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Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher : I will not give way. I want to get on ; it is a short debate.

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At about the same time, the Financial Times reported : "Employment Training is facing mounting difficulties in attracting trainees in the north-east, an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country."

It went on to state that in Cleveland, for example,

"only 81 of the 450 places with employers have been filled." It is altogether a sobering and humiliating story, yet the Government's advertising blurb still continues to take on a life of its own, divorced from any reality.

"Custom-made to give people the skills they need for tomorrow's jobs"

is another of the Government's slogans. What happens on the ground is a rather different story. I recently received a letter from a man in Wales who applied to go on ET for agricultural maintenance, with a view to starting his own business. In his own words, this is what happened to him :

"Day 1. Went to local office at 9 am, filled in two forms and sat until 4 pm. The woman in charge was a senior team leader who was also on a training scheme, and appeared to have no idea why I or anyone else was there.

Day 2. Reported at 9 am sat around till 3.30 went home. Day 3. Same routine, but had fire drill.

Day 4. Same routine--despite repeated inquiries, could obtain no information regarding the training programme.

Day 5. Finally visited training centre forty-one miles away The workshop was an old shed, with rubbish strewn about, bits of steel, old engine parts and no clear working surfaces The gas cutting gear had perished pipes, and there was no evidence of goggles ; the electrical equipment had no safety cut-outs. The only supervisor I saw was also responsible for a hundred and forty acres, two workshops, livestock and twelve trainees. There was no trained instructor, in fact they are advertising for one.

Trainees on farm work were left unsupervised to drive tractors with no brakes or safety frames, one trainee was operating a mechanical digger with the engine overheating to such an extent that steam was coming from it." In case the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that was a rather special or one- off letter, I have had a mass of letters about ET, which would be almost funny if the matter were not absolutely depressing. In the Wirral, a trainee painter and decorator was taught by unqualified people who previously worked in landscape gardening. In London, two unemployed people who wanted to be a chef and a bricklayer were sent on an amateur video- making course because there was nothing else available. In Liverpool, a car mechanic was working in a swimming pool--presumably not on a car--and a trainee refrigerator engineer was sent to insulate lofts.

One might have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have responded to those inanities with a measure of humility by redoubling his efforts to make his ET course rather more relevant and appropriate. What he has redoubled is the advertising budget, which is now running at a cool £9 million. The right hon. Gentleman has told training managers who provide the training to adjust not the relevance of their ET courses but their publicity. They have been told to provide the Department of Employment with "good news stories" which

"it is essential that we publicise."

He even had the bright idea of asking "ET graduates" to participate in an "ET roll of honour" which is to be

"displayed prominently for maximum publicity in unemployment benefit offices and job centres".

Instead of all the ludicrous and false packaging to conceal a massive failure on the ground, and instead of the glossy advertising costing £9 million, the right hon. Gentleman would do far better to direct taxpayers' money

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and his own Department's efforts to improving the lamentable quality of training on ET and giving employers and trainees a proper deal.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I do not know whether it is just a further example of the county of Kent being superior to any other place in the country, but the experience of ET in my part of Kent is almost unidentifiable with the hon. Gentleman's. I would be interested to hear whether he has letters of that kind from Kent.

Mr. Meacher : I am sure that we shall be interested to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he can produce some real examples, because clearly he is embarrassed by the roll call of disasters that I have mentioned. I will be surprised if Kent does not have its disasters, too.

The Government's propaganda on ET is riddled with manipulation and deceit. The Government profess to favour the training of married women to fill the demographic gap. The Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), said a week ago : "Employers must look beyond traditional sources of recruitment to provide the workforce of the 1990s. Ninety per cent. of the growth in the labour market in the 1990s will be women and many of these will be women returners'."

The point is that the Government refuse to make married women eligible for ET child care allowances. When Kay Jackson, a married woman with three pre- school aged children, challenged that at an industrial tribunal in January as being in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act, she won. But what did the Secretary of State then do? Instead of extending ET child care allowances to married women, he took them away from single parents who already received them. The Government profess to be in favour of developing the voluntary sector, yet ET is destroying it. In Birmingham, the Voluntary Services Council was forced to close its 400-place ET scheme earlier this year. Only two months ago, the Council for Social Action in Manchester, which in the north had been a flagship project with 1,000 trainees, was forced into liquidation with £500,000 of debts and was forced to make 200 staff redundant. In April of last year, 220,000 community programme workers were in post performing a whole range of social and community services. Now there are only 97,000 ET trainees in such project-based services. That decline has had a devastating impact on community provision for the most disadvantaged in our society, such as the elderly and the disabled, which had been built up on community provision funding, and is now being destroyed. If Britain is being miserably served by ET in meeting adult training needs for 1992, youth training is being handled with an equal lack of drive and imagination. The right hon. Gentleman keeps telling us about the demographic gap. We all know that there will be a 25 per cent. shortfall in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds over the next five years. However, the right hon. Gentleman then proposes to fill that gap with more married women, while denying them child care allowances, or with more older workers, while focusing ET on the under-50s.

What the right hon. Gentleman will not accept is the obvious policy of upgrading YTS and ridding it of its deserved label of cheap labour. The fact is that still less than 30 per cent. of trainees who leave YTS obtain a vocational qualification ; still the general experience is of

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low-cost training, patchily equipping young people with skills that are not in short supply ; and still, as the Confederation of British Industry reminds us in its report today, more than 100,000 16-year-olds enter the labour market every year with no training at all.

The past two years have shown that it is still true that three quarters of YTS trainees drop out of the scheme prematurely and that Britain still has a participation rate for 16 and 17-year-olds in education and training trailing 20 to 30 per cent. behind that of our main competitors in Germany, the United States and Japan. I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is supporting that.

The Government's sole answer to those manifest deficiencies of training, as in every other sector, is privatisation--selling off the skill centres and replacing the training agency by employer-dominated training enterprise councils. In fact, the sale of skill centres has nothing to do with improving the quality of training, but it has everything to do with asset stripping on the model of Royal Ordnance. The management buy-out covers only 20 of the 58 skill centres, and I understand that for the rest there is such lack of interest that probably one third of the sites will not even have a bidder unless they are given the incentive of a quick property killing--such as at Twickenham, Perivale and Slough, along the M4 corridor, or Lambeth skill centre in the middle of docklands, which I understand already has B2 planning permission now granted for any office or industrial development.

It is characteristic, but shameful, that the Government are far more interested in selling off the country's training assets than in investing in high-quality training to match our competitors. However, the TECs are not proving popular even with the employers who will control them. Presumably the Prime Minister thought that their appeal would be irresistible when, in the blaze of publicity at the launch of the TEC prospectus in March, she called on British employers to recreate the traditions of the medieval guild system

"when father taught son and when apprentices learned from their masters."

However, I am glad to note that the reintroduction of master-servant grading holds less attraction for employers than for the Prime Minister as an obvious model for training.

It is employers, not just the unions, who have been expressing considerable disquiet about both the impact and representativeness of the TECs. It is employers who are complaining that the creation of 80 self-governing TECs will lead to the fragmentation of training and the undermining of industrywide and national standards. I understand that the Government are apparently now even proposing to phase out the approved training organisers, who are the one sure guarantee of quality control. It is employers who have been saying that they fear that the TECs are a smoke screen to disguise the Government's retreat from funding industrial training.

It was, in fact, the employers, in a letter from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce to the right hon. Gentleman in February, who disowned the TECs by complaining :

"there will be no mechanism by which it can be ensured that TEC boards, once appointed, do not become self-perpetuating and take decisions in isolation from the local communities."

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Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher : No, I would prefer to finish. Owing to the earlier business, there is a shortness of time in this debate.

With friends like that, it is scarcely surprising that out of the 100 TECs that the Government were originally planning, they have had only 22 applications from employers. It is scarcely surprising also that the flagship TECs which were planned for London and Birmingham have been ignominiously postponed indefinitely due to in-fighting and inefficiency.

Mr. Tracey : Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Meacher : No, I am going to finish.

Not only have the three that have been planned for London been put on ice, but the right hon. Gentleman

Mr. Tracey : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Meacher : The right hon. Gentleman has not even been able to get off the ground the Birmingham TEC covering his constituency. There can be no sharper difference between the political parties than in policies on training. Under this Tory Government, British companies now spend on training only one third of what is spent by German companies. Only 30 per cent. of our work force have recognised qualifications equivalent to one O- level, compared with 70 per cent. in Germany. Yet the Government are intending to cut YTS funding by £25 million this year in cash terms and to cut the real resources for ET over the next three years.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher : No, I shall not give way. I shall finish.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he will not give way. This is simply wasting time, when there is very little of it.

Mr. Meacher : Labour, by contrast, proposes a detailed programme to transform Britain's training culture. YTS will be replaced by a traineeship scheme offering recognised qualifications and quality training for up to four years. All employers will be required to promote training for their staff, setting a minimum number of hours training that each employee should expect each year. In addition, we also propose an opportunity training programme open to all adults who wish to retrain in skills of regional economic need or national importance.

Because we recognise that a national training strategy has been conspicuous by its absence in the past 10 years, because we recognise that such a strategy is vital to Britain's future and because we are determined to implement it, we shall press this motion tonight. 4.59 pm

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler) : I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof :

"noting that Employment Training is the largest and fastest growing training programme for adults ever mounted in this country, and noting the success of YTS in equipping young people for jobs or further education, and the record scale of

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public resources devoted to training, welcomes the Government's achievements in improving the quantity and quality of training in Britain and the major further steps it now proposes to take to meet the training needs of the 1990's.".

The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was almost barren of any suggestion, until his last words. Above all, it was wrong in every aspect of every area that it covered. The hon. Gentleman was wrong about employment training, he was wrong about YTS, he was wrong about the Skills Training Agency and, above all, he was wrong about the training and enterprise councils. When the hon. Gentleman talks of a lack of enthusiasm for TECs, one wonders where he has been for the past few months. There has been a tremendous enthusiasm for them and I must tell the House that the first application for a TEC came from Oldham, the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The hon. Gentleman was as wrong about the TECs as he was about every other issue he raised.

Mr. Ian Bruce : The Floor has been held for 27 minutes by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman. The Labour party has just published its policy review, and although all sides of the House recognise the importance of training, we have listened to a 27-minute speech that was devoid of any new proposals to take training forward. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an absolute disgrace?

Mr. Fowler : Yes. In every respect the speech was revealing of the hon. Member for Oldham, West and of the way in which he leads for the Opposition in this matter.

I welcome the opportunity to debate training, because, as my hon. Friend has said, no issue is more important for the future economic prosperity of the country. It is crucial that we take steps now to ensure that we have the supply of skills that our economy will need in the 1990s and beyond. Training is the key to economic growth, to jobs and to prosperity. That is the case for training, and I welcome this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to it.

The Opposition have shown a curious sense of timing in choosing to debate training on this particular day when the railways and much of London have been crippled by strikes. It is curious that the hon. Gentleman talked so freely about the national interest in relation to training, when he is so blind to the national interest in relation to strikes. It is especially curious that the hon. Gentleman freely condemns everything that the Government have done for training when he is so reluctant to condemn trade union leaders for calling strikes that bring hardship to thousands of people.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about the importance of employment and training, does it occur to him that strikes were one of the main reasons why we lost so many jobs in the 1970s? We are not prepared to take any lectures from him on training, any more than we are prepared to take any lectures from him on industrial relations.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate on whether the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is speaking for the Labour party, given that, last September, there were grave differences between the hon. Gentleman and the leader of his party and between him and the trade unions?

Mr. Fowler : It would not be right for me to speculate on that as I have no intention of intruding on the private grief of the Opposition on this matter.

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The necessary background to this debate is the employment situation. It is important to consider the current situation and how it will develop in the 1990s to draw lessons for training. In the past two years, the employment situation radically improved. Unemployment has now fallen for 34 consecutive months.

[Interruption.] I should have thought that the hon. Member for Oldham, West would welcome that reduction rather than laugh at it. Since the general election, unemployment has fallen by more than 1 million, and unemployment in this country is now well below the European Community average. During the past two years, long-term unemployment has fallen by a record 500,000 and it is falling faster than the rate of general unemployment. That is of special significance to employment training and to other adult programmes.

Mr. Meacher : What about training?

Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman must understand that employment is the background to training.

During the past two years, unemployment among young people under the age of 24 has fallen by 41 per cent. and it is now half the EC average. It has fallen so much and so quickly because we have had an unprecedented increase in jobs. Now, 26.5 million people are at work in this country, more than ever before in our history. During the past six years, nearly 3 million new jobs have been created, and job opportunities have improved dramatically. That is illustrated by the fact that there are about 600,000 job vacancies in the economy now. In the space of a few years, we have moved from a position of labour surplus to one of potential shortage, particularly among the groups on whom employers have traditionally relied for their skilled and qualified staff.

Just as important are the profound demographic changes that are now taking place and which will affect every profession and every occupation. In the next five years, the number of school leavers coming on to the labour market will fall sharply. The number of 16 to 19-year-olds in the population will have fallen by more than 1 million between 1983 and 1993, and shows no sign of returning to its previous level. Therefore, we must make full use of our potential in this country. We must bring new recruits into the labour market. The major message is that training must be at the top of the agenda. Training is as vital for young people as it is for unemployed people to bring them into employment. Training is also vital for employed people to enable them to develop their full potential. Unless the case for training is set against the background of employment, we are debating in a vacuum. It is foolish to argue otherwise.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : My right hon. Friend probably has not heard the extremely good news from Cleveland today, where one firm has announced a £80 million investment and the creation of 1,000 jobs, while another has announced a £50 million investment and the creation of 600 jobs.

Mr. Fowler : That is good news, and I hope that even the Opposition, in their present mood, will feel inclined to welcome that.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) : Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there are distinct regional differences in training needs? Much of today's argument recognises that those differences are vast. The

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national scheme has missed the boat completely and has failed to recognise that the long-term unemployed have particular training needs different from those in employment. When will the Government give local authorities the opportunity to develop training needs to suit local requirements and thus the opportunity to move away from the national scheme that has missed everybody?

Mr. Fowler : I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has, reasonably succinctly, put the case for training and enterprise councils. The point of those councils is that we are devolving power to the local areas. It is crucial that this problem should not be left merely to schools and colleges. Improvements are obviously important, and the reforms of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will undoubtedly improve the position. We should remember that eight out of 10 people who will be in the work force in the year 2000, are already in the work force and have left the education system. Side by side with education reform, we need the training reform which is now taking place.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West was scathing about employers' contributions, and unfairly so. He fails to recognise that employers already spend about £18 billion a year on training, which gives the lie to the claim that we are suffering from employer neglect. The true position is shown by the evidence--

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) rose --

Mr. Fowler : May I continue?

The true position is clear from the evidence in the labour force survey which was published earlier this year and showed the number of people receiving training. Those figures, which specifically exclude people on Government training programmes, show that the number of people in training has risen significantly in each of the past five years. The number of people in training during the relevant four weeks--taking a snapshot of that period--increased from 1.8 million in 1984 to 2.8 million in 1988. That is the figure for a four-week period, not the 12-month period. During the period from spring 1984 to spring 1988, the number of people in training rose by more than 50 per cent. That is the trend--

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) rose --

Mr. Fowler : I shall not give way. I have given way several times already--indeed, far more often than did the hon. Member for Oldham, West.

The latest labour force survey shows that the number of people receiving training has risen for every age group. It also shows that 70 per cent. of those in training are receiving part of their training away from the job. Those figures show that employers are increasing their investment in training and that the number of trainees is growing year by year.

Mr. Grocott rose --

Mr. Fowler : I have made it clear that I shall not give way. Mr. Grocott rose --

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The Secretary of State has constantly made it clear that he is not giving way and such behaviour is merely consuming time in this short debate.

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Mr. Fowler : The hon. Member for Oldham, West tried to play down the Government's contribution to training. Again, the facts simply do not support what he said. In each of the past five years, the Government have spent about £3 billion on training programmes. If we contrast that with the record of the last Labour Government, we find that between 1974 and 1979, expenditure on training was £500 million. In real terms, we are spending three times more than the last Labour Government. The position for young people today is a far cry from the black days of the collapse of apprenticeships at the end of the 1970s. Today, more than 386,000 young people are being trained under the youth training scheme. They are to be found in every sector of the economy and at all levels of skill.

Since YTS began in 1983, well over 2 million young people have been trained through this programme, and more than 1 million have been trained since the two-year YTS began in April 1986. Some 63 per cent. of people who complete the two-year YTS gain vocational qualifications and more than 80 per cent. of them go into jobs or further training. By any standard, that is a substantial achievement.

Mr. Grocott : Before the Secretary of State continues with his selective use of statistics and boasting, will he confirm the disgraceful reply given by his right hon. Friend the Minister of State a week or so ago, when asked about the level of engineering apprenticeships in the west midlands area, about which he should know something. He said that, since 1979, the level of engineering apprenticeships in the west midlands had collapsed by 50 per cent. Will the Secretary of State apologise to the House for that appalling record on real skills training, for which the Government bear the responsibility?

Mr. Fowler : I shall not do that, because we now have almost 400, 000 young people in training. However attached the hon. Gentleman may be to the apprenticeship scheme, one reason why that scheme collapsed was the inflexibility of the apprenticeships, which meant that, whatever happened, the scheme was going to change.

With the decline in the number of school leavers entering employment, it is more essential than ever to establish firm and constructive links between schools and employers, and to ensure that young people starting work for the first time can achieve the educational standards which employers seek and have access to proper training when they move into employment.

For those reasons, I am announcing today that the Government have agreed to support a further 11 inner-city compacts. The essence of the compact is that employers guarantee jobs with training for school leavers who reach specified levels of attainment while in full-time education. The first 30 compacts have made an excellent start, and the response of employers, young people and schools has been enthusiastic. More than 230 schools will be taking part in compacts this September, covering 30,000 young people. Well over 1,000 employers and many training organisations have agreed to support compacts by offering guaranteed jobs and training. The Government are providing more than £16 million to support the development of compacts over the next four years.

I have no doubt that the compacts are an important development. They show how young people can benefit from a partnership between employers and schools to

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ensure that achievements in full-time education are rewarded by training and jobs and, most importantly, point the way to a much closer and more constructive link between school and employment, which can only be to the benefit of young people and employers alike. I recognise too that there is even further potential the development of new compacts.

I turn now to the issue of the training of unemployed people over the age of 18. The wording of the motion and the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West shows an ignorance of the nature and purpose of employment training. The programme was originally designed by the Manpower Services Commission for a maximum of 300,000 people in training at any one time. Employment training now has nearly 200,000 in training. That has been achieved after the programme has been in operation for less than 10 months. Even the hon. Gentleman's arithmetic will tell him that 200,000 is a good deal more than 40 per cent. of 300,000.

To have achieved 200,000 filled places in less than 10 months in a programme starting virtually from scratch is an enormous achievement. No previous programme has come remotely near this rate of expansion. For example, the community programme had managed to fill only 57,000 places after it had been in operation for nine months. Furthermore, since I announced the decision to introduce employment training in November 1987, unemployment has fallen by nearly 800,000, and longer-term unemployment has fallen faster than unemployment generally. There has been a huge reduction in the group of people for whom the programme was designed.

That is regarded as good news by everyone except the hon. Member for Oldham, West and one or two of his hon. Friends. It makes the achievement of 200,000 filled places in employment training after less than 10 months of operation all the more remarkable. Almost 40 per cent. of those starting on the programme have been unemployed for more than two years.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West repeated his claim that employers are turning their backs on employment training. That is wholly without foundation. He is confusing the figures that he asked for on the national contracting arrangements with the overall figures for employers. More than 1,000 employers are providing training places under employment training ; about 120 major employers are involved ; 27 major employers have contracted with my Department to provide the full range of training under ET. They include companies such as Ferranti, Grand Metropolitan, Pilkington, Laing, Comet and Wimpey-- Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) rose --

Mr. Fowler : If the hon. Gentleman waits a minute, he will find out something.

Between them, these major employers have contracted to provide almost 15,000 places. Some contracted fairly recently, but almost 8, 000 of those places have already been filled. In addition, more than 90 other major employers have contracted to provide training places. They include firms such as Mercury Telecommunications. British Nuclear Fuels, Barratts and W. H. Smith. The number of employers who want to become involved with ET and to provide training places for the programme is growing all the time.

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The criticisms of employment training levelled by the hon. Member for Oldham, West lack credibility since, from the beginning, he has done everything possible to damage the programme. He opposed it even before the ink was dry on the original report from the Manpower Services Commission, which was fully supported at that time by the TUC. The Labour party's record of opposition to employment training has been shabby and disreputable and it does not entitle them to sit in judgment on the programme.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West has been quick to condemn the decision to set up the training and enterprise councils. Contrary to everything he said and to everything that is happening outside the House, the response to my invitation to employers and others to come forward with proposals for setting up training and enterprise councils has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. They are potentially the biggest revolution in training ever in this country, because they represent a deliberate and major devolution of responsibility for training from Whitehall and the old industry level training organisations to local communities.

The TECs will be different from the sort of training organisations that we have had before in three vital respects. First, they will be employer-led. The members of TECs will include people from many different organisations, but employers will be in the lead because they are the main customers for training and the main providers of it.

Secondly, TECs will have executive responsibility : they will not be talking shops or advisory councils. They will be responsible for running large-scale programmes such as ET and YTS. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the focus of TECs will be firmly on the local labour market. It is at the local level that training needs are most effectively identified and that practical solutions to them can best be developed.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Oldham, West suggested about applications, we await next week's announcement of which applications have been approved. The whole House will then see how foolish the hon. Gentleman's words were. I have already received 30 applications to set up training and enterprise councils from all over the country, and about 50 others are now in preparation. In a few days from now, I shall announce the names of the first 19 TECs to receive development funding. With the applications that I have already received and with those which will come forward in the next few months, I am confident that we shall be able to cover England and Wales with TECs during the next year or so.

I believe that the councils represent the best hope of a lasting solution to the problem of skill shortages which has held back the growth of our economy time and again in the past 40 years. They are the key to ensuring that we have the skills that our industries and services will need in the 1990s and beyond.

I have tried to describe the Government's record on training and to give the facts about it in this country. Enormous changes are taking place in the world of training and a huge amount of training is taking place. A great many individuals, firms and training organisations are committed to training people in the skills that our country needs. They are training young people, adults, unemployed people and people in jobs, and they want to be allowed to get on with that job. They know how crucial it is to our future and they cannot understand why the hon. Member for Oldham, West appears to be so determined to turn training into a political battleground.

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