HC Deb 20 March 2000 vol 346 cc712-3
13. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

If he will make a statement on the recent progress of the Government's learning forces initiative. [113701]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

We are making good progress with our learning forces initiative, which introduced a series of measures to enhance opportunities for education and personal self-development of armed forces personnel. Our forces are widely dispersed across the globe, so by using modern information technology-based learning facilities we are bringing access to training and education to service people's workplaces, as far as possible regardless of geographical location.

Ms Keeble

I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. Will the scheme be extended to give service personnel more general training in areas such as housing and finance, bearing in mind that ex-service personnel are among the groups most likely to end up homeless and sleeping rough on the streets of our towns and cities?

Mr. Spellar

The actual figures for the number of personnel who are homeless may well be skewed, particularly in the older age group, by the fact that the majority of them will have undertaken national service. However, we recognise that there are some difficulties and we are in discussions with other Departments to deal with that.

I take my hon. Friend's point on improving basic skills—that is part of the programme. It is a flexible programme, enabling individuals to develop their skills and, equally importantly, to acquire the certification that gives them portable skills to take back into civilian life after they have finished serving with our armed forces.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Minister accept that retention is a problem for the armed forces, and that the learning forces initiative can have a positive part to play? Will the Government consider extending NVQ2 to the forces network under this scheme?

Mr. Spellar

We are looking, in as many cases as possible, at extending certification and proper levels of qualification. That gives objectives for individuals to aim for and provides a discipline within the framework of education. Equally importantly, it provides a benchmark and portable, recognised qualifications that individuals can take with them when they go back to their civilian careers, enabling them to have on-going careers, not just in the armed forces. As the hon. Lady rightly says, that is an important part not only of work within the forces but of retention. My experience and the experience of colleagues in visiting various bases has been that people undertake this enthusiastically, not just in this country but, through the use of modern information technology, at our bases in many areas around the world, even in some that we hope will be temporary.

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