HL Deb 09 November 1983 vol 444 cc799-802

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkesl

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what efforts have been made to obtain resources from that part of the European Social Fund specifically allocated for training for women over the age of 25 and how many women in the United Kingdom have benefited from training under this provision in the last two years.

Viscount Long

My Lords, the department actively encourages suitable applications and all eligible applications are submitted to the Commission. In 1982, the United Kingdom gained nearly 30 per cent. of the receipts from the fund as a whole—about £250 million—and we estimate that about 35 per cent. of the beneficiaries were women. Only 3 per cent. of the fund is specifically allocated for training for women over 25. From this part, 590 women benefited in 1982 and 503 in 1981. We expect a larger figure for 1983.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. I would ask him whether he has seen the report in The Times dated 27th October which gives quite a different figure. It states that last year—and perhaps it is difficult to define "last year"—only 5.4 per cent. was achieved by Britain and that this was one-tenth of the sum allotted to West Germany and a quarter of that given to France. Would my noble friend also confirm that the Government are aware of the need for the training and retraining of women, and especially the need for the retraining of returners?—that is, people who, having given up work, are intending to return to work and who may be influenced very dramatically if the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill goes through in its present form.

Viscount Long

Yes, my Lords. I appreciate the anxiety of my noble friend and the importance attached to the Social Fund. The United Kingdom's average share of the Social Fund since accession to the Community has been some 24.3 per cent. In 1981, the United Kingdom received a 25 per cent. share and in 1982 our share increased to 29 per cent. My noble friend drew my attention to the article and I am now able to strengthen the argument that we are not doing as badly as was spelled out, especially since, as I have just mentioned, our average share has been 24.3 per cent. I hope that that, in itself, will help to ease my noble friend's worries.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount would confirm, having made reference to the article in The Times of 27thOctober to which the noble Baroness drew attention, that it is not the policy of the present Government, or of previous British Governments, not take advantage of the positive provisions under the Social Fund for training women. Would he not agree that this would be contrary to the provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act, which allow training facilities for one sex only, particularly in our training for non-traditional areas? Would the noble Viscount further agree to have a look at the British part of the funding of projects out of the Social Fund in view of the fact that Britain has been consistently behind both Germany and France in obtaining a share of the allocation for the training of women? I should be glad if the Minister would assure me that he will discuss this matter with the Manpower Services Commission. My experience of the MSC—

Noble Lords


Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, is the Minister aware that my experience of the MSC is that they take the view that the effort involved here is too great? In other words, the clawback from Government financing tends to discourage— —

Noble Lords


Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the clawback from Government financing tends to discourage the MSC from pursuing projects under the women's share of the Social Fund, and can he assure us that he will discuss this with them to make sure that they, too, do everything to encourage take-up?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness is a great expert on this subject. I doubt very much whether I can remember all her questions, but as to her latter point, about clawback, I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend. I do not have those figures in front of me. The noble Baroness also touched on the Sex Discrimination Act. Section 47 of the 1975 Act allows certain training bodies to encourage men only or women only to take up opportunities for training in work in which it appears there have been comparatively few or no people of that sex engaged in the previous year. I would say to the noble Baroness and to the House that this is an important subject and that I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend to all the points which have been raised.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, would the noble Viscount agree that for a long time the particular part of the Social Fund which is dedicated to the retraining of women was undersubscribed by all countries and that that was the opportunity that Britain had? At that time I thought I had the opportunity to apply to the Social Fund through the Department of Employment and the Department of Health and Social Security. I asked for permission to go to the Social Fund for the retraining of women doctors, but it was refused me.

Viscount Long

My Lords, if the noble Baroness would like to write to me about that matter I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend to it, but it was before my time.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, could the noble Viscount say whether the United Kingdom Government still regard this additional money as relieving them from financing this part of training?

Viscount Long

My Lords, the receipts from the Social Fund are passed on directly to private applicants, local authorities and nationalised industries. Moreover, the Government made it clear when announcing the youth training scheme and the community programme that they had taken the prospect of Social Fund support fully into account in formulating these programmes and in deciding the resources available for them. Receipts from the Social Fund enable domestic public expenditure to be higher than would otherwise be the case.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that this year has been designated as Women in Engineering Year by the Equal Opportunities Commission, of which my noble friend Lady Lockwood was for some time the most distinguished chairman? Can the noble Viscount inform the House whether or not any European Community fund will be available to promote the very laudable enterprise of encouraging women to enter the profession of engineering?

Visount Long

My Lords, I think the noble Lord has slightly moved away from the Question on the Order Paper, but I shall certainly have a look at this point for him.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that when the EEC Sub-committee on the Social Fund reported to the House we had a great deal of evidence that there were very few applications for women's projects? Could the Government do more to bring to the attention of women's organisations the existence of the fund?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question. The more publicity there is about this subject the better it will be for bringing applicants forward. Therefore, the local authorities and other bodies which have the information must try—and the Government will try through them—to publicise this very important fund.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that one of the best ways of publicising the Social Fund would be for the Government to make use of Section 47 and to provide some women-only training among their own employees?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I shall leave that question with the noble Baroness.