can do this evening is to turn to the question marks over the new programme. The first is the level of funding and the quality of training. The numbers of people to be put through the programme annually are scheduled to increase from the 400,000 who were on the old programmes to 600,000 on the new programme—an increase of 50 per cent. but with no new money. How is it possible to increase the numbers by 50 per cent. and at the same time to enhance the quality of the training without any more money? The participants will spend only 40 per cent. of their time on directed training, in other words, two days per week for about six months. Perhaps we could hear what vocational qualifications that will achieve.
Let me come back to the lessons learned from the new job training scheme. The first is the need for adequate financial incentives. The Government are great believers in financial incentives. The last Budget was predicated on the need to give already wealthy people thousands of pounds of incentives to get them to work. So what are the financial incentives to come on the programme? The fact is that most of the participants on the present community programme will be worse off on the new employment training programme.
Many of the participants on the community programme are young single men. The pay is an average of £67 a week for a part-time place. In a letter dated 2 July, the Minister of State told us that a single person aged 22, with travel costs of £8 per week, would receive a net income of £33 per week—that is for doing three days' work or work experience. Like such single people, many others will be more than £20 per week or as in that case £30 per week worse off. Presumably that is the way in which more people are put on the programme for the same amount of money.
The new employment training programme moves away from the idea of some sort of rate for the job for the work part of the programme to benefit plus. That, not surprisingly, is controversial. Some people see it as a move to workfare, the approach which was discredited in some states in the United States of America. The plus is some £10 above benefit. Out of that, the first £5 of travel expenses must be paid, reducing it to some £5 per week. Being out of the house and being on the programme will inevitably involve extra expenses, such as buying food, so people could be worse off financially.
1360 On 24 May, the Secretary of State, who I am pleased to see in his place, stated:we are aiming to ensure a position in which no one is worse off when taking part in the programme than they would be on benefit."—[Official Report, 24 May 1988; Vol. 134, c. 281.]Well, yes, but should there not be an incentive that makes them better off? My modest suggestion when the scheme was first announced was that the plus above benefit should be doubled, because that would be something of an incentive. To do so would cost £180 million per annum. We are told that the Treasury is currently awash with revenue, so it cannot say that it has not got the money. I should like to reiterate that suggestion this evening—
§ Mr. Leighton
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman who is an extremely valuable member of the Committee. However, the intervention may take time from the time available for him to make the speech which I hope to hear later.
§ Mr. Rowe
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If, as he began by saying, training is indispensable to people's future employment, should they not value it a great deal more than enforced idleness? Therefore, should they not see the benefit of a training programme as being of considerable advantage to themselves?
§ Mr. Leighton
Yes. That is precisely what was said about JTS, but it failed. When we asked the Training Commission why, it gave us four reasons and one of the things it suggested was that a financial incentive should be offered. Some may argue that there should be no such incentive and that people should value the training and do it for nothing, but the Training Commission considered that a financial incentive was important.
The other major lesson that the Training Commission drew from the failure of the JTS was the need to secure the support and co-operation of all the other parties involved and on whom the Training Commission is dependent for the delivery of its programme.
The other parties involved in the programme are the employers, the local authorities, voluntary organisations and trade unions. The Secretary of State knows that he faces some problems in that regard and that the conditional support of the TUC is less than full-hearted. The vote in the general council was extremely close and it will be a contentious matter at the congress in September. Britain's largest white collar union, the National and Local Government Officers Association, and Britain's largest unions, the Transport and General Workers Union and the National Union of Public Employees, are actively opposed to the programme.
Trade unionists have expressed a number of concerns about the programme, which include the low level of allowance and the perception that employers will get workers for £5 a day, thus exerting a downward pressure on wages. They are concerned that trade unions had to be consulted about the proposed schemes for the community programme, but that trade union approval is no longer necessary for the employment training programme. The principle of parity on the Training Commission has been broken—six extra employers' representatives have been placed on the commission to outnumber trade union representatives. I do not understand why, but we may receive an explanation tonight.
1361 The most important worry for some unions is whether the programme is voluntary—for the critics of the programme that is the key issue. At present, the programme is not compulsory, perhaps for no other reason than that there are not nearly enough places for the client group. The Secretary of State has said may times that the programme is voluntary and that he has no plans or intent to make it compulsory. Nevertheless, many people have the strong fear that, if the unemployed vote with their feet, as they did with the JTS, they will be pressured into the scheme or lose benefit.
§ Mr. Leighton
I am just about to quote my hon. Friend, but I hope that she will forgive me if I do not give way.
The Secretary of State has been asked many times, as he was on 24 May by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), to state that he will not designate the scheme under section 26 of the Employment Act 1988 during the lifetime of this Parliament. I hope that I have anticipated the point that my hon. Friend was seeking to make. However, each time the Secretary of State has declined to say that he will not designate the scheme. If he did not designate the scheme that, more than any other step, would defuse opposition to the programme. If the Secretary of State really does not intend to designate and thus make the scheme compulsory, I cannot understand why he will not make that simple categoric statement. So much depends on it.
The Secretary of State is aware that many voluntary organisations that have participated in the community programme have written to hon. Members to express their worries—one of the main ones is the lack of funding to continue project training.
The Under-Secretary will know of an organisation called Mutual Aid, which he has visited. It sent me a document that showed a nice picture of him visiting that organisation and described the kind things he said about it. He might care to know that Mutual Aid has written to me because it is worried about the new programme and it voices its criticisms of it.
The Secretary of State knows that many local authorities, including many Conservative-controlled authorities, are declining to participate. The Minister of State wrote us a letter to inform us that Kensington and Chelsea will not participate, apparently because they believe they will be out of pocket.
I believe that a number of improvements will be necessary to obtain the support of the partners, who are necessary to deliver the programme. I welcome the £50 allowance for child care for single parents. I hope that that will prove to be the thin edge of a desirable wedge to develop child care in this country. The Secretary of State might care to have a word with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about removing the existing tax disincentives for workplace nurseries and creche facilities. It will also be necessary to ensure that single parents coming off the employment training programme obtain jobs with sufficient pay to enable them to continue to finance such child care.
§ Mr. Leighton
My hon. Friend will have a chance to make his point in his speech and I am not anxious to prolong my remarks.
1362 A programme directed at the long-term unemployed is vital. I am sure that, after the recess, the Select Committee on Employment will want to pay great attention to ascrutinising and monitoring the programme. I believe that what we have presently is half a loaf and I shall devote my time to seeking to obtain some improvements so that we get the whole loaf.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
As time is short and as many colleagues on both sides of the House wish to speak, I shall be brief.
The debate must be put in a wider historical context. Last summer I read an extremely important work on Britain's industrial decline during this century by Correlli Barnett entitled "The Audit of War". That describes the collapse of our competitive industrial position vis-à-vis the other developing European countries from the postindustrial revolution era until now. It highlights a number of the essential ingredients that have contributed to that decline and the key ingredient was our attitude to acquiring skills compared to the attitude in other countries. At the higher level of skill training for management and at the basic level of skill training of the work force we have progressively, over many decades, lost out to our competitors. The Select Committee report has highlighted the effect of chickens coming home to roost after a long time.
In today's edition of the Evening Standard there is an interesting article that highlights the problem to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) referred and the problem we face with schemes such as the community programme. The article is entitledThousands can't read after 11 years at skool".That article states:Alarming disclosures are made today about school-leavers who can't read, write or do simple sums … after 11 years in the classroom.Thousands of teenagers leave school without these vital skills and six out of ten are so frustrated in fifth forms of comprehensives that they play truant either part or all of the time.
Dr. Tom Wood, head of a youth training centre, says:We have to give basic literacy and numeracy skills to the young people who have for some reason reached 16-plus with limited proficiency in these areas' … When teenagers are urged to take part in any training involving the three Rs … they usually pretend to be sick to avoid being humiliated … One in three of the teenagers questioned at training schemes said they had not been interested in passing exams at school because they thought this would not help them get work.I know that every hon. Member in the Chamber has visited, as I have on a number of occasions, youth training schemes in their constituencies and in other parts of the country. They will be only too aware of the fact that, in many cases, they cater for the drop-outs from schools—the people to whom the article referred. The most interesting thing that one discovers is that, when training is put in the right context and the trainees can see a skill coming into their hands which they will find relevant to their futures, they are remotivated to learn. Perhaps one of the most important pressures behind the Education Reform Bill, which attempts to deal with the literacy problem in schools, was to address the difficulty of children who are demotivated during the latter years at school. The schemes that we are debating relate to adult and youth training which is designed to help people who have left school recently or some time ago.
1363 This debate, which I suspect will become increasingly significant in the years ahead, takes place against the background of the changing nature of the labour market. In many parts of the country, employers are saying over and over again that they simply cannot recruit people to fill vacancies because people do not have the necessary skills. Only today, I had a letter from Leeds city council. which is typical of many of the stories told to Members of Parliament. It states:The Council has a nursery building programme closely monitored by the Nursery Committee. The Committee's objective is to spend budgets allocated with the minimum of 'slippage' and achieve set building 'targets'.One problem experienced in the last few months has been the difficulty in recruiting skilled builders, particularly bricklayers.One contractor has a contract to build 3 nurseries of a total value of £4½ million and this Contractor … has had repeated difficulty recruiting bricklayers to the extent that the contract is now several weeks behind schedule.The Committee has pursued this matter through its own Education Department and it is hoped that 'Employment Training' and 'Training for Skills' courses could help the situation.Until recently, in many parts of the country, people were not motivated to take skills training because they could not see any jobs available for them when they had acquired those skills. However, as a consequence of the 23-month record period during which unemployment has plummeted in all parts of the country, that situation is now quite different. We can now say to youngsters, "The problem is that you lack the skills that employers need. This programme is designed to help you obtain those skills."
The old scheme had its shortcomings. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East described some of the shortcomings of the new JTS. Those were highlighted in the Select Committee report which is a most valuable document. It stated that only 110,000 people were in training in September 1987 when the resources of the scheme catered for 232,000. The hon. Gentleman described that as a failure. I am not sure whether one should look at the glass and describe it as half full or as half empty. That depends, I suspect, whether one is on the Conservative or Opposition Benches. Clearly, 110,000 people benefited from that scheme, although at least as many again could have done so. Basically, the scheme was about right, but there were a number of factors in it which did not enable it to develop its full potential.
§ Mr. Batiste
I noted that point. That led to my right hon. Friend asking the Manpower Services Commission, as it then was, to review the scheme to see whether it could be made more attractive. It has done that with a view to providing a scheme that will offer literacy and numeracy training at the lowest level and go right through to the high-tech training that is also needed. It is important to note that the scheme was approved by all the commissioners, including the three trade union commissioners, in the MSC.
The scheme is fair and, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-East has conceded, the lessons of the new JTS have been learned, although he argues that the financial incentives should be increased further. I would 1364 take rather a different line. If the scheme is to be successful, the greatest incentive must be that those taking part in the scheme see that the skills that they acquire will lead them to a job. Otherwise, we shall run into the danger that it will become an infill operation. The real incentive, if the scheme is to be successful, is that those who participate will acquire something that will be valuable to them in the long term so that they will have an exploitable resource to offer the labour market in years to come.
This scheme is only part of the picture. Training is vital across the spectrum. I should not like anyone to think that, because the Government are putting such a great deal of money into the scheme, that absolves everyone else from responsibility for training. Everyone has a fundamental responsibility for training. That starts in the schools and continues in the colleges, polytechnics and universities. It also lies with local authorities and employers. I am also delighted to see that some of the more enlightened trade unions, such as that of the electricians, are undertaking significant and valuable training schemes of their own. The identification of training as one of the high priorities by some in the modern trade union movement is a welcome sign.
Skill training is about how we tackle the problem of unemployment and how we meet the industrial needs of our society. There is a need for motivation. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are preoccupied with that. The difficulty with a scheme of this kind is that people who should know better pump negative publicity at it. Even if, in the words of the hon. Member for Newham. North-East, they would prefer to see a whole loaf rather than half a loaf, they should not condemn it. Those people should encourage its development. It is a disgrace that the TGWU, NALGO, NUPE and COHSE should oppose the scheme.
§ Mr. Batiste
Opposition Members are taking a negative attitude towards the scheme.
Undoubtedly, young people will look to the scheme as a way to make up for the opportunities that they have missed in the education system as a result of a series of problems inherent in the structure of our society that we are trying to tackle at all levels. People outside the House will see Opposition Members and those in the union movement who oppose the scheme as using that group of people and exploiting them for political ends.
The scheme is a good one. It meets important needs in our society and everyone who is concerned about skill training should do everything in his power to ensure that it succeeds.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
In the short time available to me, I should like to concentrate on those aspects of the new training programme which have caused great concern to those organisations involved with the programme. I want to concentrate on the voluntary organisations that are involved.
To set the tone, I should like to quote from the Church of Scotland's Church and Nation deliverance at the 1988 General Assembly, which the Prime Minister attended. It states that it viewswith great concern the Government's plan to end the Community Programme, under which many thousands of 1365 jobs involved with care and support in the community have been created, which jobs will, in general, be lost in September when the programme comes to an end.It also views with concern.the morality of the Government's new Employment Training Scheme believing that the proposals militate against natural justice. (For many years Job Creation has provided union approved wages related to the work done; the proposals depart from this by paying a negligible bonus in addition to the existing state benefit.); and instruct the Church and Nation Committee to communicate with the relevant Government Departments, with a view to having the provisions of the scheme considered.The Minister will perhaps tell us how he has replied to the deliverance, to which his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister no doubt listened with great concern. I questioned the Minister when he was before the Select Committee on Employment about the attitudes of voluntary organisations. He suggested, not dismissively but curtly, that the bids for places were over-subscribed. That included many bids from voluntary organisations. I then asked the local organisations whether they agreed with the Minister's views. The Dundee association of social services said that there was no evidence of any local discussions initiated by the Training Commission with that organisation, which brings together all the voluntary sector organisations in Dundee. As far as it was concerned it was hardly voluntary, given that after September there was no alternative. Obviously, given the very good work that they do the organisations might well be opened to opting out. In many cases, they were not prepared to sacrifice their organisations without some commitment from the Government to ensure that the organisations would not suffer because they had participated in the scheme.
The Tayside committee on alcohol abuse was very concerned that after September there would be a closure, or certainly a curtailment, of some of its activities. Its service was a giving service and it certainly could not cope with training and managing a particular scheme. It was concerned that the Wishart centre in Dundee might have to close its day centre because its capabilities would be reduced. It could lead to alcoholism research being discontinued and affect the benefits to other organisations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), who unfortunately is unable to be here tonight, received a letter from the Wishart centre. He had written to the Under-Secretary of State for Employment. I should like to put on record the response to the letter from my hon. Friend. It stated:Thank you for your letter of 5 July enclosing a copy of the letter you had received from Patrick Nicholls.I read Mr. Nicholls' letter with great interest—especially the second page which included statements that I had never heard before and which sounded quite promising. Eagerly, I began asking questions about Mr. Nicholls' `third option'. Unfortunately however, I discover that it is not a viable alternative to community programme or employment training, but 'a tinkering round the edges', as it was put to Dundee Survival Group and the Wishart centre have registered their intent to become a Training Manager with reluctance because we cannot see a viable alternative if we wish to serve our client group.It went on to refer to something which I shall explain briefly. My constituency is a soft fruit growing area and those who are unemployed or who earn very little traditionally go to what is called the berry picking instead of having a holiday. The letter continues:I know we're into 'the berry season', but after advertising for care workers in the Job Centre for ten days I have only had two applicants this week! I really cannot see this new scheme 1366 being highly sought after come September. For us, as you know, we have the additional problem that trainees will have to face abuse, threats and working with HIV carriers. Who, I ask you, would do that for a tenner a week for the sake of training?That is one more voluntary organisation that does not believe that the scheme is a good one.
The Keep Scotland Beautiful campaign, which employs 400 part-time staff under the community programme, will not be able to keep them on when the new Training Commission replaces the Manpower Services Commission in September. The staff, including 25 in Tayside, will be forced back on to the dole. The campaign says that the people that they employ on the schemeare exceptionally good at what is almost a sales business, selling a litter-free environment to the public and receiving training they would never have got from the MSC alone.The Dundee liaison committee on homelessness was concerned about the way in which the Secretary of State could assist those community programmes which may feel under threat. In a letter to me on 11 July 1988, it said:We understand that Mr. Fowler, the Secretary of State for Employment, and his Ministers have been putting the case for additional funding from other Government Departments to ensure that those community care schemes which are wholly dependent on Community Programme funding and are unsuitable for Employment Training funding should be able to continue in existence after the end of August. It is now into July and no concrete proposals for alternative funding have appeared.Where have those suggestions come from? They have come as a result of various discussions that have taken place in Scotland with the Minister of State, Scottish Office, in particular on 22 June when the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations met the Minister, who obviously gave some sign that he would be prepared to consider a scheme.
It would be useful to highlight briefly which services the schemes provide and then to put on record the separate funding that they would require. The social care schemes supported by the community programme include care attendance scheme, lunch clubs, gardening and decorating for the elderly, services for the disabled, support for single parents, children's creches and adventure playgrounds. youth clubs, home insulation and support for ex-offenders. It would be easy for the Minister to say that all those areas could provide training. Unfortunately, in almost every case they are a scaled-down version of professional, full-time employment. If that training went too far, it would come into contact with that professional area and therefore would have to be discontinued.
The meeting on 22 June proposed two ways of using the programme. The first suggestion was:Scottish Office Departments with responsibility for 'Care in the Community' services shoul'd set up a Social Care Fund for a transitional two-year period. The Department of Employment might be expected to contribute towards the costs of the Fund in recognition of the contribution the Fund would make to maintain the maximum choice of quality training places.It goes on:a fund of £1 million would allow for 200 places per year. Applications for funding would be assessed and awards made by a committee of officials of the funding Departments of the Scottish Office and by MSC Scotland.It goes on to say that after a two-year period the recipients obviously would have to find alternative funding, but it would give the community programmes a chance to find alternative funding.
Another suggestion to which the council has received no response yet is for 1367the MSC to contribute to the 'core' costs of providers of social care training opportunities within Employment Training.Perhaps the Minister will respond to those two initiatives. Some of the community organisations in Dundee and in Scotland as a whole which are extremely concerned may consider entering the scheme.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have made it quite clear that they are not prepared to participate in the new employment training scheme. They had a meeting with the Minister on 14 July and I spoke to them today. They said that during that meeting the Minister conceded that he had nothing further to add to the assurances that they sought, which were similar to those sought by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), that the scheme would remain voluntary, at least during this Parliament. The Minister still could not give them an answer.
That is extremely important for local authorities, given that the Secretary of State for Scotland, like the Minister with responsibilities for England and Wales, has clawed back considerable amounts of money from those local authorities. The Minister is still considering the plea from local authorities for extra funding for the additional financial aspects of the scheme, if they were to become training managers. He still cannot give them an assurance that if they joined the scheme and used their own funds to top up the money that the trainee would receive the Government would not claw back the money through some form of penalty. Unless the Minister can give some affirmative response to that, it is unlikely that the STUC or COSLA will be able to encourage their members to enter the scheme.
There are many other aspects on which I should like to concentrate, such as the experiences of my colleagues and me in Germany and America. It was an experience to go to the land of capitalism and see how it is retraining its workers. It was an eye-opener to see what the Secretary of State for Employment had seen when he visited the United States.
I welcome the decision to provide a weekly sum for women to enable them to return to work, but the scheme does not go far enough. It does not deal with mothers who have children under school age, so we are still discriminating against women who do not have enough money to send their children to nursery schools or to day care centres. They cannot therefore return to work. That was not what we found in West Germany or the United States. The Secretary of State now has the assistance of an adviser from the other side of the Atlantic, who we hope will be able to influence the Secretary of State and his team. We hope that it will result in the good practices in the United States being followed in this country.
The Under-Secretary of State must refer to the organisations that provide care. He must not just say that the Government hope to do something for them in the future. These organisations need to know now whether they can seriously commit themselves to employment training. It is no use if they operate for a short time and then discover that they have to fold up because money is no longer provided for them. Unless the Under-Secretary of State can give the assurance for which the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Convention of Scottish 1368 Local Authorities have asked, the organisations that provide care will disappear and the people of Scotland will suffer a serious loss. The Minister must give that assurance tonight. These organisations must know exactly what the Government intend to do so that the viability of the employment training initiative can be ensured.
§ Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)
I am a member of the Select Committee, but, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), the Chairman of the Committee, has already said, we have not yet discussed the details of employment training and reached a decision. He put forward his personal view, as did the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). It is only right, therefore, that I should do the same. The House will not be entirely surprised when I say that I do not agree completely with what they have said. There is a dire skills shortage in many parts of the country. My constituency unemployment rate stands at 2.8 per cent., and we face terrible problems when we try to recruit for all forms of business. There are pages and pages of vacancies advertisements in local newspapers.
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
My hon. Friend represents a constituency with extremely low unemployment, but I represent a constituency with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. I have received today from the Teesside chamber of commerce details of the skill shortages that it expects to see during the next three months. There are still shortages in every grade, from skilled labour to part-time workers.
§ Mr. Paice
I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention. It demonstrates that the problem affects the whole country and all businesses.
I am surprised that so many Opposition Members have defended the community programme. They slanged it for many years, but now they say that it has been useful. I am not sorry to see its demise. It was always a make-work system. It provided very little good-quality training. In fact, very little training at all was provided and it achieved very little. I understand the worries in the voluntary sector, but it is not the role of the employment training programme to provide the services that are needed in the community. They should be provided in some other way. The new adult programme that is to start in September will be much more flexible than any of the previous schemes. It begins with an assessment of each trainee. As any expert in training knows, the best programme starts with an individual assessment to tailor the training to the needs of the trainee.
For many reasons I welcome the introduction of child care benefit for single parents. In three or four years we shall desperately need those people in the work force. I welcome, too, the flexibility that the supplementary grants system will provide for specific skills training, for which extra money will be required.
I am sorry that the business enterprise training programme has been incorporated in the new scheme. The private enterprise programme for the would-be entrepreneur and the would-be self-employed is to continue. That is good, but it is strange that as soon as people have got their business off the ground they will lose the opportunity 1369 for further training, other than through the new programme. That is where the business enterprise training programme would be of help.
A great deal has been said about the financial benefits that would be provided for the person who is being trained. It is strange to say in one breath that training is vital and we need to spend more on it and to emphasise its value but in the next breath to say that it is not worth while for people to be trained for an extra £5 a week. They are contradictory statements. Everybody on the scheme will be at least £5 a week better off.
Mention has already been made of the Select Committee's visit to Germany two weeks ago. We looked at the dual track programme and the adult programme. German unemployment benefit is paid as a percentage of the unemployed person's previous wage, but there is also a premium, apart from the benefits system, for the adult programme. That premium is 5 per cent. of the unemployed person's previous wage. That works out, on an average industrial wage, at about £4 a week.
§ Mr. Paice
I said specifically that the premium was 5 per cent. of the average industrial wage, and 5 per cent. of £80 is £4.
There is no doubt that there is a very great need for effective training. I entirely endorse the comments on that point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East. I would demur only with his suggestion that we have not achieved anything like it. In my view, the youth training scheme, and now the new employment programme, are very much what the country wants. Contrary to the opinion held by many, I believe that they are comparable to the programmes offered by many of our major industrial competitors in the West.
I grow tired of hearing Opposition Members, trade unionists and others criticising those programmes on the evidence of a few isolated instances. On that basis they castigate the whole scheme. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, I served for a number of years on an area manpower board. The sadness is that the vast majority of those involved do not really know a great deal about training and are not involved in monitoring or able to make the kind of assessment that matters. If individuals, be they Opposition Members or trade unionists, wish to criticise a particular training programme in a particular place, they should take their criticism to the MSC and ask what is being done to improve the standards. It serves no purpose to castigate the whole scheme.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross
We had experience of a group who pretended that they were capable of training young people. I went to the MSC and to the Secretary of State for 1370 Scotland about that matter and we exchanged a great deal of correspondence. Despite the fact that there was evidence to show that that group was not carrying out its responsibilities, it was given approved training organisation status.
§ Mr. Paice
I shall not disagree with the hon. Gentleman because I do not know the details of the case. However, I also know of managing agents who were given approved training organisation status but who should never have been granted it. That underlines my earlier point that many of the people who are sitting in judgment on area manpower boards are unfit to make those judgments. That applies to trade unionists as much as to others who are nominated for election to those boards. I do not want to digress and talk about the YTS but will continue my discourse on the adult programme.
Many of the major objections to the adult programme come from trade unions and local authorities operating in areas of greatest need and of high unemployment. Mention has already been made of the "rate for the job". That demonstrates a total lack of understanding of what training is all about. There is no such thing as the rate for the job if one is being effectively trained. In reality, employers will have to make massive contributions to the funding of the schemes. It must also be recognised that the contribution made to a business by unskilled labour is minimal. There is no justification for saying that the employer should pay the rate for the job because the trainee is making a contribution to the business, because he is not. I hope that that attitude represents the final dregs of "The country owes us a living" culture, which brought Britain down in the 1970s. It is time that we—
§ Mr. Paice
No, I shall not give way again.
It is time that we got away from cradle to the grave employment and recognised the need for training through one's lifetime and for retraining, however unfortunate may be the reason—including unemployment. Training is not just about time serving. We must abandon the belief that it takes years to learn new skills. That was in the old days, of the "Sit by Nellie" approach to training, whereby one was supposed to sit and watch, and learn over the years. Modern training technology has developed a long way since those days, and time scales for the assimilation of skills have been dramatically reduced.
The programme recognises that skill shortages exist, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt). It also builds on modern training principles and practices. It offers the opportunity to all unemployed people to gain the skills that they need. It is very sad that the scheme is not being welcomed and recognised as being good and valuable, building on the strengths that the YTS developed over the years. The new programme should be welcomed by all who really care about the unemployed and the unskilled.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
During the present prolonged spell of high unemployment and lack of job opportunities, the provision of proper training schemes becomes a matter of major importance. I remain unconvinced that the Government's proposals are in any 1371 way the best method of proceeding. However, if the alternative is straightforward unemployment, the schemes clearly become the lesser of two evils.
Ideally, my party would like to see introduced a proper system of training similar to those of other European countries, and adequately funded and geared to the changing needs of industry, commerce and the individual employees in a rapidly changing world. I regret that the Government have chosen to abandon the rate for the job that was previously paid under the community programme in favour of a benefit plus system—a premium of between £10 and £12 a week, thus leaving its single, under 25-year-old trainees, who represent about 50 per cent. of total trainees, about £10 worse off for a full week of training and work experience than they would have been as part-time community project workers.
I know that that situation is posing major difficulties for existing schemes in my constituency. In the city of Brechin, current schemes run by an energetic Church minister have transformed the lives of otherwise unemployed individuals, giving them employment, improving the local environment, and leading to a high success rate in finding consequent employment. That excellent scheme is now threatened by the Government changes, which mean that individuals will cease to be offered a working wage—and that was at the heart of the previous scheme's attractiveness. Unless local government funding is obtained, that particular scheme will founder and the whole community will be the poorer for it. With cutbacks in local government funding, the chances of obtaining that money from local authorities are growing more and more remote.
By replacing community benefit with job training as the main focus, the Government put at risk about £50 million of Scottish social care projects that may not be able to adapt to the new scheme. I ask the Minister to examine the specific problems being posed to organisations such as the Angus Crossroads caring scheme and other caring groups by proposed changes in employment training programmes. I know of the tremendously good work being done by those groups and the advantages that they offer to families and to individuals by the programmes they have been allowed to initiate and undertake. Some tremendous local initiatives and services will be destroyed unless proper funding is restored.
I reiterate the fears already expressed by organisations such as the Tayside services liaison committee on alcohol, whose employment scheme may be wiped out. The supported flats made available under the Dundee Cyrenians scheme may also have to close. The Wishart centre's effectiveness as a day centre will be greatly reduced, and the Dundee survival group will be struggling to continue its tremendous services for the homeless. The fears expressed by those voluntary caring organisations are repeated in my constituency and throughout Scotland.
Over the past five years, many voluntary organisations have been able to utilise the community programme to the benefit of various needy groups. Organisations that are first and foremost service-giving cannot also take on a major training role without their services suffering. I direct the Minister to those organisations and to the concerns that they express. That point is of particular importance to Scotland, where a proportionately greater number of 1372 programmes have been concerned with community care rather than with the environment, as is the case in England and Wales.
I know that approaches are being made by many of those organisations to the relevant local authorities, but with the severe constraints in local authority budgets the chances of obtaining funding are limited. I believe that the Secretary of State for Employment mentioned the possibility of other Government Departments being asked to find funds to assist voluntary organisations that have developed caring schemes under the community programme. What reassurances can the Minister give Crossroads and other community schemes about future funding?
Many parts of Scotland need job creation schemes as well as training schemes—indeed, some would say more. I believe that the Government's offering is hopelessly inadequate. Not more than £400 is, I understand, to be spent per six-month trainee. Sweden spends £12,000 on training its unemployed, whereas the average employment training place here will cost about £5,000 a year. While value for money is always a desirable goal, mere cheapness can be self-defeating. Moreover, restart and the stricter eligibility conditions for unemployment benefit mean that even without formal workfare compulsion the scheme is highly coercive, as has been said earlier. As no time scale is attached to ministerial guarantees of the voluntary status of the scheme, no wonder such concerns are being voiced.
Because of the abandoning of the rate for the job, employment training had destroyed the political consensus that supported the community programme and was one of its strengths. The voluntary sector warned that that would happen. Now voluntary agencies are caught between dependence on local authority funding and trade union good will on the one hand, and the need for MSC funding on the other.
May I suggest some methods that might help such voluntary organisations? Would the Government consider, for example, allowing the Training Commission to permit agency contracts for the community programme to be extended until the end of February 1989, as with project contracts, to provide time for negotiation with local authorities? Could an additional £10 a week premium be payable to single people to bring their weekly income close to what they would have received as a rate for the job? That, I believe, would cost approximately £150 million on a total budget of £1.5 billion, so it is certainly financially feasible.
Initially, the Scottish Office—or the Minister's Department—could exempt local authorities from clawback penalties on the amount that they spend on topping up trainees' incomes. Perhaps a community fund outwith employment training could be introduced to which agencies feeling that they could not provide a quality caring service within employment training could apply for transitional funding.
The scheme is far from ideal. I hope that the Government will look again at funding in Scotland for caring schemes that not only provide employment, but are a crucial lifeline for individuals and their families who are helped by them.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)
I welcome this huge employment training scheme, which is probably larger than any such scheme over the past 25 years. I do not think that it is putting it too strongly to say that training, more than anything, will determine our economic growth over the next few years. It is equally true that the problems of skill shortages are the result of demography as well as the industrial restructuring of the past few years. The demographic problems are well known, although it is worrying to see that the National Economic Development Office survey showed last week that only one in seven employees was aware of them. Nevertheless, there has been an increase of 900,000 in the work force, and between 1987 and 1995 1 million fewer 16-to-19 year-olds will be available for training. That is a source of potentially severe skill shortages in apprenticeships, technicianships and the other forms of training available to young people at present.
The problems are by no means new, and they are common to the whole industrialised world. We have recently been told by Professor Charles Handy that 70 per cent. of jobs over the next 10 years will be knowledge-related, whereas 20 years ago the proportion was only 30 per cent. It has been estimated, probably more cogently, that by the year 2010 even people who stay in the same job will have to be almost completely reskilled three times in their working lives.
§ Mr. Coombs
I do not know.
Evidence of that is working through into the labour market. While we have 1.8 million extra jobs since 1983, and although we have 700,000 vacancies in the economy, the Engineering Industry Training Board shows that the increase in vacancies is mainly in such industries as electronics, in which vacancies have increased by 95 per cent. over the past nine years, and in instrumentation, where the increase has been 30 per cent. Those skilled industries are creating the demand for labour. Although the demand for engineering operatives, for example, has fallen by 43 per cent. over the past nine years, the demand for technicians and scientists has risen by over a half.
That is why, when we are talking about a high demand for the skilled, flexible worker, I welcome the employment training scheme, not only because of its size but, more important, because of its emphasis on quality. I applaud the youth training schemes, approved training organisations, competence objectives, transferable qualifications and, perhaps most important, the requirement for a knowledge of computers and information technology on every youth scheme.
I have no doubt that the employment training scheme, with its broad scope from literacy to high technology, will be a better-quality scheme than we have ever seen before. Evidence presented to the Select Committee showed that in the west midlands, although there were only 35,000 places available, 125,000, applications were received from trainee managers. A point was made earlier about smaller funding for more places. We should remember that a large proportion of those trainee managers will bring private capital into the scheme to improve the quality of training that it provides.
1374 I believe that the scheme will do an important job in countering skill shortages. However, although the Government should give a lead in tackling skill shortages, the primary responsibility for skill training should be and is with employers. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said, that is a truth which we in Britain have been slow to grasp. For example, a survey was carried out in 1984. The figures for vocational training were difficult to obtain, but it was estimated that the private sector in Britain was spending £2.5 billion compared with £7 billion in West Germany. As a result, Germany was producing three times more engineers than we were. That is still a worrying factor. Two out of three firms in Britain do no training.
Although the good firms spend the equivalent of 4 per cent. of labour costs on vocational and educational training, the average in the United Kingdom is only 2 per cent., and that works out at 0.7 per cent. of turnover. That is ironic when the economic monitor, the Engineering Industry Training Board, says that 43 per cent. of firms complain that skill shortages will constrain their growth over the next six months, yet apprentice recruitment is still only 8,000 a year.
It is equally ironic that, when we are talking about skills shortages in microelectronics, a Policy Studies Institute survey showed that only 51 per cent. of firms were doing any staff retraining. It is also ironic that when apprenticeships are so valuable, half the industrial apprenticeships available in my constituency go unfilled.
The Government are providing help on such matters through, for example, open technology, the regional technical centres, projects such as Trident to improve links between schools and industry and by making sure that the youth training scheme is more clearly and closely linked to the needs of, for instance, the engineering industry. I understand that the engineering industry has just set up a youth training scheme which gives 53 weeks of off-the-job training rather than the normal 30 weeks.
There is no doubt that the major power to solve skills shortages lies with the employer. I should like to see more employers taking up the joint scheme between the National Economic Development Office, the Engineering Industry Training Board, the City and Guilds organisation and the Training Commission to train more craft workers on the German meister system. I understand that the take-up has been poor recently. I should like to see more employers take up the signposter initiative and the Engineering Industry Training Board's green site and primary projects initiative with schools. I should like to see further development of the segmented craft engineering traineeships by companies. Most of all, I should like to see companies give a far higher priority to the recruitment of scientists and engineers.
§ Mr. Coombs
This is a private sector responsibility.
When the private sector is paying newly-qualified engineers on average only £10,800 a year and technicians £8,300 a year, about the same as the average industrial wage, it is not surprising that they find it difficult to encourage people into the industry. It was worrying to hear the vice-chancellor of the Open university tell the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts yesterday that, although it is easy to get firms to pay for 1375 business studies training for their employees at the Open university, only 30 per cent. of them regularly pay for scientific or technical training. It is in the interests of private sector firms to do that. It is their responsibility. They are the best people to do the training and, in increasing numbers, they must accept that responsibility.
Perhaps understandably, some companies in the small firms sector are put off going into training by the multiplicity of schemes and sources of funding. That is one of the problems addressed by the consultation document on the funding of vocational and educational training, which I understand is still out for consultation. It is daunting that some training schemes are the responsibility of the British Institute of Management, the CBI, universities, and industrial bodies and yet others are the responsibility of different Government Departments.
I hope that as a result of the review of vocational and educational training those schemes will be drawn together, at least in terms of the way in which information about them is disseminated if not in the way they are organised. I hope that greater emphasis will be put on local employer networks within each local education authority, using the chambers of commerce to develop joint schemes between employers which will stimulate training and prevent poaching of trainees between firms.
The final area in which the Government are making a contribution but where more needs to be done and will be done when the Education Reform Bill is enacted is the need to ensure that young people have the necessary qualifications to enter the engineering industry in the first place. It is significant that the qualification for a technician in the engineering industry through the Engineering Industry Training Board will be four passes at GCSE grades A to C. However, only 26 per cent. of school leavers at the moment get passes in O-level mathematics and physics. That will be exacerbated by the declining number of pupils over the next few years. The reason for that low figure is too much specialisation in the fourth year in schools and the fact that too many students drop scientific and technical subjects and mathematics. In Scotland, schools have started to address that problem and, as a result, they have one third more people who are qualified in those subjects.
The Government, through the national curriculum, will, I hope, begin to solve that in a big way. The national curriculum, the technical and vocational education initiative incentive grants to teachers of shortage subjects and education support grants should lead to more pupils taking a wider range of technical subjects. That will form the bedrock of the solution to the skill shortage in this country.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
I should like first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), the Chairman of the Employment Select Committee, on his contribution at the beginning of this first-class debate. I listened to every word he said. There is no doubt that my hon. Friend knows what he is talking about when he speaks about training. I should also like to congratulate hon. Members on both sides of 1376 the House who are members of that Select Committee and who have contributed to the debate. All of them do a first-class job in the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Haynes
Yes, all of them, under the leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East. I kicked off by congratulating him because the Select Committee would not work properly if he was not at the helm.
I also want to congratulate the Secretary of State for Employment on being here during the debate. I shall not give way to him, but I welcome him to the debate on training. However, he was not present very often when this year's Employment Bill was in Committee. He was swanning around in Sweden and here, there and everywhere, but my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was there regularly and he is here tonight, so I congratulate him. I felt that I must make that point about attendance.
I also want to speak about the principle of training. I shall not go into all the fine details, as the Select Committee does, but I wish to talk about the principle. I went into the pits in 1944 and I had first-class training. The training that was talked about in Committee and the training that the Government propose is labour on the cheap. The Government have poked their noses right into training instead of leaving it to industry. I was trained in industry and the Government had nothing to do with it.
I started at 50 per cent. of the rate of the chap I worked alongside, who was an experienced man. I worked at the coal face during the two-year training course and every two months I got a percentage increase. After two years, I was fully qualified and got the same rate as the other man. That is why this scheme is unfair,—it is labour on the cheap. Youngsters in my constituency let me know that in no uncertain terms. I am here on their behalf to tell the Government that the system is unfair, not only for youngsters but for the people who have been taken out of employment because of the Government policies.
There used to be nine pits in my constituency. Now four are left because they got rid of five. Where are all the youngsters and the people who worked in those pits? They have gone on the dole queue. Now the Government provide money for training under the NCB (Enterprise) Ltd scheme. They hold seminars and issue leaflets urging people to take another regular job and retrain outside mining in some other industry. People have been encouraged to accept redundancy so that the Government can do away with the pits and no one will work in them again.
NCB (Enterprise) Ltd., paid for by the Government, means that these people cannot go on training schemes unless they are guaranteed a job. That is a con trick. If the pits had not been closed they could have continued working in them and contributed to the energy requirements of the nation. We heard a statement today on the nuclear industry, and there will be more. The Opposition said long ago that we would go back to the coal mining industry. I am sorry that we have problems. Once a pit is closed it is finished—it cannot be reopened. We must open new pits in the new seams throughout the country.
The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt)—he is probably on the train back home now—spoke of a 1377 shortage of skilled workers in his constituency. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) agreed with him and said that there were such shortages across the whole nation. The tragedy of all this is that the Conservatives have been in office for 10 years now and have not done a great deal about the problem. We are still struggling to provide skilled workers. If the Government went about it in the right way we might get somewhere. They should listen to some of the things being said by Opposition Members such as myself—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I do not know what the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) is laughing about: he does not know what work is. I do. I had to work to keep a family, but his lot are professionals. They have lived on easy street. Some of the beggars are working outside as well, earning up to five or more salaries, while the poor devils that we represent are trying to get work and cannot. And they are conned with this so-called training scheme. It is training on the cheap all right.
The Secretary of State has said the scheme is voluntary, but there is nothing voluntary in this flaming scheme. I remember the right hon. Gentleman saying something in Committee about people's social security benefits being taken away if they did not go on the scheme. Now the right hon. Gentleman sits there blinking at me, but he knows what I am talking about. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) served on the Standing Committee and made a contribution or two—he was one of the few Tories to do so. Opposition Members had to do it all; we had to put Conservative Members in the picture about what was going on.
Every now and again, the Government change the name and direction of their training schemes. They do not even know where they are going. I wish they would listen to what the Opposition say about training. When people who have lost their jobs through Government policy manage to find a job, I will go along with the Government's scheme—but the jobs are not there. In my constituency, I have youngsters who have gone through the two-year training scheme but cannot find a job at the end of it. There is still 12 per cent. unemployment in my constituency. The Government say that unemployment stands still, but in my constituency unemployment will rise and rise because of what is happening.
I believe that the Government arc planning further pit closures in my constituency—in addition to the four that have already closed—which will make matters even worse. That will affect not only the industry in my constituency, but suppliers there and in other constituencies. It is a difficult problem, but the Government do not listen. They know it all. They are dogmatic. People must do what they say. We have had enough; we have had a bellyfull; and I tell the Government that the next time that the Prime Minister declares that there will be an election, that lot over there can look out.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) talked about labour on the cheap, but I think that that was a Whip's speech on the cheap to cover tip the fact that there is nobody else on the Labour Benches to speak in this debate. That is what it is all about. He might have his fan club up there in the Strangers Gallery—all one of them—but where are the rest of them? There are none.
§ Mr. Haynes
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is totally unfair. He knows full well that my hon. Friends are now back working in their constituencies.
§ Mr. Riddick
They might be back in their constituencies working, but some of us are trying to represent our constituencies here in the Chamber—that is the difference.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this fascinating and riveting debate on the important topic of training. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) that British industry has let down the nation to a certain extent in this sector. It has not provided enough training. It must be said, however, that Governments of the past two or three decades have not allowed British industry to earn sufficient profits to invest in training.
Like the hon. Member for Ashfield, I had a proper job before I came here. I used to work in sales management in industry—the coal face of industry. I first started work with an American company called Procter and Gamble, which had an American business culture. It carried out all its own training and invested heavily in its own people. I was then poached from the American company—after it had invested in my training and had improved my effectiveness—by a British company, which was fairly typical.
I recently met one of the directors of the Confederation of British Industry in Yorkshire. He told me that at a time of deep recession training and research and development are the things that tend to go. He assured me, however, that once the profitability of British industry picked up, training would be back on the agenda, and it would invest in training once again. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran), who used to be with the CBI, will confirm that that will happen in the future.
That is a question of training people already in work. Tonight we are debating the Government's proposal and their massive training role to help the long-term unemployed. There is an enormous need for high quality training which cannot be over-emphasised. The change in the pattern of job vacancies demonstrates the need for skilled people. There are fewer vacancies for manual, unskilled workers in manufacturing industry, but a far greater demand for individuals in the professional, managerial, technological and service sectors who have the appropriate skills.
If we consider manufacturing industry, it is significant that from the low point of the recession in 1981 to the present day, as the economy has picked up, output has risen by 22.3 per cent. During that same period, employment in manufacturing industry has fallen by 1.1 million—a drop of 18.2 per cent. In other words, productivity has increased by about 40 per cent. British industry needs fewer unskilled manual workers.
However, unemployment remains high. At the same time, the CBI and the chambers of commerce and trade in Yorkshire and elsewhere are reporting very serious skill shortages. For example, an ice-cream factory on Merseyside reported that it could not find enough maintenance fitters or refrigeration engineers. In Manchester, seven new hotels can barely find the staff to open their doors.
The jobs exist. Moreover, now that the baby boom of the 1960s has flattened out, there are marvellous opportunities for our young people. However, we must 1379 ensure that the long-term unemployed in their 30s, 40s or 50s are not ignored. They must not be left on the scrap heap. That is why the new training scheme is so important.
How do the Opposition react? Apart from the playful little speech from the hon. Member for Ashfield, Opposition Members react with a mixture of bewilderment—in some cases a measure of support and in others downright opposition. The dinosaurs in the union movement, notably the Transport and General Workers Union, the National and Local Government Officers Association and the National Union of Public Employees, complain about workfare and cheap labour. However, they claim to champion the cause of the working class and the unemployed. What humbug.
The response of employers and training organisations to the employment training programme has been very good but if the trade unions wish to cause trouble they can; but if they do that they and hon. Members opposite—in particular, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) who has been stirring things up to such an enormous degree—will bear a very heavy responsibility for depriving some of the most unfortunate people in society of an opportunity to better themselves and have a chance in life.
Instead of complaining about cheap labour many of the long-term unemployed will welcome the opportunity of a long-term future and will then sell their newly-found, newly-learned skills at a decent wage to companies that are prepared to employ them.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) referred to the prospects of the new employment scheme, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said under his breath in a rather threatening way, "We shall see." He does not want it to succeed because the Labour party likes to see high unemployment. It believes that that is good for its political prospects. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Oldham, West makes many ambiguous noises about this and gets the hon. Member for Ladywood to do all his dirty work for him. Whatever the dinosaurs of the Labour movement do, the new scheme will start in September and give the long-term unemployed a chance to learn new skills to take long-term job opportunities. The Government are to be congratulated on giving them that chance.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham. Ladywood)
I am sure that we are all grateful to the Select Committee on Employment for giving us an opportunity to debate this important subject. My hon. Friends regret that the debate has been on a Thursday evening as many of them have had to return to their constituencies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why"] One only has to stand in the post office to see that the quantity of mail received by Labour Members compared with that received by Conservative Members shows who does more work for their constituents.
Like every hon. Member who has spoken, I want to concentrate on employment training—ET. It is just as ugly as the original ET, but with none of his lovable qualities. Before doing so, I should like to mention youth training. I put on record the Opposition's deep resentment and opposition to the removal of the right to benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds, thus making the youth training scheme 1380 compulsory. The level of refusal to take up YTS was low. We do not believe for a moment that that action was necessary to make young people take up further education and training. It was done so that the allowance paid to young people on YTS, which has decreased over the years—the Government deliberately allowed it to be eroded—could decrease further.
It was deeply wrong to remove young people's freedom to choose their training scheme. Good quality training schemes should give young people a freedom of choice. Out of desperation, because they have no income, young people are having to take the first scheme on offer, whatever its quality. Even worse—this has had a big impact in my constituency—the right of young people in receipt of benefit—whose families cannot support their children aged 16 to 18 years in full-time education—to study at their local further education college, take O or A-levels and vocational qualifications has been wiped out by the loss of the right to study for 21 hours. That is an outrage and the option should not be destroyed but expanded to allow young people to stay in full-time education. We are behind in the number of young people who stay in further education compared with our competitor countries. We are deeply critical of the moves that the Government have made in removing the freedom of choice for YTS schemes and young people's opportunities to study full-time if they so wish.
§ Mr. Paice
The hon. Lady decried the allowance paid to YTS trainees and said that it was decreasing. Does the hon. Lady accept that the amount paid is a minimum, not a maximum, and that many work experience placements pay considerably more in addition? That is constantly increasing, so to talk about the minimum as the norm is quite incorrect.
§ Ms. Short
A minority of YTS placements receive top-up. It is important that top-up is allowed. It is deeply regrettable that top-up is not being allowed in the employment training scheme, although the model is identical to YTS. We know that a growing minority of young people on YTS are receiving top-up, but if the YTS allowance had remained at the original value of the youth opportunities programme allowance it would be worth not £20+ but £40+. I hope that as the 16 to 18-year-old cohort declines, more young people will be in work with training and not taking any job to avoid YTS. That is what is happening at present and the Government must take action. I hope that more young people on YTS will receive top-up and a decent wage and that the possibility of using top-up under YTS will be used by the trade union movement to improve the position of young people in the labour market. That is not only desirable but likely to happen.
I now refer to the adult training scheme, or ET, as the Government have now decided to call it. The Opposition's view is that it is a deeply flawed scheme and a tragically wasted opportunity to provide improved training for the long-term unemployed. There is a desperate need to expand training opportunities for everyone, but, in particular, for the long-term unemployed, because of the changes that are taking place in our economy. Conservative Member after Conservative Member has said how deplorable it is that we have skill shortages and that there is not more training. The Government have been in power for nearly 10 years. They have eroded training 1381 mechanisms. They have cut the number of skillcentres, got rid of the industrial training boards, cut the apprenticeship system. and so on. They deplore the lack of training in our country. It is a serious lack for the economy and for the quality of life and work for individuals, and the Government are responsible for it. They should organise things so that we have more training rather than less training. ET is deeply flawed, but we desperately need more and better training for the long-term unemployed.
It is also our view that the community programme, which is now to be abolished, has provided enormously valuable schemes to care for some of the most needy and desperate people in our communities. For example, in my constituency, mobility for the disabled is provided through a community programme. It includes decorating many elderly people's homes, doing up their gardens, schemes for disabled children, and so on. They are important community services, but we do not believe that they are all that should he on offer to the long-term unemployed. We have always argued that the CP should not have been only part-time but should have been a mixture of part-time and full-time work, according to people's needs.
There should have been more training opportunities for the long-term unemployed. When crucial services were being provided through the CP to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, the jobs should have been permanent. Long-term unemployed people should have been given priority for such jobs. As they acquired skills and knowledge through working with such vulnerable people, they should have been allowed permanently to stay in their jobs and use their skills to take care of the local community, instead of constantly being forced to leave the scheme just as they had learnt to do their jobs particularly well.
We have consistently argued that point. That has always been our view. We said it when CP was first launched, we said it throughout the life of CP, and we say it now. Instead, what do we get? We get employment training, which builds on the failed job training scheme, rather than the best of the community programme. We continue to be told that it is a £1.5 billion programme. Of course, that is not true. There was some training in the community programme. Many schemes funded and organised training for themselves. After a great deal of pressure on the Government, funding was provided for training. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members who do not know about these matters would listen, they might learn something. After the scheme was launched, the Government provided funding for training in the time when people were not working. It was building up nicely, and the Government cut the budget. We demanded training. At last we got a budget, the programme was starting to build, and the Government deliberately cut the money. Conservative Members should not tell us about the lack of training in the community programme. When they launched the programme it failed to provide training and it was a deliberate part of the Government's strategy to cut the training that we later squeezed out of them.
I was referring to ET. We are constantly told that the budget is £1.5 billion. Of course, people on the scheme are to be paid £10 or a little more on top of their benefit. A large part of the budget is simply benefit money that people would otherwise receive. We are talking about half that amount of money. It is not such a big budget. Conservative Members should face up to that fact and be honest about it.
1382 As someone who had worked in this subject for many years before I was elected to the House, written reports, done research and demanded improvements in schemes and more training before most Conservative Members even knew their way around the initials of the Manpower Services Commission, it is my view that, in their obsessive desire to cut wage levels, the Government have constantly destroyed our efforts to improve training opportunities for young people and the long-term unemployed. The Government use the schemes to lower wage expectations and restructure the labour market. The expectations of young people in employment have been deliberately lowered by the youth training scheme and a number of other schemes which subsidise employers who pay low wages. The success of that is measurable. Much of the inspiration behind this scheme has been the search to reduce the wage expectations and conditions of those in employment. Because the Government have that ulterior motive, they are throwing away a major opportunity to improve our training provisions for long-term unemployed people.
Some of us remember when the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was the Secretary of State for Employment—all these measures were tried before. He tried to bring in the removal of benefit rights as a means of forcing trainees on to YTS. He tried to introduce benefit-plus for the long-term unemployed, but he failed. He then threatened to abolish the Manpower Services Commission because he was so angry about having failed. The MSC now has much less independence and authority than it used to have. The Government now have compulsory YTS and are bringing in the benefit-plus scheme because they seek to lower the wage expectations and not because they wish to help the long-term unemployed or improve our training provision.
We object to the benefit-plus model because one of the most immediate and desperate experiences of the long-term unemployed is poverty. Any of us could live on benefit for a short time because we have things that we have bought in better times and we might have a little in savings. However, if one is forced to live on benefit levels for months or years, one becomes extremely poor and cannot replace shoes, children's clothing, sheets, or bedding. The overwhelming experience of those who are long-term unemployed is grinding continuous poverty. Conservative Members talk about the need for people to make sacrifices to obtain training, but they do not know the reality of the poverty in which people have had to live.
This morning I received a letter from a constituent who was desperately upset. After three years of unemployment, he had found a place on a community programme and received £90 per week for working three days one week and two days the next. He said how happy he had been, how he worked hard because he always worked hard, that he liked working and was proud to work and that it made him feel better. He has just been told that he will be put on benefit-plus, get £10 and have to work full-time. He is distraught because he does not understand it and feels insulted. He had felt that his life was just getting better. He has written to me, pleading that I represent his case and try to get something better for him.
I advise Conservative Members that when this scheme hits the streets and many more people experience what is on offer, and when the overwhelming majority of 18 to 25-year-olds who predominate on the community programme and who are the guarantee or primary group 1383 for this programme, find that they are about £20 a week worse off, they will be extremely angry. There will be a lot of hostility to the programme.
§ Mr. Riddick
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I have heard what she has been saying about poverty being the major problem, but surely another major problem facing long-term unemployed people is boredom. They are bored because they have nothing to do. Surely this is an opportunity for them to learn some new skills and to have a new start in life. That is what the programme is about.
§ Ms. Short
There is absolutely no question but that poverty is the primary problem. Other problems are that the long-term unemployed are isolated from society, and feel that they have no friends and that they cannot make a contribution. All those things are hurtful to people who then feel demoralised and unwanted, and who start to respect themselves less. They lose the confidence to apply for jobs. We know, because all the research tells us, that that is the effect of long-term unemployment. So what should we do? Should we make them an offer that does not make them any better off so that they have to grind on in poverty or should we make them an offer that gives them the chance to acquire skills and a decent income?
Opposition Members believe that the long-term unemployed are entitled to the chance to acquire skills and a decent income, but the Government are so determined to reduce the wage levels of some of the poorest people in our community that they bring in this kind of scheme, which will impoverish even more those who are already impoverished so that they are worse off than with the offer of the community programme.
It is said that benefit-plus will give an extra £10 per week, or even a little more because some special categories will get £11 and a few pence extra per week. When Conservative Members talk about the degree of TUC approval, they should remember that that "approval" came reluctantly because the TUC had feared something worse if it did not negotiate what it could from the scheme.
We are told that the scheme is the same as the TOPS allowance. People are willing to train full time and people have queued up for TOPS courses for such an allowance. When the skillcentre in my constituency kept waiting lists, they were years long. People wanted to train to obtain a skill in which there was a shortage, so they knew that they would get a job. When people are unproductive they are entitled to a training allowance. That might make them a bit better off compared with what they receive in benefit and they also get their bus fares paid and so on.
When people are put in a workplace and are producing goods and services alongside other workers, they expect to get some pay. They are entitled to an income that takes account of the work that they produce. It is not good enough to say that, in the case of the employment training scheme, they will receive £10 on top of their benefit. They must receive pay in proportion to their productivity. If they do not, they will be used to undermine the jobs and wages of those in work. That is what happened with YTS and YOP. The Minister's Department has produced a number of research papers that have shown that if young people are introduced to the workplace as free labour, they will displace other workers from jobs.
1384 The employment training schemes threatens the long-term unemployed because it is worse than the community programme in terms of those people's income levels. It threatens people in low-paid work—the places on the scheme will be concentrated in such work—because that scheme will be used to displace workers. That is why we, together with many trade unions and many of the long-term unemployed, object to it so strongly.
How cynical can the Government get? I have with me a brochure handed out to employers to try to get them involved in the scheme. What does it tell them?
Employment Training gives you the opportunity to hire people whose training you have been able to check yourself … You might regard the training period as an extended interview.Now we get down to it. The Government might as well say, "Take on 20. Use them, they are free and keep the ones you want." An "extended interview" is not the high quality training that Conservative Members have tried to pretend the scheme is all about. The Government's expensive advertising budget has been spent trying to pretend that "an extended interview" means high-quality training. It is in their brochure and they are their words, not ours.
Ministers are aware that there is deep opposition to the scheme from the trade union movement, the voluntary sector and many local authorities, including a number of Tory local authorities. There will be a great deal of conflict. Roger Dawe, the director general of the Training Commission, has said that if one wants to learn the lessons from the failure of the JTS one must have consensus, support from local authorities from trade unions and so on.
Ever since the Government introduced the scheme we have pleaded with them to give us some basic assurances. We have sought an assurance that the scheme will be voluntary. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) has already referred to the duplicity of the Secretary of State who has constantly said that he has no plans to designate the scheme under section 26 of the Employment Act 1988 which gives him the power to take away people's social security benefits should they refuse a place on the scheme or leave it early. However, the right hon. Gentleman will not say that he will not designate the scheme. He is playing games. He has no plans to designate it now, but if things go wrong he will do so later. The Government are being dishonest and if they are considering the possibility of designation, they should tell us.
With the new availability-for-work tests there is an increasing compulsion on people to join schemes. People are called in and are threatened with the loss of their benefit. They are asked whether they are looking for a job and what wage level they are willing to accept. If they do not give the right answers they lose benefit anyway. Compulsion is creeping in through the availability-forwork tests and if that does not do the Government's job, they will designate the scheme and make it compulsory.
We are opposed to the scheme because it is not good enough. It is not good enough for the long-term unemployed and it has the potential to destroy the jobs of those already in work. It will not provide good training. We desperately want a scheme that will meet those criteria. If the Government will agree to pay a decent rate when people are working and producing—and an allowance when they are training—and if they give an absolute 1385 assurance that the scheme, including the availability-for-work tests, will be voluntary and if they will provide adequate funding for training, we will campaign for the scheme. I plead with the Government to heed what I say and what has been said on many occasions. We shall go out to the trade unions, which are rightly opposed to the scheme, and say, "OK. We have got something better now; let us all work for it."
We want a decent scheme for the long-term unemployed—they vote for us, and a lot of our relatives and friends are part of that group. We have relatives and friends who have been on training schemes and I do not believe that Conservative Members could say the same.
This is a desperately urgent and important matter to us. Of course, we want to form a Government, but in the meantime we want something better for the long-term unemployed and this is not the answer. There will be dissension and conflict and the scheme might well fail. The Government have made a grave error because they are obsessed with cutting the wages of the poorest people in the country.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)
In the few minutes available to me, I shall not be able to do justice to the interesting and valuable contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that hon. Members will accept that, if they think that I have not given their contribution sufficient treatment.
Before I reply to the specific points that have been raised, I wish to put matters into context. It is obvious that the Select Committee's report and this debate have concentrated primarily on the new employment training programme. That is entirely right, given the significance that we attach to it. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) was right when she said that the Committee had given us a valuable opportunity to discuss those matters.
Employment training will have a budget of about £1.5 billion in a full year, which will make it the largest programme of its kind anywhere in the world. The fact that the Government are investing that sum of money in employment training is a measure of our intent to help the long-term unemployed back into work. The case for training the long-term unemployed is clear and it should command the support of all Members of this House.
The prospect for jobs is better now than it has been for a decade. Unemployment has fallen for 23 months in succession by a total of 835,000, which is the largest and longest sustained fall on record. For the last six months, unemployment has fallen by an average of 40,000 a month. That is a direct reflection of the strength of the British economy. More than 1.8 million additional new jobs have been created since 1983. The economy is entering its eighth successive year of growth at an average rate of 3 per cent.
There is therefore every reason to believe that unemployment will continue to fall, provided that people who have been out of work can take the jobs which are increasingly available. That means, above all, that they need the chance to train in up-to-date skills.
We know from recent surveys that there are some 700,000 unfilled job vacancies in the economy as a whole. 1386 We now have a unique opportunity to train the long-term unemployed so that they can take advantage of those opportunities.
However, there is now clear evidence of a concerted campaign of intimidation directed against organisations which want to play a part in employment training. Of course, anybody is entitled to say that he does not want to take part in the new programme, but what is unacceptable is that anyone should try to intimidate other people into boycotting employment training.
There is clear evidence that officials of the Transport and General Workers Union have been involved in a number of violent demonstrations against officials of the Training Commission, the employment service and voluntary organisations that want to run training projects under the new programme.
In March, the newly elected executive of the TGWU voted to oppose employment training, despite the fact that their general secretary, Ron Todd, was one of the MSC commissioners who designed the programme and recommended it unanimously to the Government.
Since then, there has been a series of unpleasant incidents involving members and officials of that union. My right h on. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment wrote to Mr. Todd about that in April. He undertook to carry out an investigation. We are still awaiting a substantive reply. My right hon. Friend has now had to write to Mr. Todd again to draw his attention to two further incidents. One of those involved the week-long occupation of the Birkenhead job-centre—
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Lady took more than her fair share of the time and she will have to forgive me if I press on.
One of those incidents involved the week-long occupation of the Birkenhead jobcentre, as a result of which no help could be given to unemployed people in that area. It is absolutely typical of that sort of demonstration that it is the unemployed who suffer.
Now we have the Liverpool city council not only opposing employment training, but threatening action against anyone who seeks to work with it. Liverpool city council, which is, of course under the control of the hard Left, voted on 29 June to boycott employment training. Not content with that, it also voted to take a whole series of steps designed to bully voluntary organisations and private companies in Liverpool into boycotting the programme. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ladywood does not like what she is hearing, but she will have to realise that she associates herself with those people by holding the views that she does.
If those threats are carried out, the unemployed people of Liverpool will be deprived of training and the elderly and disabled will lose the benefits of many of Liverpool's voluntary services.
Unemployment in Liverpool is higher than the national average. But if the council has its way, it will be even higher because the city's unemployed people will lose the opportunity to train for employment and return to work.
Even after hearing some of the speeches this evening, I remain an optimist and I should like to think that all hon. Members will join me in condemning that attempt to victimise those unemployed people who are most in need of help. It is the same destructive attitude that we saw in 1387 Dundee earlier this year. The conclusion is quite inescapable. If the hard Left cannot have jobs or training on their own terms, it would rather have unemployment. That is its message to the unemployed of Merseyside today, just as it was its message to the unemployed of Dundee in April.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the Government are not going to be deflected by any campaign of intimidation. The programme will go ahead as planned on 5 September. The Government will not turn their back on the unemployed. As a nation we need their skills and experience if we are to sustain our economic growth. I believe it is the duty of everyone in our society—including local authorities and trade unions—to help unemployed people get back to work. That is what employment training is all about and that is what is at stake.
The speech by the hon. Member for Ladywood did nothing to dispel the ambiguity which has surrounded the Opposition's attitude to employment training from the outset. Her speech contained the usual familiar recital of complaints about the programme—complaints which we have answered time after time.
It is obviously asking too much of the hon. Lady, given her particular prejudices, to ask her to take my word for it. Therefore, I refer her to the comments of Mr. Peter Ashby, writing in The Independent. The hon. Lady may sneer, but let us consider Mr. Ashby's credentials. He is not an uncritical supporter of Her Majesty's Government; he is a long-time member of the Labour party. He is a committed trade unionist and he spent three years working for the TUC. He is head of a body called Action on Long-Term Unemployment. This is what he had to say on the views of the hon. Lady, commenting on the views of her hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher):Michael Meacher's defence of the Labour Party's policy on employment training is sadly unconvincing.We are all entitled to an under-statement.What he does not answer is the basic question: will the party support employment training?He continues:It is surely time for Michael Meacher and his colleagues"—and we must assume that they include the hon. Lady—to speak out in favour of long-term unemployed people having the option of high-quality public-sector training.It is too late in the day for those in positions of leadership to remain sitting on the fence. Unless they declare themselves in support of a programme, it will go down at TUC Congress.He concludes:I hope from Mr. Meacher's letter that he is in favour of employment training. If so, could he please tell us in simple English?Of course he cannot, and the hon. Lady did not do so either.
In the few minutes that remain, I shall try to deal with some of the central points. Although the hon. Lady knows the facts, it is possible that some of her hon. Friends do not. Yet again she raises the old canard that Tory authorities are not in favour of the scheme. Again she mentions the case of Kensington and Chelsea. I can tell the hon. Lady that the position of Kensington and Chelsea is perfectly honourable. It has decided that for the time being it wants to wait and see, and it made it clear that it will not 1388 come into the programme yet. If the hon. Lady thinks that she can derive some satisfaction from that, she is welcome to it.
The hon. Lady is concerned that the programme will not be voluntary. There is not much point in trying to convince the hon. Lady that anything conceived by the Government is a right and proper approach.
The TUC, again not uncritical supporters of the Government, has given its conditional support to the programme. It is absolutely inconceivable that the TUC would have done that if it thought that the Government intended to make the programme compulsory. Accepting for the moment that there are some grounds for the fears of the hon. Member for Ladywood, surely she realises that the moment that we attempted—[Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will stop howling from a sedentary position, I shall try to deal with some of her points, inadequate though they were. If the Government tried to make the programme compulsory, the TUC would immediately withdraw its support and that would be the precise opposite of what we want. If the hon. Lady will not accept my word for it, she ought to reflect on the TUC's attitude.
The hon. Lady well knows that what she is asking the Government to do is to say that they will never at any time in the future invoke the Social Security Act 1975 that was passed by the last Labour Governmnt, at a time when her hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West was a Minister with responsibility for social security. It would go against everything that we have planned and it would be against our best interests to do so.
I am afraid that we have again heard the hon. Lady say tonight that the Labour party is united against the scheme. Again I remind her, if she will not accept my words, of what Neil Fletcher, the chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities education committee, had to say about it. He referred to the hon. Lady's employment training policy as "political posturing" and he is reported as saying thatIf the Labour movement goes down the boycott road, the first achievement will indisputably be to destroy upwards of 20,000 jobs. The avalanche of public odium that we would achieve by any such boycott would be well deserved.The unemployed, employers and the economy need the programme. That is why I say that employment training deserves the unreserved support of Members on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Leighton
I hope that the House will take the view that the Select Committee performed a worthwhile service in allowing the House to debate employment training and that the debate has shed some light on the subject, as well as generating some heat. The Training Commission does not believe that the programme is set in concrete and it will keep it closely under review. When we return to the House after the recess, the programme will already be in operation. I feel sure that the Select Committee will want to monitor and scrutinise the programme closely and to report to the House on its scrutiny. I trust that the House will be able to look again at the issue.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
The Question is, That the motion stands over under the Standing Order.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I was obviously too generous, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton).
§ Mr. Nicholls
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. I had it in mind that I might fill the vacuum with a few more words of wisdom and peaceful remarks, but if you are saying to me that I am not entitled to do so I shall resume my seat and will allow others to fill it with equally spurious points of order.
If I am entitled to do that, let me assure the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) that I shall look into the specific points that he put to me about programmes in his constituency. We do not intend the community programmes—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must explain to the Minister that technically the position is that until Ten o'clock we ought to move on to the next item of business, the British Shipbuilders Borrowing Powers (Increase of Limit) Order 1988, but it would be inconvenient to call the Minister to begin his speech on shipbuilding, to interrupt him at Ten o'clock for the House to dispose of the estimates votes and then to return to shipbuilding. It is a difficult and, to me, a unique experience to have this hiatus.
§ Mr. Nicholls
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems that I could use the few seconds that remain to us to thank you for your guidance to the House—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the Minister will put it to me, I shall listen to his point of order.
§ It being Ten o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates), to put forthwith the deferred Questions necessary to dispose of the proceedings on Supplementary Estimates, 1988–89 (Class XIV, Vote I and Class VII, Vote 5).