HL Deb 17 June 1976 vol 371 cc1376-9

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take to provide increased opportunities for further education and training, including compulsory paid day release, especially for young people who leave school early.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the cost of compulsory paid day release and the need for preliminary curriculum development make it impossible to introduce as soon as we would like, However, the Government intend to give priority within available resources to the vocational preparation of young people who leave school at 16 and receive little or no further education or training. Our proposals involving a programme of pilot schemes of further education and training will be announced within a few weeks.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Is she aware that this problem should have a very high priority, and that we will never achieve economic parity with a great many of our industrial competitors while we allow some 300,000 young people who are leaving school at 16 years of age to go into all kinds of blind alley occupations, without an opportunity of getting any technical training whatever?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords. I accept what my noble friend has said, but in these days of economic crisis and financial restraint we have to adopt certain priorities. At the moment, we are still hoping that the day will come in the not too far distant future when we can encourage compulsory day release. But I would remind my noble friend that despite our poor overall performance, some industries, including mining, engineering, metal manufacturing and the motor industry, have comparatively good records of day release with over 50 per cent. of employees under 18 attending colleges of further education. In other occupations, particularly those in which a large number of young women are employed, the figures are very low. But the main aim of the pilot schemes which we have in mind is to find ways of attracting young people who receive little or no further education or training, and to persuade their employers that they, too, will benefit.


My Lords, may I remind the noble Baroness that the question of compulsory day release was only one part of the noble Lord's Question? Also, may I ask her whether she does not think that the talk of pilot schemes is altogether lacking in the necessary urgency? Do the Government not realise that past experience under Governments of both Parties has shown, time after time, that economic expansion in this country has run into trouble, mainly because of bottle-necks in the supply of skilled manpower?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I accept entirely what the noble Lord has said, but at the moment there are financial stringencies.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the intense feeling that exists on this matter? We appreciate that it may be some time before the Government can introduce the legislation which they so desire, hut, in view of the large number of students who are entering teaching colleges and finding no work available at the end of their training, can my noble friend encourage a diversion from teaching to the polytechnics or technical colleges, with a view to equipping those people for some service in industry?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that is rather wide of the original Question. If my noble friend would like to put down a Question, I will do my best to answer it.


My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government not feel that it is extremely important that this further education and training should take place, and have Her Majesty's Government considered the economic advantages of doing this? If they are satisfied that there are economic ad- vantages in it, I fail to understand how they can say that the money is not available.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the only way in which Her Majesty's Government can go part of the way towards training over-16s at the moment is with the kind of programme that we are producing under the pilot schemes. This will be announced within a few weeks, and we hope that the forms of training will be started in the autumn of this year. I am sure that as soon as the finance becomes available the Government will want to adhere to their Manifesto pledge, and will want to introduce compulsory day release, but at the moment it is not financially possible.


My Lords, bearing in mind what the noble Baroness said about priorities, is it too late to divert the£15 million which it is proposed to lend to Mozambique, where some of it will doubtless he used for guerrilla training, and instead see that it is used for training our own people here?


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that every week that passes will produce complaints throughout the industries using skilled labour that they cannot obtain the skilled labour they need? Is she further aware that the irony of this position is that the main way of getting back to work the 1¼ million unemployed is by employing skilled labour, which itself then employs semi-skilled and unskilled labour?


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it would be possible to consult the Minister of Defence to ascertain whether young people could undergo technical training, mechanical training and the like at some of the establishments under his control—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force? They have plenty of accommodation for training of that kind, and that would not increase expenditure to any degree.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, various conferences have been held, but I am not in a position to say whether the point raised by my noble friend is one of those that have been considered. But I will certainly bring it to the attention of those concerned, and if they have not considered it I will ask them to look at it.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, arising out of the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Lee, on the need for skilled labour, are not the best providers of skilled labour training British industries themselves? Would not an early relaxation of price controls, along the lines which we are given to believe the Government are also considering, be the best way of letting them get on with the job?

Baroness STEDMAN

That again, my Lords, is another question.


My Lords, in order to introduce some kind of balance, may I ask my noble friend whether she agrees that nearly all the technical colleges in the country are quite well off for students, many of whom have gone there of their own volition while many others are on day release courses which have been arranged by their employers?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the percentage of young people under the age of 18 in our schools and technical colleges in 1964 was 36.6 per cent. and in 1972—the last year for which we have figures available—was 50 per cent. So my noble friend is right. More and more people are staying on to do technical college work.