HL Deb 08 August 1972 vol 334 cc976-82

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement which has been made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment in another place. These are his words:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement. I have now completed the process of consultation on the proposals published for discussion in Training for the Future.

"As the House will recall there were three main elements:

"First: the development of a Training Opportunities Scheme to give a wider choice of training to meet the needs of individuals;

"Second: the establishment of a National Training Agency which would take over many responsibilities at present carried out by my Department and which would co-ordinate the continuing work of the Industrial Training Boards;

"Third: it was proposed that the levy/grant schemes of the Industrial Training Boards should in general cease after the end of 1973 and that the National Training Agency should finance out of public funds continuing incentives to key training activities.

"The Training Opportunities Scheme has been widely welcomed. The first substantial development in the Scheme starts this month. I mean to keep the pressure on expansion in order to exceed if possible the target figures set out in Training for the Future.

"The proposal for a National Training Agency has received substantial support. But many people, including the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. have expressed concern at the separation of such an Agency from the new Employment Services Agency operating within my Department.

"Before coming to any final conclusion on the ultimate form of organisation I propose to have further talks with the T.U.C. and C.B.I. The purpose will be twofold:

to co-ordinate the employment and training services; and to involve employers and employees in both these activities.

"To get things moving before any permanent organisation can be established, I am reorganising the training services within my Department under a Chief Executive to match the management structure of the Employment Services Agency.

"This Training Services Agency—and naturally the permanent organisation into which it will in due course be integrated—will carry out the broad range of functions set out for the proposed National Training Agency in Training for the Future.

"These include the operation of the Training Opportunities Scheme; financing grants to encourage key training activities; meeting the administrative expenses of the Industrial Training Boards (though the staff of the I.T.B.s will continue to be employed by the Boards); and providing training services in areas not covered by I.T.B.s.

"The cost of these activities, in addition to the cost of the Training Opportunities Scheme, would—as envisaged in Training for the Future—be in the range of £25 million to £40 million a year.

"Finally, the proposals for the future operation of the Industrial Training Boards.

"Many responsible people have expressed to me their conviction that these would lead to a substantial falling-off in the quantity and, more particularly, the quality of training in important industries and that some continuing financial pressure for good training is necessary if the ground gained in the last decade is not to be lost. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the present system of levy/grant is not satisfactory.

"I therefore propose the following changes. As regards Industrial Training Board levies, smaller firms—for which the levy/grant system has never really been suitable—will be wholly exempt, and the present exemption levels will be raised.

"I shall also require Boards to exempt from the levy after 1973/1974 any firm which they are satisfied is carrying out such training as is reasonable to meet the firm's own needs.

"Other firms above the exemption limit may be required to pay a levy which will not, however, exceed 1 per cent. of pay-roll; and the money will be used by Boards to encourage better training in their industries.

Adequate appeal machinery will be instituted.

"This will mean that over the next two years a great number of firms will become free of the levy complications. I believe that these arrangements will also help to ensure the maintenance of adequate and good quality training by industry.

"These, in outline, are the plans for reorganising the manpower services which are essential to the reduction of unemployment, to better job opportunities for individuals and to the proper use of manpower resources. They will take time to put into full effect. But we arc starting the rapid expansion of training and training opportunities at once."

My Lords, my right honourable friend then ended his Statement.


My Lords, we thank the noble Earl for repeating that Statement, which perhaps it was worth while to make before the Long Recess—that is, the Long Recess for the other place, but not for this House. We welcomed the Training Opportunities Scheme when we discussed the document Training for the Future, and the House will, I am sure, support the paragraph telling us that the first substantial expansion of the Scheme starts this month. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would expand that paragraph a little. What does the"substantial expansion"amount to? Can the noble Earl tell us something about that?

On the proposal for a National Training Agency, it will be remembered that we pressed for the creation of something in the nature of a national manpower board, which would include responsibility for training required by particular industries, retraining for redeployment and for job changing, for forecasting to meet the needs of the economy, and other aspects of employment.These, I think, are all indivisible the one from the other. On this aspect we must reserve judgment until we see the outcome of the talks with the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. The phasing out of what is virtually the grant levy system is something of which I have very grave doubts. I remember when this was first mooted a member of an Industrial Training Board expressed the fear that a considerable amendment to the Scheme would result in a lessening of interest and activity by very many firms. That is something which we should very much deplore. But, my Lords, with these reservations I think that these proposals are on the whole to be welcomed.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for what I suppose could be called his modified rapture at my right honourable friend's Statement. I can tell him a little more about the widening of the Training Opportunities Scheme. This Scheme is really now extended to meet a wider range of individuals and of activities. It also takes into account those activities which in the Government's view attain to national needs and not simply to local needs of individual firms. As to his concern for a manpower services agency, I would say that the thinking in this direction is being considerably met in the consultations we have had; but the noble Lord will be aware that these consultations are still going on and we shall not know more about them until the autumn.

The noble Lord talked about his misgivings over the phasing out of the levy system. I would say that this is really more of a sensible modification than a phasing out, and I think that if he re-reads the Statement of my right honourable friend he will see that the levy system is still remaining in operation.

BARONESS SEEAR: My Lords, I should like also to give a qualified welcome, together with thanks to the noble Earl, for this modification of the original Consultative Document, Training for the Future. I am sure we are all glad to know that the Training Opportunities Scheme is to come into action so quickly. That Scheme received support from all sides of the House, and certainly from these Benches.

I have some doubts as to whether the amount of money it is suggested shall go into training is going to be adequate to meet the growing needs in this field, needs with which we shall undoubtedly be confronted. However, there is no doubt that the bringing forward of this Scheme is something very much to be applauded. We are also glad to see that the Government have modified their intention to centralise training, largely at the expense of the effective work of the Industrial Training Boards which, in our view, would have been the undoubted result of the original proposals. Do I understand that for the larger firms you are retaining the levy in a modified form but not a system of grants? I believe myself that this is the case and that it is a considerable improvement, though I doubt very much whether a levy based on one per cent. of the wages bill is really going to be adequate to give the Boards the degree of financial independence which they undoubtedly need. The removal of the grant is no disadvantage and will in fact save organisations from a very great deal of unprofitable work. That development is greatly to be welcomed.

I hope I am right in reading into what has been reported that the Training Boards will continue to have real control over their own staffs, because it is on this point that the really effective work of the Boards must depend, together with their finance. As the noble Earl may remember, it was the controlling of staff by the National Training Agency about which we were deeply apprehensive. The only other point I should like to make concerns the question of the need for a National Manpower Agency rather than two separate organisations. I understood the noble Earl to say that there are two organisations, one to deal with training and the other with manpower services. I deeply deplore this. I believe that to set up two organisations would mean that we shall not get this right, and that it will be very difficult in the future to get it right because these are totally integrated activities. The suggestion here seems to me—though perhaps I may be wrong—that the change will involve great changes inside the Department. It seems to me of the greatest importance that this organisation should be as independent as it is possible to make it, and I suspect that is not what is suggested here.


My Lords, may I take first the noble Baroness's last point, in order to alleviate her anxiety. The noble Baroness will, I think, appreciate that this is something in the nature of a holding Statement. The main concern has been to end the planning blight, if I may so call it, which surrounded the levy grant system. That has now been ended. The decision will inevitably modify questions of organisation, nomenclature and the like, and it is about these that we are having further consultations with the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. during the Recess.

As to the noble Baroness's anxiety that the sums of £25 million to £40 million might not be adequate provision, I should have thought that those figures were left fairly wide to ensure flexibility. I would remind the noble Baroness that this is only the Government's work, so to speak, and that most of our firms undertake their own training activities as well. She asked me about the effect on the I.T.B. staff. We recognise that most Training Board staff did want to remain in the employment of the Boards and, in the situation which is now envisaged in the light of the new proposals, the Government think that this is right.


My Lords, as Director of the Distributive Industry Training Board perhaps I might also add my words and say that I welcome the Government's scheme very much. I should like to ask just one question of my noble friend. As I understood it, the levy is to be continued provided it does not exceed one per cent. of the annual payroll, provided that efforts are made to have a high cover point to exclude all those who cannot benefit from it, and that there is provision made for those firms which are already training well enough to be disengaged from the process.

My noble friend also said—and this is my main point of doubt—that the section of the Department of Employment which is to be set up pending discussions on the National Training Agency would be responsible for the financing of the Industrial Training Boards. This appears to me to be at loggerheads with the suggestion that the Boards are retaining the levy as the main source of income. Perhaps my noble friend would be able to clarify that for me before I conclude my remarks.


My Lords, I am not sure whether I can give my noble friend off-the-cuff clarification on that point, but I will write to him.


My Lords, if the situation is as it appears to be, I should like to congratulate the Government on arriving at a very rational solution to an extremely difficult problem, the effect of which will be, I trust and believe, to continue to provide the impetus necessary to improve training throughout this country, to the ultimate benefit of us all—not to mention the individuals involved—and at the same time to remove the main exacerbations which have been irritating some firms. Well done!


My Lords, I am grateful for those remarks.