HL Deb 30 September 1976 vol 374 cc569-73

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 practical steps they are taking, in concert with educational authorities, to encourage careers in manufacturing industry.


My Lords, the Government are very conscious of the importance of ensuring that manufacturing industry secures its fair share of able people. I can assure your Lordships that the Careers Service, the education services, the employment and training services and industry itself are all working together at both national and local levels to achieve better co-operation and to provide more realistic guidance and information to young people about careers in manufacturing industry.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply and I am very glad to see that he agrees entirely with my own feelings on this matter. Does the noble Lord agree that in view of the parlous state of our economy, this is perhaps the best long-term investment we can make for the good of the country?


I entirely agree, my Lords. I think that the Government have a good record in that respect.


My Lords, so many Departments are involved in this matter, and my noble friend will remember that some time ago I asked a Question in this connection. Is my noble friend now able to say what improvement is taking place regarding an intake into these schemes? In view of the desire among many students and others attending colleges to switch over to the industrial side, can my noble friend say what improvement is now taking place compared with when this matter was last raised?


I find that difficult, my Lords, because there are so many improvements taking place all over the show. For example, there is vast progress in improving the knowledge of pupils in relation to the careers available in industry. For instance, there are work experience schemes for school pupils; there are link courses between schools and further education colleges—and here I would remind the House that we are spending £500 million on further education, much of which relates to industry. Furthermore, arrangements are being made to bring teachers and representatives of industry together to consider school courses. There is a major industry project by the Schools Council in consultation with the CBI and the TUC.

There is a programme which includes mobile exhibitions, films and magazines advertising careers in industry to pupils. From industry itself there is the CBI scheme for giving teachers industrial experience, and there is the understanding British Industry Foundation, as well as recent initiatives by the engineering industry to help schools. Action is also being taken by the universities. I could go on and speak of action which is being taken by the Training Board, but I think it would bore the House.


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that British industry in many areas is desperately short of young people trained in industrial subjects? Would it not make sense, perhaps, to increase the grants to engineering and other students, while possibly reducing the grants in cases where there is a surplus of manpower and where, when students finish their courses, they may have no chance of employment? Would this not make sense and would it not be a very good investment in industry?


My Lords, first we have the training schemes associated with the training services and the training boards. Here the Government have made available £140 million which is attracting 75,000 students for skilled training in industry, and this involves mostly students who because of the recession would not have had that training had this action not been taken. But in addition there is some move on some kind of Government support for differential grants. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Industry said in another place that differential funding to encourage young people to pursue careers of direct industrial relevance is an action that is now under consideration. That was followed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education stating recently that she wants special attention to be given to the problem of how to attract young people—women as well as men—into engineering and applied sciences. She has also indicated that in this matter she will be working very closely with the Minister for Industry.


My Lords, if so much is being done may I ask the Minister why it is, then, that applications for places in our polytechnics in the North for subjects to do with manufacturing industry are the lowest on record this year?


My Lords, that is our problem. Our problem is not that we are unwilling to attract them or are not doing all we can to do so. We are up against the resistance of the students. For example, the intake to industry from the universities fell to a very low figure in 1975. Only 23 per cent. of the university graduates who took up careers went into industry. The resistance is on the other side. We are doing all we can. We are spending millions of pounds trying to break down that resistance.


My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that the answers should be sought further down the educational ladder? Does he not see the decline in the teaching of mathematics? Does he not see the turning away from the scientific subjects? Should he not be turning his attention there, to where the standards of teaching and the enthusiasm of the pupils are engendered?


My Lords, I am pleased to be able to tell the House that our interest is there also. The Government are naturally concerned with this, and work is going on which will give a clearer picture of standards of achievement in English and arithmetic, and how to maintain and improve them.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in Britain the percentage of young people obtaining day or block release is less than 20 per cent., while in Sweden it is over 80 per cent. and is the same in Germany? Can he say at what stage the Government will consider making block release for all these young people compulsory?


My Lords, I think it is quite clear that I would not be able at this stage to make such a statement, but I shall cheer with my noble friend when such a statement is made.


My Lords, can my noble friend say why so few apprenticeships are given to girls and what the Government are doing to prevent this quite appalling wastage of ability?


My Lords, there is a special scheme, with grants—I am speaking here from memory—which is being promoted by the training services for girls in engineering, and in addition a recent statement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education shows that she has a particular interest in girls in engineering.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, further to the question put by my noble friend Lord Elton, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that half the children in school today are being taught mathematics by teachers who themselves have not even "O" level? Throughout the country—I can give many instances, and will do so next week on the Education Bill—employers are complaining that the young people who come to them cannot add up.


My Lords, I can only repeat that we are aware of the problem indicated and that work is being done upon it.


My Lords, would the Minister agree with me that from this questioning it appears that ample facilities are being provided for students but that the manufacturers themselves are not making the jobs they will subsequently get sufficiently attractive to make more students go into the courses which are provided for them?


My Lords, there is strong evidence to support that view.


My Lords, may I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that I have a direct Question down for tomorrow on apprenticeships for girls, and that I am hoping for supplementary support from the noble Baroness opposite if she is here?

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I think this subject has been well covered, and my noble friend has answered effectively. I think we should proceed to the next Question.

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