HL Deb 25 March 1986 vol 472 cc1350-3

7.42 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

My honourable friend for Croydon South, Sir William Clark, who piloted this Bill unopposed through another place, has asked me to pilot it through your Lordships' House. I hope that I shall be as fortunate as the honourable member for Croydon South in finding that this Bill is unopposed.

This is a rather unique Bill. One might indeed say that it has had a rather unique birth. In recent years Her Majesty's Government have encouraged the statutory industrial training boards to increase their revenue-earning activities. Accordingly, some of the boards, especially the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Board, and the Hotel and Catering Industry Training Board have attempted to carry out this objective by providing direct training and other services to overseas nationals who were not intending to take up employment in Great Britain.

The industrial training boards naturally thought that they were legally entitled to do this under the Industrial Training Act 1982, which gives the boards their general powers. However, early last year, lo and behold the law officers of the Crown advised the Government that such provision of direct training or other services abroad to overseas nationals who were not intending subsequently to take up employment in Great Britain was ultra vires. One might say that this put the cat among the pigeons.

This Bill is intended to restore the position as it was previously understood by the industrial training boards. It will enable the industrial training boards to provide training and advice outside Great Britain for employment both in and outside Britain. The Bill has two clauses but the only clause which has any teeth is Clause 1. This clause substitutes amended subsections for subsection (1) of Section 10 of the Industrial Training Act 1982, to deal with the general powers of the boards in training for employment overseas and in this country. These powers will be exercisable and subject to the consent of the Manpower Services Commission, which is of course given with the approval of the Secretary of State.

As in the 1982 Act, boards will be able to charge for these services and must keep accounts of the revenue earned. These accounts must be kept separate from the accounts of the levy which is raised on home employers. Clause 1 of this Bill also protects funds which are raised by levy on home employers from any liabilities incurred through the board's activities in training for employment overseas, or in other words, outside Great Britain. Clause 2 is of little importance. It concerns only the date of commencement of the Act, should this Bill be passed by your Lordships' House.

Before sitting down, I should like to say that a similar Bill concerning the Agricultural Training Board, having passed through its parliamentary stages unopposed, has recently received Royal Assent. That Bill was also presented by a Private Member. I hope I have sufficiently explained this Bill and that it has as easy a passage through your Lordships' House as it received in another place. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)

7.46 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, for introducing this Bill and explaining it to the House so well, and, if I may say so, also for giving Parliament the opportunity to discuss it. The noble Viscount is in luck tonight. So far as I and the Opposition are concerned, he will get his Bill through, and for a Private Member that is a great achievement, as I am sure he and other noble Lords will agree. As I said, this is clearly not a Bill which the Opposition would wish to oppose in any way, especially as it received the consent of another place virtually on the nod.

We on these Benches welcome the Bill so far as it goes, particularly—as we understand it—since there is virtually a new training board being set up, albeit without proper funding by means of levy or grant, which the noble Lord the Minister will know we support. Bearing in mind that government policy has destroyed 16 of the 23 industrial training boards, this Bill must be considered progressive.

However, I should like to say that we have been concerned about the position of the unemployed in relation to offshore training, especially in so far as it seems that unemployed people have been charged substantial amounts by the oil companies for training which is relevant to work offshore and in order to obtain an offshore survival certificate. Indeed, it would appear that in the case of some training provided by British Gas free of charge, a substantial charge has been levied by contractors on the recipient of such training, although he was unemployed. We hope that this Bill will help to put that situation right.

It has also been represented to me that training in the North Sea is haphazard and there may very well be a case for making it a condition of the operator's licence that training which is properly planned and financed should be made available. If a levy were in place, that would ensure that unemployed persons would be able to receive training free from any worry of paying the cost of such training out of their own pockets; that is, if being unemployed they have any money in their pockets.

Another example of the lack of proper training facilities concerns North Sea divers. As the Minister will know, previous to 1979 their training was undertaken by Manpower and financed through a proper levy, but now, since Manpower was privatised, divers have had to borrow up to £5,000 from their bank or other sources to finance their training. The result of this is an influx of foreign divers and consequently unemployment for potential British divers. This cannot be right and nor is it sensible.

The Government's approach to training is all wrong, I fear, and relies altogether too much on the free market philosophy. The result of this approach is shown up in stark terms by the fact that British companies spend only one-fifteenth of 1 per cent. on training while our foreign competitors spend between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent. This lack of a proper training policy is having an effect not only in the North Sea but in my view throughout our economy. The Labour Party will give attention to this problem as a matter of priority and when elected to government will restore the training boards and ensure that they are properly financed through levy.

However, as I have said, we shall not oppose the Bill, especially since I understand that, following discussions between my honourable friends Mr. John Prescott, Labour's employment spokesman, and Mr. Barry Sheerman and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment, Mr. David Trippier, a significant concession has been made concerning support for unemployed people seeking an offshore survival certificate which is necessary for many employments in the North Sea. I understand the concession involves the Manpower Services Commission agreeing that, on an experimental basis but without commitment for the long term, it will pay the fees for unemployed applicants for a limited number of places on courses lasting up to five days and leading to the survival certificate at colleges in Aberdeen, Grimsby and Hull. Perhaps the noble Lord will confirm this concession, since it would be useful to write it into the record. Can he also give an indication of the numbers likely to be involved, and when will be the earliest date for the scheme to start?

With those few comments, some of which I fear have been critical, I confirm the Opposition's support for the Bill, and we shall of course help to smooth its passage through this House.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, let me say at the outset that the Government strongly support this Bill and very much hope that it will shortly find its place on the statute book.

If I may respond to the points put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, he is right that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment wrote to Mr. Barry Sheerman, an honourable Member in the other place, giving him the assurance to which the noble Lord has referred. I wonder whether the best way for me to proceed in this matter is to let the noble Lord have a copy of that letter, which I hope will set his mind at rest. He will see from it that my honourable friend was not able to give a formal undertaking about numbers or timing, which he said would depend upon local circumstances, but he expected that some places would be offered by the autumn. I shall see that the noble Lord gets a copy of that letter.

The noble Lord also asked about the position of training for divers. I do not have an answer to that question immediately available. Perhaps I can look into the matter and write to him.

7.54 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and my noble friend the Minister for their remarks. I certainly did not know that people being trained for diving had to pay their own fees for training, but I am sure, as the Minister said, that that will be rectified. I do not wish to hold up the House any longer, and so I end by saying that I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.55 until 8.40 P.m.]