HC Deb 05 July 1989 vol 156 cc329-67 4.32 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House, noting the fiasco of Employment Training which has reached only 40 per cent. of the Government's target and now has a drop-out rate of nearly 50 per cent., as both employers and trainees reject the programme as under-funded, poor quality and low-paid, and noting that job-related training for 16 to 19 year olds have been constantly falling in recent years, calls on the Government to remedy the growing skills shortage by investment in training which matches the funding, quality, skills and economic commitment of the United Kingdom's major competitor countries.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Meacher

In 1992, with the advent of the internal market, Britain will face economic pressures at least as intense and competitive as those we faced on our entry to the Common Market 16 years ago. The coverage and quality of our skills training will then become one of our key economic weapons. It is the contention of the Opposition that the Government have consistently and drastically failed to develop that aspect of the country's economic defences so that today we have an adult training programme which is spurned by employers and trainees alike and which is poised to collapse before it has reached even half its target.

There was no lack of ministerial hype at the programme's inception last September, when the Secretary of State for Employment said: Employment training is the largest and most ambitious training programme ever undertaken, and the scope and opportunity it offers to longer-term unemployed people is unrivalled anywhere in the world.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear," which serves to make my point.

However, the reality is rather different. Five months after the programme started, the Financial Times reported: The Government is cutting the number of places on its employment training scheme by 10 per cent. because not enough people have joined. On the same day, The Independent reported that more than 70 local authorities of all political persuasions had withdrawn from the scheme. One of those, the Tory-controlled council covering the Prime Minister's constituency, closed its 400-place ET scheme. A report prepared by officials at Barnet council, which was endorsed by councillors, stated: One of the factors blamed for the failure was that most participants in the old Community Programme, where maximum earnings are £60 a week, refused to switch to ET where they are allowed only normal benefit plus £10 expenses. That confirms everything that the Opposition have always said.

The Secretary of State's TV extravaganza got it slightly wrong. To the bars of what I can only describe as somewhat incongruous music, the extravaganza proclaimed: We'll train the workers without jobs to do the jobs without workers. It really meant: We'll train the workers without jobs to do the jobs without wages. At the launch of ET on 1 September last year, the Secretary of State made his objective very clear. Amid enormous media fanfare, he declared: Employment training will provide training for some 600,000 people a year. Nine months on, by which time the target of 450,000 places should have been filled, only 187,000 places have been filled. The Government have achieved just 41 per cent. of their target. However, internal confidential Department of Employment management papers, which I have seen, paint a bleaker picture. They show that no fewer than 117,000 people have already dropped out of the scheme and that there is an overall dropout rate of no less than 46 per cent. Worse still, the dropout rate is accelerating fast. In January the dropout rate was 36 per cent. In February it was 41 per cent. In March it was 57 per cent. and in April—the last month for which figures are available—it was 75 per cent.

The Secretary of State may well screw up his face, because those figures come from his Department. If the trend continues, the number of leavers each month will soon be larger than the number of starters. On that evidence, the number of trainees on ET could begin to fall before the scheme's first anniversary—ET's first anniversary could also be its last.

At the start of the scheme, the Secretary of State was full of overblown rhetoric about the employers' response. On 29 December, according to a Department of Employment press notice, he announced: Britain's biggest companies have given Britain's biggest adult training programme a ringing endorsement into the New Year. A little earlier, he was carried away enough to state: The response from providers to the challenge of Employment Training has been magnificent, and the Training Commission now has in place a comprehensive network of training agents and training managers. Six months later, on 12 June, in answer to a parliamentary question from me, the Secretary of State was forced to admit the truth behind the billboard waffle. He had to admit that only 13 major companies had signed up with ET on a national scale and that only two of them had filled more than half the places for which they had contracted. If the employers' response has been so magnificent, why has Habitat contracted for 200 places, but filled none of them? Why has Mothercare contracted for 50 places but filled none? Why has Heron Service Stations contracted for 81 places but filled only one?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman is either knowingly deceiving the House or deceiving himself. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that the Secretary of State can make some amendments to what he has just said.

Mr. Fowler

Of course I will. The hon. Gentleman is mis-stating the position. He has just given the impression —all hon. Members have heard it—that only 13 major companies have been associated with employment training. That is the clear implication. He is quoting only one part—that is, the numbers who are with the large companies unit of the Department of Employment. One hundred and twenty major companies, and 1,000 companies over all, have contracted to do employment training. That is why what the hon. Gentleman has said is deeply misleading. His remarks about the numbers are also misleading. He is either doing that intentionally or without knowledge. He is confusing the number of filled places with the throughput in employment training. What he has stated so far is very misleading.

Mr. Meacher

I obviously asked a rather pointed and embarrassing question. I was quoting from the answer that I was given. It is the right hon. Gentleman himself who says that only 13 companies have joined up with ET nationally. That is the fact and that is what he said only three weeks ago.

Mr. Fowler

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I will give way once more.

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman can at least concede that what I have said—that is, that 120 major companies are working with ET—is truthful.

Mr. Meacher

In that case, why was that not in the original answer? Why is it that the answer that I quoted were the right hon. Gentleman's words?

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Meacher

I will not give way again. The right hon. Gentleman has a lot more explaining to do, so we will reserve the opportunity for him.

Perhaps he could explain also the findings in the report of the Institute of Manpower Studies, which was commissioned by his own Department and which he so coyly refuses to publish. The institute interviewed 40 large companies, not just the 13 that I have been talking about. Most of them employ more than 1,000 people—precisely the group about whom the right hon. Gentleman is talking —but they did not give ET the ringing endorsement that the right hon. Gentleman claimed. In no uncertain terms, they criticised the Department of Employment's Training Agency for its excessive inflexibility, jargon, bureaucracy and confusion. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that that is what they think.

The right hon. Gentleman also had pretensions that the scheme would be attractive for the unemployed. In September, he announced with great flourish that it will offer training at every level from basic skills to technician level skills, and will enable unemployed people to acquire the skills they need to find and keep work. The reality six months later, as The Guardian reported on 24 March, under a headline "Unemployed shun ET", is that Targets on the Government's … Employment Training scheme … have been drastically reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent. in some parts of the country because of poor demand for places.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I will not give way. I want to get on; it is a short debate.

At about the same time, the Financial Times reported: Employment Training … is facing mounting difficulties in attracting trainees in the north-east, an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. It went on to state that in Cleveland, for example, only 81 of the 450 places with employers have been filled. It is altogether a sobering and humiliating story, yet the Government's advertising blurb still continues to take on a life of its own, divorced from any reality Custom-made to give people the skills they need for tomorrow's jobs is another of the Government's slogans. What happens on the ground is a rather different story. I recently received a letter from a man in Wales who applied to go on ET for agricultural maintenance, with a view to starting his own business. In his own words, this is what happened to him: Day 1. Went to local office at 9 am, filled in two forms and sat until 4 pm. The woman in charge was a senior team leader who was also on a training scheme, and appeared to have no idea why I or anyone else was there. Day 2. Reported at 9 am sat around till 3.30 went home. Day 3. Same routine, but had fire drill. Day 4. Same routine—despite repeated inquiries, could obtain no information regarding the training programme. Day 5. Finally visited training centre forty-one miles away … The workshop was … an old shed, with rubbish strewn about, bits of steel, old engine parts and no clear working surfaces … The gas cutting gear had perished pipes, and there was no evidence of goggles; the electrical equipment had no safety cut-outs. The only supervisor I saw was also responsible for a hundred and forty acres, two workshops, livestock and twelve trainees. There was no trained instructor, in fact they are advertising for one. Trainees on farm work were left unsupervised to drive tractors with no brakes or safety frames, one trainee was operating a mechanical digger with the engine overheating to such an extent that steam was coming from it. In case the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that was a rather special or one-off letter, I have had a mass of letters about ET, which would be almost funny if the matter were not absolutely depressing. In the Wirral, a trainee painter and decorator was taught by unqualified people who previously worked in landscape gardening. In London, two unemployed people who wanted to be a chef and a bricklayer were sent on an amateur video-making course because there was nothing else available. In Liverpool, a car mechanic was working in a swimming pool—presumably not on a car—and a trainee refrigerator engineer was sent to insulate lofts.

One might have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have responded to those inanities with a measure of humility by redoubling his efforts to make his ET course rather more relevant and appropriate. What he has redoubled is the advertising budget, which is now running at a cool £9 million. The right hon. Gentleman has told training managers who provide the training to adjust not the relevance of their ET courses but their publicity. They have been told to provide the Department of Employment with "good news stories" which it is essential that we publicise. He even had the bright idea of asking "ET graduates" to participate in an "ET roll of honour" which is to be displayed prominently for maximum publicity in unemployment benefit offices and job centres". Instead of all the ludicrous and false packaging to conceal a massive failure on the ground, and instead of the glossy advertising costing £9 million, the right hon. Gentleman would do far better to direct taxpayers' money and his own Department's efforts to improving the lamentable quality of training on ET and giving employers and trainees a proper deal.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I do not know whether it is just a further example of the county of Kent being superior to any other place in the country, but the experience of ET in my part of Kent is almost unidentifiable with the hon. Gentleman's. I would be interested to hear whether he has letters of that kind from Kent.

Mr. Meacher

I am sure that we shall be interested to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he can produce some real examples, because clearly he is embarrassed by the roll call of disasters that I have mentioned. I will be surprised if Kent does not have its disasters, too.

The Government's propaganda on ET is riddled with manipulation and deceit. The Government profess to favour the training of married women to fill the demographic gap. The Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), said a week ago: Employers must look beyond traditional sources of recruitment to provide the workforce of the 1990s. Ninety per cent. of the growth in the labour market in the 1990s will be women and many of these will be women 'returners'. The point is that the Government refuse to make married women eligible for ET child care allowances. When Kay Jackson, a married woman with three pre-school aged children, challenged that at an industrial tribunal in January as being in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act, she won. But what did the Secretary of State then do? Instead of extending ET child care allowances to married women, he took them away from single parents who already received them.

The Government profess to he in favour of developing the voluntary sector, yet ET is destroying it. In Birmingham, the Voluntary Services Council was forced to close its 400-place ET scheme earlier this year. Only two months ago, the Council for Social Action in Manchester, which in the north had been a flagship project with 1,000 trainees, was forced into liquidation with £500,000 of debts and was forced to make 200 staff redundant. In April of last year, 220,000 community programme workers were in post performing a whole range of social and community services. Now there are only 97,000 ET trainees in such project-based services. That decline has had a devastating impact on community provision for the most disadvantaged in our society, such as the elderly and the disabled, which had been built up on community provision funding, and is now being destroyed.

If Britain is being miserably served by ET in meeting adult training needs for 1992, youth training is being handled with an equal lack of drive and imagination. The right hon. Gentleman keeps telling us about the demographic gap. We all know that there will be a 25 per cent. shortfall in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds over the next five years. However, the right hon. Gentleman then proposes to fill that gap with more married women, while denying them child care allowances, or with more older workers, while focusing ET on the under-50s.

What the right hon. Gentleman will not accept is the obvious policy of upgrading YTS and ridding it of its deserved label of cheap labour. The fact is that still less than 30 per cent. of trainees who leave YTS obtain a vocational qualification; still the general experience is of low-cost training, patchily equipping young people with skills that are not in short supply; and still, as the Confederation of British Industry reminds us in its report today, more than 100,000 16-year-olds enter the labour market every year with no training at all.

The past two years have shown that it is still true that three quarters of YTS trainees drop out of the scheme prematurely and that Britain still has a participation rate for 16 and 17-year-olds in education and training trailing 20 to 30 per cent. behind that of our main competitors in Germany, the United States and Japan. I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is supporting that.

The Government's sole answer to those manifest deficiencies of training, as in every other sector, is privatization—selling off the skill centres and replacing the training agency by employer-dominated training enterprise councils. In fact, the sale of skill centres has nothing to do with improving the quality of training, but it has everything to do with asset stripping on the model of Royal Ordnance. The management buy-out covers only 20 of the 58 skill centres, and I understand that for the rest there is such lack of interest that probably one third of the sites will not even have a bidder unless they are given the incentive of a quick property killing—such as at Twickenham, Perivale and Slough, along the M4 corridor, or Lambeth skill centre in the middle of docklands, which I understand already has B2 planning permission now granted for any office or industrial development.

It is characteristic, but shameful, that the Government are far more interested in selling off the country's training assets than in investing in high-quality training to match our competitors. However, the TECs are not proving popular even with the employers who will control them. Presumably the Prime Minister thought that their appeal would be irresistible when, in the blaze of publicity at the launch of the TEC prospectus in March, she called on British employers to recreate the traditions of the medieval guild system when father taught son … and when apprentices learned from their masters. However, I am glad to note that the reintroduction of master-servant grading holds less attraction for employers than for the Prime Minister as an obvious model for training.

It is employers, not just the unions, who have been expressing considerable disquiet about both the impact and representativeness of the TECs. It is employers who are complaining that the creation of 80 self-governing TECs will lead to the fragmentation of training and the undermining of industrywide and national standards. I understand that the Government are apparently now even proposing to phase out the approved training organisers, who are the one sure guarantee of quality control. It is employers who have been saying that they fear that the TECs are a smoke screen to disguise the Government's retreat from funding industrial training.

It was, in fact, the employers, in a letter from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce to the right hon. Gentleman in February, who disowned the TECs by complaining: there will be no mechanism by which it can be ensured that TEC boards, once appointed, do not become self-perpetuating and take decisions in isolation from the local … communities.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I would prefer to finish. Owing to the earlier business, there is a shortness of time in this debate.

With friends like that, it is scarcely surprising that out of the 100 TECs that the Government were originally planning, they have had only 22 applications from employers. It is scarcely surprising also that the flagship TECs which were planned for London and Birmingham have been ignominiously postponed indefinitely due to in-fighting and inefficiency.

Mr. Tracey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Meacher

No, I am going to finish.

Not only have the three that have been planned for London been put on ice, but the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Tracey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman has not even been able to get off the ground the Birmingham TEC covering his constituency.

There can be no sharper difference between the political parties than in policies on training. Under this Tory Government, British companies now spend on training only one third of what is spent by German companies. Only 30 per cent. of our work force have recognised qualifications equivalent to one O-level, compared with 70 per cent. in Germany. Yet the Government are intending to cut YTS funding by £25 million this year in cash terms and to cut the real resources for ET over the next three years.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way. I shall finish.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he will not give way. This is simply wasting time, when there is very little of it.

Mr. Meacher

Labour, by contrast, proposes a detailed programme to transform Britain's training culture. YTS will be replaced by a traineeship scheme offering recognised qualifications and quality training for up to four years. All employers will be required to promote training for their staff, setting a minimum number of hours training that each employee should expect each year. In addition, we also propose an opportunity training programme open to all adults who wish to retrain in skills of regional economic need or national importance.

Because we recognise that a national training strategy has been conspicuous by its absence in the past 10 years, because we recognise that such a strategy is vital to Britain's future and because we are determined to implement it, we shall press this motion tonight.

4.59 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof: noting that Employment Training is the largest and fastest growing training programme for adults ever mounted in this country, and noting the success of YTS in equipping young people for jobs or further education, and the record scale of public resources devoted to training, welcomes the Government's achievements in improving the quantity and quality of training in Britain and the major further steps it now proposes to take to meet the training needs of the 1990's.". The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was almost barren of any suggestion, until his last words. Above all, it was wrong in every aspect of every area that it covered. The hon. Gentleman was wrong about employment training, he was wrong about YTS, he was wrong about the Skills Training Agency and, above all, he was wrong about the training and enterprise councils. When the hon. Gentleman talks of a lack of enthusiasm for TECs, one wonders where he has been for the past few months. There has been a tremendous enthusiasm for them and I must tell the House that the first application for a TEC came from Oldham, the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The hon. Gentleman was as wrong about the TECs as he was about every other issue he raised.

Mr. Ian Bruce

The Floor has been held for 27 minutes by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman. The Labour party has just published its policy review, and although all sides of the House recognise the importance of training, we have listened to a 27-minute speech that was devoid of any new proposals to take training forward. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an absolute disgrace?

Mr. Fowler

Yes. In every respect the speech was revealing of the hon. Member for Oldham, West and of the way in which he leads for the Opposition in this matter.

I welcome the opportunity to debate training, because, as my hon. Friend has said, no issue is more important for the future economic prosperity of the country. It is crucial that we take steps now to ensure that we have the supply of skills that our economy will need in the 1990s and beyond. Training is the key to economic growth, to jobs and to prosperity. That is the case for training, and I welcome this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to it.

The Opposition have shown a curious sense of timing in choosing to debate training on this particular day when the railways and much of London have been crippled by strikes. It is curious that the hon. Gentleman talked so freely about the national interest in relation to training, when he is so blind to the national interest in relation to strikes. It is especially curious that the hon. Gentleman freely condemns everything that the Government have done for training when he is so reluctant to condemn trade union leaders for calling strikes that bring hardship to thousands of people.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about the importance of employment and training, does it occur to him that strikes were one of the main reasons why we lost so many jobs in the 1970s? We are not prepared to take any lectures from him on training, any more than we are prepared to take any lectures from him on industrial relations.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate on whether the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is speaking for the Labour party, given that, last September, there were grave differences between the hon. Gentleman and the leader of his party and between him and the trade unions?

Mr. Fowler

It would not be right for me to speculate on that as I have no intention of intruding on the private grief of the Opposition on this matter.

The necessary background to this debate is the employment situation. It is important to consider the current situation and how it will develop in the 1990s to draw lessons for training. In the past two years, the employment situation radically improved. Unemployment has now fallen for 34 consecutive months. [Interruption.] I should have thought that the hon. Member for Oldham, West would welcome that reduction rather than laugh at it. Since the general election, unemployment has fallen by more than 1 million, and unemployment in this country is now well below the European Community average. During the past two years, long-term unemployment has fallen by a record 500,000 and it is falling faster than the rate of general unemployment. That is of special significance to employment training and to other adult programmes.

Mr. Meacher

What about training?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman must understand that employment is the background to training.

During the past two years, unemployment among young people under the age of 24 has fallen by 41 per cent. and it is now half the EC average. It has fallen so much and so quickly because we have had an unprecedented increase in jobs. Now, 26.5 million people are at work in this country, more than ever before in our history. During the past six years, nearly 3 million new jobs have been created, and job opportunities have improved dramatically. That is illustrated by the fact that there are about 600,000 job vacancies in the economy now. In the space of a few years, we have moved from a position of labour surplus to one of potential shortage, particularly among the groups on whom employers have traditionally relied for their skilled and qualified staff.

Just as important are the profound demographic changes that are now taking place and which will affect every profession and every occupation. In the next five years, the number of school leavers coming on to the labour market will fall sharply. The number of 16 to 19-year-olds in the population will have fallen by more than 1 million between 1983 and 1993, and shows no sign of returning to its previous level. Therefore, we must make full use of our potential in this country. We must bring new recruits into the labour market.

The major message is that training must be at the top of the agenda. Training is as vital for young people as it is for unemployed people to bring them into employment. Training is also vital for employed people to enable them to develop their full potential. Unless the case for training is set against the background of employment, we are debating in a vacuum. It is foolish to argue otherwise.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My right hon. Friend probably has not heard the extremely good news from Cleveland today, where one firm has announced a £80 million investment and the creation of 1,000 jobs, while another has announced a £50 million investment and the creation of 600 jobs.

Mr. Fowler

That is good news, and I hope that even the Opposition, in their present mood, will feel inclined to welcome that.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there are distinct regional differences in training needs? Much of today's argument recognises that those differences are vast. The national scheme has missed the boat completely and has failed to recognise that the long-term unemployed have particular training needs different from those in employment. When will the Government give local authorities the opportunity to develop training needs to suit local requirements and thus the opportunity to move away from the national scheme that has missed everybody?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has, reasonably succinctly, put the case for training and enterprise councils. The point of those councils is that we are devolving power to the local areas. It is crucial that this problem should not be left merely to schools and colleges. Improvements are obviously important, and the reforms of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will undoubtedly improve the position. We should remember that eight out of 10 people who will be in the work force in the year 2000, are already in the work force and have left the education system. Side by side with education reform, we need the training reform which is now taking place.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West was scathing about employers' contributions, and unfairly so. He fails to recognise that employers already spend about £18 billion a year on training, which gives the lie to the claim that we are suffering from employer neglect. The true position is shown by the evidence—

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)


Mr. Fowler

May I continue?

The true position is clear from the evidence in the labour force survey which was published earlier this year and showed the number of people receiving training. Those figures, which specifically exclude people on Government training programmes, show that the number of people in training has risen significantly in each of the past five years. The number of people in training during the relevant four weeks—taking a snapshot of that period —increased from 1.8 million in 1984 to 2.8 million in 1988. That is the figure for a four-week period, not the 12-month period. During the period from spring 1984 to spring 1988, the number of people in training rose by more than 50 per cent. That is the trend —

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)


Mr. Fowler

I shall not give way. I have given way several times already—indeed, far more often than did the hon. Member for Oldham, West.

The latest labour force survey shows that the number of people receiving training has risen for every age group. It also shows that 70 per cent. of those in training are receiving part of their training away from the job. Those figures show that employers are increasing their investment in training and that the number of trainees is growing year by year.

Mr. Grocott


Mr. Fowler

I have made it clear that I shall not give way.

Mr. Grocott


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has constantly made it clear that he is not giving way and such behaviour is merely consuming time in this short debate.

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Member for Oldham, West tried to play down the Government's contribution to training. Again, the facts simply do not support what he said. In each of the past five years, the Government have spent about £3 billion on training programmes. If we contrast that with the record of the last Labour Government, we find that between 1974 and 1979, expenditure on training was £500 million. In real terms, we are spending three times more than the last Labour Government. The position for young people today is a far cry from the black days of the collapse of apprenticeships at the end of the 1970s. Today, more than 386,000 young people are being trained under the youth training scheme. They are to be found in every sector of the economy and at all levels of skill.

Since YTS began in 1983, well over 2 million young people have been trained through this programme, and more than 1 million have been trained since the two-year YTS began in April 1986. Some 63 per cent. of people who complete the two-year YTS gain vocational qualifications and more than 80 per cent. of them go into jobs or further training. By any standard, that is a substantial achievement.

Mr. Grocott

Before the Secretary of State continues with his selective use of statistics and boasting, will he confirm the disgraceful reply given by his right hon. Friend the Minister of State a week or so ago, when asked about the level of engineering apprenticeships in the west midlands area, about which he should know something. He said that, since 1979, the level of engineering apprenticeships in the west midlands had collapsed by 50 per cent. Will the Secretary of State apologise to the House for that appalling record on real skills training, for which the Government bear the responsibility?

Mr. Fowler

I shall not do that, because we now have almost 400,000 young people in training. However attached the hon. Gentleman may be to the apprenticeship scheme, one reason why that scheme collapsed was the inflexibility of the apprenticeships, which meant that, whatever happened, the scheme was going to change.

With the decline in the number of school leavers entering employment, it is more essential than ever to establish firm and constructive links between schools and employers, and to ensure that young people starting work for the first time can achieve the educational standards which employers seek and have access to proper training when they move into employment.

For those reasons, I am announcing today that the Government have agreed to support a further 11 inner-city compacts. The essence of the compact is that employers guarantee jobs with training for school leavers who reach specified levels of attainment while in full-time education. The first 30 compacts have made an excellent start, and the response of employers, young people and schools has been enthusiastic. More than 230 schools will be taking part in compacts this September, covering 30,000 young people. Well over 1,000 employers and many training organisations have agreed to support compacts by offering guaranteed jobs and training. The Government are providing more than £16 million to support the development of compacts over the next four years.

I have no doubt that the compacts are an important development. They show how young people can benefit from a partnership between employers and schools to ensure that achievements in full-time education are rewarded by training and jobs and, most importantly, point the way to a much closer and more constructive link between school and employment, which can only be to the benefit of young people and employers alike. I recognise too that there is even further potential the development of new compacts.

I turn now to the issue of the training of unemployed people over the age of 18. The wording of the motion and the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West shows an ignorance of the nature and purpose of employment training. The programme was originally designed by the Manpower Services Commission for a maximum of 300,000 people in training at any one time. Employment training now has nearly 200,000 in training. That has been achieved after the programme has been in operation for less than 10 months. Even the hon. Gentleman's arithmetic will tell him that 200,000 is a good deal more than 40 per cent. of 300,000.

To have achieved 200,000 filled places in less than 10 months in a programme starting virtually from scratch is an enormous achievement. No previous programme has come remotely near this rate of expansion. For example, the community programme had managed to fill only 57,000 places after it had been in operation for nine months. Furthermore, since I announced the decision to introduce employment training in November 1987, unemployment has fallen by nearly 800,000, and longer-term unemployment has fallen faster than unemployment generally. There has been a huge reduction in the group of people for whom the programme was designed.

That is regarded as good news by everyone except the hon. Member for Oldham, West and one or two of his hon. Friends. It makes the achievement of 200,000 filled places in employment training after less than 10 months of operation all the more remarkable. Almost 40 per cent. of those starting on the programme have been unemployed for more than two years.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West repeated his claim that employers are turning their backs on employment training. That is wholly without foundation. He is confusing the figures that he asked for on the national contracting arrangements with the overall figures for employers. More than 1,000 employers are providing training places under employment training; about 120 major employers are involved; 27 major employers have contracted with my Department to provide the full range of training under ET. They include companies such as Ferranti, Grand Metropolitan, Pilkington, Laing, Comet and Wimpey—

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)


Mr. Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman waits a minute, he will find out something.

Between them, these major employers have contracted to provide almost 15,000 places. Some contracted fairly recently, but almost 8,000 of those places have already been filled. In addition, more than 90 other major employers have contracted to provide training places. They include firms such as Mercury Telecommunications. British Nuclear Fuels, Barratts and W. H. Smith. The number of employers who want to become involved with ET and to provide training places for the programme is growing all the time.

The criticisms of employment training levelled by the hon. Member for Oldham, West lack credibility since, from the beginning, he has done everything possible to damage the programme. He opposed it even before the ink was dry on the original report from the Manpower Services Commission, which was fully supported at that time by the TUC. The Labour party's record of opposition to employment training has been shabby and disreputable and it does not entitle them to sit in judgment on the programme.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West has been quick to condemn the decision to set up the training and enterprise councils. Contrary to everything he said and to everything that is happening outside the House, the response to my invitation to employers and others to come forward with proposals for setting up training and enterprise councils has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. They are potentially the biggest revolution in training ever in this country, because they represent a deliberate and major devolution of responsibility for training from Whitehall and the old industry level training organisations to local communities.

The TECs will be different from the sort of training organisations that we have had before in three vital respects. First, they will be employer-led. The members of TECs will include people from many different organisations, but employers will be in the lead because they are the main customers for training and the main providers of it.

Secondly, TECs will have executive responsibility: they will not be talking shops or advisory councils. They will be responsible for running large-scale programmes such as ET and YTS. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the focus of TECs will be firmly on the local labour market. It is at the local level that training needs are most effectively identified and that practical solutions to them can best be developed.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Oldham, West suggested about applications, we await next week's announcement of which applications have been approved. The whole House will then see how foolish the hon. Gentleman's words were. I have already received 30 applications to set up training and enterprise councils from all over the country, and about 50 others are now in preparation. In a few days from now, I shall announce the names of the first 19 TECs to receive development funding. With the applications that I have already received and with those which will come forward in the next few months, I am confident that we shall be able to cover England and Wales with TECs during the next year or so.

I believe that the councils represent the best hope of a lasting solution to the problem of skill shortages which has held back the growth of our economy time and again in the past 40 years. They are the key to ensuring that we have the skills that our industries and services will need in the 1990s and beyond.

I have tried to describe the Government's record on training and to give the facts about it in this country. Enormous changes are taking place in the world of training and a huge amount of training is taking place. A great many individuals, firms and training organisations are committed to training people in the skills that our country needs. They are training young people, adults, unemployed people and people in jobs, and they want to be allowed to get on with that job. They know how crucial it is to our future and they cannot understand why the hon. Member for Oldham, West appears to be so determined to turn training into a political battleground.

The hon. Gentleman has a bad reputation in respect of almost every aspect of training and we must ask him what he thinks he is achieving. What does he think is the point of continually attacking a programme such as YTS, which is training 386,000 of our school leavers? What is the point of continually attacking a programme like employment training, which is training almost 200,000 long-term unemployed people? What is the point of attacking employers who are investing £18 billion a year in training their own employees? What is the point of attacking training and enterprise councils, which constitute one of the most hopeful signs in training for decades?

It is time the Opposition acknowledged that the training efforts of employers' training organisations and trainees deserve the fullest possible support, because it is on their efforts and their success that the future of this country depends. We shall support them, and I ask the House to reject the ridiculous Opposition motion.

5.28 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I intend to be brief, because this is a short debate.

It is shameful that a Minister responsible for training and employment should ask why our spokesman is not worried about the strikes. If that is the best he can do, he should chuck it in.

I could take the Minister to parts of my constituency in which factories with a history of excellent industrial relations and increased productivity no longer exist because the bovver boys engaged in asset-stripping took them over and shut them down.

I hope that the Minister will learn from the lessons of the past 10 years and from the abuses that have taken place. He will be burying his head in the sand if he thinks that there have been no abuses of MSC schemes and YTS. Trainees should be given a decent wage for the work that they do. Why should anyone go out in the morning and work hard at training which will benefit the country when he is paid less than he would get on the dole? Often, these people are married men and women with family responsibilities.

I remember the late David Penhaligon saying in a debate that a farmer in his constituency went into the employment centre and asked, "When can I get my free boy?" That was the sort of attitude that people had to MSC schemes and the YTS. In my constituency, a garage employer took on five young boys, although he could not train them all properly. He told them that one out of the five would be kept on. The boys realised that one boy in particular stood out and they expected that at least he would be kept on. Instead, the employer sacked them all and started with another five. He simply used them as cheap labour. The boys told me this story and said that an alsatian dog was locked in the garage as a watchdog at night, and that every morning one of the boys had to start by clearing up the dog's dirt. I hope that the Minister does not regard that as trivial.

There were problems even with the most responsible employers in workshops in my constituency. In one, where some boys were taken on as part of the employment training scheme, the supervisor was so insensitive as to ask them, "How does it feel to be a liability to the state?" That was a cheek, coming from someone working in an industry which has had many subsidies from the Government. There was a sign in a baker's shop in Glasgow, "YTS for two years to train as a shop assistant." Ten years ago, a girl who went to work in a baker's shop as an assistant usually ended up as a manageress within two years.

There were problems with MSC schemes which created businesses. Some of the people setting up such schemes were charlatans. With the blessing of the MSC and the Minister's officials, directors set up a community company and started employing their wives, their relatives, their aunties and their uncles. The employees in turn set up other community businesses, so that they could employ yet more relatives. Other hon. Members have had similar experiences in their constituencies. When I raised these matters with the MSC, it wanted to turn a blind eye. The only conclusion that I can draw is that such schemes enable Ministers to say that people have come off the dole. The exercise is not about training or bringing assets to the community, or about getting the economy into better shape. It is aimed at allowing a Minister to get off the hook when the Opposition bring pressure to bear on him in the House.

I have another example. The Minister can check this up, as I will give him the name of the company. A scheme to train young people was being wound up because there was not enough training input, and some £13,000 was left in the kitty. Some of the trainers had the cheek to go to the trustees and say that they were being put on the dole and wanted the £13,000 to be split between them. That showed the nature of these so-called responsible people who had been put in charge of young trainees.

The company that I have already mentioned, which employed all the relatives of its directors, was also wound up. That company had word processors, printers, photocopiers and all sorts of other equipment. When I asked whether the equipment could be used by the community, I was told that the law required that it be put up for auction, so auctioneers came in and took what little was left.

I spoke to my branch of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union—the metalworkers branch—because I thought that many of its members in Glasgow would be unemployed. To my surprise, I was told by the full-time officer that only a few members were on the books as unemployed. I said, "That's great—is there a boom in industry?" He said, "No. What is happening is this. The industry is suffering because over the past 10 years we have not started any apprentices, so those who have a skill are in high demand, but every year the work force gets older and it will disappear out of the work system altogether if we do not do something about it."

When the Minister considers proper apprenticeship schemes, will he also consider the adult apprenticeship schemes in countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the United States? Young people have told me that even though they are now married, they have never had a decent job. This is what happened to my father. During the depression, because he could not learn a trade, he became a labourer and would have stayed one all his life, had he not become a merchant seaman so as to get a decent living. As a young man he had no chance because he was involved in the great depression. Many people of that generation were bitter because they did not get that chance. We now have another generation like that, and they should be entitled to apprenticeships. If they can find the craftsmen to take them on, there should be a Government subsidy to allow it.

We have failed miserably, particularly in relation to women with grown-up families. We often talk about careers for women, but I suspect that we talk too much about the academics. I do not begrudge them getting jobs, but some women want semi-skilled jobs, such as ancillary nursing work. We talk about the family unit. Some women have stayed at home for 15 or 16 years of their marriage to make sure that there is a mother in the house when children come home, so that they have security at home and do not get into trouble. We are doing nothing to help such women to get back into industry, nursing or commerce. I hope that the Minister will examine that problem.

5.37 pm
Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)

I agreed with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) when he said at the start of his speech that the competitiveness that we shall need in the single market after 1992 will depend on how well trained people are. Thereafter, I agreed with virtually nothing that he said as he carried on the practice of running down training schemes. Such training is vital, but people say that it is no good, and that what the Government, the country and employers do for training is inadequate. That is far from the truth.

The Opposition still scream about YTS. They have never quite got over the fact that when it was first introduced they said, as they said about ET, that it would be no good, that it would not work and that it would be of no use, but in fact it has been of use. It was noticeable that when it was extended for two years, the Opposition did not complain. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may be interested to know that in my local area a survey was done a few years ago by one of the Rotary clubs into what pupils about to leave secondary schools thought about YTS. The majority accepted that it presented a realistic opportunity to train in useful skills.

We talk about employment training and YTS for those who are not employed. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, however, we should remember that 80 per cent. of those who will be part of the commercial and industrial world in the year 2000 are already in employment. Training must therefore be available to that critically important sector. Measures announced by my right hon. Friend in the past two years, particularly those involving TECs, will make training in particular skills possible.

It will be impossible to provide the right training without unity among employers, educational institutions and work forces, along with local knowledge. No measures suggested by the Opposition have brought that about. The hon. Member for Oldham, West spoke of a national strategy, but given what we know of Labour's past ideas, such a strategy would almost certainly be a national straitjacket. Training would be controlled not by those who need it—employers and employees—but by a centralised notion of what is right for everyone everywhere, and we know that that does not work.

Over the years, the idea has developed that training must be oriented towards what companies want. Someone may be being trained for what could generally be described as trade, but what the company training him wants may not be directly translatable to another company—for instance, an engineering firm. One advantage of many training courses provided by both the private sector and training boards is that they are custom-made. Changes introduced by the Government have encouraged training boards to become self-supporting institutions. The engineering industry training board has said that it can and will provide what employers want, in the private sector or as an independent organisation. Surely that is what is most important—to make people want training.

The Opposition have encouraged the idea that training is not necessarily useful. We heard a good deal of that in the days of union domination in manufacturing industry, when the suggestion that people should learn new skills and adapt to new circumstances was frequently resisted, as was the idea of change.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman give examples? I am sure that my hon. Friends with experience of trade union matters would join me in challenging the hon. Gentleman to refute my claim that the best training has taken place in those industries in which unions are recognised and participate fully in training.

Mr. Stevens

It is true that unions have been usefully involved in training, but in the 1960s any kind of change, including training, was often resented.

The Government have tried to sell the various schemes to the public. Opposition spokesmen have criticised our efforts on television, but we must make people aware of the importance of training within the industries for which they work. People with reasonably well paid jobs in companies whose immediate prospects seem good will not necessarily welcome the idea of being sent on a training scheme, especially one lasting for several weeks. They will have to put in a lot of effort, and at the end they will not automatically receive a pay rise or promotion. If we are to become competitive in time for 1992 we must train people for all kinds of jobs. People must be encouraged to come forward, but they will certainly not be encouraged to do so if others run down the training that is available.

Management training is also crucial, although it has been somewhat neglected in the past. Managers are very busy people in most organisations. Why should they train? They have a job to do where they are, and they may be doing it well. I was pleased to learn that Coventry polytechnic, which is near my constituency, recently set up a diploma in manufacturing management, along with the engineering industrial training board. The course is custom-made, and will have a direct return. Those who have taken part in the pilot scheme have been able to make successful contributions to the companies in which they have been training, even while still on the course.

That, surely, is how training should be seen—as a process which can provide a direct and immediate return, rather than a remote business which may provide an academic qualification. Employers can be overwhelmed by pieces of paper telling them that an applicant has passed this, that or the other. Training must be practical, and it must have the potential to produce a useful contribution to the industry concerned as quickly as possible. That is what all the schemes provided by the Government over the past few years have attempted to achieve. We want to provide recognised qualifications, but also to make those qualifications useful at an early stage—through the TECs, for instance.

The productivity that is fundamental to wealth and competitiveness must come from all employees, and there must therefore be accountability at every level. Decisions about who should be trained and how that training should be carried out are therefore as important as any other aspect of commercial activity. The measures introduced by my right hon. Friend have begun to move the country in the right direction for the first time. We have a strategy —with Government help and encouragement, we want companies to provide the right training at the right time to meet 1992 and the years that follow. The Opposition have not offered that. They believe that they have a plan, but most of their motion constituted a whinge about YTS and employment training. One sentence suggested that they might have something to offer, but we have not heard about it yet.

5.48 pm
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate as it concerns a subject that is of direct relevance to all too many of the constituents whose interests I have been sent here to represent. I do not know what world the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) inhabits, nor do I know much about Nuneaton, but he says that people must be prepared to come forward, say that they want training and outline the kind of training that they want. If he cares to accompany me on my next visit to Glasgow, Central, he will find that there is no shortage of people who are crying out for training and for jobs. They should not have to confront all the obstacles that he described that prevent them from getting that training. It is a subject to which I shall return, if I may, in due course.

In making my maiden speech, I should like to say how saddened I was that the by-election responsible for my appearance in the House was occasioned by the tragic death of Bob McTaggart, a man who was not simply a good and trusted comrade; he was a personal friend. Never the sort of man to seek the limelight on his own behalf, Bob was an extremely popular and greatly respected Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Central, a reputation that was earned by his unstinting efforts on behalf of his constituents.

Since my introduction to the House two weeks ago, I have been moved by the large number of hon. Members, from all sides, who have made it clear that they held Bob McTaggart in similar respect. In his maiden speech to the House in July 1980, Bob McTaggart said of his predecessor: If I can serve the people of Glasgow, Central as well as he did, I shall be satisfied."—[Official Report, 10 July 1980; Vol. 988, c. 799.] Today I can pay no greater respect to the memory of Bob McTaggart than to say unhesitatingly that I echo those words.

To represent Glasgow, Central is a responsibility that I take on with considerable pride, aware as I am of the great traditions of the constituency, in its varying forms, throughout this century. Today it is genuinely the most multiracial, multi-religious and therefore multicultural of all Scottish constituencies, from the influx of the Irish—dating back some 150 years and continuing to this day—through the establishment of a considerable Jewish presence around the turn of the century, to the large and vibrant Asian communities of today. The social and cultural mix of the constituency is one which I very much welcome, enriching as it does not just the constituency but the city of Glasgow as a whole.

Although the manufacturing industry for which the city was once renowned is now almost non-existent within the constituency—it is, indeed, a sign of the times that the two largest employers within its boundaries are the National Health Service and Glasgow district council—none the less I am pleased to say that its political traditions have remained largely intact, for it was in 1906 that the constituency of Blackfriars returned George Barnes as the first ever Scottish Labour Member of Parliament. In 1922, as the chest of working-class Scotland swelled with pride at the return of 30 Labour Members of Parliament—names which are quite rightly revered to this day—two represented constituencies which now form part of Glasgow, Central: George Buchanan in Gorbals and, most notable of all, Jimmy Maxton in Bridgeton.

The fact that the then Glasgow, Central constituency returned, on the same day, one Andrew Bonar Law, who just happened to be the Prime Minister, might also be worthy of some note, although my hon. Friends will doubtless thank me for not dwelling on that particular chapter of the constituency's heritage. A rich heritage, none the less, it remains—the heritage of the men who earned the accolade of the Red Clydesiders and who fought to relieve poverty and to improve the living conditions of the thousands who were condemned in those inter-war years—as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) said some moments ago—to lives of misery and hopelessness. There could be no more graphic illustration of the density of housing which existed at that time and the conditions that inevitably resulted from it than the fact that the area which today forms one constituency, the one which I represent, contained no fewer than four constituencies in 1922.

From their analysis of the kind of society which produced such conditions, the Red Clydesiders argued passionately for a programme of Socialist reforms—notably the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, within the United Kingdom, which they believed was necessary to ensure that Scots had the ability to decide on matters which were, and are, of direct concern to them.

These principles and aims have a resonance almost 70 years on because, sadly, the levels of unemployment faced and fought by the Red Clydesiders between the wars, and subsequently by their immediate successors such as John Rankin and James Carmichael in the post-war period—whose Socialism may have differed in style and emphasis, although not in intensity—find modern-day parallels which are all too familiar. The city of Glasgow is in many ways miles better, but it still suffers the blight of some of the worst levels of unemployment in Britain today.

As an example, Glasgow, Central currently has the eighth highest unemployment level of any constituency, with an official unemployment rate of 20 per cent. That figure, of course, ignores the various attempts by the Government over the past 10 years to massage, and therefore to distort, the unemployment statistics. The real figure in Glasgow, Central is nearly 30 per cent., but even on the basis of the official figure it still represents a major social problem for many of my constituents.

The problem, however, is wider. The seven parliamentary constituencies which lie high or low, depending on one's perception of such things, in the unemployment league table, are all found—not unexpectedly—in major industrial cities. Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle each contribute one apiece, but, sadly, the remaining three are all Glasgow constituencies. Thus, the city holds the unenviable record of four of the eight highest unemployment levels in the constituencies represented in this House.

That is the scale of the problem. Much of it, not least in Glasgow, Central, is, sadly, borne by young people under the age of 25. In five out of the six wards in the constituency, youth unemployment exceeds 28 per cent. In the Calton ward, it stands at the horrendous level of 45 per cent. I urge hon. Members on all sides of the House to consider that figure and its implications for a few moments.

During the recent by-election campaign, I had occasion to quote that figure. It was challenged by no less a gentleman than the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). Ultimately, he was obliged to accept its accuracy, which, when one thinks about it, is not surprising, since the figure had been drawn from those supplied by his own Department and the Department of Employment. Yet, as if that was not bad enough, even that figure of 45 per cent. is an understatement of the problem, because in September 1988 the Government withdrew the payment of benefit from youngsters who were unemployed and did not have a YTS place. Since then, thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds have disappeared from the unemployment count.

At that time, the Government guaranteed a YTS place to every young person. It has proved to be the empty promise that many on this side of the House recognised that inevitably it would be. The most recent statistics for the Southside and Bridgeton careers offices, covering the Glasgow, Central constituency, show that 476 16 and 17-year-olds registered for work, yet only 107 YTS places were available. That was a shortfall of 369 places, yet unless these youngsters can show what is euphemistically termed "severe hardship", they will receive no income support whatsoever.

That is the scale of the problem in Glasgow, Central. It is a scandal, and I shall do everything I can, as the Member of Parliament for that constituency, to alleviate it. However, the scope for doing so is limited by a Government whose policies are now producing a school-leaving generation that is largely untrained and unskilled and that is increasingly even without homes and the economic means with which to build their lives. That is a tragic waste of human potential, quite apart from the fact that one of the most obvious methods of combating unemployment—one does not, surely, need to be a Socialist to appreciate it, although you are, Madam Deputy Speaker, a Socialist—is by training and retraining people, by matching skills to needs and by offering every young person what should surely be a basic right—the opportunity of education to the limit of his or her potential.

However, the Government's response has been to cut public expenditure. Those cuts have greatly reduced young people's chances of getting the education and training that they need. This is certainly not a recent phenomenon in respect of the present party which forms the Government.

The following quotation will, I hope, serve to illustrate my point: To ask … the Secretary for Scotland, if he will make arrangements for the continued education and training of unemployed boys and girls of 14 to 18 years of age, under the auspices of education authorities in conjunction with the juvenile advisory committees of the Labour Exchanges?"—[Official Report, 12 December 1922; Vol. 159, c. 2574.] Those words formed a question in this House on 12 December 1922 from James Maxton, then the Member of Parliament for the Bridgeton constituency. It is a matter of record that he failed to get a response to his question, although, typically, that did not deflect him from his course of vigorously pursuing that and many other matters on behalf of his constituents. Today's generation of young people in Bridgeton also want an answer on the provision of adequate education and training, as they do on so many other matters. In 1989, as in 1922, they will get no answer, at least not from the current Government, that will materially change the opportunities available to them for the better.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) so eloquently outlined when he opened the debate, our party does have answers for young people. We shall provide real training, without compulsion, for real jobs at real rates of pay. The day is now approaching when that will become reality.

Many people walk with more than hope in their hearts following the unequivocal message delivered throughout the country to the Government on 15 June. Those results did not begin a trend: they confirmed a trend, and a momentum which will increase in pace until its culmination in the return of a Labour Government. That in turn will lead to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, which the Red Clydesiders demanded 60 years ago and the people of Glasgow, Central demanded three weeks ago. I eagerly take up the challenge of working with my right hon. and hon. Friends to turn that demand into reality.

6 pm

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this brief debate on training and to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Mr. Watson) on his forthright and sincere maiden speech and on his clear and demonstrated interest in his constituents. I and all right hon. and hon. Members share his expressed feelings about the sad death of Robert McTaggart, the Member for Glasgow, Central for the past nine years. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that my maiden speech was in the month of July and was on training. I am therefore delighted that he has chosen that subject for his maiden speech, and it gives me great pleasure to congratulate him.

Employment and training are linked. Good training must lead to better employment prospects for people of all ages. In the Norwich travel-to-work area, unemployment fell by 35 per cent. in the past year. Nationally, with the highest-ever number of people in work, with 2 million extra real jobs since 1983 and with 700,000 vacancies, the success of Government policy speaks for itself.

Opposition Members certainly have a hard job if they are to convince the House and the country that they have the right answers on training. I well recall before the 1979 general election their limited and feeble efforts in youth training. I remember the youth opportunities programme. I remember hearing tale after tale of the nonsense that was happening, which would pale into insignificance any roll call that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) could produce. That feeble effort contrasts with the success and the expansion of the Conservative Government's youth training scheme. More than 23 million young people have benefited from that scheme; the Government are spending or investing £1 billion a year, and the number of young people with recognised qualifications is rising. That is all good news and is a tribute to the Government's efforts, particularly in youth training.

The number of young people entering the labour market is declining. We have already heard about the 25 per cent. reduction in school leavers between 1988 and 1993. There are already vacancies in the youth training scheme. At the same time, the Government have to address the problem of skill shortages in every part of the country, including Norwich. Nationally, there are increasing difficulties in attracting qualified technicians. A recent survey shows that some 22 per cent. of firms expect skill shortages to limit their output in the 1990s. We have heard today about the importance of training and competitiveness in our approach to 1992 and beyond. According to the survey, there are also problems with the training of managers, professionals and craftsmen.

I shall make particular reference to engineering, an interest that I hold very dear. In the Norfolk area there are only about 250 YTS trainees in engineering. Unlike Opposition Members, I regard employment training as an increasing success, but it is disappointing that in Norfolk, out of about 2,000 adults involved in the scheme, only five are engineers. Yet the talent and enthusiasm for engineering is there. We have successful school-industry links. Recently, I attended presentations by young engineers, and there is no question that there is enthusiasm for engineering and engineering training, if only we can make a better effort to move away from the present unsatisfactory position.

It is time that right hon. and hon. Members and people throughout the country stopped talking about engineering having a bad image. We have to turn that around and talk about engineering, engineers and young engineers having an exciting future and a good image. That is closer to reality today and is one way in which we can improve young people's prospects and manufacturing industry.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that we are not training all the people we need. I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that a modern training system must be employer-led, because employers are best placed to judge skill needs. It is clear from my own experience and observation that too much training in industry is still short-term, and too often no senior line managers involve themselves closely enough in training. The message shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House is that industry and business leaders must get their act together, spend more on training, put more enthusiasm into training and consider it a good long-term investment, because their record is not good enough. I understand that that view is shared generally throughout the country and is not simply put forward by one political party.

Employers must not place too much reliance on state-run schemes. I have already mentioned the undoubted success of the youth training scheme and employment training, in spite of the nonsense that we have heard this afternoon from Opposition Members. The new training and enterprise councils, which have been mentioned today, show the Government's faith in local employers helping to run the schemes and to raise the importance of training locally.

The Government have produced two White Papers recently, one of which considers the future of the industrial training boards. I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) about the need to raise the standard and quality of training to the level of our competitors overseas. That need has been made more urgent by the rapid approach of 1992. The engineering industry training board has already taken steps to meet that new challenge. I know that it is confident that the board can become self-supporting by the financial year 1991–92. According to the chairman, Mr. Astley Whittall; the industry will no longer pay a compulsory levy, and therefore will be able to take us or leave us—I intend to make sure our products and services are so good that they will be queuing at the door". Returning to the role of employers, particularly those in Norwich, I recently chaired a meeting at Laurence Scott Electromotors in Norwich to launch a local initiative to overcome critical skills shortages and the problem of poaching between one firm with skills shortages and another. That problem has become worse in the past few months and years. Local newspapers in Norwich have described it as a "manpower time bomb." That problem must be addressed.

The intention of the group in Norwich is to bring together employers to develop a common training strategy, to identify present and future skill needs and to increase the size of the pool of skilled people available in the area. It is hoped that the Government's new business growth training scheme, which I regard as an excellent initiative, will be involved in and used as part of that strategy.

The inadequacy of our training arrangements is not a new problem. Over the years, unfavourable comparisons have been made with our continental competitors. The problem has been discussed for decades or even centuries. It is a continuing problem, which now has an increasingly European dimension. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of State confirm that the Government have secured large amounts of money from the European social and regional funds to spend on training? If they have, that is good, because it has helped with certain youth training schemes, particularly in deprived areas. We must welcome any development in Europe that will improve training and access to it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will say a little more about that aspect of training and co-operation.

In the history of training—I am now thinking of the opening remarks of the hon. Member of Oldham, West —Labour Governments have failed miserably. According to the Labour party's glossy new policy document, it is bent on repeating old mistakes. Opposition divisions about employment training have already been effectively disposed of in this debate. The Labour party has done the unemployed a disservice by the way that it has set about attacking a particularly good scheme.

The Opposition's attitude to the youth training scheme has been equally negative. It is equally well known, so I do not need to set it out in detail.

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend said that the Labour party had done a disservice to the unemployed. He may not have been aware of it, but he was echoing the words used by Mr. Bill Jordan of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who criticised the Labour party's attitude to employment training.

Mr. Thompson

I welcome and agree with that intervention. If time permitted, I could quote many other Opposition politicians who are unhappy about the Labour party's training policy. I share the surprise expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it should have chosen this subject for debate.

The Labour party's policy document proposes quangos, extra bureaucracy and more centralisation, not to mention subservience to the trade union movement, which exposes its policies as hollow and shallow.

The Labour party's motion is wrong-headed, reactionary and positively prehistoric. I shall be delighted to support the Government's amendment, which shows the way forward for training to help our young people and people at all stages in their careers.

6.13 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I join the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) in expressing concern about training in the engineering industry. It is important that an adequate number of able people are attracted into the industry and that standards are maintained. I am sure that the Government will bear that in mind when considering the future of training in the industry following the ending of the statutory levy boards.

I also join the hon. Member for Norwich, North in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) on his maiden speech and the tribute that he paid his predecessor, Bob McTaggart, who was much liked and respected by hon. Members.

I agree with the hon. Member of Glasgow, Central that one does not have to be a Socialist to tackle unemployment through training and retraining. One must, however, be a Socialist to follow in the tradition of the Red Clydesiders. If the voters of Glasgow, Central were looking for a worthy inheritor of that tradition, judging from the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central they have found one.

I do not wish to take up too much time as other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall therefore try to confine my remarks to one or two points. No matter what the Secretary of State said, I am sure that the response to employment training has not lived up to Government expectations. It would have been more helpful if other Opposition parties and local authorities had tried to make the scheme works despite its warts. Nevertheless, it cannot be recognised as the best possible training scheme available for unemployed adults.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) mentioned the difficulties with employment training experienced by married women. The Minister of State will know that I have made representations to him about the problem in my constituency of the wives of men who spend much of the week at sea not qualifying for the child care allowance that has been made available to single-parent families. That is unnecessary discrimination. It is all very well for the Minister to suggest creche facilities and the use of distance-learning materials, which I do not dispute might be worthy, but they are less than adequate compared with the proper support provided by the child care allowance. The cost involved is probably minimal compared with the benefit that it would offer, bearing in mind the changing shape of the labour market and the fact that more women will have to be attracted into work.

We should be trying to improve the quality of training. Hon. Members have given examples of schemes operated in other countries. In Sweden, which has a high-quality training programme, redundancy is regarded not as a tragedy but as a challenge and an opportunity. Rather than spending £5,000 per annum per place, Sweden spends almost £13,000. People who have been trained and retrained in the latest techniques and shown how to use the most up-to-date technological skills become a valuable asset when they return to the labour market. Not only do we have the tragedy of unemployment, but we are failing to capitalise on what could be a good and useful resource for Britain.

It is impossible to generalise about the youth training scheme. At the outset, it could have been argued that it was a makeshift method of removing young people from the unemployment statistics, but it cannot be denied that, in many places where efforts have been made to make the scheme work, it has done so. I suspect that its effectiveness is patchy, and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central rightly said that the promise of places for all has not been fulfilled. Figures from Strathclyde regional council suggest that in May this year there was a shortage of almost 1,400 places.

There has been misunderstanding or a lack of imagination from the centre about the scheme. Within a local authority area, a place may be available on a scheme, but the distance that has to be travelled to take it up may be vast indeed. Although in theory places are available for young people, often in practice they are not.

The amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and others, which has not been selected, highlights the need to place greater emphasis on the educational component of training. It is agreed among hon. Members and industry that there is a lack of some important skills. I urge the Government to take account of the fact that in an advanced industrial society there will be fewer jobs for 16-year-olds in the basic service industries. Job growth will occur in the professional, scientific and technological occupations, which will obviously require higher educational attainment. Only 32 per cent. of young people in Britain carry on full-time education to the age of 18 compared with 95 per cent. in Japan and 72 per cent. in the United States. We must encourage greater participation in full-time education.

The importance of education must be recognised, which means that there must be a well-resourced education service, not an approach which puts teachers in the category of second-class citizens. We should think about compulsory day release schemes. I have been informed, although I have not checked, that the Education Act 1944 included provisions for part-time education and training for people up to the age of 18, to be implemented as soon as conditions permitted. It is now 45 years later and that must be done. I hope that the Government will seriously consider providing for compulsory release from work for training, as many young people are not given any training at all.

Over the years, there have been a series of training organisations and a plethora of initials and now we have the TECs, the training and enterprise councils. I welcome the idea that the private sector should take a greater interest and be more involved in training. Over the years, part of the difficulty has been caused by the lack of such interest and involvement. The Government admit in the White Paper "Scottish Enterprise": Efforts to date to persuade the private sector to take greater interest in and responsibility for training have had disappointing results. Far too many firms take little interest in assessing and training for their own future needs, assuming that supply will always be there to meet demand. But the Government have gone wrong by putting all their eggs into one basket. As they admit, the private sector has not been at the forefront in meeting training needs.

Will people of calibre be found in all parts of the country? In paragraph 5.1 of "Scottish Enterprise" the Government admit that the concept of locally led training stands or falls on the willingness of people of calibre to respond to this exciting challenge. We are afraid that many people of calibre will be so busy running their own successful enterprises that they will not have the time to lead training initiatives. There may be a patchy response and delivery of first-class training throughout the country may not be guaranteed.

It is regrettable that United Kingdom business spends only 0.15 per cent. of its turnover on training, compared with between 1 and 2 per cent. for most of our major industrial competitors. I ask the Government to consider the possibility of local authorities being more involved and to look towards a remittable training tax based on turnover. If a company showed through an auditor's certificate that it was genuinely spending money on training, that money could be remitted to it. I regret the element of compulsion, but only in that way can we guarantee that training is taken seriously.

Training and retraining are important to tap the skills of the unemployed and to allow many of those who are employed to learn new skills and adapt to new technologies so that the United Kingdom is geared to the technological age.

6.23 pm
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Much has been said about the differences between this country and our major competitors, primarily in Europe. Those differences have been emphasised in terms of expenditure, but I suggest that expenditure is the secondary item and that the primary factor is the difference in attitudes. If attitudes towards training and the culture of training are right, expenditure and investment will surely follow.

Over the years, the attitudes of employers and employees in this country have differed from the attitudes in the countries of our competitors. British employers have tended to see training as a cost rather than the investment that it is. To a certain extent, that has been spurred on by the City demanding short-term returns on investment rather than long-term returns.

The attitudes of British employees have differed from the attitudes in Germany, Sweden and other western countries. There has been a tendency here to demand a high wage on leaving school, probably at the expense of training and almost certainly at the expense of advancement in years to come. There has been a belief in once-for-all training in the first few years after leaving school, in the expectation that it will lead to a trade for life, but that approach has failed to recognise that advancing technology—to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) referred—means that people will have to change their jobs repeatedly because of the rapid pace of our economic growth.

Trade unions have tried to protect jobs in outdated skills, without grasping the need for employees to change their skills, often several times in mid-life. That attitude is exemplified in the Opposition's motion. They have concentrated on the 16 to 19-year-olds and have not referred to training throughout the working life, the most critical part of all. How are we to change attitudes?

The Labour party went into the last general election threatening a payroll tax of 1 per cent. to pay for training. That amount has now been reduced to 0.5 per cent., but we are left with the fundamental principle of Socialism, that the state can spend better than individual businesses. This is an extension of the levy system which the Labour party has espoused. If the levy system is so wonderful that the Labour party opposes the Government's proposal to remove statutory training boards, why are there skill shortages? Perhaps this policy is founded on the policy and philosophy of Mr. Scargill, who believes that the only reason Socialism has not worked is that we have not had enough of it, so the more levies we have, the more it will work.

The levy system today, whatever function it has served in the past, is out of date and irrelevant to the needs of industry and the range of training that is required for the ever-increasing variety of businesses in Britain. The abolition of a number of training boards in the past few years has spawned many private training organisations, often co-operative ventures, with many employers joining to provide for their training needs. They can respond quickly, have a common feature in that they are much closer to the businesses for which they work and can meet their clients' needs as and when required.

The investment picture has been changing rapidly. In 1984, research by the Manpower Services Commission showed that there had been an 11 per cent. increase in training activity by businesses over the preceding five years. We do not have an exact comparison in the succeeding five years, but the evidence is that that relatively low increase has been well surpassed.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

I agree with my hon. Friend about statutory levies as they apply to most industries, but the construction industry is characterised by many small firms throughout Britain. Surely, without the construction industry training board, which would not survive without a statutory levy, those firms would not have the training and safety provisions that are so badly needed. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is imperative that we keep some statutory levy for the construction industry?

Mr. Paice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that subject: he has put his finger on the one exception. I accept that, contrary to my fundamental beliefs, activity in the construction industry is so different from activity in other industries that we must retain the levy.

According to the labour force survey, the number of employees receiving training has increased by nearly 1 million during the past five years. Much of the changing attitude we have already seen has come as a result of the youth training scheme. It has encouraged businesses to become involved in training. Many businesses that have never had anything to do with training before have taken on YTS trainees, for whatever reason, and from that, they have developed an involvement with and activity in training, which has spread throughout the business.

I have a small criticism of the YTS, which is that the Manpower Services Commission did not act vigorously or ruthlessly enough on the approved training organisation status in weeding out those organisations that were not delivering the expected quality. However, the important point is that we have seen industry becoming more involved. That is the principle behind the training and enterprise councils, which I wholly support. They encourage industrial involvement and encourage business to ensure that the YTS and employment training programmes are delivered locally, based on local needs.

It is necessary, of course, to retain a national framework of standards. The use of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications will be of great value in that. We must recognise that modern training techniques can substantially reduce training time; that is one reason why it is no use pining after the old apprenticeship scheme. Much of that was time serving. It is true that the apprentices learned skills, but modern training technology means that training schemes do not need to run for as many years as they did for the old apprenticeships.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice

No, because I know that another Labour Member wishes to speak in the debate.

We must recognise that people still think of training identification and appraisal of a form of criticism of standards. They are not. It is interesting that, despite the furore a few years ago in the teaching profession about the suggestion of appraisal, the few authorities that carry out teacher appraisal have met a wonderful response from the teachers who have been through it. They now recognise that it is a constructive approach to human development, rather than a form of back-door criticism of what they are doing.

If we are to move towards a greater emphasis on training from business, we must first ensure that business from the top understands its involvement. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) mentioned the need for management to become more involved. I remember that 10 years ago, when I was first appointed as training officer to my then company, we embarked on a programme of staff training. The first person who went on a training course was the managing director, and he was followed by the divisional managers. We went down the structure from there. The managers set the example to the rest of the staff that training should go right through the organisation.

One aspect that still causes great concern is the poaching by one employer of another's employee in whose training the original employer has invested. We must consider ways to address that problem, because it is the one obstacle that discourages business from investing in training. The answer is clear: we must look at property rights and consider whether employees could be asked to sign a contract of commitment of service.

It is commonplace in the United States that employees undergoing a programme of training agree to a period of service as an employee of the company making that investment. That is not wholly unknown in this country. The armed services sponsor people through university and require a certain service afterwards. In football, we hear of massive sums being paid to buy off contracts made for a certain period of employment. There must be fallbacks, of course, so that people can extricate themselves from such contracts for valid reasons, but we must consider ways of dealing with the problem.

There have been a few cases in this country in which people have tried to deal with the problem. In a major court case, Strathclyde regional council—which is not exactly a hotbed of macho Tory management—brought a case against Neil and the court decided that a contract specifying that training costs could be repaid if the employee resigned before completing a minimum period of service was enforceable. That sets the scene, and I wish that we could do far more. It may mean that we must do more to clarify the law in that respect.

The Government have clearly set out a policy throughout the economy over the years of setting business free from Government involvement. That policy has demonstrated its success clearly in consistent massive growth rates and in reductions in unemployment. The evidence is that business is now rightly turning its attention to training. The Government's responsibility is to nurture, stimulate and encourage industry to claw back the lost ground, rather than to interpose themselves between industry and training and to damage what is already happening. We must recognise that the Government's role is to work behind the scenes, rather than to intervene.

That is the fundamental difference between the policies, which I support, of the Conservative party and this Government, and the policies of the Labour party. Business should make decisions about training; it is not a matter for Government. The Government should supplement what business does, and not supplant it, as is proposed by the Opposition.

6.35 pm
Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) on his superb maiden speech, which he delivered authoritatively. He replaces me as the newest Member of the House of Commons.

There is one aspect of training that has not been covered adequately this afternoon, although it was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham). My concern is about the deplorable record of accidents, serious injuries and deaths which has increased dramatically during the reign of the present Government and the previous two. The House should recognise that there is an inextricable link between the quality of training and the industry's safety record. Training is the key not only to our economic future, but to ensuring that we can bring down the tragic incidence of death and destruction in industry, which is to the shame of the Government and which continues to be appalling, especially in the construction industry, to which the hon.

Member for Norfolk, North-West referred. We must tackle that problem and we can do so only through training.

The Government have a lamentable record on training. I do not know how they can turn round now and draw attention to skills shortages and the so-called "revolution" in training to deal with them. The "revolution" is a continuation of the Government's 10-year-old free market philosophy, which is essentially for them to wash their hands of responsibility and to pass it on to local organisations dominated by employers. Yet employers themselves recognise that they need state assistance and state guidance, which employers enjoy in every other major competitor country, to provide first-class training. I received first-class training myself as a building craftsman two decades ago, but such training is now sadly lacking.

In the past few years, I have had considerable direct experience of YTS training and have been involved with many thousands of YTS trainees. The quality of training for the majority of them is unacceptable. They simply gain work experience, and not training as such. The fact that our safety record is so bad shows the appalling level of training. Nowhere is that more noticeable and more significant than in the record of accidents among YTS trainees. That is a direct result of the absence of quality training. When the Labour party forms a Government, we will put an end to that. I ask the Minister to draw the attention of his colleagues to the close link between safety and training.

I conclude by relating an appalling example that I encountered as a trainer in this area. A young YTS trainee set out in the winter month of November on a decorating job and began by painting the outside of a building with a highly inflammable substance by which he became covered during the course of his work. When it came to the morning tea-break at 10 o'clock, before going in to the cabin with all the others for his cup of tea and for something to eat, he stopped by the glowing brazier to warm himself. That move was fatal.

The reason why youngsters die and are seriously injured and maimed in industry is that they are not given adequate training. If that boy had been trained properly, the accident would never have happened. It would never have happened to me, because of the training that I received.

6.40 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

This has been an interesting debate. With the possible exception of the Secretary of State, like us all being against sin, we are all very much in favour of training. However, that is where the similarity ends, because Conservative Members have risen only to say how much they are in favour of the Government's approach and of the private sector which, according to them, has achieved such miracles.

Although that is what the Secretary of State told the House, the reality is that the right hon. Gentleman is at odds with the head of his own training agency. When Mr. Roger Dawe, the director general of the Training Agency, addressed a conference on the issue of training, he stated that at every level we were towards the bottom of the training league table, whether in education, youth training, higher level skills training or management. He then pointed out that on the evidence of the statistics on training in this country, far from catching up with our competitors in western Europe, Japan and the United States, we are falling further and further behind.

Indeed, a Government survey which has yet to be properly published—although its author has managed to get his results on the public record—shows that the level of training in this country is frightening in its lack of intensity. Only one third of private manufacturing companies actively train their employees; less than half the organisations in the private service sector train their employees; yet the much-derided public sector trains at least 60 per cent. of its workers. Incredible though it may seem, 14 per cent. of those who are officially designated as "apprentices" or "long-term trainees" receive no training whatsoever. I repeat that, under this Government's training programme, 14 per cent. of trainees receive no training.

I could go on and on about this country's failure in training matters. Conservative Members have tried to say that the Government's present record compares favourably with that of the last Labour Government. However, let us look at the reality in industry—not back in 1979, but as recently as 1982, when skills shortages were reported as a major constraint on output by as few as 2.5 per cent. of our companies. The CBI recently reported that 20 per cent. of companies now experience severe skills shortages that are sufficiently bad as to prevent output developing, and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce has reported that 49 per cent. of manufacturing companies now experience skills shortages.

I welcomed the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West, who spoke about the construction industry. At the moment the much-derided construction industry training board is training 30,000 people per year. However, the CITB recognises that it needs to raise that level considerably to 88,000 people a year. It is now predicted that at present rates there will be a shortfall of 1 million construction workers in the next 10 years. That deficit cannot be made up by the private sector, whether through the training and enterprise councils system or any other system. Because we have the CITB and the levy system, we have some chance, but not enough, to make up the skills shortages in that industry.

As Conservative Members know, the Federation of Master Builders is hardly one of the Labour party's traditional supporters. The federation has made it clear that it considers that there is nothing in … recent history … to warrant the view that the end of the statutory based CITB would lead to the creation of a voluntary training organisation which could yield better or more cost effective training. The Secretary of State must take that message on board. The right hon. Gentleman has told us about the TEC system—the ideological attempt to remove the Government from all responsibility for what goes on—but it is a blind move towards the so-called "market system". Indeed, the head of the Training Agency has referred to the present system of training as a "mixed pattern".

The Opposition know that the private sector is failing the country. We know that the Secretary of State said that there are now over 25 million people in work, but when one looks at the real rate of investment in training, one sees that it is not the £18 billion that the Secretary of State has claimed: it is about £3—25 billion when wage costs and income support are removed. That represents about £100 per year for every person at a place of work. That is a pathetic indictment of the Government, of what they have done in the past 10 years and of what they are doing now.

The Secretary of State also said that the TEC system was popular with the private sector, but it is not. I refer him to the views of the Builders Merchants Federation —a small part of the private sector—which is deeply suspicious of the TEC system because it feels that it is being frozen out of that system and that its needs for national training are being ignored by the pursuit of long-distance remote-controlled training and by the Government's avoidance of responsibility.

The Secretary of State recently attended a conference organised by the Institute of Personnel Management and the British Association of Commercial and Industrial Education. The head of the Training Agency was also present. Having been severely criticised for the inadequacies of the TEC system, the head of the Training Agency lamely remarked: You are saying: don't trust the employers—don't trust TECs, please will the Government make it compulsory to train and make it compulsory for employers not to take anyone on until they are 18: that's a surprising message from an employer gathering. The Secretary of State must recognise that the employers are saying that the TEC system does not work; that it will not work and that it cannot provide the training. The private sector will fail us once again, as it has in the past—

Mr. Tracey


Mr. Lloyd

No, I shall not give way, because I do not have the time.

I turn now to the employment training system, which the Secretary of State describes as a success. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not go on to say that 60 per cent. of those who are recommended to go on employment training refuse to do so. They refuse to have anything to do with employment training. The Secretary of State may deny that, but those are the Government's own figures. Those are the figures in an "in confidence" Department of Employment document that I am holding now. Indeed, those figures were given in confidence because the Secretary of State does not want them known by the public.

Employment training is failing six out of 10 people and they are not prepared—[Interruption.] Well, I shall quote the figures to the Secretary of State. Referrals from the employment service to the Training Agency, cumulative to April this year, numbered 685,100. However, only 274,900 began as trainees. Therefore, less than 40 per cent. of those who were referred by the employment service made it on to an ET scheme, because those who realise what employment training is all about are simply rejecting it.

I shall give the Secretary of State some other figures. The Building Manufacturers Federation, which is not untypical of many of the would-be providers of ET, established what is regarded as a high-quality employment training scheme. We could debate the merits of employment training at greater length if we had more time, but in this case the employers claimed that they had a high-quality scheme, yet they attracted only one trainee for the 400 places that were available. That federation has told me that there are two reasons why it has only one trainee. The first is the derisory pay available to trainees on employment training schemes. The second reason is that even on this high-quality scheme, the lousy image of employment training across the nation is such that any self-respecting unemployed person does not want to know about it.

In its magazine "Personnel Management", the Institute of Personnel Management has commented: The problem, where there is one, is that ET was born of a curious compromise between training and make-work". That is the reality of employment training.

I turn now to one particular scheme, to the disastrous failure of the Council for Social Aid in Greater Manchester, which affected my constituents. The scheme left debts of £1 million. I hope that the Minister will reply to my points later, but the House should know that that scheme was failing well before Christmas. In November of last year that scheme was falsifying names on one of its projects in Openshaw and I am led to believe that the Training Agency was aware of it. If the Minister was not aware of it, his departmental officials, through the Training Agency, were. The Minister has a direct responsibility for the fact that there were totally bogus names on the list of trainees. Even the numbers on ET are open to fiddle in that scheme and, I suggest, more generally.

Representatives of the Training Agency were well aware in the early part of this year that in some parts of the CSA scheme in Manchester, there were no typewriter ribbons for people taking typing courses and there were no toilet rolls for the trainees or the staff. The Training Agency knew about that. Even if the Minister did not know about it, his staff and departmental officials were aware of it. At that level, he has responsibility for what happened.

There was a cosy little conspiracy at quite a high level in the Training Agency—and perhaps in the Department —to cover up what was happening. The ET scheme was not allowed to fail at such an early stage, particularly when it was set up for 2,500 would-be trainees, but never achieved more than 1,000. The scheme failed because, trainees would not make themselves available. It failed because ET is grossly underfunded and it failed because although it was trying in some parts to provide decent quality training, the trainees did not want to know. The scheme failed and left debts of £1 million, of which £400,000 is owed to the Training Agency. There was a cosy little cover-up which amounts to a corrupt conspiracy to protect the Government's propaganda about ET. The scheme could have been rescued at an early stage in the interests of trainees and the staff. However, the Government were not prepared to allow it to fail at such an early stage.

When the scheme failed and the Training Agency pulled the plug, the decision was not taken by the Training Agency: it was referred to Whitehall. The decision was taken in Whitehall because the Training Agency knew that it had something on its hands which was too big for it to take a decision on its own.

The ET scheme is failing the nation. However much the Secretary of State huffs and puffs, ET is failing the nation and the unemployed. Like YTS, ET is failing our young people in many areas. The Government have no comprehensive view on training. Until they recognise that the private sector unaided will fail in training, until we have a tripartite relationship between Government, industry and the trade unions, we will not have the training which will give a future to this country—the type of future which our people expect and should expect. Our people will get that future only when there is a change of Government.

6.52 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope)

My first and pleasant duty is to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) on his maiden speech. Many hon. Members will share his sentiments about our late colleague Bob McTaggart, whose death saddened us all. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central made it clear that he takes on a great political heritage on Clydeside and he gave the House a clear sign that he will live up to that.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central on choosing to make his maiden speech in this debate, because it has been an interesting debate on a very important subject. This country lives, in Europe arid in the rest of the world, by its skills, and that has long been so. However, the skills required to compete these days change very quickly. It is no longer enough for people to pick up skills on the way and for them to work out the best way to do things. Training is essential, and so is constant retraining. That much is common ground between the Government and the Opposition.

Of course there are skills shortages; that fact reflects in part at least a vigorous and changing economy. However, it is also a challenge for us all. The Government, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment said, are in the middle of a series of radical changes. I believe that YTS has been transformed, particularly since we extended it to two years. It has taken on more young people and has enabled the quality and usefulness of the training to be improved. At present, 386,000 young people are on YTS; historically, that is a very high figure. I can reassure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central that we also have more than 141,000 YTS places available and we can bring more places forward if we need to do so. Sixty-three per cent. of those who complete YTS training now gain qualifications, and that percentage continues to rise. YTS is also very popular with most of the young people who participate in the scheme, and it has proved very valuable to trainees and employers. I believe that it is a vast improvement on previous schemes.

The youth training scheme has introduced proper structured training into sectors where it hardly existed before and to youngsters who have had no training. We are committed to improving the scheme and to making it more flexible and relevant and to increasing the proportion of young people who obtain qualifications. We are working on that. YTS covers an enormously wide area of training. I am glad to be able to say that a YTS trainee plays football for England, and as from a few days ago —as some hon. Members will be particularly pleased to know—another YTS trainee now plays cricket for Yorkshire. I leave hon. Members to judge which is the more important sporting achievement.

The new funding structure this year provides for greater flexibility and response to particular needs and for a larger proportion of the money to help young people with special needs and those with disabilities. That is very important. I welcome yesterday's CBI report on this general subject, which reinforced the importance of training, particularly for young people. We will, of course, study that report very carefully.

Much of the attention in this debate has been devoted to the Government's employment training programme.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Cope

I have only a few minutes left, so I will not give way.

As far as we know, ET is the most ambitious and largest training programme for unemployed people in the world. It is a massive investment by Government in the future of unemployed people. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, nearly 200,000 people throughout the country now take advantage of ET, and that is a very definite vote of confidence by unemployed people in the programme. It is also the best start for any adult training programme ever launched. That figure of 200,000 is more than three times the number of people who joined the community programme over the same period.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) referred to the so-called drop-out rate. He was really talking about the number of people who say that they are interested in ET compared with those who really start on the programme. That tells us something about unemployed people, as well as something about the way in which the programme is perceived. The employment training programme has received a far better response than any previous programme run by the Government. It is far better than the community programme, JTS and the job clubs. It is producing a better response from unemployed people. That is not surprising, because the programme offers a mix of practical and directed training to participants tailored to meet their individual needs.

Some 18 per cent. of those who start the programme have an identified literacy and numeracy training need; that is one of the special needs which ET fulfils. Particular attention is paid to providing training to meet such needs and about 35,000 people currently receive literacy and numeracy training within ET in some form or another. Twelve per cent. of the new entrants to the programme have long-term health problems or disabilities, which represents a much higher proportion than for any previous adult training programme. Eleven per cent. of people on the employment training programme are from the ethnic minorities and are a significantly higher proportion than for the community programme and higher than the share of ethnic origin groups in total unemployment.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) referred to the numbers of women in employment. Nearly 30 per cent. of all new employment training entrants are women. Again, that is in line with the proportion of unemployed women. The programme is also making a significant impact on inner cities and we are building on that at the moment. It is helping older workers. About 8,500 trainees aged over 50 have benefited from the programme, and nearly half of them were unemployed for more than two years.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about the training and enterprise councils. I will not re-emphasise their importance.

The Government have increased their spending on training from approximately £450 million a year in 1979 to over £3,000 million this year. Part of that—bout £300 million—comes from the European social fund. Our Government's spending on training as a proportion of GDP is now higher than that in France, Germany, America or Japan, but it is much less than employers spend, including the Government as an employer. About £18,000 million was spent by employers in 1986–87, and the amount has undoubtedly gone up since then. Of course, that includes wages; they are a legitimate part of the cost of training.

I have quoted those figures to show the absurdity of the Opposition's idea, which they did not spell out today, that the way to solve the training problem is to impose on employers a special tax of about £1,000 million. Opposition Members believe that that will somehow make a colossal difference. That is an absurd claim, and nobody can take it seriously.

It is extremely significant that neither the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) nor his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Stretford made any but passing references to the Labour party's proposals in its recent document. They not only provide for that new tax but, to a great degree, propose to hand back control to unions. Some union leaders have proved to be strong supporters of training, including employment training and so on, but, at every turn, many others have opposed employment training and YTS. We have seen that in our Department and outside. In general, their record would not give us confidence that that is the right way to proceed.

Training is vital for the country and the individuals within it. It would be wrong to take responsibility for training from those who provide the jobs and use the skills. It is right to share the responsibility with training and enterprise councils, which can and will build on the training efforts of employers and others involved, to the great benefit of Britain. I urge the House to support the amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 192, Noes 275.

Division No. 280] [7.02 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Caborn, Richard
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Callaghan, Jim
Allen, Graham Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Alton, David Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Anderson, Donald Canavan, Dennis
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Armstrong, Hilary Cartwright, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Clay, Bob
Barron, Kevin Clelland, David
Battle, John Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beckett, Margaret Cohen, Harry
Beith, A. J. Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Bermingham, Gerald Corbett, Robin
Blair, Tony Corbyn, Jeremy
Blunkett, David Cousins, Jim
Boateng, Paul Crowther, Stan
Bradley, Keith Cryer, Bob
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Cunningham, Dr John
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Darling, Alistair
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Buckley, George J. Dewar, Donald
Dixon, Don Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dobson, Frank Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Doran, Frank Martlew, Eric
Douglas, Dick Maxton, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Meacher, Michael
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Meale, Alan
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Michael, Alun
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flannery, Martin Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Flynn, Paul Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foster, Derek Morgan, Rhodri
Foulkes, George Morley, Elliott
Fraser, John Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fyfe, Maria Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Galbraith, Sam Mowlam, Marjorie
Galloway, George Mullin, Chris
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Murphy, Paul
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Nellist, Dave
Godman, Dr Norman A. Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Golding, Mrs Llin Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gordon, Mildred Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Gould, Bryan Pike, Peter L.
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Prescott, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Primarolo, Dawn
Grocott, Bruce Quin, Ms Joyce
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Radice, Giles
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Randall, Stuart
Heffer, Eric S. Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Henderson, Doug Richardson, Jo
Hinchliffe, David Robertson, George
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Robinson, Geoffrey
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hood, Jimmy Rowlands, Ted
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Ruddock, Joan
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Sedgemore, Brian
Howells, Geraint Sheerman, Barry
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hoyle, Doug Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Ingram, Adam Snape, Peter
Janner, Greville Soley, Clive
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Spearing, Nigel
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Steel, Rt Hon David
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Steinberg, Gerry
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Stott, Roger
Kennedy, Charles Straw, Jack
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Kirkwood, Archy Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lamond, James Turner, Dennis
Leadbitter, Ted Vaz, Keith
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Wall, Pat
Lewis, Terry Wallace, James
Livsey, Richard Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wareing, Robert N.
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Loyden, Eddie Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
McAllion, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
McAvoy, Thomas Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
McCartney, Ian Wilson, Brian
Macdonald, Calum A. Winnick, David
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Wise, Mrs Audrey
McKelvey, William Worthington, Tony
McLeish, Henry Wray, Jimmy
Maclennan, Robert Young, David (Bolton SE)
McWilliam, John
Madden, Max Tellers for the Ayes:
Mahon, Mrs Alice Mr. Frank Haynes and
Marek, Dr John Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie
Aitken, Jonathan Arbuthnot, James
Alexander, Richard Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Ashby, David
Allason, Rupert Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Amess, David Baldry, Tony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bellingham, Henry Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bevan, David Gilroy Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gregory, Conal
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Body, Sir Richard Grist, Ian
Boswell, Tim Grylls, Michael
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hague, William
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bowis, John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hampson, Dr Keith
Brazier, Julian Hanley, Jeremy
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hannam, John
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Harris, David
Buck, Sir Antony Haselhurst, Alan
Burns, Simon Hawkins, Christopher
Burt, Alistair Hayes, Jerry
Butcher, John Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Butler, Chris Heathcoat-Amory, David
Butterfill, John Heddle, John
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Carrington, Matthew Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carttiss, Michael Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cash, William Hind, Kenneth
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Holt, Richard
Chapman, Sydney Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Chope, Christopher Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Churchill, Mr Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hunter, Andrew
Colvin, Michael Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Conway, Derek Irvine, Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Irving, Charles
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jack, Michael
Cope, Rt Hon John Jackson, Robert
Cormack, Patrick Janman, Tim
Cran, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Critchley, Julian Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, David Key, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Kilfedder, James
Davis, David (Boothferry) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Day, Stephen Kirkhope, Timothy
Devlin, Tim Knapman, Roger
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dover, Den Knowles, Michael
Durant, Tony Knox, David
Dykes, Hugh Lang, Ian
Eggar, Tim Latham, Michael
Emery, Sir Peter Lawrence, Ivan
Evennett, David Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lee, John (Pendle)
Fallon, Michael Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Favell, Tony Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lightbown, David
Fishburn, John Dudley Lilley, Peter
Fookes, Dame Janet Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Forth, Eric McCrindle, Robert
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Fox, Sir Marcus MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Franks, Cecil MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Freeman, Roger McLoughlin, Patrick
French, Douglas McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Fry, Peter McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gardiner, George Malins, Humfrey
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mans, Keith
Gill, Christopher Maples, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Marland, Paul
Glyn, Dr Alan Marlow, Tony
Goodhart, Sir Philip Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Goodlad, Alastair Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Maude, Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Speller, Tony
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Squire, Robin
Miller, Sir Hal Stanbrook, Ivor
Mills, Iain Steen, Anthony
Miscampbell, Norman Stern, Michael
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stevens, Lewis
Mitchell, Sir David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Monro, Sir Hector Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stokes, Sir John
Morrison, Sir Charles Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Moss, Malcolm Sumberg, David
Moynihan, Hon Colin Summerson, Hugo
Mudd, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Neale, Gerrard Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Nelson, Anthony Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Neubert, Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Nicholls, Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thornton, Malcolm
Norris, Steve Thurnham, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Townend, John (Bridlington)
Oppenheim, Phillip Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Paice, James Tracey, Richard
Patnick, Irvine Tredinnick, David
Patten, John (Oxford W) Trotter, Neville
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Porter, David (Waveney) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Portillo, Michael Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Powell, William (Corby) Waldegrave, Hon William
Price, Sir David Walden, George
Raffan, Keith Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Waller, Gary
Redwood, John Walters, Sir Dennis
Renton, Tim Ward, John
Rhodes James, Robert Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Riddick, Graham Wells, Bowen
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wheeler, John
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Whitney, Ray
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Wiggin, Jerry
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wilshire, David
Roe, Mrs Marion Winterton, Mrs Ann
Rost, Peter Winterton, Nicholas
Rowe, Andrew Wood, Timothy
Ryder, Richard Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Sackville, Hon Tom Yeo, Tim
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sayeed, Jonathan Younger, Rt Hon George
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Tellers for the Noes:
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Mr. David Maclean and
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Mr. John M. Taylor.
Skeet, Sir Trevor

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, that this House noting that Employment Training is the largest and fastest growing training programme for adults ever mounted in this country, and noting the success of YTS in equipping young people for jobs or further education, and the record scale of public resources devoted to training, welcomes the Government's achievements in improving the quantity and quality of training in Britain and the major further steps it now proposes to take to meet the training needs of the 1990's.