§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)
I have met my opposite numbers in Germany, France and Italy on a number of occasions and have discussed a wide range of employment and training issues with them.
§ Mr. Holt
That is a marvellously bland answer. Has my right hon. and learned Friend specifically discussed with his opposite numbers on the continent why they do not have the same shortage of skilled people as we have? They have better education and training involvement, they do not have the rigid school leaving age that we have and they have a wider diversity of opportunity in education and training for their young people. Why is it, therefore, that we stick slavishly to a school leaving age of 16 and a single type of comprehensive school, resulting in a lack of opportunity for our young people?
§ Mr. Howard
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was emphasising the marvellous or the bland in his original comment. The school leaving age is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that taxpayers—the Government—spend more on training young people in Britain than is spent in Germany, France or Japan and we are increasingly seeing the results of those efforts.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin
The Secretary of State must know that every employer, particularly in engineering, is short of skilled labour because major redundancies in engineering in the past 10 years have meant that there has been no training of apprentices. Should not we take a leaf out of the Germans' book and train more apprentices, particularly adult apprentices?
§ Mr. Howard
We are addressing those problems and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the great effort that is being made through, in particular, the training and enterprise councils to improve the level of skills throughout our economy. Those efforts are achieving considerable success.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the latest European statistics show that, as a proportion of labour costs, British firms spend as much on training as do their German counterparts? We are spending in the region of £20 billion a year now on training—a dramatic increase during the past few years which shows the new emphasis being given to training in British industry.
§ Mr. Howard
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is noteworthy that, even in today's CBI quarterly survey, which is not in every respect a cheerful document, there is 775 a healthy positive balance in the number of employers who intend to continue to increase their investment in training compared with those who do not.
§ Mr. McLeish
Why is there such overwhelming complacency, indifference and ambivalence in the Government's attitude to training? Why is it that, after 11 years discussing training with his European colleagues, we still do not have a coherent system of training for 16 to 19-year-olds, the unemployed are abandoned as cash cuts hit and unemployment rises and more than 50 per cent. of employees in British industry receive no training? When will the cuts stop? When will the Government abandon voluntarism and give some leadership in the skills crisis?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. We have a clear and coherent training strategy and it is working well. The people who need to get their act together are the members of the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) goes round the country saying how splendid training and enterprise councils are, whereas the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) goes round saying that they are a terrible mistake.