HC Deb 11 February 1992 vol 203 cc797-809 3.32 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the White Paper "People, Jobs and Opportunity" which I and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales are publishing today.

The White Paper highlights the momentous changes which are taking place in the nature and patterns of work; it describes the implications of those changes for the future direction of our policies; and it sets out a new agenda for action designed to widen even further the opportunities and choices for people at work.

A key feature of the last 10 years has been a new and growing emphasis on the role and importance of the individual employee to business success. Employers are increasingly recognising and responding to the aspirations of their individual employees and rewarding individual performance. People at work have new opportunities to choose working arrangements which suit them and their families; to have a say in the direction of the organisation for which they work; and to influence their own development. The tide of collectivism—based on trade union representation and collective bargaining—has been decisively reversed.

If we are to meet the competitive challenge of this decade we must build upon the changes which are taking place. We must open up new opportunities for people at work. We must enable the potential of each and every individual person to be released. That is the vital task for the 1990s. This White Paper sets out what needs to be done. It contains 14 new proposals. I shall confine myself this afternoon to a summary of the most important.

First, we propose a number of possible changes to employment law to extend the rights of individuals. These proposals, on which we would welcome views, will enable people at work to get more comprehensive information from their employer about their terms and conditions of employment including any changes to them, and information about the training they will receive. We shall also be consulting on whether to clarify the law relating to training contracts. This would make it clear that it would be open to employers and employees to agree that if an employee left his employment prematurely after the employer had made a substantial investment in his training, the employer could recover a reasonable proportion of the costs.

At the same time we shall continue to oppose proposals for excessive regulation of relationships between employers and employees which would threaten our competitiveness and put jobs at risk.

Secondly, we shall continue to promote the development, by voluntary means, of employee involvement and of responsive and flexible pay arrangements which reward individual achievement. And we shall oppose attempts by the European Commission to impose inflexible and uniform models of employee relations.

Thirdly, we shall encourage the spread of new and more flexible ways for people to learn and train at their own pace in their own time. We shall enable libraries to make available to the public vocational learning materials and back-up services. We shall also test out a new system of credits to enable unemployed people to purchase training materials which they can use at home and so combine learning with active jobsearch.

Fourthly, we shall continue to tailor the help that we offer to unemployed people to the needs of individuals. And we are already expanding the special help available in 1992–93 through our employment and training programmes so that almost a million people can benefit.

Fifthly, we shall work with other member states for a European Community which supports an increase in the number of jobs available, respects the diversity of employment practices and gives individual people the freedom and opportunity to choose working patterns and arrangements which suit them. During our presidency of the Community in the second half of 1992 we shall promote a new employment initiative—to share good practice between member states in helping unemployed people back to work and to push discussion of employment and unemployment issues higher up the European agenda.

Finally, in May last year my right hon. Friends and I published White Papers about our plans for the education and training of young people into the next century. We announced our aim by 1996 to provide training credits to all 16 and 17-year-olds leaving full-time education. Training credits signal a revolution in the way in which the Government support training and development—a revolution which gives young people the power to choose the path which suits them best.

Today I am announcing an important new initiative to provide credits to people in the adult work force. Individuals will be able to use the credits to purchase a "skill check" where, with expert advice and guidance, they will be helped to take stock of their existing skills and experience, identify how they can improve their skills and map out their future training and career options. By placing purchasing power in the hands of the people concerned we shall transform their attitude to training and to the opportunities that are available to them.

The initiative—[Interruption.] The reaction of Opposition Members shows how much they really care about these vital matters that affect the future of our people. The initiative, which will be introduced from April 1993, will be run locally by training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies in Scotland, which we shall be consulting about the precise arrangements. Our plans will benefit a quarter of a million people in the first two years. If the initiative is successful and cost-effective, we shall extend it across the country.

The issues discussed in this White Paper are vital to our future. My aim is to help to create ladders of opportunity for all our people—ladders which start at school and continue throughout working life. Qualifications must be made available to the millions of people who have always regarded qualifications as being to do with other people, not them. And we must provide a framework within which individual achievement and national prosperity go hand in hand.

We have already achieved a great deal. This White Paper charts the way forward. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

First, let me deal with some of the points of policy—in so far as there are any.

The news of greater access to adult careers guidance is, of course, agreeable, but would it not be better to try to extend such access to everyone in the Community, unemployed or employed, through the careers service? As for the proposal for adult credits—which obviously mirrors the youth training credits idea—is it true that, as has been said in some of the newspapers, no extra resources will be provided for the programme? If it is true, and a transfer from existing resources is proposed, where will the cuts be made?

The idea of training programmes being specified in the contract of employment is also perfectly acceptable, but why not follow through the logic of that position and ensure that all young people who leave school and go into work do so with the proper training contract, so that the scandal of hundreds of thousands of young people leaving school and going into dead-end jobs with no training can end forthwith?

The one new proposal that the Secretary of State has advanced—he was very coy about it in his statement, as opposed to the press briefings—is that employees should be liable to pay the cost of the training that they have received if they move to another job. It is proposed that payment should take the form of either a financial penalty incurred by the employee or a transfer fee to be paid by the recruiting employer.

That proposal, surely, represents a fairly fundamental concession on the part of the Secretary of State—the admission that a purely voluntary approach will not work. We welcome that concession. Unfortunately, having identified the problem correctly, the Secretary of State has come up with the wrong solution. The idea of transfer fees has been kicking around the personnel-manager circuit for many years, and has been rejected for at least two reasons.

First, the reasons why employees leave their employment, having received training, may be unconnected with "poaching". An employee may want promotion, for instance, or a spouse or partner may be leaving to find work in another part of the country. Is the Secretary of State seriously contemplating the forcing of a penalty on people in such circumstances? Such action might be utterly unfair, as well as constituting an enormous obstacle to the free movement of labour.

Most people, however, have rejected that proposal as a way forward because of the problems involved in policing such a system, and because the disputes that arise under the training contract are myriad. Apparently, the Secretary of State has proposed in the White Paper that industrial tribunals should take on the role of regulating those disputes. Is he aware that, at present, the waiting time for industrial tribunal decisions is as long as three, four or six months, and sometimes longer? What is an employee supposed to do—wait in a state of suspension while the matter is resolved by a tribunal before changing jobs? The Secretary of State has opened up an interesting line of argument, but I think that he will find it difficult to stop where he is.

Surely, however, there is one fundamental question that the country will ask. The White Paper is entitled "People, Jobs and Opportunity". How can the Secretary of State credibly say that he is protecting people at work when his party alone among all the parties in Europe—Labour or Conservative—opposed the European social charter that guarantees the existence of such standards? Why is the right hon. and learned Gentleman apparently prepared to legislate to give people details of their contracts of employment, while denying them the right to decent terms and conditions of employment that is enjoyed everywhere else in Europe? Why not allow part-time employees to be given the same status as full-time employees? Why not give them the right to a decent holiday entitlement, which is still denied to millions in this country; the right to proper maternity leave; the right to child care; and freedom from discrimination?

The Secretary of State may talk of individual rights, but he cannot understand that, if real justice and opportunity are to be secured for many individuals, they will require a strong and active Community to legislate on their behalf. How can he credibly say that his party defends jobs when only today we have learned that 2,000 jobs are to go at Gateway, 300 at Pottertons in Tyne and Wear, and 300 at Rolls-Royce in Glasgow? One million people have joined the dole queue since the right hon. and learned Gentleman became Secretary of State, yet not one proposal in the White Paper creates a single job for the millions who are out of work.

How can the Secretary of State pose as the Minister of opportunity when over the past four years £465 million has been cut from youth training and £900 million from employment training—and when, all over Britain, the Government's guarantees to the young and the unemployed are being broken even as we speak?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's is not a party that joins people to jobs and opportunity, but one that has separated millions of people from jobs and denied millions more opportunity. The only jobs that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues are interested in saving over the coming weeks are their own at the election, but, as with so much else over the past 13 years, they will fail in that, too.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful that, on this occasion at least, the hon. Gentleman has found it possible to welcome at least some of the proposals in the White Paper. I shall deal in turn with the various points that he raised.

The hon. Gentleman asked first why the assessment credit, the skill check credit, is not to be made available to unemployed people. The fact is that unemployed people already have access to a range of programmes through the employment service, including job review workshops, which provide precisely that service for those who are unemployed. If the training and enterprise councils think it appropriate to make some of those funds available for unemployed people, they are perfectly free to do so.

As to where the money is to come from, it is true that the proposals will be funded from within my existing resources—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] It is typical of the Labour party that it loses sight of the possibility of being able to get better value for money and of being able to improve the extent to which and the way in which we can help people without always asking the taxpayer to fund more. We shall make the necessary funds available to fund those initiatives. In due course, I shall discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury exactly from where the money is to be found within existing resources.

On training credits, as we have repeatedly made clear, it is perfectly true that the best approach for young people is a voluntary approach. We think that the best approach is to place buying power in the hands of young people. We reject the compulsory route that is favoured by the Labour party, which will never understand that the way forward is to motivate and to encourage and to give people the incentives that they need to make the most of the opportunities that are available to them, not simply to rely on the dead hand of compulsion.

On the proposal that the training contract should make it possible for employers to recover the cost of their investment in training, the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman referred can be reflected in the contract. Far from it being a departure from a voluntary approach, it is a voluntary approach: it depends upon a contractual relationship being agreed between the employer and the employee. The difficulty that has arisen—and one of the obstacles to progress in that area—is that there has been doubt about the law. Many people have thought that such contracts were not enforceable. That is why it is important to clarify the law.

The true attitude of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and the Labour party emerged in his final two points. He talked about the European Commission's social action programme. He is blind to the independent studies that have been carried out on that programme, such as that by Professor Snower of Birkbeck college, which demonstrates clearly and beyond doubt how damaging those proposals would be to the creation of jobs in this country.

In his concluding remarks, the hon. Gentleman had the temerity to talk about the job losses that have been announced today by Gateway. Of course, I regret those job losses, but the hon. Gentleman has surely seen the article in The Independent on Sunday a week last Sunday which spelt out clearly the devastating consequences on jobs in the retail trade of his proposal for a national statutory minimum wage. How dare the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party claim to be concerned about jobs when they have put forward a package of proposals that would decimate employment in this country and confine millions of people to the dole queues. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of the lip service that he has paid to employment by continuing to outline such policies.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the House that we have a busy day ahead of us, including a ten-minute Bill motion. I will allow questions on the statement to go on until 4.15 pm. I hope that hon. Members will ask questions about the White Paper and not make wider points.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that during the past 25 years successive Governments have never quite got it right on training, which is so essential to our future prosperity? An exception to that is the past few years when we have made significant progress. This White Paper is another jump forward.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that the Opposition spokesman showed his lamentable inexperience of industry when he talked about poaching? In fact, companies which train properly and successfully over several years bitterly resent other companies which do not indulge in training taking their workers. That is a problem with which my right hon. and learned Friend is trying to cope. The example shows exactly that the Opposition are not in touch with what is going on.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. He speaks with the considerable experience of someone who served as a Minister in the Department of Employment. Perhaps I can confirm what he said by reference to one statistic. Between 1984 and 1990 there was an 85 per cent. increase in the number of people in work receiving training. Of course, more progress needs to be made, but that statistic is some indication of the progress that we are making and have made.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Secretary of State said that he would have to ask the Chief Secretary to the Treasury where the money would come from. He has not told the House how much he expects his proposals to cost, both in the pilot phase, when adult credits will be paid to a quarter of a million people, and later when he hopes to extend the scheme across the country. If the purpose of that is to transform attitudes to training, what effect will the lead handcuff clause that he proposes for the training contract have on attitudes to training? Is he not still missing the real point if he really wants to do something radical to promote opportunities for people at work, and create rights for citizens at work to ownership and participation in decision-making at the place of work?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. We have taken a considerable number of far-reaching measures in association with the Confederation of British Industry to encourage precisely that course.

As to the cost of the measures, the two-year cost of the skill check initiative will be some £25 million and the cost of the pilot scheme of vouchers to help unemployed people to make use of open learning facilities will be £3 million. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, those measures represent only part of our considerable range of initiatives. I do not suggest that these measures alone will revolutionise training in Britain, but, taken in conjunction with other measures that we have taken, the considerable progress made by the training and enterprise councils, together with Investors in People and our national record of achievement, we are certainly well on the way to completing a transformation of attitudes to training in Britain.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement. Does he accept that many employers, if not the overwhelming majority, support the Government's robust stance against the social clause? A leading textile and clothing employer told me last night that if we implemented the social clause it could cost thousands of jobs within his company.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that many of the new responsibilities that he announced would lie with the TECs. I have an excellent TEC, the South and East Cheshire TEC, which he knows well. Will he assure the House that the necessary funds to enable the TECs to undertake the additional responsibilities that he announced will be provided for those excellent bodies?

Mr. Howard

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful for his support. It is extraordinary how oblivious the Labour party remains to the extraordinarily damaging consequences of its proposals. Those consequences have been highlighted by my hon. Friend with specific examples from industries within his constituency. I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance for which he asked on resources for TECs for the initiative. There will be a competition to decide which 15 TECs will have responsibility for the initiative, and I expect many bids.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

The statement was extremely thin, but it touched on one matter of importance—the fact that some employers spend money on training but others do not: they poach. Instead of leaving that, as hitherto, to market forces, it appears that the Secretary of State wants to intervene; he wants to be dirigiste. Unfortunately, his approach is based on the same argument as that used by the people who built the Berlin wall—"If you leave the people who trained you, you have to pay a penalty".

That is the approach that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken, but there is another—that every employer should spend money on training. If they do, we can give freedom to our people. That is the argument for a levy on all employers. It is an argument not for training boards with a lot of bureaucracy, but for the present successful French policy where every employer has to spend money on training. In that way, we would increase national expenditure on training and the Secretary of State would not have to go in for these dictatorial measures.

Mr. Howard

I am afraid that the remarks of the hon. Members for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about market forces only go to show how little they understand them. Market forces are based on contract, and the proposal that I advanced would clarify the law to make it possible for people to enter into contracts, which would have the consequences that I described.

As to a levy, I am surprised that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East, with his experience as Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment, is not aware of the experience of employers throughout the country who sought to operate the levy that we used to have, which was recognised on all sides as a failure. It led to employers spending time in filling up forms and trying to ensure that every conceivable expense was lumped together under the heading of training instead of concentrating on the training itself. There could be no clearer example of the Opposition's blind and blinkered approach to these matters than that proposal.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

As an employer, may I say that the greatest single obstacle to providing training is the possibility that someone else will take away one's trainee and thereby render one's investment worthless? May I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that the explanation for the ill-tempered ignorance with which his proposals have been greeted today is that Opposition Members are, for the most part, neither employers on the one hand, nor employable on the other?

Mr. Howard

There is considerable ground for speculation about why the Opposition have adopted such a churlish attitude to proposals which are clearly well designed and will make a significant contribution to further improvement in attitudes to training. I can only hope—I am always an optimist in these matters—that on further, more mature reflection they will yet change their mind.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has done painfully little to create ladders of opportunity for disabled people because only one in three have jobs? That is a shocking figure. Is he also aware that some of his colleagues have damaged their interests because they talked out a Bill designed to outlaw discrimination against disabled people? Why does not the Minister enforce the employment quota for disabled people? Why does he not impose a levy—not the levy that we were just speaking about, but one similar to the French or German levy—to bring jobs to disabled people? What further action can we have?

Mr. Howard

The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that enforcing the quota is simply not practicable since there are not sufficient numbers of registered disabled people to fill the quota. We have reviewed the quota, as we have reviewed the range of ways in which we help disabled people into work, and we have decided to keep the quota under review, but the right hon. Gentleman knows of the difficulties in enforcing it.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

To promote employment in this country, does the Secretary of State's White Paper include policies of 25 per cent. VAT, a 35 per cent. basic rate of income tax, 52 per cent. corporation tax, a 98 per cent. tax on savings or 20 per cent. inflation—or am I right in thinking that no sane Government would introduce such policies honestly in this country? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that that is exactly what was introduced and confirmed in the Budget in April 1975, one year into the last Labour Government?

Mr. Howard

I am extremely interested in my hon. Friend's recollections. It is particularly worthy of note that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer who would have responsibility for these matters if a Labour Government were elected, was a prominent member of the Government at that time.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

What will happen to nurses who have trained at the taxpayers' expense in the national health service but who, increasingly, find themselves unable to get a job after three years' training? What will happen to their pay packets when they end up working in the private sector, often for less money—because we know that the national health service is simply a Bill away from being privatised? Will the Minister tell the nurses honestly whether they will have to pay for their training?

Mr. Howard

There is no question of making nurses pay for their training in those circumstances. How the hon. Lady supposes that the lot of nurses would be improved by the policies of the Labour party is utterly beyond me. Whether nurses would come under the arrangements identified in the White Paper depends entirely on the contractual arrangements that they make with their employers.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

I know that my right hon. and learned Friend keeps in close touch with the chairmen of the training and enterprise councils and that he is aware of the concern, particularly in the south of England, about the largesse that occasionally appears to be shown to the north. Will he confirm categorically that TECs will have equal access to the funds that he has made available under the White Paper, excellent as it is? Will he ensure that constituencies such as mine and others on the south coast, where employment is a problem and retraining is high on the agenda, have equal access to Government funds without fear or favour and that they have parity with the north of England?

Mr. Howard

The Isle of Wight TEC will certainly have equal access to the competition. We want to encourage excellence in the implementaton of this initiative. There will be a competition, which is the best way forward to ensure that the plans are implemented in the most effective way.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

What distinction does the Minister make between education and training? Many of the people who come under the first proposal would be paying back loans for educational purposes. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many people might be involved in this so-called transfer fee racket, which seems to be difficult to administer? Will he tell us about the relationship between his Department and Scottish Enterprise because, in the defence industry, we need a skills audit, which he could finance? Scottish Enterprise does not have the resources to proceed further with its study of the consequences of the fall in defence expenditure in Scotland.

Mr. Howard

I cannot give an estimate of the numbers involved. It will depend on how many choose to enter the type of contract that I have described.

On the distinction between education and training, we have done a great deal to bring together the best of education and of training. The hon. Gentleman may be interested in one significant and revealing statistic. In 1979–80, 46 per cent. of all 16-year-olds were in education or training. In 1989–90 that figure had gone up to 73 per cent. That shows the progress that we have made in the past 12 years in taking education and training forward.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals, particularly his skilful proposal which deals with poaching. They contrast not only with the bureaucratic levy grant system, which used to exist, but with the Labour party's taxation proposals. Is he aware that my constituents in the retail industry will take careful note of his response to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) on the devastating effects that the minimum wage would have on that industry? Will he consult with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security about how the availability for work rule might impede people, particularly the adult unemployed, in obtaining useful training which might enable them to return to work?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support and for his important observations about the retail industry in his constituency. I know that he will lose no opportunity to make it clear to employers and workers in that industry how devastating the prospects for their jobs would be if the Labour party's proposals were put into effect. I do not think that the availability for work rule will impinge on any of the proposals that are identified in the White Paper, but I shall reflect on the point that my hon. Friend made.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens. South)

Will the Secretary of State please explain how the skills in such industries as glass making, silver filigree work, carpentry, marquetry and the rest will be perpetuated to the next generation if the very firms in which those skills are needed are going bust due to the policies of the Government?

Mr. Howard

An encouraging aspect of the recession is that, unlike previous recessions, training has not been the first thing to be cut. One survey after another, the latest being the CBI survey, shows that four out of five employers are proposing to maintain or increase their investment in training, despite the present difficulties that they undoubtedly face. So I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take some comfort, as I do, from the figures.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Select Committee on Employment recently had before it representatives of the Open University who talked about open learning for people losing their jobs? In view of the terrible reception that that got from Opposition Members—even though the Labour party introduced the Open University—may I ask him to say whether the Open University will be used as an adviser to the Department in setting up the excellent open learning policy? How many people does he believe will take advantage of that excellent way of ensuring that people are trained in skills, both when they are unemployed and when they are still in work?

Mr. Howard

I am always interested in the views of the Open University, which has undoubtedly played an important part in taking foward open learning, in which we lead the world. The success of Britain in taking open learning forward is one of our unsung achievements. Indeed, at exhibitions on open learning in almost any part of the world, about 50 per cent. of the stands are from Britain. It is difficult to estimate the numbers of people involved, but I think that it will represent a significant and useful way of increasing the range of options available to unemployed people who wish to reskill themselves.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

If employers fail to enhance the skills and training of the work force, what claim will the work force have against employers for such loss?

Mr. Howard

The thought behind the hon. Gentleman's question is valid. It is of the utmost importance that employers appreciate the significance of training. It is much more important that they do that than anything the Government can do. Employers in this country are investing about £20 billion a year in training. We want to increase that sum and to enhance the quality of the training that they provide. We have put in place a range of measures, including those I have described, to encourage them to do that.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that small firms in particular provide the kind of flexibility that is needed to make the new initiative a great success? Does he further agree that those small firms are a vital part of the rural economy? Will he ensure that the North Yorkshire training and enterprise council, which is an excellent body, is given every opportunity to enhance the rural economy through this imaginative initiative?

Mr. Howard

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of small firms, and I look forward to receiving a bid from the North Yorkshire training and enterprise council to run one of our assessment initiative schemes.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

A jeweller named Ratner had a selling technique for getting rid of rubbish. Unfortunately, the same seems to be happening this afternoon, the Government taking a leaf out of his ideological book in offering absolutely nothing to people who are desperate for jobs and training.

In relation to the transfer levy, what will happen to the thousands of teachers who have been trained at the taxpayers' expense, some of whom teach not in the state sector but in the private sector? Will those teachers, under the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals, have to reimburse the taxpayers for that expensive training?

Mr. Howard

They will not have to do so as matters stand. Whether they will have to in future will depend on whether they are prepared to enter into contractual arrangements with the local education authorities.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

May I take the Secretary of State back to the question on nurses asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon)? Does he accept that the national health service is different in the sense that it is owned, managed and run by the Government and a Secretary of State sets in place legislative proposals? Will he give an absolute guarantee that under no circumstances will he enforce the area health authorities in England or health boards in Scotland to introduce such contracts for the training of nurses?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously expect me to give such an undertaking. If necessary, those matters will be considered in the future.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

Hexagon Community Ltd. provides a quality training service through the Mersey training and enterprise council. Its funding has been cut and it appears that it has been offered a wind-down contract. In the light of the Secretary of State's comments, what message can I take back to the 35 staff and 205 trainees who will have no jobs or training?

Mr. Howard

I am not sure how that arises on the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman may not have been in the Chamber during Employment questions this afternoon, when the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), was asked about Hexagon and training. He said that he had received a letter from Hexagon and that he would reply to it shortly.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

The Minister has rightly said that employees should have more information about their terms of service. Does he propose to extend the requirements for written particulars of service under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978? If so, are people to be told precisely what they must repay if, having received training, they decide, for whatever reason, to move? It is no way to improve employees' willingness to undergo training if they are liable to be fined if they move on.

Mr. Howard

Employees' willingness to receive training is not the problem. Employees show a ready desire to take advantage of training opportunities. As to the precise way in which we legislate on the matter, the White Paper makes it clear that we shall consult on that. I look forward to receiving representations from the hon. and learned Gentleman when we do so.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Will the Secretary of State accept that his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) was complacent in the extreme? If the quotas are not working after 13 years, as the Secretary of State claims, what proposals do the Government have to deal with blatant discrimination against disabled people? Does he realise that, in talking out the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), the Government are years behind even President Bush? Will he accept that the word "opportunity" will sound hollow to millions of disabled people who are looking for jobs?

Mr. Howard

I do not accept that, because we have gone to considerable lengths to help disabled people into work in a number of ways and under a variety of schemes. In answering the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), I was facing up to the difficulties in terms of enforcing the quota. No one has come up with an obvious and attractive alternative to it. I know that the hon. Gentleman is devoted to the principle of legislation in that area, but I am far from convinced that legislation would have the effect that he genuinely desires.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

The Secretary of State has told the House that he is making provision for employers to claw back some financial recompense in respect of employees who leave before the minimum period has elapsed after their training. What about recompense for major and responsible employers, such as the Royal Mint in Llantrisant in my constituency, who find that firms poach trained people because they cannot afford to train people themselves due to the Government's mismanagement of the economy?

Mr. Howard

I must confess that I find the logic behind the hon. Gentleman's question extremely difficult to follow. Firms are increasingly recognising the importance of investment in training. They are investing in training to an ever-increasing extent. The number of policies that we have put in place is encouraging them to do precisely that.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a deputation from GEC Switchgear, Openshaw, Manchester to prevent job losses? What choice or opportunity do those 169 sacked workers have? What opportunity or choice does Mr. Boyle have? He has worked there for 30 years and will get no chance of retraining at his age or financial remuneration of any kind. What does the White Paper mean to them? It is an insult.

Mr. Howard

I understand very well how difficult things will look to those who have recently lost their job, but about 50 per cent. of those who are unfortunate enough to lose their job leave unemployment within three months. The range of measures that we have in place to help unemployed people has helped many, including a 60-year-old I met the other day on Teesside, who had been unemployed for a considerable period and who was helped back into work by one of the schemes that we have recently introduced. There is a range of ways available to help people back to work. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his constituents to make the most of them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry that I have not been able to accommodate the three hon. Members who are standing, but I shall certainly bear their claims in mind when we return to the subject on another occasion.