HL Deb 31 January 1984 vol 447 cc565-70

3.47 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, with the leave of the House. I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The Statement is as follows: The Government are today publishing a White Paper Training for Jobs. This is presented jointly by my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science, for Scotland and Wales and myself. Copies are available in the Printed Paper Office". :A well-trained workforce is essential to a strong economy and to win back jobs; to achieve this, vocational education and training must be properly directed to the demands of the market place. Two years ago we published our first White Paper on Training. At that time we set out three objectives: first, to improve vocational education and the transition from school to work; second, to modernise apprenticeship and other skill training; and, third, to open up wider training opportunities for adults. Since then we have made considerable progress. Already more than 300,000 young people have entered the youth training scheme. Our new initiative in co-ordinated technical and vocational education for young people between 14 to 18 was launched last September. Fourteen local education authorities co-operated in pilot schemes and a further 46 have now been invited to join the scheme, starting in September. In the reform of apprenticeship arrangements important improvements have been made in engineering, electrical contracting, printing and the construction industries. The open tech programme is now well under way, with as many as 50,000 people expected to take advantage of this new facility next year. These specific new initiatives represent a major achievement by the Manpower Services Commission under the energetic leadership of its chairman, David Young, and his fellow commissioners. But they would be the first to acknowledge the part played by employers, trade unions, local authorities, voluntary organisations, colleges, schools and the careers service and the support and interest of many honourable Members of this House, to which I readily pay tribute. The White Paper also sets out the criteria against which we shall make our future plans, and announces certain specific proposals. Central and local government have an important part to play, in vocational education and training. But real success depends crucially on the part played by employers and trainees themselves. The decisions as to who is trained, when and in what skills, are best taken by employers (and indeed the individuals concerned) who know better where the real needs are. So investment in training must be cost-effective, flexible, adaptable to changing technology and free of old-fashioned restrictions. I now turn to adult training, The Manpower Services Commission recently submitted to me proposals for a new adult training strategy. We fully support the commission's call for a national campaign to raise awareness, amongst employers and all concerned, of the vital importance of training. We support, too, the need to provide wider opportunities for the training of adults to meet new skill requirements. We therefore endorse the commission's proposals to restructure their existing programmes to double the total number of adults trained under MSC courses to over 250,000 a year. This will include a significant increase to some 125,000 in the number of unemployed receiving training. The Government have agreed to consider further two proposals by the commission. The first of these is that there should be some training included for people on community programmes. The second of these is that some adult trainees could be helped by a guaranteed loan scheme to enable them to obtain training not otherwise available to them. The Government recognise that this could well be of interest to a number of people, and I confirm that we shall be ready to consider it further with the MSC and others concerned The White Paper also announces important new arrangements within vocational education. It is vital to get the closest possible collaboration at local level between employers, local education authorities and colleges, and other providers of vocational education and training, in identifying and meeting the real needs for future employment in their areas. The Manpower Services Commission, which includes representatives from industry as well as local authorities and professional educational interests, and which has an established local network, is well placed to assist in this role. The Government have therefore decided to ask the commission to extend its range of operations so that it can discharge the functions of a national training authority. We propose to increase the commission's resources devoted to work-related non-advanced further education in England and Wales from some £90 million now to some £155 million in 1985–86 and £200 million in 1986–87. It will then represent about one-quarter of the total public sector provision for this area. The resultant reduction in the need for local authority expenditure will be taken into account in settling the relevant rate support grants for those future years. The commission is being asked to begin consultations immediately with educational interests, employers and other interested parties so that plans can be settled in good time for the beginning of the 1985–86 academic year. In 1983–84 we expect to spend £960 million on training. In 1984–85 we plan to increase this to £1,100 million. This is in addition to the £2½ billion spent by employers, and the substantial sums within the further education sector. It is vital to ensure that these funds are all used to the best possible effect. This White Paper sets out the Government's continuing programme to ensure that as a nation we are properly trained to meet the challenges of the years ahead. My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for repeating the Statement that has been made in another place. May I ask him, bearing in mind the very substantial changes proposed in this White Paper, whether it would not have been better for the Government first to issue a Green Paper to allow the fullest consultations to take place with all the people concerned? May I also ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that the fullest consultations have taken place? I ask that because the Statement refers to such bodies as the TUC, and my information at the moment is that production of this document has come as rather a surprise to some of the people involved in it.

May I ask the Minister, further, what is meant by the statement that loans are to be made available to adults under this scheme? I predict, because of the present economic circumstances, that unless those loans are made on very favourable terms there will be very little take-up of that scheme. May I also ask whether the noble Earl can enlarge further on the question of the additional finance for this scheme? Is it to be found by the Government, or is the scheme to be funded totally, or in part, by a clawback from the rate support grant to local authorities, with some of the adverse effects which that will have on those authorities if it is carried out?

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we on these Benches should also like to thank the noble Earl for repeating that important Statement. It is a Statement on training, but it has important effects on education as well. We are certainly not against central Government initiatives in the national interest, but we have some quite serious reservations about the constant whittling away of local education authority funds for Government-favoured projects in schools; and we also share to some extent the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dean, about the question of the consultation process.

There are two or three specific questions that I should like to ask the noble Earl. The announcement of the impending creation of the national training authority is obviously of the greatest importance. Can the noble Earl tell us a little more about the intended composition of this body? Will it simply be restricted to the existing MSC, or will other interests be brought in from outside? The question of consultation has also been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dean. May I ask the noble Earl whether, now that the White Paper has been published, and before full implementation, all interested bodies and parties will be brought into the discussion?

The Statement refers to a significant increase to some 125,000 in the number of unemployed adults receiving training. Can the noble Earl tell us what income maintenance arrangements are contemplated for them? Will they simply continue to receive unemployment benefit, or how will that be done? In conclusion, can the noble Earl let us know who will qualify for the guaranteed loan scheme? Will that be simply for the employed, or for the unemployed? This is an extremely important Statement and I hope that later, through the normal channels, we shall be able to arrange for a full-scale debate upon it.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. In respect of the question about consultations put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, from the Opposition Front Bench, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, this is of course a White Paper and, in itself, will be debated and the subject of consultation. But further than that, the MSC will undertake immediate consultations with local authority associations, with employers' representatives, with representatives of further education colleges, with unions (especially those with members teaching in colleges) and with examining and validating bodies. These consultations will be about all aspects of the initiative, with particular reference to the subject areas and levels to be supported and the appropriate machinery for implementing the initiative. The commission will probably have to have arrangements in place to allow negotiations with local education authorities and colleges, so that they can plan their programmes and budgets in good time for next year. We have to get on with this, and this is, perhaps, why we have issued this in the form of a White Paper rather than a Green Paper.

On the point of guaranteed loans for forms of training, this would apply only to adult training. It has not yet been decided upon by the Government. It is a suggestion which has been put to them by the Manpower Services Commission, and we shall be examining it closely.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, asked me about finance. Broadly speaking, this should be neutral in its overall effects, as planned local government expenditure will be reduced by £110 million and Manpower Services Commission expenditure increased accordingly. However, I should like to make two points. First, local authorities and the other interest groups concerned are represented on the Manpower Services Commission. Secondly, this is only a development of a process which has been taking place for some time, because the Manpower Services Commission is by far the largest single customer for local authority training courses. It will be of help to local authorities, and certainly to the young people and adults involved, that a nationally-based organisation which is more closely in touch with employers as well as with movements in the labour market than local authorities can be individually will have this role. I would expect support on that score.

I have tried to deal with the point about consultation made to me by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. Again I would repeat to him that the Manpower Services Commission contains representation from many other interests than the ones I mentioned. On the issue of the allowances paid to adult trainees, my understanding is that these should be competitive with or slightly better than existing rates of benefit. But I should like, if I may, to check that point.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, could he comment on the national training authority and say whether it will consist simply of existing members of the Manpower Services Commission or whether there will be some amplification of it to cover the various interests?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, there is a passage in the Statement which states that through this initiative the Manpower Services Commission is to become a national training authority.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I wonder whether I could press the noble Earl a little further on that point. The White Paper refers to the fact that the Department of Education and Science will be involved in appointments to the Manpower Services Commission, presumably in view of the growing role of the Manpower Services Commission in the provision of education and training. Does this mean that the Manpower Services Commission will remain as at present constituted, with nine members? If it is to assume the very important function of a national training body, with which I am not quarrelling because it is necessary to have a national strategy for training, to whom will it be accountable?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the role of the Department of Education and Science is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be fully involved in considering and approving the Manpower Services Commission's corporate plan and in proposals relating to non-advanced further education and this kind of training. He will also be responsible for consultations on appointments to the commission to represent professional, education and local authority interests in England and Wales. In terms of the accountability of the Manpower Services Commission to Parliament, that will remain, as at present, the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I agree with the principle underlying the White Paper, but we shall have to study it in a little more detail. Could the noble Earl supply us with details of the 15 authorities which have been conducting a pilot study? Could he also name in due course the 43 authorities which have been continuing the pilot study since September?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, my understanding is that the pilot studies have been relevant to the proposals which the Government are now putting forward.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, bearing in mind that this is Women's Engineering, Industry and Science Year—I see that some Ministers did not even know this, so I am happy to give them this piece of information—will it be the policy of Her Majesty's Government, through any body which is created, or through any existing body, to encourage more girls to enter the spheres of engineering, industry and science?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, as I suggested to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, at an earlier stage of this afternoon's proceedings, the Manpower Services Commission is thoroughly interested in widening the range of work and training provision that is available for young women and in trying to get young women interested in non-traditional skills. A national initiative and network for training of this kind will promote this objective.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, if I may take up the noble Earl's remark that there is no additionality in the funding referred to in this Statement—that it is a straight switch of £110 million from the local education authority account to the Manpower Services Commission's account—is it not a pity that these important initiatives have not received a little more pump priming from the Government?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, it is always wishful thinking that pump priming in one area can be achieved without the well getting a little drier in another area; otherwise, one would be adding to public spending, taxes and interest rates and reducing the number of employment opportunities that would be available thereby. This is a sensible use of existing overall resources. As I said earlier, it is not a very great change in principle because in this area the Manpower Services Commission is overwhelmingly the largest customer where local authorities are concerned.