§ Mr. Cohen
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the advantages and disadvantages of providing retraining assistance by(a) tax allowances or rebates and (b) facilitating career development loans at lower than commercial rates of interest for individuals in employment but at risk of becoming unemployed; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Wicks
I have been asked to reply.
Vocational Training Relief (VTR) is currently available to individuals paying for their own training/retraining in certain circumstances. Individuals who undergo retraining provided by their employer or former employer around the time of redundancy are exempt from income tax on 1037W the benefit of that retraining. This is in addition to the general tax exception for employees on the benefit in kind of work-related training funded by their employer.
A national framework for individual learning accounts will be launched in 2000. Under this framework, individuals will be able to obtain 20 per cent. discounts, rather than tax relief, on the first £500 a year of a wide range of learning which they pay for—with 80 per cent. discounts for certain key courses, including computer literacy. Contributions paid by employers towards eligible learning for employees who hold individual learning accounts will qualify for a deduction from taxable profits. They will also be tax and NICs free in the hands of their employees, provided employers contribute to the learning accounts of their lowest paid workers on similar terms. Individual learning accounts will promote lifelong learning and encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own training and development.
The Chancellor announced in this year's budget that VTR is to be withdrawn sometime in 2000–01, when the national framework for individual learning accounts is launched. The incentives announced for individual learning accounts provide a better means of targeting support from public funds than VTR.
There are no immediate plans to change the terms under which loans are offered by banks under the Career Development Loan (CDL) scheme. However, we are actively looking at what improvements can be made to the provision of support for learning, to help individuals to access training. As part of this, we are keeping under review the operation and terms of the CDL scheme, and consideration of the terms under which individual learning accounts should be introduced, in accordance with the proposals in "The Learning Age" Green Paper.