HL Deb 17 July 1984 vol 454 cc1414-22

8.17 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that the Industrial Training (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before your Lordships in draft on 24th May this year, be approved.

The purpose of this draft order is to provide an updated and comprehensive basis of legislation for industrial training in Northern Ireland. It will consolidate existing legislation dealing with industrial training boards in Northern Ireland and harmonise some of the powers of the boards in the Province more closely with those in Great Britain. The principal purpose of the draft order is, however, to establish a new body, to be known as the Northern Ireland Training Authority, in place of the existing Northern Ireland Training Executive.

The existing legislative framework for industrial training in Northern Ireland is mainly embodied in the Industrial Training Act (Northern Ireland) 1964. A feature of that Act was the creation of the Northern Ireland Training Executive to provide common administrative and secretarial services to industrial training boards. By agreement, the executive has also developed certain cross-sector training facilities for the boards. Following a review of industrial training arrangements in Northern Ireland in 1982, which paralleled a similar review in Great Britain, and in view of the encouraging support for the proposals, the Government decided that eight of Northern Ireland's nine training boards would remain and that it would be the policy to encourage on an ongoing basis voluntary training arrangements in sectors of industry both within and without the scope of the boards.

In addition, following a decision taken earlier in Great Britain, the financing of board operating costs out of Exchequer funds ceased at the end of September 1982 and the responsibility for such financing was returned to the employers. Finally, it was concluded that the proven role of the Northern Ireland Training Executive should be redefined and extended and, in recognition of this enhanced role, it would be called the Northern Ireland Training Authority.

It is the Government's intention, in setting out the functions for the proposed authority, to create a dynamic body to develop and provide advice on training in Northern Ireland. The authority will continue the executive's functions of providing central administrative and financial services for all boards and cross-sector training services. Beyond this it will have, broadly speaking, four additional functions. First, will be an obligation to keep under review all training needs, in the statutory and non-statutory sectors and to report to the Department of Economic Development, as well as to the sectors concerned, on its findings. The second function will be that of encouraging both cross-sector training and voluntary training arrangements in sectors of industry not within scope of a board. The authority will have the power to provide training generally, including the provisions of courses and other facilities and the payment of grants, fees and allowances. The third function relates to the field of new techniques of training and training in new technology. The authority will have responsibility for the development and promotion of and the provision of advice to the boards and others on such training. The fourth function will be to develop and maintain links with public sector training and to co-operate in the provisions of relevant training when it is requested.

The membership of the authority will reflect its enhanced role and the close relationship with the industrial training boards. It will consist of a chairman, the chairmen of the industrial training hoards as ex-officio members representing their boards, three representatives of employers, three representatives of employees, three persons with expertise in training or education, and one representative of the public sector.

There will be three sources of funding for the proposed authority. First, boards will pay for common services on a pro rata basis. Secondly, some income will be derived from the sale of services to non-statutory and public sectors. Thirdly, Government will contribute towards the costs of carrying out functions which would have a wider purpose than meeting the direct training needs of those sectors, whether statutory or voluntary, using the services of the authority, for example, monitoring training in the private sector generally, encouraging appropriate cooperation with public sector training, and encouraging key training activities in the interests of longer term development. Initially pump-priming funds will also be available to help the authority become established. The actual provisions for the Northern Ireland Training Authority are included in Articles 3 to 13 and Schedule 1.

I wish to turn briefly to the provisions relating to levies and levy remission. It should be noted that while the provisions with regard to boards, with which I shall deal later, are or, as a result of this order, will be broadly similar in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the proposals for levies differ from the Great Britain system, which is that of exemption from paying levy through the issuing of exemption certificates. The draft order proposes to write into legislation the present administrative system of remission of levy which has been operating successfully in Northern Ireland. Individual employers who undertake training of the required standard set by an industrial training board may normally obtain permission of all or part of the remissible part of the levy depending on the range and quality of training carried out. This system is favoured by the Northern Ireland boards as it encourages regular contact between the firms and the boards on training matters, which in turn helps to ensure the quality and quantity of training being carried out. The levy remission system is particularly suited to the Province where the smaller scale of industry, along with geographical proximity, facilitates close working relationships between the boards and firms. The provisions for levies and levy remission are set out in Articles 23 to 26.

While the main purposes of the draft order are to set up the new training authority and to revise the provisions for levies for the industrial training boards, the opportunity is also being taken to consolidate existing legislation, with certain amendments, in order to harmonise some of the powers of the boards in Northern Ireland more closely with those in Great Britain. The remainder of the draft order is, therefore, in the main a re-enactment of the Industrial Training Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 with certain amendments.

In conclusion, I consider this to be a most important order for Northern Ireland. Not only does it bring certain aspects of industrial training arrangements into line with those already existing in Great Britain, but also it creates a new training authority which will draw together representatives from both sides of industry and from the educational sector to give a firm and dynamic lead on industrial training matters in the Province. It is a particularly important aspect of industrial policy that the workforce should be effectively trained to help it grasp the opportunities which are continually being presented by new technologies. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th May be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

8.25 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for explaining this order. As my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies said last night when speaking to the education order, once again we have an order of 34 pages, 35 articles and four schedules—in effect, a parliamentary Bill—which is unamendable and which we have no alternative but to approve. Naturally, we wish to see the best possible schemes of training and retraining, and we must always keep in mind that after training there must be jobs. At the present moment unemployment in Northern Ireland is running at the rate of 21.6 per cent. Is there any indication that the new authority will be, to use the words of the Minister when the order was introduced in the other place, "a dynamic body" or is it to be mainly advisory, with power resting with the advice it gives to the department?

It is clear that it is a considered view of the Government that training should be left to voluntary action by industry. This is made clear in the consultative document, Training for the Future, which was issued in June 1952. It is also made clear that it is the Government's view that operating costs should be borne by industry, whether the eventual arrangements for training are voluntary or statutory. That is an assumption that emkployers alone know best what is required. It overlooks the fact that statutory training boards came into being because many employers made little or no provision for training. In fact, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions made that quite clear in its written evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which considered the draft order, when it said that the ITB structure exists because of the shortcomings of employers in providing training directly.

The committee sets out various reasons why many employers did not introduce training schemes, and hence the industrial training board scheme was introduced. Training is not a matter solely for determination by employers. Employees are involved and so are consumers—they have interests. The document to which I have referred points out that, contrary to the general desire of the Government, all but one of the present industrial training boards want to maintain their statutory position. This was also made clear in the ITB's annual reports. Neverthless, I am pleased that the Government have recognised these views and have decided that all but one of the boards shall continue. The order also contains provision for the establishment of other ITBs.

Generally, the existing boards are of the opinion that the Government should continue to meet the costs. Regrettably, the Government decided to pass these costs, which they took over in 1975, back to industry and this is included in the order. Although the order is unamendable, and although we are getting near a late hour with other business with which to deal, there is no point in discussing the order unless certain defects or criticisms can be ventilated.

I see that the membership of the authority, as set out in Schedule 1, is to include one representative of the public sector. But whereas there is consultation in connection with all the other categories, there is no provision whatever that the department shall consult with anyone regarding the person who should represent the public sector or whether one representative of the public sector is sufficient in the light of the fact that something like 46 per cent. of the working population of Northern Ireland is covered by the public sector. Incidentally, I was interested to note paragraph 5.3 in this particular document, which stresses that already a considerable amount of training provision is undertaken within the public sector.

Written evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly was presented by the present training executive and they referred to the power in the order to be given to the department to invite other Government departments each to appoint one person to attend meetings of the authority and its committees. The present training executive has expressed the view that this power to be given to departments should not be exercised, at least without prior consultation with the authority, and preferably only at the request of the authority. That view of the present training executive appears to be a reasonable one. Membership and other matters regarding the industrial training boards are set out in Schedule 2. One sees that the chairman of each board is to be appointed by the department. Is there any case of any one of the existing boards ever having had other than an employer chairman? When that question was asked of the department officials when they met the committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly they replied that it was traditional for the chairman to be an employer.

Paragraph (2)(c) provides that, one or more persons … shall be apointed after consultation with the Department of Education". Surely it would have been preferable for the number to have been defined? "One or more" is far too open.

There is also provision in Schedule 1 that persons to be appointed to the authority shall he appointed after consultation with the Department of Education. But there is a qualification that such persons shall have "expertise in training or education". Yet I note that that qualification is not inserted with regard to the person to be appointed to the industrial training boards after consultation with the DoE. Is that an oversight, or is there some reason for it?

I have referred to the report of the Assembly in its consideration of the order. I am pleased to note that that consideration was given. I know that the noble Lord the Minister is not responsible, but it is unfortunate that only written evidence was requested of the CBI and of the Northern Ireland Trade Union Committee. It appears that the only oral evidence given to the Assembly committee was that of officials of the department, and naturally, as to be expected, they reflected the Government's views as set out in the draft order.

I note that the CBI in general supported the draft order, but the Northern Ireland Trade Union Committee were critical of a number of aspects. First, they expressed scepticism of the Government's belief that voluntary arrangements could replace the existing statutory machinery. They were concerned about the change from the present balance on the training executive to a pro-employer balance on the new training authority. I note that questions were asked of the department officials when they went before the Assembly committee, particularly by the deputy chairman. It was pointed out that, if all the chairmen of the boards were employers, only three of the 19 members of the training authority might be employee members.

The Northern Ireland Trade Union Committee are also highly critical of the proposal that industry should take over the costs. They are critical, too, in regard to the point that the non-remissible part of the levy is to be kept to a ceiling of 0.2 per cent. of the payroll. On this latter point, although an ITB may submit to the department proposals for the levy to meet costs, approval rests with the department. It is clear by Article 23 that at the end of the day it would be the department which had the last word on the order for the particular levy for a board.

Articles 25 and 26 relate to the remission of the levy where the department is satisfied that an employer is making arrangements for direct training of its own employees. The employees would appear to have no opportunity to express their views to the department. There would seem to be no provision for the new training authority to be consulted. Surely if the new training authority is to have any influence, it should have a view, and be able to express it, on an employer's proposals for training. It should be able to express a view to the department as to whether that training is satisfactory, and yet there is no provision in the order for this to be done.

Article 14 lists various bodies which the department must consult before making an order for the establishment of a new industrial training board. If the training authority is to be given any teeth at all, why is it not to be consulted? That particular point was criticised by the Assembly committee. It may be argued that one of the articles provides that the department may consult other bodies as it thinks fit, but surely that is not good enough. If the training authority is to be given any real power, any real exercise of authority, surely it ought to be consulted regarding the making of an order for the establishment of any other industrial training board.

I am surprised, in consulting Schedule 2, to find in paragraph 8 that the employee representatives on an industrial training board are to be excluded from voting on any aspect relating to the levy. The decision on such matters is to be left solely with the majority vote of the employer representatives. The trade union committee strongly complained about this, and I am doing so at the present moment.

Article 29 lays down that the employers in an enterprise zone are not only to be exempted from payment of the levy, but will not be obliged to provide information as may be required by either the authority or any industrial training board. The Northern Ireland Trade Union Committee disagreed with both these exemptions. Although the CBI support the exemption of the employers from payment of the levy, they also thought that firms in the enterprise zone should not be exempted from supplying the required information. Unfortunately on both these matters the Assembly report is somewhat weak. They merely express hopes that the training will be carried through by the employers in enterprise zones.

Those are just some of the points which I raise on this order, which I recognise is unamendable. The situation again shows the difficulties in which your Lordships and Parliament are placed by having the present administrative machinery run by way of orders. That is all we can have at the moment until the situation changes. The Minister may be able to reply to my points, but at the end of the day the order has either to be accepted or not accepted, and obviously we only approve orders which are passed by the other place.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I rise for only a few seconds to congratulate my noble friend Lord Underhill on his detailed and constructive criticism of this order. I do not myself have the research facilities which I formerly had in another capacity. Therefore I was not aware in any great detail of what was contained in this order, but having listened to my noble friend, I believe that he has asked a number of valid questions.

In relation to the Assembly discussion of the order, it is a matter for real regret that one of the major political parties in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, is not represented in that Assembly. I am certain, from my knowledge of that party, that there are a few of its members who have a working-class background and a knowledge of trade unionism. They could have given of their services to the Assembly and made it more aware of this type of legislation.

Having said that, I would be churlish if I were to disregard the order, or treat it with disdain, I think perhaps the motivation for it was well-intentioned, but Conservative Governments are not particularly widely known throughout the world for their innate interest in industrial matters. It may be that they want to project this order, but I can understand that they may not be aware of the whole of the working-class apparatus in Northern Ireland. I know—and it was referred to by my noble friend—that the Northern Ireland trade union movement is one of the most responsible sections of the trade union movement to be found anywhere in the world, and certainly in these islands. I should think that any criticisms that were made by that body should be taken into account by the Government.

This brief discussion that we are having on the order makes us aware, even after the discussion we had on the emergency powers, that life still goes on in Northern Ireland, and we are still trying to create a society in which there will have to be some hope and some future for the thousands of our young people who are unemployed. If the order, as at present constituted, makes some provision for training for these young people who are so desperately in need of it, then certainly it must be welcomed.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, once again we are grateful to those of your Lordships who have stayed on and who have contributed to the debate on this very interesting order. I stress to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that we believe that this is a very important aspect of life for young people in Northern Ireland. As he will know, and your Lordships will accept, in Northern Ireland there is a great pride in education, learning and in what we used to call trades, which have now expanded into what I was explaining: information technology, business studies and finance, which are essential to all aspects of business. We were grateful for the detailed scrutiny which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, gave to this order and the studies of the new authority taking the place of the executive.

I shall try to reply to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I shall attempt to reply to them all. If I fail I guarantee that we shall use information technology—our own eyes and our own talents—to comb what has been said tonight. We shall hope to pick up any points which I might miss.

We see the new body as being dynamic and more than purely advisory, because we believe that the functions put forward in the order for the authority, particularly the new functions, will provide the basis for that leadership and industrial training for the statutory and, above all, the non-statutory sectors which Northern Ireland will need if it is to meet the challenge of the future above all in this aspect as in the future technologies of five and 10 years ahead. Your Lordships will have noticed that the provisions in the order emphasise the importance of industry providing adequate training. That is a point which we stress.

Whether this training is achieved under voluntary or statutory arrangements and the recognition of the transferability of the many skills between the varying sections, the order emphasises the importance of the new techniques of training, especially the training in what I have to say about the new technology. The membership of the authority, including the chairmen of the industrial training boards, will ensure that all the main sectors of the Northern Ireland economy are represented. With this in mind it will ensure that the authority has full powers to provide relevant training and leadership.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised the question of the chairmen of boards normally being employers. There is one chairman of one board who is a retired trade unionist. Another is a retired gentleman from the education sector. We value their contributions and the variety that they bring to their chairmanship of these boards. The board chairmen were not members of the training executive, but an important feature of this new authority that we have introduced this evening is that the chairmen of all the boards will be ex officio members. This will ensure that the views of individual hoards, which will include representatives from both sides of industry, will be repesented on the authority. I stress to the noble Lord that the chairmen will be appointed to the authority to represent their boards and not any other organisation or interest with which they may be connected.

In the past board chairmen have tended to be employers, but trade unionists and educationists, as I have pointed out, may be appointed as chairmen. Your Lordships will have appreciated that the authority will comprise three representatives from the employers, the employees and the education and training interests, together with one representative from the public sector. Your Lordships will see that the new authority will have up to 19 members. To increase this size further by additional representatives would, in our view, make it more than a bit unwieldy.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about voluntary training arrangements and hoped that the order might give the authority a duty to promote arrangements in the statutory sector. My right honourable friend in another place said in September 1982, when he announced his decision on the review of industrial training in Northern Ireland, that all the boards, except the Manmade Fibres Producers' Industrial Training Board and the footwear sector of the Clothing and Footwear ITB, would be retained. But he made it clear that he remained anxious to encourage voluntary arrangements wherever possible. We stress that. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would accept it. So far as possible, we need voluntary arrangements and we are continuing to look sympathetically at all the proposals for voluntary action from many of these sectors. There will have to he basic criteria against which the proposals can be judged.

I hope that I have covered the question of trade union representation. The noble Lord also raised the question of the levy order being made against the wishes of those organisations who have been consulted. Any of these circumstances may be an exception, but if we could take one example: if a board wished to carry out training in a specific area—let us suggest new technology—this would not be supported by the majority of the industry because of the cost. We would then find the department might consider that a breach of this 0.2 per cent. ceiling of the non-remissible levy or the 1 per cent. ceiling for total levy would be justified. But I stress to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who asked this question about the 0.2, that it is a ceiling. In the vast majority of these cases the remissible levy will be certainly under that.

The noble Lord will be aware that there is a document called The Outlook on Training, which was published as far back as July 1980—four years ago. This considered the workings of the Employment and Training Act 1973. This estimated that for most of the boards in Great Britain operating costs amounted to 0.2 per cent. of the annual pay roll of firms within the scope of that particular board. After due consideration we thought that this was a feasible target by the Northern Ireland boards to cover certain costs including the operating costs. I am told that most of the boards are now within the 0.2 per cent. ceiling.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also raised a question about no consultation under Article 14 with the new boards. Under Article 14 the department may consult anybody that it considers fit. It is the intention that the authority would be one of the bodies and it would be involved at an early stage.

The last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that I can reply to this evening deals with the representatives of the public sector. A senior representative from the department of finance and personnel has been appointed. I understand that his appointment has been welcomed and we are looking forward to his contribution on the board.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, for his contribution. I stress to him that we regard this project of industrial training as being of extreme importance to Northern Ireland, and above all to the youth. I hope that he will believe that this Government are not hardhearted on this aspect. We have training, above all, training for the future, very much at heart. I hope that I have covered most of the points that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I have already promised that I will comb for anything that I missed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.