HC Deb 17 May 1994 vol 243 cc661-3
5. Mr. Duncan

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received from industry and trade unions in support of the proposed modern apprenticeship scheme.

Mr. David Hunt

Many messages of support.

Mr. Duncan

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in his discussions with the trade unions they have indicated that their demand for a minimum wage would not extend to this scheme if it were implemented? Does that not show that the trade unions know that a minimum wage would destroy jobs in the way that the trade union movement destroyed apprenticeships in the 1960s and 1970s, and that the minimum wage, as the policy of the Labour party, should best be dropped altogether?

Mr. Hunt

There is an atmosphere of lack of enthusiasm for any proposals for a statutory minimum wage, even extending to our colleagues on the Labour Benches, who have understood that such an idea would not be popular at present. I do not believe that it would be popular because it would strike at the heart of a scheme such as the new modern apprenticeship scheme. Moreover, in the past 15 years young people's earnings have increased in real terms right across the spectrum.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

In the many messages that the Secretary of State has received from employers, what exactly has the Engineering Employers Federation said to him about the new modern apprenticeship scheme? When we spoke to the EEF the other day, it was markedly lukewarm, feeling that we were probably going down the road towards yet another underfunded gimmick. What exactly is the view of the Engineering Employers Federation to the proposed new apprenticeship scheme?

Mr. Hunt

When I met the EEF on Monday, its view was very positive. I hope that the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman is not widely held in the EEF. It is now very much up to employers to develop the scheme. We have not laid down a statutory Government scheme: we have asked employers to come forward with prototypes that they believe will be successful in delivering at NVQ level 3—equivalent to two A-Levels—the skills that they believe are necessary in their industries. In my experience, the engineering industry is one of the most important sectors behind the new modern apprenticeship scheme so far.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that much of industry is enthusiastic about the scheme, believing that the only way forward to provide the skilled craftspeople of the future is through apprenticeship schemes? Is he aware of the importance of electrical skills to the film industry, for example? An example of that industry's excellence is the lighting provided at the Palace of Westminster for the state opening of Parliament.

Mr. Hunt

I am happy to endorse what my hon. Friend has said. One of the prototypes for the new modern apprenticeship scheme is coming from the electrical installation engineering sector and I am delighted about that.

Mr. Prescott

Does the Secretary of State accept that the result of the Government's scrapping of the 20 statutory training boards and their statutory levies was a reduction of more than 150,000 apprenticeships? Industry did not invest in apprentices. Has not the time arrived to adopt the principle of a statutory training levy? Has not the problem with training in Britain been the lack of adequate finances to produce the skills required, as industry does not do this voluntarily?

Mr. Hunt

I hope that when the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics he will recognise that one good feature of a pretty tough recession has been the way in which expenditure on training by employers has held up extremely well. Employers now invest some £20,000 million on training. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have a particular problem—although I disagree with him about its causes—in filling the much-needed skills level at NVQ level 3 through a new modern apprenticeship system. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will let me have his thoughts about how the new prototypes can be developed, since I am open to argument as to how best the scheme can be taken forward.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the enormous increase in spending on academic training through the Department for Education, the balance must be redressed by putting more money into training for work, particularly in counties such as Liberal Democrat-controlled Dorset, where the council has slashed the discretionary grant for people going on to schemes which are job related?

Mr. Hunt

I agree with my hon. Friend. I should like to see a substantial increase in workplace training. We must deliver opportunities to young people leaving school not just to go down the traditional academic route, but to see exciting opportunities in the new modern apprenticeship scheme. I very much hope that there will be successful vocational training, particularly in specific new areas and in new industries, to deliver those much-needed skills in the future.

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