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Clause 18

Dissolution of Training Commission

Amendment made : No. 18, in page 13, line 27, leave out ", apart from this section,".-- [Mr. Fowler.]

Schedule 5

Dissolution of Training Commission : supplementary provisions

Amendments made : No. 19, in page 26, line 11, leave out , in relation to any time falling on or after that date'. No. 20, in page 26, line 25, leave out

office or place of business'

and insert "principal office".-- [Mr. Fowler.]

Clause 19

Transfer of staff employed in Skills Training Agency

Mr. Strang : I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 13, line 30, leave out clause 19.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : With this we may take the following amendments : No. 24, in page 14, line 7, at end insert--

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(2A) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements for the continuation of a "Skillcentre Network.".'.

No. 26, in page 14, line 10, at end insert--

(3B) After the transfer of an undertaking, civil service terms and conditions of employment shall continue to apply, unless altered by negotiation and agreement with the relevant trade unions.'. No. 27, in page 14, line 10, at end insert--

(3C) After the transfer of an undertaking, civil service pension arrangements shall continue to apply, unless altered by negotiation and agreement with the relevant trade unions.'.

No. 28, in page 14, line 19, at end insert--

The Secretary of State shall make such arrangements as necessary to ensure that after a transfer of an undertaking, the same amount and quality of training is delivered.'.

No. 29, in page 14, line 40, at end insert--

(9) This section shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has established a body of relevant organisations to monitor the training services delivered after the transfer of an undertaking.'.

Mr. Strang : Clause 19 follows from the Government's decision to privatise skill centres, which we deeply deplore and which has important consequences for the staff employed at them, who are currently civil servants.

The proposal stems from the Government's announcement in last December's White Paper "Employment for the 1990s" indicating their intention to privatise the Skills Training Agency. However, their arguments were flawed. The White Paper stated :

"The Skills Training Agency would be in a better position to seize these opportunities if it were to move into the private sector where it could adopt the best commercial practices. The Government are therefore taking professional advice on the feasibility of such a move."

In essence, the Government are free to run the agency as they wish. It is within their power to decide that, and whether or not the agency is in the public sector does not really matter. If the Government want the agency to be run as a commercial operation, they have only to instruct the civil servants in charge to run it that way. If the Government want the agency to concentrate on certain areas where a need for greater training provision has been identified, they have only instruct the people who run it to do that instead. I make that point because sometimes it is suggested that it is impossible to run an activity in the public sector commercially or efficiently. British Airways is currently operating very efficiently in the private sector under the chairmanship of Lord King, but before its privatisation, the Government gave British Airways a remit to slim down and become profitable. British Airways operated in the public sector, in preparation for privatisation, as a relatively efficient, profitable and slimmed-down company. It could have continued doing so in the public sector. That illustrates that there is nothing in the argument that the Skills Training Agency must be moved into the private sector before it can perform in a certain way. It will do so anyway if the people running it are asked to make it function in a specific way ; and if the Government are not satisfied with their performance, they can be replaced by people having the wherewithal and ability to make it do so.

Our main reason for opposing the clause is that all the evidence, including the Government's own documents, suggests that British business has failed adequately to invest in training, and that its record is poor by comparison with its European competitors. In those circumstances, how on earth can it make sense to remove from the public sector a training provision that the

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Government can influence and transfer it to the private sector--when the record of private training sector even in the Government's eyes, and certainly in ours, is poor?

With the agency taking over the responsibilities of the Training Commission, a substantial proportion of the so-called national task force now comprises large, private industrial companies. Having acknowledged that, apart from some notable exceptions, British business has failed to take training sufficiently seriously, it seems a remarkable conclusion to put the people who have apparently failed in charge, or at least to give them a major say over the Government's expenditure on training and at the same time to move out of the public sector the skill centres which are wholly owned by the Government and through which the Government can lay down what training should be provided.

3.30 am

The argument that the agency is losing money does not stand up as it is a wholly artificial exercise. The Secretary of State's announcement referred to the fact that the agency had made a profit in some years but had made a substantial loss in others. I do not have the figures to hand, but I recall that it made a profit in 1987-88 or 1988-89. That was partly accounted for by the fact that the Manpower Services Commission was committed to using the skill centres to provide some of the training that it was financing. In the current year, the gross cost of the training centres is about £53 million, whereas the Government's planned expenditure for the Training Agency is £2,860 million. It is an artificial point to argue that the skill centres are losing money. One could stop them losing money by instructing the managers to organise the scheme or slim it down so that it would no longer lose money. Alternatively, one could acknowledge that the Government are spending a substantial sum of money on training and that it may make sense to use some of that money to provide opportunities at the skill centres that are not available elsewhere and cost money. The argument that the skill centres should necessarily be profitable is not valid.

The skill centres have existed for a long time. They first came into being in the aftermath of the first world war. They have a good record. Some excellent people work in the skill centres, which have provided tremendous opportunities and valuable training, particularly for the long-term unemployed. Many women have been able to acquire the necessary skills for jobs which are usually carried out by men, and we would all encourage that. Skill centres can be proud of the contribution which they have made to training in Britain over the years.

That is not to say that one should accept the current arrangements or concede that the training courses and facilities which they currently provide are the right ones for the 1990s. However, while they are part of the Civil Service, and part of the Government, at least the Government can decide what facilities are provided in these centres. There is no question but that in many localities skill centres have identified skills shortages and have made a significant contribution to training the most difficult people to train, such as those who have been unemployed for some time. We reject the Government's approach. It is ludicrous for them to argue that they can enhance and improve training provision in this country by

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privatising a fraction of the training facilities that accounts for a small proportion of Government expenditure on training. It is clear that training provision will be privatised, and it would be helpful if, in the time available--we do not wish unduly to prolong proceedings--the Minister said a little more about the progress of the management buyout. He explained in Committee that the Government are quite happy that the deputy chief executive, Mr. Bishell, is leading a management buy-out, which would rule out the purchase of local skill centres by local consortia. Is that still the most likely option? I know that the Government are not excluding further options, even at this late stage.

Labour Members should like an assurance that assets will not be disposed of at knockdown values and that the market value of sites will be reflected in their sale price. Under the British Aerospace privatisation, assets were sold for a price below that implied in the overall package. The Minister should give an assurance that sites--the market value of some of which is quite favourable--will not be disposed of at knockdown prices. I have heard one or two suggested figures for skill centres and sites that are, to put it mildly, well below what one would expect the assets to realise if they were sold separately in the market.

We are not trying to impose an undue burden on the new outfit. We are opposed to privatisation, but once it goes ahead it is in everyone's interests that it should provide more training. We are worried that, assets having been acquired, there will be a gradual process of rationalisation and asset-stripping and that the privatised operation will make a reduced contribution, quantitatively if not qualitatively, to training.

Clause 19 is not about privatisation but about the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants employed in the centres. It ensures that when skill centres are transferred to their new owners, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 are employed for all staff. However, because civil servants often enjoy better conditions than they might in the private sector, and because we fear that the service offered by skill centres will suffer, we are proposing amendments to safeguard the rights of employees and the standards of service that they offer.

Amendment No. 24 would mean that the Secretary of State would have to make arrangements for the continuation of a skill centre network. We believe that privatisation will be followed by the breaking up of the national effect on retraining into a service that ranges widely in quality from area to area. The amendment should cause the Government no problems if they are committed to the continuation of national training, while allowing for separate management. Amendment No. 28 would require the Secretary of State to ensure that privatised skill centres will provide the same amount and quality of training.

Amendment No. 29 would greatly assist the Minister in pursuit of that goal. It provides for the setting up of a watchdog body for monitoring the training services that are delivered after privatisation. We do not specify which organisations should sit on that body, but say only "relevant" organisations. We have in mind a body along the lines of that which was set up to monitor the performance of British Telecom when it was privatised, and feel that it should comprise representatives of trade unions, the unemployed and employers' representatives to

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safeguard against the sort of defects that we believe are apparent in the body that is supposed to be supervising British Telecom. We have advanced amendment No. 26, which concerns the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants who are currently employed in connection with skill centres. Amendment No. 27 relates to their pensions. Both amendments state that they will continue to apply unless they have been altered by negotiation and agreement with the relevant trade unions.

We recognise that the Government have given certain undertakings, and the purpose of the clause is to ensure that the civil servants retain their accrued rights in relation to pensions, redundancy and employment conditions. However, as the Minister said in Committee, after privatisation anything can happen. We want to tie the Minister down more clearly because we believe that there should be some commitment to the civil servants which goes beyond the point of transfer.

In Committe the Minister made a statement on pensions. He said that they

"must be covered separately by arrangements in the terms of sale. The details will be a matter for the sale negotiations, but ... arrangements to provide for pension terms which, taken overall, are comparable with those that apply now will be part of the conditions of sale."

If we are to accept that rather bland assurance, amendment No. 27 would give it some substance while offering new employers some flexibility. Unfortunately, there is nothing in this or any other Bill that would guarantee civil servants similar pension rights, and they and their unions are right to be sceptical of the Government's real commitment and intentions.

As the proposals stand, anybody with more than two years' service can leave the pension rights that they have accrued in the Civil Service scheme. Employees with less than two years' service do not have that right. I put it to the Minister that one can leave one's rights in other pension schemes after less than two years ; so why is it necessary to have a cut-off of two years?

Similarly, we ask the Government to match their words with actions and accept amendment No. 26 on the terms and conditions of employment--of which pensions do not form a part. Again, we suggest that it will be only a matter of time before those rights are eroded.

On the question whether a privatised civil servant will be required to move willy-nilly under the new management, the Minister gave a curious answer in Committee. He said :

"The position will remain broadly the same when they move to new ownership but may change slightly, particularly if the network is not the same as it is now."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16 March 1989 ; c. 532.]

Given that the network is highly unlikely to remain unchanged, where does that leave the movement of employees of skill centres? It may not be unprecedented--I hope that the Minister will say what the precedents are-- but this is a remarkable and traumatic issue for the civil servants. There are many instances in the implementation of such a policy where civil servants are given some choice. They can take redundancy or obtain a transfer into another area of the Civil Service, remaining civil servants.

But these civil servants are not being given that choice. They are being compulsorily privatised. The Minister probably knows already that many of them deeply resent that. Many believe in the idea of public service. They want

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to be civil servants. They like being civil servants and they are deeply angry that, without any warning or mandate, they can be suddenly told that on a particular day, which is not far off now, they will cease to be civil servants, even if they would rather have continued as civil servants, perhaps in some other area of the Department of Employment's general activities or some other area of the Civil Service.

It is highly unsatisfactory that that should be the plight of people in the Civil Service, and I refer not just to those in the higher echelons of the service but to people with a commitment to working in the public service, who believe that by working as civil servants, particularly in this area, they have a valuable role to fulfil.

In the past I was in contact with instructors in the establishments, through the links I had with the old Civil Service Union. Many of those people are dedicated to their task and it is deeply regrettable that they should find themselves compulsorily transferred to a private organisation. We cannot know what the future holds for such an organisation because inherent in the exercise is the fact that once it is sold off, it must operate independently in the market place. Indeed, we have no guarantee that it will continue to provide training in 10 or 20 years hence.

This proposal was brought forward as a new clause during the final stages of the Committee stage debates. We are glad of this opportunity to raise the issue on the Floor of the House. The Minister has an obligation to the House to deal with these issues, but he has a wider obligation to the staff, the trade unions and the country to answer the questions that we have asked.

3.45 am

Mr. McCartney : It is a tragedy that at 3.45 in the morning we should be debating the issue of training in Britain and the demise of a co- ordinated national training effort which has involved the public and private sectors, local authorities and Government in the development of employment and training initiatives.

I was in local government for six years and worked closely on issues of this type, including with the MSC on general employment projects and on the technical and vocational education initiative. I found it vital to have local authorities involved with the Training Commission and private employers to develop the education system so that it became able to meet the needs of industry. I found it an uplifting experience.

It is regrettable that, because of their policies, the Government have tended to withdraw from that type of close co-operation between local authorities and the public sector in general. They are now trying to organise it solely on the basis of the market place, and that will prove to be a tragedy in the short and long-term. After all, our competitors in Europe and further afield are not leaving their training initiatives to market forces. They appreciate the need to co-ordinate and develop employment and training initiatives as an entity to enhance the development of their economies.

It is tragic that the Government should be taking these steps at a time when we have major skill shortages in various parts of the country. That is the case, for example, in the north-west, because of 10 years of decline and lack of investment, while in other areas there continues to be a lack of skilled manpower even though local economies are booming. The shortfalls in the YTS and the short-term

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nature of earlier training schemes have left us with a skill base lower than we had 10 years ago. That will act to the long-term detriment of the public and private sectors.

With the abolition of the metropolitan authorities, we saw, for example, in Greater Manchester, the ending overnight of joint initiatives between the MSC and the local authority. Millions of pounds each year went into joint ventures and training at skill centres and places of employment. We have not recovered from the loss of that type of resource.

We have a skill centre in my area. The local authority has developed round it, so to speak, a development company involving a major new initiative of an industrial estate. It is one of the most modern industrial estates in the north-west. Its infrastructure is superb and it is attracting new industry. The skill centre is linked with the information technology centres and a system has been developed whereby the local authority, through its employment initiatives with the private sector, is trying to develop a co-ordinated approach to training in our area. Yet at the same time there is an attempt by the Government to leave all this to market forces.

Market forces by themselves are totally inadequate to deal with the needs of private industry and to link that with the resources being spent at the public level by local authorities and in some instances by Government so as to get the best value for money and develop in such a way that we involve as many people as possible in retraining, the rehabilitation of the long- term unemployed and the disabled and the development of new skills and techniques. This is essential in terms of the development of the economy.

We have realised in the north-west, with the demise of much of our industry in textiles, heavy engineering and shipbuilding, the need to develop a different structure of employment in the region. That means the introduction of new skills and technology, but that cannot be achieved in either the short or the long term without a co-ordinated approach to training and the development of new skills and the provision of resources to identify those new skills and enable people to learn them.

Amendment No. 24, if carried, would give us an opportunity to make sure that, although skill centres are privatised, the essential nature of the network is retained and they have a chance to work with the private sector, local authority and other public sector initiatives. Even though I am totally opposed to the idea of urban development corporations, while they exist they have a role to play in the development of the economy in the urban areas of Salford, Manchester, Liverpool and other such places. Their activities need to be co-ordinated with the work of skill centres and should not be completely divorced and left to market forces.

It is also important that quality and quantity are not reduced. Over the last decade both the quality and the quantity of the training needed to develop the economic base of the regions have been reduced substantially in many parts of Britain. And we are faced with a Government privatising these organisations for ideological reasons and not looking at what is required in terms of a co-ordinated approach to training in the private and public sector.

I look to the Minister to give me some assurances, given the unique role of the skill centres as the dynamo in my local economy and the overspill effect that has occurred in terms of the other initiatives that have been taken, some in

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the past directly with the Government through the MSC, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment. We have seen over four or five years the development of such schemes and the involvement of both the private and the public sector, but the Government's proposals are putting an end to all this. There were approaches last year to the TUC about Government proposals interfering with the then role of the MSC, then deciding to get rid of the Training Commission and to privatise what is left of the skill centres. There seems no sense in the Government doing that and then not coming forward with initiatives to protect the present network of skill centres, which, in protecting that network, will protect the work done in the regions by skill centres and other organisations to enhance and develop new skills in local economies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) has asked the Minister for commitments on staff, which are important and are similar to the plea made recently about staff in the Department of Energy under the Electricity Bill. We are seeking not only a commitment on current staff, but a general commitment on the level of employment within the new, privatised skill centres. Unless there is a commitment about the level of employment and the quality of the trainers, the role of skill centres will be seriously undermined, as will the training that they provide and the quality and quantity of that provision.

Over the past few years, there has been a tendency in some skill centres to cut short, often at short notice, some of the programmes that are being developed, as a result of cuts at some of the centres. That has led to many instances of the staff becoming demoralised and the people who are trying to take advantage of the schemes have found themselves in difficulties. They have had to come off schemes before they are completed, or are threatened with having to do so. That does not add up to a modern approach to training in new skills. One would expect such things to happen at the turn of the century, but not with training for the new technology for the next century and not when in Europe, the far east, the middle east, America and even central America, there are initiatives by Governments and industries that will undermine our export drive. We need to develop and strengthen our economy in the regions, yet at this very point, the Government are reducing resources overall and then asking us to accept that market forces will see us through. That is unacceptable. I want the Minister to give some commitments about the skill centres in the north- west, such as the one in my constituency, and to say what his intentions are about developing and building on initiatives taken by some local authorities--initiatives taken in good faith with his Department. Many capital resources and much ratepayers' money have been put into those initiatives, yet we are now uncertain about the Government's policy on skill centres. If the Minister gives us some undertakings on that, our worries will be eased. I view with some trepidation the decision of the Minister and the Government to opt out of developing a national policy on training, in terms of quality and quantity.

Mr. Haynes : I see the proposal as part of the Ridley blueprint under which the Government, when they came to office in 1979, were determined to destroy certain aspects of life before 1979. There is a very successful skill

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centre in the town of Kirkby-in-Ashfield in my constituency, with a first-class team providing training and giving an excellent service. I pay a tribute to the staff of that skill centre, and a tribute was paid by all the apprentices who went to the skill centre over a long period. Yet here, once again, the profit motive has now come into operation. It seems that because of the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), it has been done with indecent haste, without proper consultation with the people who are providing the service. The Government have gone ahead willy-nilly with the preparation for privatisation.

It may be that some of the skill centres were losing money, but the important point is that they were providing a first-class service in the locality. Nottingham county council and Ashfield district council were doing a first-class job in conjunction with the skill centre in my constituency. We had a wonderful connection with the youth organisations. Everyone used to get together to discuss what they felt should be happening in the interests of youngsters leaving school, who could not find work but who were receiving expert training in the skill centre, and in the interest of adults who could not find work and needed to be retrained.

4 am

In addition, we had school involvement in my constituency and in Nottinghamshire generally. Local business was involved. Committees were set up, on which all the organisations were represented. They would feed information in with a view to helping to provide a better service. The one thing that stuck in the Government's craw was the involvement of the trade union movement in skill centres. Lo and behold, the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, then Secretary of State for Employment, cut off many of the skill centres and destroyed the centre in Kirkby-in-Ashfield in my constituency. We were left without a skill centre, with nowhere for people to go. We provided a service from people outside the constituency as well ; yet, here we go, into the private sector.

The Government closed down many skill centres--just as they closed the pits --with a view to keeping hold of the profitable ones. They did that so they could fatten them up and hand them over, just as they have with electricity, water, gas and British Telecom. It happened to all those industries first, and now it is happening with skill centres, which I maintain are doing a first-class job.

The thing that worries me most is that the Government will get away with it. They have the majority to do anything in this place. They do not listen to Opposition Members' sensible suggestions. I am sorry that I have sung the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to sleep. Perhaps he is simply closing his eyes and listening ; I hope so, because Opposition Members have a real story to tell about skill centres. I am worried about the watchdog body that is to be set up once skill centres go into the private sector. I should like to know who its members will be. Will it be like the other groups that have been set up by the Government? It will probably consist of members of the Conservative party being paid off with a little job as part of a watchdog body to see that the private sector does the job properly. It will probably be jobs for the boys with blue eyes, because the

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Conservative party's colour is blue. That is probably what will happen. The Government will look after the laddies who have served the Conservative party over the years. They will provide them with a job keeping an eye on the skill centres.

I wonder, if that happens, whether they will do a proper job. If the Government get away with the proposal in the Bill, all manner of organisations need to be represented on the watchdog

body--particularly the trade union movement. If I were a member of the Conservative party--

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : We would not have you.

Mr. Haynes : The hon. Gentleman has woken up. He has been asleep since the debate began. He normally is. [Interruption.] I never interrupt the hon. Gentleman when he speaks, yet he is interrupting me. The hon. Gentleman is helping to close pits in the Nottingham area by voting for the Government's economy policy-- [Interruption.] He is still shouting and bawling.

I am concerned about the sort of people who will be appointed to serve on the watchdog body. There should be fair and proper representation across the board. If I were sitting on the Conservative Benches I should probably want management from different organisations to serve on that body. That is only fair because the Conservative party is in power. However, to make the body fair we also need those who represent trade unionists. I fear that it will not be fair if the Government do not go about this matter in the right way.

The Government are moving skill centres into the private sector, where the profit motive will prevail. Will money be properly spent in the interests of the skill centres and the trainees? I hope that the Minister will assure us that the appointments to the watchdog body will be fair and that the profit motive will not prevail over a fair and proper system.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope) : I fully appreciate that Opposition Members do not accept the underlying policy of privatising the Skills Training Agency. The present position of the STA is unsustainable, and anyone who does not think that needs only to study the Public Accounts Committee report to discover the true position. It broke approximately even in 1987, but in the remainder of the past five years it spent a great deal more than its income. As the PAC pointed out, it has been subsidised surreptitiously by the MSC and the Training Commission, and the PAC rightly said that that should not continue.

I was asked about the progress of the management buy-out. I understand that the initiative led by Mr. Bishell is proceeding. All contacts with potential purchasers--some 40 organisations have expressed interest--are being handled by Deloittes, which is advising the Government on the sale. I am not, therefore, in a position to comment on the individual prospective purchasers. Our position on the management buyout remain that which has been stated by myself and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Our professional advisers are preparing the necessary documents for the sale of assets, which include an up-to-date assessment of the value of every property. My right hon. Friend gave a clear assurance to the House on 13 March that the Government would share in any

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development gains in the years immediately following the sale, and we propose to make provision for that. First we must get a valuation of all the properties. That is being done for us, following a competitive tender, by King and Company, which is advising on the property aspects of the sale.

Clause 19 and most of the amendments relate to the protection of the staff. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained at the time of the announcement that he would table what has turned out to be clause 19. The purpose is to ensure that the staff of the STA are protected by the application of the Transfer to Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981. That is basically what the clause does.

My right hon. Friend also undertook to ensure through the contract of sale that all staff who transferred into the private sector are satisfactorily covered by pension arrangements. I am happy to repeat that undertaking in response to amendment No. 27.

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) referred to haste. We also heard references to the morale of the STA staff. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that it is very important that we should end the uncertainty that has hung over the STA not only since the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or the White Paper to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) drew attention, but for a number of years because of its position. In the interests of the staff, apart from anything else, we should progress matters as fast as possible. That is an important aspect for us all to bear in mind.

In his statement my right hon. Friend also made it clear that we want to preserve as many skill centres as we can to provide a national network. We agree with the Public Accounts Committee that there is no case for subsidising the skill centres. That is particularly so when about one third of them are seriously under-utilised. At the same time, we are anxious to make it clear that we are selling a training business. We are interested only in bids from people who want to run an effective training business. It is on that basis that we shall consider the bids. We want to see a continuing skill centre network in the private sector.

We believe that it would be wrong to set in aspic the present amount and quality of training, as amendment No. 28 suggests. It seeks to permit no change at all, although I gather from the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East that that is not entirely what he had in mind. I have already made it clear that removing clause 19 from the Bill, as amendment No. 23 seeks, would not prevent the sale of the skill centres. The clause safeguards the position of staff who transfer with the business. It is similar to provisions that have been included in many of the previous privatisations. It is important to make clear what it does.

The terms and conditions of employment and the collective agreements that apply at the time of transfer will be continued by regulations with the new employer. After the transfer, changes to the position that exists at that time will be a matter for agreement through the normal processes of collective bargaining, but it is not a case of anything happening then regardless, as was suggested. There is no compulsion on either side to reach a new agreement. If both sides are happy with the arrangements as they stand at the time of transfer, the same conditions will continue. The process of reaching a fresh agreement is voluntary on both sides. Until then, the clause and the

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regulations will ensure that the existing arrangements will continue. Amendment No. 26 therefore becomes unnecessary. On amendment No. 27, I have already mentioned that occupational pensions are excluded from the Transfer to Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. They are not covered by what I have just said. However, I have referred also to the undertaking which has clearly been given not only by myself, but by the Secretary of State.

4.15 am

Amendment No. 29 provides for some sort of monitoring. I cannot tell the hon. Member for Ashfield who or what sort of person would be involved in the monitoring, because it is not our proposal. It is the proposal contained in amendment No. 29, which was moved by the Opposition. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman was suspicious about who might be put on such a board and we might share that concern. However, it appears that amendment No. 29, in providing for such monitoring, displays a prejudiced view of the private sector. After all, the essential condition for success in the private sector is to provide what the customer wants to buy. The STA's potential customers will not want to purchase inadequate training that does not meet their needs. The customer is, in fact, the best monitor, and to satisfy him is what we are seeking to achieve.

The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) mentioned TVEI, which does not really come into the amendment, but it is not for me to quarrel with that. However, in passing I assure him that TVEI certainly continues to develop and has a much larger budget than the STA--and a rising one. The Government are spending far more on training across the board than our predecessors did 10 years ago. We are, of course, developing the system. I do not always expect Opposition Members to like what we are doing, but to suggest that we have decreased the Government's involvement in training, including financially, when compared with 10 years ago, is entirely wrong. To speak as if the STA was the only public sector element in training and education is wrong. It is one, and, as the House knows, we are proposing to change its arrangements.

We believe that the skill centres can best serve the training needs in all parts of the country by becoming more competitive and more viable training businesses, with a clear commercial focus and the ability to compete on level terms with other providers of training. However, it is important that the staff who transfer to the private sector have proper protection, which is what clause 19 achieves. I believe that it should stand unamended.

Mr. Strang : It goes without saying that we are not persuaded by the Government's arguments, and we certainly will want to vote on the first amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made :

The House divided : Ayes 18, Noes 113.

Division No. 228] [4.17 am


Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Cryer, Bob

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Dixon, Don

Foster, Derek

Golding, Mrs Llin

Home Robertson, John

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

McCartney, Ian

McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

Meale, Alan

Nellist, Dave

Richardson, Jo

Skinner, Dennis

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