HL Deb 29 October 1980 vol 414 cc400-2

2.43 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 whether they will augment the funds now available to the Manpower Services Commission to enable companies training more apprentices than are required for their own future needs to receive increased grants from the commission.


My Lords, the Government believe that it is primarily for employers to assess and to meet their training needs, and that training supported by public funds should be clearly related to prospects of employment at the end of the training. The Manpower Services Commission is helping to support some 25,000 apprenticeships and other forms of long-term training provision this year. This includes 1,500 grants which were made available only in July, and once they have been taken up the commission will be considering the scope and necessity for further action.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply so far as it goes. Is he aware that for one of our most reputable companies the current cost of training a single apprentice over a period of four years is now £24,000, of which the company receives back in grant from the Manpower Services Commission only £3,000? Is the noble Earl further aware that the competitive position of that company is now such that its ability to continue in what it conceives to be the national interest to train more apprentices than are required for its own needs is now in grave jeopardy?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I am aware of what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, says. I should point out to him that industry is also very properly anxious that interest rates should be brought down as fast as possible, and that would be difficult to do if there were placed on the Exchequer additional costs where training is concerned of a type and variety that our overseas industrial competitors look to industry itself to meet.


My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that at a time such as this this item must be at the top of any list of priorities? Are we not now in a situation in which there is a huge unemployment problem involving unskilled people and an unsatisfied demand for very many skilled operatives? Until we get that balance right we can never return to a period of a decent level of employment.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, and I think that for many years our general training position in this country, again in comparison with our competitors, has not been very satisfactory. The Government are looking at the overall provision. However, the point I wish to make to the noble Lord and to the House is that it is in the overwhelming interests of industry itself that it should engage in training—and all our competitor industries do engage in training. The Government are supplementing it to a considerable degree: £41 million a year, roughly, for apprenticeships alone, as well as an additional placing for new electronics and computer training. Nevertheless, the burden must fall primarily on industry.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, would the noble Earl not agree that training represents an essential investment, yet one which at the moment a great deal of industry simply cannot afford? Is there not a considerable difference between cutting current consumption and cutting investment of a vital kind? The case for investment in training surely continues.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, it is very much my view that industry cannot afford not to make this essential investment, and of course it will not be very long until industry will be needing the skilled trainees in order to take account of the upturn.


My Lords, the noble Earl linked one of his replies to my supplementary question to the matter of interest rates. Are we to understand that in so far as the Government find themselves unable to contribute more to the cost of the training of which I have spoken, they are proposing to make an immediate and substantial reduction in the rates of interest that are now crippling great British international companies, on which our whole future depends?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I fear that the noble Lord is indulging in a contradiction. He is asking for additional public expenditure on the one hand and for reduced rates of interest on the other. Sadly, those two things are incompatible.


My Lords, is it not short-sighted to leave this matter solely to the needs of industry, as the Minister suggested? In view of the repeated talk of the need to prepare for recovery, should not the Government take the lead in this matter?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, we do not leave it solely to industry. I said that the lion's share must of course fall upon industry, as it always has done. But we make very substantial contributions to mitigating bottlenecks and shortages; as I said earlier, where young people alone are concerned it is to the tune of £41 million a year. Where overall training is concerned, including that of the adult unemployed, we spend very much more than that, around £300 million a year.