HL Deb 30 April 1986 vol 474 cc251-4
Lord Rochester

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 whether they consider that United Kingdom companies are making adequate provision for adult training.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Lord Young of Graffham)

No, my Lords. The available evidence suggests that a significant number of United Kingdom companies, large and small, are not investing sufficiently in adult training to meet the needs of constantly changing markets. This is why Her Majesty's Government have initiated measures to encourage companies to increase their investment in adult training.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for that honest Answer, so far as it goes. However, does he agree that a clear link has been established between industrial training and success, and that adult training in this country has been shown to compare most unfavourably with that of our main competitors? Indeed, is he aware that the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission recently went so far as to say that compared with those competitors our adult workforce emerges as "a bunch of thickies"? Does the noble Lord accept ministerial responsibility for this alarming situation, and, if so, what, beyond the exhortation of which he has just given us a good example, does he actually intend to do about it?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his unsolicited testimonial to my candour and honesty. However, I must tell him that this is not a new problem; it is a problem that has been concerning Her Majesty's Government for many decades. In 1964 we introduced ITBs and they had an effect; but, alas, the effect appeared to be to increase bureaucracy and not to increase the supply of training.

Since then, we have tried other ways. We know that, as a recent survey of about 500 employers who employed more than 25 employees showed, off-the-job training occupied on average just 14 hours, or 1.9 days per year, per employee. The best evidence that we can obtain is that of good West German practice, where it occupies 30 to 40 hours a year; in other words, it is nearly three and a half times as much over there. I hope very much that an increasing awareness of the need for good training will remedy that position.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, following on my noble friend's remarks in answer to the last question, is the Minister aware that when I was director of the Distributive Industry Training Board particular efforts were made to keep the bureaucracy to a minimum and we were largely successful in doing that? But the main question that I want to put to him is this: do his initial remarks about the fact that we are not good enough apply equally to management training?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I regard the responsibility for all training as primarily in the hands of management. The fact is that management should appreciate that having a more professionally trained workforce—and in my book that includes management—can only be to the benefit of their own organisation and to the United Kingdom as well.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has given a very disappointing reply? There are a number of firms involved which are not taking up the opportunities for adult training. Surely the whole key to the training scheme is that after training those who have been trained will in fact get a job. Is it not time for the Government to do more than they are doing at the moment to ensure that firms take advantage of the facilities available in our new technological world in order to obtain the kind of people for whom they are crying out?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not sure how we define adult training. Of course, this Government are the ones who introduced the two-year YTS and the Government who are giving more training to more people than at any time before in the history of our nation. Moreover, it is training which is essential foundation training, and training for young people which has led to two-thirds of them entering full employment or going back into full-time education or further training. At the moment we are concerned about the general acceptance throughout the whole of industry and commerce of the fact that a better trained workforce is a more efficient workforce and works to the common good. This understanding can only come from employers themselves and not from the Government telling them that it is so.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, on reflection, will the Minister agree that his comment on the industrial training boards was certainly less than generous and certainly less than accurate, having regard to the fact that the Engineering Industry Training Board managed to bring about a major modification in engineering training and was responsible for introducing quite revolutionary training for women?

Lord Young of Graffham

Yes, my Lords, but I wish to assure the noble Baroness that in fact 16 of the 23 training boards were disbanded some three or four years ago because they were thought to be overly bureaucratic. I am told that the views of the industries were widely canvassed before that decision was taken. The Engineering Industry Training Board of course continues to function to this day, as do the Construction Industry Training Board and five other training boards. Nevertheless, even within the field of engineering training there has been a movement in the past two years that has led to the Vital Skills Agency, which is another training authority that has been set up because of (as it would have it) the lack of ability of the EITB to respond to training for electronic engineering and its commitment to traditional engineering training. Those are its views and not mine.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, will my noble friend say whether there is any sign of improvement in the training of apprentices by self-employed craftsmen? This has very nearly dropped out altogether but it is a vital part of the training of certain types of craftsmen.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the world passes on. Craftsmen are just as necessary as they were in the past, but possibly in lesser numbers. However, one great matter calls for congratulation today. I read that the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers decided yesterday that it would at long last drop time-based apprenticeship and go towards standards. This has been long overdue and I hope that we can now begin to see a revolution in the whole field of apprenticeship.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will my noble friend, if he will allow me to call him so, consider hanging upon his wall a fine Chaucerian quotation which is unfortunately little known? It is this: If gold ruste, what shal iren do?". The day that the boss starts making a muck of it, what sort of muck does he expect lower down the tree? Will my noble friend consider that?

Lord Young of Graffham

Yes, my Lords. I have no wish to disappoint the noble Viscount but I have no intention of leaving these Benches for some considerable time!

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that there is another dimension to the problem? Is not one of the frustrations for him, as for me, the fact that those public agencies which have a splendid record on the training of adults—it is the one feature of public enterprises that I am sure he will agree is valuable—are nevertheless funded by major companies which, having no training programmes of their own, rely on taking their educated management and labour from others that do?

Lord Young of Graffham

Yes, my Lords, but I think that there is cause for hope and quiet satisfaction about the future. I attended yesterday the "Spring Open", an exhibition at the Novotel Hotel in Hammersmith. I saw there how we had become a world leader in the principle of distant learning covering all sorts of occupations. This affords considerable cause for concern because English is the world's first commercial language and it could be the world's greatest training language as well. This is an area in which we have considerable expertise. I only wish that our own employers used it more.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that the authors of a recent report commissioned jointly by the Manpower Services Commission and the National Economic Development Office put forward a number of proposals aimed at stimulating investment in training? They included improved tax incentives and a statutory requirement that companies should disclose in their annual reports how much they were spending on training. What is his reaction to those specific proposals?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, we are examining the proposals. One of the great difficulties in the tax d'apprentissage, which is the French system of the payroll tax—and many similar ingenious ideas have been put forward—is that it says something about the amount of money spent on training but not about quality. One of the problems in our society is the perpetuation of old-fashioned training methods. We must find ways to get our training in the technologies of tomorrow. That is a matter to which we are now giving thought.

Back to