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Column 1123employer affected by the decision taken by the CITB in 1985. It has taken the Minister over six months to admit that the changes need to be made, but if the rules will be wrong in 1990, they were wrong in 1985 and both Mr. O'Donoghue and his son have been badly treated. The situation will have changed only because of my constituent's determination to challenge what is clearly a harsh ruling, and his son will not benefit because by the time the changes come in, his son will be too old. It appears that, although my constituent has highlighted this matter and brought it to the Minister's attention, he stands to gain nothing from it. It certainly does not help his son.
Mr. O'Donoghue's son may have been taken on by his father as an apprentice plumber in exactly the kind of circumstances which the existing Manpower Services Commission and CITB rules envisaged as normal for the industry, but, for every set of rules, there are legitimate exceptions for which Ministers should be prepared to make special provision.
Mr. O'Donoghue and his son are hard-working citizens who are endeavouring to keep in business the kind of small family company which the Government properly claim that they want to help. Mr. O'Donoghue had undertaken to provide an apprenticeship in the family business, and there should have been no problem in ensuring that he be given all possible help by the Government and other agencies to do so. Only mind-boggling bureaucratic hair-splitting can lead to a situation in which no agency would give proper support to his son's apprenticeship.
The purpose of the Industrial Training Act 1982 was to make better provision for and to encourage adequate training of apprentices. One assumes that the CITB exists for those very purposes. Therefore, why could it not come to Brian O'Donoghue's assistance by helping to fund his training programme, as it already does for other apprentices? Mr. O'Donoghue should not have been penalised for trying to give his son a start in life, rather than allowing him to leave school and start life on the unemployment register.
This saga, which has dragged on since 1985, ended rather tragically on 1 February 1989. My constituent's company went through a period when it required all its employees to make a contribution to the work in hand. My constituent was forced to make his son redundant. Brian O'Donoghue is now unemployed. No matter the rights and wrongs of the case, and no matter how my constituent decided to pursue this matter, the CITB may not be too happy with the way in which this employer has challenged it at every turn. It may not like the fact that that he has highlighted an anomaly in the 1985 decision--that is, that it did not leave room for the exceptions that one would normally expect. Through no fault of his own, Brian O'Donoghue is now unemployed. I ask the CITB to do all that it can to ensure that he does not suffer because of its decision and by the failure of his employer, who also happens to be his father, to continue to employ him and to continue to allow him time off to attend college.
Therefore, even at this late stage, I call on the Minister to reverse his decision and use his considerable influence to release financial support for Brian O'Donoghue's continuing apprenticeship. The sums involved for a small family business such as the O'Donoghues' are minuscule, compared with the CITB's massive surplus. That is an extremely relevant point, given that the CITB's accounts for 1987 showed a surplus of more than £87 million.
Column 1124Therefore, a shortage of funds cannot be cited as the cause of the board's failure to support Mr. O'Donoghue's son. It is clear that someone at the Minister's level is required to make a decision. As I said, in every matter the Government have flexibility and responsibility finally to give advice and say that, for whatever reason, there are exceptions to every rule. The Minister can make that decision in the case of Brian O'Donoghue without seriously jeopardising the CITB's proposals. Given that the Minister has already identified expected changes to the CITB, it is not too much to ask him to say that he will take on board the O'Donoghues' determination to try to ensure that their son can make a useful contribution to the construction industry as a time-served plumber, and, even at this late stage, will intervene to help my constituent Brian O'Donoghue.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls) : As the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) knows, I am well aware of the case involving his constituent, Mr. James O'Donoghue, and his son Brian. As has been made clear here tonight, there has been a great deal of correspondence involving the CITB and Ministers at the Scottish Office, as well as my own Department, and meetings have also been arranged to allow Mr. O'Donoghue to put his case to the Construction Industry Training Board and to my own officials here in London.
Before I comment on the particular details of Mr. O'Donoghue's case, I think it would be helpful to the House if I outlined the relationship that exists between the Government and the Construction Industry Training Board.
The CITB is a statutory body, established under legislation now consolidated in the Industrial Training Act 1982. It exists to encourage adequate training to appropriate standards in the construction industry throughout Great Britain. The chairman and members of the board are appointed by the Secretary of State for Employment--in most cases after consultation with employer organisations, unions or educational interests in the industry. The board's main source of income is the levy it raises from employers in the industry. Each year, the board has to present its levy proposals to the Training Commission for approval. The commission then passes the proposals to Ministers for consideration, and, if we are content, we bring them before the House for approval. So the board's main source of income comes from the industry ; it does not come from Government. It is therefore right that the industry, not Government, should decide how that money should be spent, and in particular on the nature of the grant scheme which the board should support.
The board has therefore established a system of sectoral committees in which representatives of the industry--employer and
employees--discuss the skill and training needs of their industry and determine the detail of the grant scheme that they wish to finance from their levy income. Their proposals are put to the full board and then, if approved, to the Training Commission. The CITB is not required to present their grant scheme to Ministers for approval.
Column 1125That is an important point. Although the CITB is a statutory body, it is very much in control of the industry, and it is for the industry to determine the detail of its grant support for construction training. It would not be right--and the House will, I think, agree with me on this--for Government to impose a specific grant scheme upon the board. It is the employers' money which is being spent through the board's grant scheme, and it is therefore right and proper that the details of that grant scheme should be determined by the employers, through the board's committee structure. What the Government want to see is less regulation in training, not more ; less central direction and more emphasis on commitment from employers at the local level, sectoral and national levels, to investment in training for their own business success.
Turning to the particular case involving Mr. O'Donoghue and the lengthy correspondence which has resulted, I can perhaps help by making two main points. First, to reinforce what I hope I have already made clear, the rules are formulated by the industry itself, not by Government.
I have made it consistently clear to the board--and for that matter to Mr. O'Donoghue--that I would like to see some changes in some of the conditions imposed by the board in the past upon eligibility for grants--for example, the emphasis upon registration with joint industry bodies or the following of particular and inflexible patterns of training. I can tell the House that I am confident that the board's scheme for 1989-90 will be far more flexible and more accessible.
Obviously, I cannot say tonight what the implications of that will be for Mr. O'Donoghue. But he would be well advised to keep in close contact with the board on this. I would also point out--and I underline, in effect, what the hon. Gentleman has said--that Mr. O'Donoghue did receive a grant in 1987 of £200 to which he was entitled under the scheme in operation at that time. My second point is that, as I understand it, Mr. O'Donoghue's son's eligibility for grant support resulted from his apparent decision not to allow his son to participate in YTS.
Column 1126The youth training scheme is the preferred method of entry into plumbing, because the board's mechanical engineering services committee feels that it assures the quality of training necessary to achieve the standards of competence required in the industry. Mr. O'Donoghue's decision on YTS effectively placed him outside the rules and so made his son ineligible for grant support.
I can only regret Mr. O'Donoghue's decision and must confess that I am at a loss to know why he chose not to take advantage of the funding available for quality training through YTS. Be that as it may, that was his choice and, as I and my officials have consistently told him, I do not have--and neither should I have--the power to require the CITB to alter the rules of its grant scheme to suit his particular whims.
What I hope I have been able to do tonight is, at least, satisfy the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I strongly suspect that nothing I have said will satisfy Mr. O'Donoghue for one moment. Everything I have said has been said to him on numerous occasions in meetings, correspondence, and telephone conversations not only with me, but with my officials and CITB officials. Not only has considerable ministerial time been devoted to this case, but the CITB chairman has been able to give me his personal assurance that a great deal of time and consideration has been given to this case by the board. In short, I have no doubt that Mr. O'Donoghue has been treated fairly and correctly, and while my acquaintance with Mr. O'Donoghue leads me to believe that he will not be convinced of that, I would like to think that I have been able to satisfy the House. The hon. Gentleman has suggested--it was implicit in his remarks, but has been explicitly suggested by Mr. O'Donoghue on many occasions--that, in some way, the board has operated improperly when it comes to the question of its investments. Under the 1982 Act an ITB must obtain the Training Commission's approval for all of its investments. To the best of my knowledge, that procedure was fully adhered to in this case.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.
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