HC Deb 07 June 1988 vol 134 cc701-2
3. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received about the implications for care in the community of the introduction of the adult training scheme; and whether he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations from hon. Members and others on this subject. It is hoped that most community programme projects will continue into employment training, but I recognise that some may not do so. My Department's officials will be discussing this with representatives of the voluntary sector.

Mr. Martlew

Is the Minister aware that there is deep anxiety among local authorities and the voluntary sector about the changes in the community programme? At its worst it could mean the loss of 88,000 places that have an input into the organisations of £436 million. In my local authority the projects under threat are health authority projects, a crime prevention project—the Conservative party claims to be the party of law and order—a drug abuse programme to help people come off heroin, which is a problem, and an unemployment centre. Will the Minister give an assurance today to organisations in my constituency and throughout the country that if finance is not found under the new programme, money will still be available for them to continue?

Mr. Nicholls

Obviously, any period of transition is bound to give rise to anxieties. To a large extent, we have now been able to satisfy those anxieties. We are well aware of the problems of operations such as centres run for the benefit of the unemployed. However, the important point about the new programme is that it brings training into what had previously been only community programmes. There may be many cases—for all I know, centres for the unemployed may be some of them—where, although groups may not be able to provide training in their own right, they can effectively become sub-contractors to the main scheme. To that extent, I can put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest.

Mr. Simon Coombs

In the context of the adult training scheme, will my hon. Friend recognise the importance of courses designed to bring women back into employment after they have had their families? Will he look extremely carefully at the rules for the new scheme to ensure that such courses will not be affected but will be encouraged?

Mr. Nicholls

I share my hon. Friend's concern. One of the criticisms of the old community programme was that women not in receipt of benefit found that they could not get on the course and, therefore, found it that much more difficult to return to the job market.

However, under the employment training programme special arrangements will be made for single parents whose youngest child is in full-time education to enter the programme after they have been on an order book for six months.

Ms. Short

We know this—[Interruption.]

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Lady clearly does not know this. If she could contain herself for one moment, it might be welcome news to her. Special arrangements will be made for returners to be able to come back into the job market, and I hope that that will be welcomed by all hon. Members.

Mr. Flynn

Does the Minister agree that there is special significance in the change of the title of the scheme to employment training, with its telling acronym of ET—it was probably conceived on another planet? I visited four schemes in my area in the past week and discovered universal hostility to it. Many groups that have contributed prodigously to care in the community, such as those that help offenders coming out of prison and the settlement of people leaving mental institutions, are hostile and feel that the new scheme will at least cut the value of their work and, in some cases, cripple it.

Mr. Nicholls

Even by the standards of parliamentary riposte that was a remarkably feeble jibe to make of a programme which will provide substantial opportunities for 600,000 people a year. Employment training will be very much to the benefit of every unemployed person in this country. I should like to think that if the hon. Gentleman cannot take his lead from the Government he could do so from the TUC and give at least conditional support to a programme that will be of massive benefit to his unemployed constituents.