HC Deb 26 June 1997 vol 296 cc974-5
7. Mr. Öpik

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on his plans to increase investment in training. [4096]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Dr. Kim Howells)

Our proposals for increasing participation in training by individuals and employers will be set out in a White Paper on lifelong learning in the autumn.

Mr. Öpik

While I welcome any initiative that improves the general level of skills and education, does the Minister agree that many skills shortages are created by the relatively high cost of skills training in certain sectors, such as engineering? Will he commit the Government to ensuring that priority funding goes into the sectors where there are skills shortages to ensure that British industry as a whole does not feel that the Government are, let us say, tilting at windfalls?

Dr. Howells

Well, I do not know whether there are any national vocational qualifications in windmill construction, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman: we have to be imaginative in trying to procure for training purposes the very best state-of-the art machinery, especially in engineering, science and similar disciplines. It is very worrying that, all too often, further education colleges, universities and other institutions tend to go for the softer options—the cheaper courses—rather than concentrate on those that require a good deal of expensive machinery.

Mr. Pike

Does my hon. Friend think that training and enterprise councils are sufficiently accountable, locally and nationally, for the training that they deliver in view of the investment in them? Should not more be done to make them more accountable?

Dr. Howells

There is no doubt that the performance of TECs is extremely patchy. The Government are determined to introduce performance standards that can be monitored, that TECs should be much more accountable, and that they should co-ordinate their activities much more closely with FE colleges, local authorities and universities in their area. That is how they can maximise their input into their regional economies.

Mr. Rowe

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that it is good for the morale of a profession to have its training prescribed by politicians without relevant professional qualifications? If so, can we look forward to statements from the Secretary of State for Health on how doctors might be trained to perform operations or from the Secretary of State for Transport on how to drive a train?

Dr. Howells