HC Deb 26 March 1991 vol 188 cc748-50
2. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many training and enterprise councils are now fully operational; and how many more will be so in the next two years.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

Excellent progress is being made in setting up training and enterprise councils. All 82 TECs in England and Wales are now in place, with 51 fully operational. I expect a further 20 or so to become operational on 2 April and the remainder later this year, nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Mr. Cran

The Government have certainly demonstrated their commitment to training, as is evidenced by the fact that the training budget has increased two and a half times in real terms since the time of the last Labour Government. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the employer has the primary responsibility for training, and may we be assured that there will be no dilution in the employer role from the point of view of the leadership of TECs? Will my right hon. and learned Friend take every opportunity to tackle the minority of employers who continue to think that training is expendable in a downturn, which is exactly the opposite of the view that is taken by our competitors?

Mr. Howard

I agree with my hon. Friend about the crucial role played by employers in training. Employers are currently investing more than £20 billion in training. We recognise the importance of their role in the lead that we have given them in training and enterprise councils. I am not sure that my hon. Friend need be quite so pessimistic about the current intentions of employers. Latest surveys estimate that between four and six times as many employers intend to maintain or increase their investment in training as intend to reduce it.

Mr. John Evans

Will the Secretary of State accept from me, who served his time in a five-year apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, that the present methods of youth training have absolutely nothing in common with what the young people in this country used to receive in the days of proper apprenticeships? Is he aware that the figures that the Under-Secretary of State gave in answer to a supplementary question on Question I had nothing to do with indentured apprentices because the indenturing of apprentices has virtually disappeared from Great Britain?

Mr. Howard

Youth training is, for the most part, far superior to the kind of training to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Youth training is not simply a question of time serving. It is increasingly a question of gaining qualifications, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said when dealing with Question 1—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) will tell the House from the Opposition Front Bench whether the kind of reaction that we are seeing from his hon. Friends behind him to youth training represents the official position of the Labour party.

Mr. Franks

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the announcement last week of up to 5,500 job losses in the shipyards at Barrow. That followed the announcement of 2,000 job losses at the end of last year. Will he consider what initiatives his Department can take, particularly by way of extra funding for Cumbria, TEC, with emphasis on training and retraining?

Mr. Howard

I know that my hon. Friend is working very hard indeed to help his constituents. He has asked for a meeting with me and I look forward to seeing him in the near future and to discussing with him the ways in which we can help.

Mr. Blair

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now admit, as he must, that not only is he presiding over the fastest rising unemployment anywhere in western Europe but that in last week's Budget he secured not a penny piece more for the training and enterprise councils, which face massive cuts in training for the unemployed? What went wrong with his Budget submission? Did he never ask for more money or was it that, when he did, he was told that throwing a lifeline to the Tory party over the poll tax mattered more than giving hope to the unemployed whom the Tories have created?

Mr. Howard

I fear that the hon. Gentleman has a little more to learn about Budgets and their relationship with public expenditure. The Budget announced an important tax relief on training, which I would have hoped, if Opposition Members were serious about training, they would warmly welcome, in addition to the £120 million extra for employment training which I announced the last time I answered questions in the House.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

May we be assured that chambers of commerce are being adequately consulted in the work context?

Mr. Howard

Yes. For the most part, chambers of commerce are working closely with training and enterprise councils. They have an important role to play. Indeed, in many cases the people who are in the lead in running training and enterprise councils come from the chamber of commerce movement.