§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
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 when they expect to publish the results of the public consultations about the future programme for an open college of technology.403
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, we are still considering the many comments which have been received on these proposals. These will be taken into account in the announcement on training which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment hopes to make by the turn of the year.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that reply upon this important Government initiative concerning adult training. Can my noble friend comment upon the mention in the consultative document of an intention to establish some 15 major open learning schemes over an initial period of three to five years? Does he think that parts of this at least could become operational more quickly than this, particularly bearing in mind the need to try to equip ourselves more quickly for the next trade upturn?
My Lords, the immediate aim of the programme will be to fund a range of perhaps 12 to 20 projects leading to open learning schemes of different types being developed, and these would be introduced and evaluated over the next three to five years. Of course, they will not all come into operation at once, and some will become operational earlier than others.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that, at the rate at which the present Government are producing the next trade upturn, five years will be ample?
My Lords, the noble Lord has clearly not realised what is going on in the world, and that, in fact, the trough of the recession is likely to be over.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, quite seriously, does the noble Earl realise that, before we have further colleges of technology, we should have the necessary equipment in the primary and secondary schools which are preparing our future technologists and adults for the kind of world in which we shall live, and that the sad result of the cuts in education is making this country educationally one of the worst in Europe?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, for acknowledging that his noble friend's question was not serious. However, I would say to the noble Lord that there are causes for having proper equipment in schools just as there are causes for having proper training facilities. The purpose of this objective is to try to encourage more technical expertise in those who are adults, who are not yet employed, or who are unemployed.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, I was not castigating my noble friend; I was just saying that the position is such that something should be done.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, can my noble friend be more specific on the general reaction in this matter? Can he say whether the trade unions have exhibited any interest in the proposal?
My Lords, yes, they have. They have answered the proposals and have said that they welcome these constructive measures to increase the supply of technicians and to improve training facilities for adults. They have made some very useful comments, which we shall take into account before framing the Open Tech programme.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and indeed other noble Lords can, at this very moment in this very building, see an excellent exhibition of the educational application of computer hardware being demonstrated by primary and secondary schoolchildren?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for passing that information to me to pass on to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, can my noble friend say whether a slightly greater sense of urgency should not be put behind this project? Here is an imaginative proposition—is that not true? Is it not equally true that it is costing over £3,000 for every temporary job supplied by the MSC and more than £4,000 to keep a person who is unemployed? Surely there should not be a lack of funds in setting up opportunities for the young and for the mature to gain some knowledge of technical and technological work, which will be immeasurably useful not only to them but to the nation at large?
My Lords, I absolutely accept my noble friend's requirement that there should be speed on this. However, I would only say to him that it is important that we should get the facts right before we act upon them. That is why 30,000 copies of this document went out; and 400 replies have been received. We want to be quick with this, but we must get it right.
§ Lord Peart
My Lords, how can the noble Earl square all this with what the Government are doing, with the savage cuts in technology throughout the country? What is the policy of the Government?
My Lords, in a tine of recession, as the noble Lord, Lord Peart, knows full well, there are bound to be cuts and there are bound to be hardships. What we are trying to do in this particular exercise is to encourage people to learn technical skills so that when the upturn comes they will be fully equipped to take part in the work which they will have to do.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, is my noble friend aware in that context that the Government economies, cutting the universities, arc having the effect on one advanced technological university, the University of Surrey, of obliging them to close down some of their courses just at a time when I should have thought they would be most useful?
My Lords, I think that these points cover different things. What the Question is about is the Open Tech, and it is this which is a new concept and which we wish to see get off the ground.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is true that we are well behind our industrial competitors in this field, and therefore that there is a considerable need to redeploy the resources we are using as well as to increase them? Noting the statement in the consultative document, A New Training Initiative, that over 60 per cent. of the active German labour force hold vocational training qualifications, I assume that compatible United Kingdom figures would be much lower. If one assumes that these qualifications are meaningful—an important point—is this one of the reasons why German industry is in fact more successful?
My Lords, I agree that our training programmes have not always been as good as those of our competitors, and that is the reason why we are trying to do our best to ensure that they are improved as quickly as possible.