HL Deb 22 October 1981 vol 424 cc840-2

3.10 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

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 are satisfied with the efficiency of the Manpower Services Commission and whether there is any scope for improvement.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the commission takes very seriously the need to operate efficiently the services it provides. They are kept under regular review in order to ensure that any scope for improvements in efficiency is identified.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Her Majesty's Government have very strong support from these Benches for these very large expenditures—£l billion in the current year and £1½ billion next year—on the Youth Opportunities Programme, and any remarks are made only in an effort to make sure that these large sums are wisely, productively and constructively spent? Would my noble friend say whether he feels that enough effort is being devoted to training people for jobs in the service industries, where job opportunities are expandable? Secondly, would he say whether enough effort is being devoted to training the unskilled into higher skills, because it is in the higher skills that opportunities are now beginning to emerge and where some vacancies are still unfilled because of the lack of trained unemployed people?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I think I can assure my noble friend that the answer is satisfactory on each of those points. The very considerable economies that have been effected have been made in the basic and old services of the Manpower Services Commission, while an expansion has taken place, and has had to take place, to deal with the special programmes, and in particular the Youth Opportunities Programme schemes which have been introduced. Her Majesty's Government are going to spend, as my noble friend said, £1½ billion in trying to ensure that every school-leaver has a six months' place of some kind.

So far as service industries training is concerned, yes, that is included in the schemes. So far as training for higher skills, and indeed training in general, is concerned, the Manpower Services Commission has recently completed a review and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment is continually ensuring that the training is applicable to tomorrow's needs rather than today's.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Minister give the House an assurance that the expansion of the Youth Opportunities Programme proposed in the new initiative will in fact contain a greatly increased training component, agreeing very strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has said? This inevitably will be more expensive. Will the noble Viscount say that the Government will not stint the money required to make a very much better training job of the Youth Opportunities Programme than has been possible before now?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I think I have already answered on the question of money; a very considerable sum, in not entirely easy circumstances, is being spent. With regard to the Youth Opportunities Programme being more orientated towards training needs, I believe that within the practicalities of the situation that does take place, with the one reservation that we have to be careful that we do not plan our training for jobs which we cannot see any reasonable prospect of developing.

Lord Oram

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the CBI has recently estimated that by the end of next year there will be 1 million teenagers on the dole? Is not this an horrific figure facing the Manpower Services Commission in relation to its Youth Opportunities Programme, which at the moment caters for, I believe, some 360,000? Can the Minister assure the House that, despite forecast pressures from the Treasury for economies, his right honourable friend will stick to the pledge that all teenagers will have work or training experience?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the statement I have already made, which was reiterated by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment in a broadcast last night, included the quite clear assertion that the Government's intentions remained to provide a six-month work or job opportunity for every school-leaver. As to the general level of unemployment, this is of course of the greatest concern to us all. We note with some degree of hope that there now at last appears to be a pick-up in volume and a beginning of a recovery of this country's industries' share of world markets, which has been sinking since 1960.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, following the very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, with regard to apprenticeships, will the noble Viscount be prepared to consider in all seats of learning going the whole way to provide for the upper echelons of excellence in British industry? This objective could be very well enhanced if there were closer co-operation with the British trade union movement, which knows a very great deal about all these things.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I do not think the commission has been slow in consulting the trade union movement in every area as to training needs, as well as consulting employers.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that enough resources are going to help employers take on boys and girls as apprentices? I can tell the Minister that in rural areas we could employ a good many more school-leavers if we could get some small help towards their cost in the first two years on the farm, or some job like that.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I think the schemes already announced—and we are straying a bit from the centre of this Question—and particularly the Youth Opportunities Programme, go as far as funds can possibly allow down the lines that my noble friend suggests.

Lord Spens

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is quite a lot of frustration among employers who offer vacancies under this scheme, at the length of time it takes for them and their vacancies to be vetted? For example, I believe that employers in the middle of Kent have to wait for someone from the MSC to come from Horsham in order to vet them, and in many cases it takes three months or more.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, my right honourable friend is aware of complaints of the kind the noble Lord, Lord Spens, mentions. We believe that these delays are exceptional, but steps have been taken to try to reduce them to an absolute minimum.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, will the noble Viscount give an undertaking, in order that the true extent of unemployment should be shown, and bearing in mind that the Youth Opportunities Programme is temporary, that when the figures of unemployment are issued there will be a supplementary list added to it of those engaged in temporary training under the Youth Opportunities Programme? This would give the country some idea of the extent of unemployment.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I believe that some notes on the unemployment figures have been included on this subject, but I will certainly draw the suggestion to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Orr-Ewing

Finally, my Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Manpower Services Commission and the Employment Ministry have studied closely the organisation going on in West Germany, where they have the same problems but, it seems to us, rather more effective methods of training people for the high skills so necessary in industry in the future? Perhaps he could lead a visit to West Germany so that this matter could be studied on the spot.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I will draw that suggestion to the notice of my right honourable friend, but I am fairly sure that we have looked at the situation caused by very severe unemployment in many countries. We have looked at the steps other countries are taking to try to combat this problem.