§ 2.51 p.m.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals they have in regard to the apprenticeship system in view of the present economic situation.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, a major 600 target of the Government's new training initiative is to reform the existing apprenticeship arrangements by removing unnecessary restrictions and by substituting agreed standards of competence. The Government have made considerable funds available to support the training of first year and redundant apprentices, but it is primarily for employers to identify and to take action to meet their own long-term skill training needs.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, would not the noble Earl the Minister agree that it is a very grim situation where we have to refer to redundant apprentices? Would he not agree that we are approaching the most barren of balances? Skilled craftsmen and skilled technicians are losing their jobs, and, as the noble Earl said, would-be apprentices are redundant before they even start work. Have the Government any plans in mind to try to arrest such a situation in the future?
My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Lord that it is a very depressing state of affairs where apprentices are made redundant; but in a recession many very unpleasant things happen, of which that is one. The noble Lord asked what are the Government going to do. We are providing training grants relating to young people of £1,850 for any employer who takes on an unemployed person and trains him. That same grant is available to employers who normally take on apprentices, provided that they take on three additional unemployed young people for every two people whom they have as apprentices. In that case both the additional three and the two whom they normally take on will be reckonable for payment of the grant.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, may I express my gratitude for the detailed information that the noble Earl has given the House? May I ask whether he would be prepared to consider that information of the kind that he has given to the House be made available as widely as possible, including to both sides of industry, so that on that basis regional councils might be established covering industries as they vary from one part of the country to another? If that were done, then when the Government bring into force what the noble Earl enunciated a moment ago, people will be ready to take full advantage of it.
My Lords, it is certainly our intention to try to make certain that as many people as possible know the facts. However, as I am sure the noble Lord will be aware, the whole of the youth training scheme is designed to guarantee a full year's vocational training to every 16-year-old school-leaver who cannot find a job. The scheme also aims to provide—though it does not guarantee—12 months of foundation training for 16-year-olds who are already in employment, and for unemployed 17-year-olds. That is a very considerable step, and about £1,000 million is going towards it.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether any part of the figure that he mentioned is available to apprenticeship schemes as well as to youth training schemes? It is important to distinguish—is it not?—between the two. Would not 601 the noble Earl agree that whereas it is no doubt important to have the youth training scheme for 12 months, an apprenticeship scheme for three or five years is infinitely more important in terms of the country's future?
My Lords, there are arrangements for training which are carried out via the industrial training boards, and the Manpower Services Commission makes grants to them. But the point that I should like to make perfectly clear to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, is that where those employers who normally take on apprentices take on three additional unemployed people, they will receive the £1,850 grant for the additional three, as well as for the existing two, who without the three would not have been reckonable for grant purposes.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, are they young people who undertake youth training schemes, or are they apprentices? In regard to the group of three and the group of two, can the noble Earl distinguish which are apprentices and which come under the youth training scheme?
My Lords, the two will be apprentices, the three will be from the ranks of unemployed; but both groups will be reckonable for the same grant.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that the four- and five-year fixed term time-served apprenticeships, to which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, referred, do not necessarily form the right basis for the skill mixture that will be required in the future?
My Lords, I am very grateful for that supplementary question, since the whole purpose of this particular aid is to try to blur the distinction between those who were unemployed and those who are apprentices. It is part of the Government's desire to try to help the training of young people, and I would only re-emphasise the fact that the particular grant to which I referred relates only to the first year of training.