HC Deb 18 March 1999 vol 327 cc1250-1
9. Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

What role individual learning accounts will play in the university for industry. [75583]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

Many account holders will want to access the advice, guidance and tailored material that the university for industry will provide, precisely because it targets individual companies and the needs of individuals. Today we have launched the development plan for the university for industry. We have announced the board membership, including the chairman, Lord Dearing, and the vice-chairman, Tony Greener, who is chairman of Diaegio plc.

Mr. Foster

Given the welcome tax incentives for individual learning accounts that were announced in the Budget, what message would my right hon. Friend send to businesses in my constituency and elsewhere to encourage them to contribute to individual learning accounts for their employees?

Mr. Blunkett

The message was a strong one: if businesses are prepared to invest in individual learning accounts, neither they nor the recipient will have to pay tax or have it counted for tax purposes against them. There will therefore be a substantial incentive for the individual—and encouragement for trade unions, through their bargaining-for-skills programme and similar initiatives, to make the development of negotiations over skills and the investment in the skills needs of the future a crucial part not merely of modernising our economy, but of their contribution to ensuring the well-being and security of the work force in the years ahead.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

We were delighted when the Government accepted the Liberal Democrat proposals for individual learning accounts. We are pleased that they have also rolled out the issue of tax relief for students and their families, and also from employers. Will the Secretary of State tell us, first, whether there will be limits on those contributions; secondly, when individual learning accounts will be available to all students; and thirdly, whether that will mean that, in the payment of tuition fees, money put in by individuals or employers will attract up to 40 per cent. tax relief?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

If it's your policy, what are you worried about?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) puts it succinctly. If it is the Liberal Democrats' policy, I should be asking the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) the question.

I announced the policy of individual learning accounts three years ago. We have been working with local partners and with training and enterprise councils to ensure that, when the accounts are launched, they are a great success. The first million will be available by next year, funded by £150 million of public money. There is a £500 cap. The standard rate of income tax is applied. As we shall see when the Moser report is published, this is a policy for investing in the basic skills needs of the vast majority of people who have few—or, in many cases, no—qualifications and skills.

This is not a policy, unlike the previous vocational tax relief, to encourage people to follow, at public expense, leisure courses such as the piloting of aircraft and deep sea diving.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I warmly welcome the recent announcement about individual learning accounts and the way in which they will encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own learning. Will they be available to right hon. and hon. Members and their assistants, and, if so, would my right hon. Friend encourage us to take advantage of them?

Mr. Blunkett

I have been hoist by my own petard. Yes, I would encourage all hon. Members to take advantage of them, and I would encourage people to ensure that those who do not have basic skills can take up the scheme in a new and imaginative way. I had better stress once again that individual learning accounts will not be available for diving courses here or anywhere else in the world.

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