HL Deb 24 May 1978 vol 392 cc963-6

2.54 p.m.


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 how many people are now being helped by the temporary employment subsidy and other similar schemes, and what proportion of the total are receiving training for permanent industrial employment.


My Lords, statistics published yesterday show that 166,750 workers are currently benefiting from the temporary employment subsidy and a further 145,257 are being assisted under the other special employment and training measures of the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission.

People receive training for permanent industrial employment in certain elements of the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP) and in the training places supported in industry by the special measures programme. These people represent about 10 per cent. of all those currently covered by the special measures. In addition, a further 36,000 people are receiving vocational training under the Manpower Services Commission's permanent Training Opportunities Scheme.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that although it may be of temporary, and certainly of political, advantage to take 300,000 people off the employment register—and broadly we support most of those schemes which incidentally involved spending £900 million over the past three years—is it not true that in the long run, if more of these young people are given training for industry, it will be to their advantage and to their country's advantage? Will the Government consider raising the number of people—currently 50 per cent.—who are now receiving some sort of industrial training?


My Lords, let me first say that it is a question not of political advantage but of giving people an opportunity to have some experience of employment instead of receiving considerable sums of money in total in unemployment benefit, and standing about idly in the streets. Furthermore, I should draw your Lordships' attention—this is more or less in general reply to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing —to the fact that the Manpower Services Commission's Youth Opportunities Programme which began only on 1st April will provide 234,000 young people aged 16 to 18 with an opportunity of training and receiving work experience in a full year. Work experience is, in fact, training. In that way unemployed young people will be prepared to take up permanent employment. The £160 million a year already pledged for YOP should ensure that all summer or Easter school-leavers who are still unemployed by next Easter will be offered a place on the programme. I should say quite definitely that that is public money well spent.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that reports by the National Economic Development Council and other reputable bodies of that kind, have shown that shortages in a number of skilled occupations constitute a serious potential constraint on our future economic growth?


My Lords, that is so. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. In point of fact, before I came into the Chamber I was reading the Eastern Daily Press in which it said that, although there was a welcome drop in unemployment, there was in fact quite a considerable shortage of skilled workers. I am sure that what is happening in East Anglia is happening elsewhere. Training for skilled workers is vitally important. Even in firms which have a temporary employment subsidy — the temporary employment subsidy keeps skilled workers training and at work, so that the firms can pick up—the shortage of skilled workers is a problem and one that the country must face up to.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most of us want to congratulate the Government most heartily on the splendid job of work that they are doing in this area? However, would he not agree that perhaps the time has come when we should make compulsory the block release schemes and the day release schemes which are having such a great measure of success in other European countries?


My Lords, that is another question. However, as regards the day release schemes, which have tended to drop in number, there is a case for them being extended, and that is a question for industry, the unions and other authorities to decide. However, it is certainly a problem that must be faced.


My Lords, will my noble friend tell us to what extent the technological advances of the past few years have been responsible for creating unemployment? If he cannot tell us, is that not a matter as regards which the Government should make some inquiries?


My Lords, that is a matter into which I should not care to go in great detail at present. However, it is quite obvious that as new technological methods are introduced other methods cease to exist in various firms, and again the question is one of retraining for a new skilled job.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it would be better to spend more money on training skilled people for new and expanding industries than to spend so much money propping up and subsidising declining industries?


My Lords, I agree that it is worth while spending money on training skilled people; but do not let us forget that skilled people must be serviced by semi-skilled and unskilled people. It is a question of the whole team and not just one section of it.


My Lords, will the noble Lord not agree that any creation of jobs in the present circumstances is obviously desirable, and that we accept that? In my first supplementary question I asked that greater emphasis be placed on training for industry. Those of us who are trying to attract people to take up jobs in industry are having the greatest difficulty in filling vacancies. Therefore, not 50 per cent. of the Government's effort, but 75 per cent. or even more of their effort should be directed to industrial training, which mould not only improve the usefulness of the young men, but would also be of considerable benefit as our economy and industry expands.


My Lords, it is being done. Industry itself is doing a considerable amount; it probably could do more. We must not overlook the contribution of the Manpower Services Commission in this respect. It is accepted by the Commission, the Government and the industries involved that this is an important issue. I can assure the noble Lord that everything possible is being done. If there is any way in which he feels that more could be done and he has specific information, I shall be grateful to receive it.


My Lords, will the noble Lord not agree that the Employment Protection Act is not exactly conducive to increasing employment?