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Column 342The hon. Gentleman has a bad reputation in respect of almost every aspect of training and we must ask him what he thinks he is achieving. What does he think is the point of continually attacking a programme such as YTS, which is training 386,000 of our school leavers? What is the point of continually attacking a programme like employment training, which is training almost 200,000 long-term unemployed people? What is the point of attacking employers who are investing £18 billion a year in training their own employees? What is the point of attacking training and enterprise councils, which constitute one of the most hopeful signs in training for decades? It is time the Opposition acknowledged that the training efforts of employers' training organisations and trainees deserve the fullest possible support, because it is on their efforts and their success that the future of this country depends. We shall support them, and I ask the House to reject the ridiculous Opposition motion.
It is shameful that a Minister responsible for training and employment should ask why our spokesman is not worried about the strikes. If that is the best he can do, he should chuck it in. I could take the Minister to parts of my constituency in which factories with a history of excellent industrial relations and increased productivity no longer exist because the bovver boys engaged in asset-stripping took them over and shut them down. I hope that the Minister will learn from the lessons of the past 10 years and from the abuses that have taken place. He will be burying his head in the sand if he thinks that there have been no abuses of MSC schemes and YTS. Trainees should be given a decent wage for the work that they do. Why should anyone go out in the morning and work hard at training which will benefit the country when he is paid less than he would get on the dole? Often, these people are married men and women with family responsibilities.
I remember the late David Penhaligon saying in a debate that a farmer in his constituency went into the employment centre and asked, "When can I get my free boy?" That was the sort of attitude that people had to MSC schemes and the YTS. In my constituency, a garage employer took on five young boys, although he could not train them all properly. He told them that one out of the five would be kept on. The boys realised that one boy in particular stood out and they expected that at least he would be kept on. Instead, the employer sacked them all and started with another five. He simply used them as cheap labour. The boys told me this story and said that an alsatian dog was locked in the garage as a watchdog at night, and that every morning one of the boys had to start by clearing up the dog's dirt. I hope that the Minister does not regard that as trivial.
There were problems even with the most responsible employers in workshops in my constituency. In one, where some boys were taken on as part of the employment training scheme, the supervisor was so insensitive as to ask them, "How does it feel to be a liability to the state?" That was a cheek, coming from someone working in an industry which has had many subsidies from the Government. There was a sign in a baker's shop in Glasgow, "YTS for
Column 343two years to train as a shop assistant." Ten years ago, a girl who went to work in a baker's shop as an assistant usually ended up as a manageress within two years.
There were problems with MSC schemes which created businesses. Some of the people setting up such schemes were charlatans. With the blessing of the MSC and the Minister's officials, directors set up a community company and started employing their wives, their relatives, their aunties and their uncles. The employees in turn set up other community businesses, so that they could employ yet more relatives. Other hon. Members have had similar experiences in their constituencies. When I raised these matters with the MSC, it wanted to turn a blind eye. The only conclusion that I can draw is that such schemes enable Ministers to say that people have come off the dole. The exercise is not about training or bringing assets to the community, or about getting the economy into better shape. It is aimed at allowing a Minister to get off the hook when the Opposition bring pressure to bear on him in the House.
I have another example. The Minister can check this up, as I will give him the name of the company. A scheme to train young people was being wound up because there was not enough training input, and some £13,000 was left in the kitty. Some of the trainers had the cheek to go to the trustees and say that they were being put on the dole and wanted the £13,000 to be split between them. That showed the nature of these so-called responsible people who had been put in charge of young trainees.
The company that I have already mentioned, which employed all the relatives of its directors, was also wound up. That company had word processors, printers, photocopiers and all sorts of other equipment. When I asked whether the equipment could be used by the community, I was told that the law required that it be put up for auction, so auctioneers came in and took what little was left.
I spoke to my branch of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union--the metalworkers branch--because I thought that many of its members in Glasgow would be unemployed. To my surprise, I was told by the full-time officer that only a few members were on the books as unemployed. I said, "That's great--is there a boom in industry?" He said, "No. What is happening is this. The industry is suffering because over the past 10 years we have not started any apprentices, so those who have a skill are in high demand, but every year the work force gets older and it will disappear out of the work system altogether if we do not do something about it."
When the Minister considers proper apprenticeship schemes, will he also consider the adult apprenticeship schemes in countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the United States? Young people have told me that even though they are now married, they have never had a decent job. This is what happened to my father. During the depression, because he could not learn a trade, he became a labourer and would have stayed one all his life, had he not become a merchant seaman so as to get a decent living. As a young man he had no chance because he was involved in the great depression. Many people of that generation were bitter because they did not get that chance. We now have another generation like that, and they should be
Column 344entitled to apprenticeships. If they can find the craftsmen to take them on, there should be a Government subsidy to allow it. We have failed miserably, particularly in relation to women with grown-up families. We often talk about careers for women, but I suspect that we talk too much about the academics. I do not begrudge them getting jobs, but some women want semi-skilled jobs, such as ancillary nursing work. We talk about the family unit. Some women have stayed at home for 15 or 16 years of their marriage to make sure that there is a mother in the house when children come home, so that they have security at home and do not get into trouble. We are doing nothing to help such women to get back into industry, nursing or commerce. I hope that the Minister will examine that problem. 5.37 pm
Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton) : I agreed with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) when he said at the start of his speech that the competitiveness that we shall need in the single market after 1992 will depend on how well trained people are. Thereafter, I agreed with virtually nothing that he said as he carried on the practice of running down training schemes. Such training is vital, but people say that it is no good, and that what the Government, the country and employers do for training is inadequate. That is far from the truth.
The Opposition still scream about YTS. They have never quite got over the fact that when it was first introduced they said, as they said about ET, that it would be no good, that it would not work and that it would be of no use, but in fact it has been of use. It was noticeable that when it was extended for two years, the Opposition did not complain. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may be interested to know that in my local area a survey was done a few years ago by one of the Rotary clubs into what pupils about to leave secondary schools thought about YTS. The majority accepted that it presented a realistic opportunity to train in useful skills. We talk about employment training and YTS for those who are not employed. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, however, we should remember that 80 per cent. of those who will be part of the commercial and industrial world in the year 2000 are already in employment. Training must therefore be available to that critically important sector. Measures announced by my right hon. Friend in the past two years, particularly those involving TECs, will make training in particular skills possible.
It will be impossible to provide the right training without unity among employers, educational institutions and work forces, along with local knowledge. No measures suggested by the Opposition have brought that about. The hon. Member for Oldham, West spoke of a national strategy, but given what we know of Labour's past ideas, such a strategy would almost certainly be a national straitjacket. Training would be controlled not by those who need it--employers and employees--but by a centralised notion of what is right for everyone everywhere, and we know that that does not work.
Over the years, the idea has developed that training must be oriented towards what companies want. Someone may be being trained for what could generally be described as trade, but what the company training him wants may
Column 345not be directly translatable to another company--for instance, an engineering firm. One advantage of many training courses provided by both the private sector and training boards is that they are custom-made. Changes introduced by the Government have encouraged training boards to become self-supporting institutions. The engineering industry training board has said that it can and will provide what employers want, in the private sector or as an independent organisation. Surely that is what is most important--to make people want training.
The Opposition have encouraged the idea that training is not necessarily useful. We heard a good deal of that in the days of union domination in manufacturing industry, when the suggestion that people should learn new skills and adapt to new circumstances was frequently resisted, as was the idea of change.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : Will the hon. Gentleman give examples? I am sure that my hon. Friends with experience of trade union matters would join me in challenging the hon. Gentleman to refute my claim that the best training has taken place in those industries in which unions are recognised and participate fully in training.
The Government have tried to sell the various schemes to the public. Opposition spokesmen have criticised our efforts on television, but we must make people aware of the importance of training within the industries for which they work. People with reasonably well paid jobs in companies whose immediate prospects seem good will not necessarily welcome the idea of being sent on a training scheme, especially one lasting for several weeks. They will have to put in a lot of effort, and at the end they will not automatically receive a pay rise or promotion. If we are to become competitive in time for 1992 we must train people for all kinds of jobs. People must be encouraged to come forward, but they will certainly not be encouraged to do so if others run down the training that is available.
Management training is also crucial, although it has been somewhat neglected in the past. Managers are very busy people in most organisations. Why should they train? They have a job to do where they are, and they may be doing it well. I was pleased to learn that Coventry polytechnic, which is near my constituency, recently set up a diploma in manufacturing management, along with the engineering industrial training board. The course is custom-made, and will have a direct return. Those who have taken part in the pilot scheme have been able to make successful contributions to the companies in which they have been training, even while still on the course.
That, surely, is how training should be seen--as a process which can provide a direct and immediate return, rather than a remote business which may provide an academic qualification. Employers can be overwhelmed by pieces of paper telling them that an applicant has passed this, that or the other. Training must be practical, and it must have the potential to produce a useful contribution to the industry concerned as quickly as possible. That is what all the schemes provided by the Government over the past few years have attempted to achieve. We want to provide
Column 346recognised qualifications, but also to make those qualifications useful at an early stage--through the TECs, for instance.
The productivity that is fundamental to wealth and competitiveness must come from all employees, and there must therefore be accountability at every level. Decisions about who should be trained and how that training should be carried out are therefore as important as any other aspect of commercial activity. The measures introduced by my right hon. Friend have begun to move the country in the right direction for the first time. We have a strategy--with Government help and encouragement, we want companies to provide the right training at the right time to meet 1992 and the years that follow. The Opposition have not offered that. They believe that they have a plan, but most of their motion constituted a whinge about YTS and employment training. One sentence suggested that they might have something to offer, but we have not heard about it yet.
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central) : I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate as it concerns a subject that is of direct relevance to all too many of the constituents whose interests I have been sent here to represent. I do not know what world the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) inhabits, nor do I know much about Nuneaton, but he says that people must be prepared to come forward, say that they want training and outline the kind of training that they want. If he cares to accompany me on my next visit to Glasgow, Central, he will find that there is no shortage of people who are crying out for training and for jobs. They should not have to confront all the obstacles that he described that prevent them from getting that training. It is a subject to which I shall return, if I may, in due course.
In making my maiden speech, I should like to say how saddened I was that the by-election responsible for my appearance in the House was occasioned by the tragic death of Bob McTaggart, a man who was not simply a good and trusted comrade ; he was a personal friend. Never the sort of man to seek the limelight on his own behalf, Bob was an extremely popular and greatly respected Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Central, a reputation that was earned by his unstinting efforts on behalf of his constituents.
Since my introduction to the House two weeks ago, I have been moved by the large number of hon. Members, from all sides, who have made it clear that they held Bob McTaggart in similar respect. In his maiden speech to the House in July 1980, Bob McTaggart said of his predecessor :
"If I can serve the people of Glasgow, Central as well as he did, I shall be satisfied."--[ Official Report, 10 July 1980 ; Vol. 988, c. 799.]
Today I can pay no greater respect to the memory of Bob McTaggart than to say unhesitatingly that I echo those words.
To represent Glasgow, Central is a responsibility that I take on with considerable pride, aware as I am of the great traditions of the constituency, in its varying forms, throughout this century. Today it is genuinely the most multiracial, multi-religious and therefore multicultural of all Scottish constituencies, from the influx of the Irish--dating back some 150 years and continuing to this day--through the establishment of a considerable Jewish
Column 347presence around the turn of the century, to the large and vibrant Asian communities of today. The social and cultural mix of the constituency is one which I very much welcome, enriching as it does not just the constituency but the city of Glasgow as a whole. Although the manufacturing industry for which the city was once renowned is now almost non-existent within the constituency--it is, indeed, a sign of the times that the two largest employers within its boundaries are the National Health Service and Glasgow district council--none the less I am pleased to say that its political traditions have remained largely intact, for it was in 1906 that the constituency of Blackfriars returned George Barnes as the first ever Scottish Labour Member of Parliament. In 1922, as the chest of working-class Scotland swelled with pride at the return of 30 Labour Members of Parliament--names which are quite rightly revered to this day-- two represented constituencies which now form part of Glasgow, Central : George Buchanan in Gorbals and, most notable of all, Jimmy Maxton in Bridgeton.
The fact that the then Glasgow, Central constituency returned, on the same day, one Andrew Bonar Law, who just happened to be the Prime Minister, might also be worthy of some note, although my hon. Friends will doubtless thank me for not dwelling on that particular chapter of the constituency's heritage. A rich heritage, none the less, it remains--the heritage of the men who earned the accolade of the Red Clydesiders and who fought to relieve poverty and to improve the living conditions of the thousands who were condemned in those inter-war years--as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) said some moments ago--to lives of misery and hopelessness. There could be no more graphic illustration of the density of housing which existed at that time and the conditions that inevitably resulted from it than the fact that the area which today forms one constituency, the one which I represent, contained no fewer than four constituencies in 1922.
From their analysis of the kind of society which produced such conditions, the Red Clydesiders argued passionately for a programme of Socialist reforms--notably the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, within the United Kingdom, which they believed was necessary to ensure that Scots had the ability to decide on matters which were, and are, of direct concern to them.
These principles and aims have a resonance almost 70 years on because, sadly, the levels of unemployment faced and fought by the Red Clydesiders between the wars, and subsequently by their immediate successors such as John Rankin and James Carmichael in the post-war period--whose Socialism may have differed in style and emphasis, although not in intensity--find modern-day parallels which are all too familiar. The city of Glasgow is in many ways miles better, but it still suffers the blight of some of the worst levels of unemployment in Britain today.
As an example, Glasgow, Central currently has the eighth highest unemployment level of any constituency, with an official unemployment rate of 20 per cent. That figure, of course, ignores the various attempts by the Government over the past 10 years to massage, and therefore to distort, the unemployment statistics. The real
Column 348figure in Glasgow, Central is nearly 30 per cent., but even on the basis of the official figure it still represents a major social problem for many of my constituents.
The problem, however, is wider. The seven parliamentary constituencies which lie high or low, depending on one's perception of such things, in the unemployment league table, are all found--not unexpectedly--in major industrial cities. Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle each contribute one apiece, but, sadly, the remaining three are all Glasgow constituencies. Thus, the city holds the unenviable record of four of the eight highest unemployment levels in the constituencies represented in this House.
That is the scale of the problem. Much of it, not least in Glasgow, Central, is, sadly, borne by young people under the age of 25. In five out of the six wards in the constituency, youth unemployment exceeds 28 per cent. In the Calton ward, it stands at the horrendous level of 45 per cent. I urge hon. Members on all sides of the House to consider that figure and its implications for a few moments. During the recent by-election campaign, I had occasion to quote that figure. It was challenged by no less a gentleman than the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). Ultimately, he was obliged to accept its accuracy, which, when one thinks about it, is not surprising, since the figure had been drawn from those supplied by his own Department and the Department of Employment. Yet, as if that was not bad enough, even that figure of 45 per cent. is an understatement of the problem, because in September 1988 the Government withdrew the payment of benefit from youngsters who were unemployed and did not have a YTS place. Since then, thousands of 16 and 17 -year-olds have disappeared from the unemployment count.
At that time, the Government guaranteed a YTS place to every young person. It has proved to be the empty promise that many on this side of the House recognised that inevitably it would be. The most recent statistics for the Southside and Bridgeton careers offices, covering the Glasgow, Central constituency, show that 476 16 and 17-year-olds registered for work, yet only 107 YTS places were available. That was a shortfall of 369 places, yet unless these youngsters can show what is euphemistically termed "severe hardship", they will receive no income support whatsoever.
That is the scale of the problem in Glasgow, Central. It is a scandal, and I shall do everything I can, as the Member of Parliament for that constituency, to alleviate it. However, the scope for doing so is limited by a Government whose policies are now producing a school-leaving generation that is largely untrained and unskilled and that is increasingly even without homes and the economic means with which to build their lives. That is a tragic waste of human potential, quite apart from the fact that one of the most obvious methods of combating unemployment--one does not, surely, need to be a Socialist to appreciate it, although you are, Madam Deputy Speaker, a Socialist--is by training and retraining people, by matching skills to needs and by offering every young person what should surely be a basic right--the opportunity of education to the limit of his or her potential.
However, the Government's response has been to cut public expenditure. Those cuts have greatly reduced young
Column 349people's chances of getting the education and training that they need. This is certainly not a recent phenomenon in respect of the present party which forms the Government.
The following quotation will, I hope, serve to illustrate my point :
"To ask the Secretary for Scotland, if he will make arrangements for the continued education and training of unemployed boys and girls of 14 to 18 years of age, under the auspices of education authorities in conjunction with the juvenile advisory committees of the Labour Exchanges?"--[ Official Report, 12 December 1922 ; Vol. 159, c. 2574.]
Those words formed a question in this House on 12 December 1922 from James Maxton, then the Member of Parliament for the Bridgeton constituency. It is a matter of record that he failed to get a response to his question, although, typically, that did not deflect him from his course of vigorously pursuing that and many other matters on behalf of his constituents. Today's generation of young people in Bridgeton also want an answer on the provision of adequate education and training, as they do on so many other matters. In 1989, as in 1922, they will get no answer, at least not from the current Government, that will materially change the opportunities available to them for the better.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) so eloquently outlined when he opened the debate, our party does have answers for young people. We shall provide real training, without compulsion, for real jobs at real rates of pay. The day is now approaching when that will become reality.
Many people walk with more than hope in their hearts following the unequivocal message delivered throughout the country to the Government on 15 June. Those results did not begin a trend : they confirmed a trend, and a momentum which will increase in pace until its culmination in the return of a Labour Government. That in turn will lead to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, which the Red Clydesiders demanded 60 years ago and the people of Glasgow, Central demanded three weeks ago. I eagerly take up the challenge of working with my right hon. and hon. Friends to turn that demand into reality.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this brief debate on training and to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Mr. Watson) on his forthright and sincere maiden speech and on his clear and demonstrated interest in his constituents. I and all right hon. and hon. Members share his expressed feelings about the sad death of Robert McTaggart, the Member for Glasgow, Central for the past nine years. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that my maiden speech was in the month of July and was on training. I am therefore delighted that he has chosen that subject for his maiden speech, and it gives me great pleasure to congratulate him.
Employment and training are linked. Good training must lead to better employment prospects for people of all ages. In the Norwich travel-to-work area, unemployment fell by 35 per cent. in the past year. Nationally, with the highest-ever number of people in work, with 2 million extra real jobs since 1983 and with 700,000 vacancies, the success of Government policy speaks for itself.
Opposition Members certainly have a hard job if they are to convince the House and the country that they have the right answers on training. I well recall before the 1979
Column 350general election their limited and feeble efforts in youth training. I remember the youth opportunities programme. I remember hearing tale after tale of the nonsense that was happening, which would pale into insignificance any roll call that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) could produce. That feeble effort contrasts with the success and the expansion of the Conservative Government's youth training scheme. More than 23 million young people have benefited from that scheme ; the Government are spending or investing £1 billion a year, and the number of young people with recognised qualifications is rising. That is all good news and is a tribute to the Government's efforts, particularly in youth training. The number of young people entering the labour market is declining. We have already heard about the 25 per cent. reduction in school leavers between 1988 and 1993. There are already vacancies in the youth training scheme. At the same time, the Government have to address the problem of skill shortages in every part of the country, including Norwich. Nationally, there are increasing difficulties in attracting qualified technicians. A recent survey shows that some 22 per cent. of firms expect skill shortages to limit their output in the 1990s. We have heard today about the importance of training and competitiveness in our approach to 1992 and beyond. According to the survey, there are also problems with the training of managers, professionals and craftsmen.
I shall make particular reference to engineering, an interest that I hold very dear. In the Norfolk area there are only about 250 YTS trainees in engineering. Unlike Opposition Members, I regard employment training as an increasing success, but it is disappointing that in Norfolk, out of about 2,000 adults involved in the scheme, only five are engineers. Yet the talent and enthusiasm for engineering is there. We have successful school- industry links. Recently, I attended presentations by young engineers, and there is no question that there is enthusiasm for engineering and engineering training, if only we can make a better effort to move away from the present unsatisfactory position.
It is time that right hon. and hon. Members and people throughout the country stopped talking about engineering having a bad image. We have to turn that around and talk about engineering, engineers and young engineers having an exciting future and a good image. That is closer to reality today and is one way in which we can improve young people's prospects and manufacturing industry.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that we are not training all the people we need. I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that a modern training system must be employer-led, because employers are best placed to judge skill needs. It is clear from my own experience and observation that too much training in industry is still short-term, and too often no senior line managers involve themselves closely enough in training. The message shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House is that industry and business leaders must get their act together, spend more on training, put more enthusiasm into training and consider it a good long-term investment, because their record is not good enough. I understand that that view is shared generally throughout the country and is not simply put forward by one political party.
Employers must not place too much reliance on state-run schemes. I have already mentioned the
Column 351undoubted success of the youth training scheme and employment training, in spite of the nonsense that we have heard this afternoon from Opposition Members. The new training and enterprise councils, which have been mentioned today, show the Government's faith in local employers helping to run the schemes and to raise the importance of training locally.
The Government have produced two White Papers recently, one of which considers the future of the industrial training boards. I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) about the need to raise the standard and quality of training to the level of our competitors overseas. That need has been made more urgent by the rapid approach of 1992. The engineering industry training board has already taken steps to meet that new challenge. I know that it is confident that the board can become self-supporting by the financial year 1991-92. According to the chairman, Mr. Astley Whittall ;
"the industry will no longer pay a compulsory levy, and therefore will be able to take us or leave us--I intend to make sure our products and services are so good that they will be queuing at the door".
Returning to the role of employers, particularly those in Norwich, I recently chaired a meeting at Laurence Scott Electromotors in Norwich to launch a local initiative to overcome critical skills shortages and the problem of poaching between one firm with skills shortages and another. That problem has become worse in the past few months and years. Local newspapers in Norwich have described it as a "manpower time bomb." That problem must be addressed.
The intention of the group in Norwich is to bring together employers to develop a common training strategy, to identify present and future skill needs and to increase the size of the pool of skilled people available in the area. It is hoped that the Government's new business growth training scheme, which I regard as an excellent initiative, will be involved in and used as part of that strategy.
The inadequacy of our training arrangements is not a new problem. Over the years, unfavourable comparisons have been made with our continental competitors. The problem has been discussed for decades or even centuries. It is a continuing problem, which now has an increasingly European dimension. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of State confirm that the Government have secured large amounts of money from the European social and regional funds to spend on training? If they have, that is good, because it has helped with certain youth training schemes, particularly in deprived areas. We must welcome any development in Europe that will improve training and access to it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will say a little more about that aspect of training and co-operation.
In the history of training--I am now thinking of the opening remarks of the hon. Member of Oldham, West--Labour Governments have failed miserably. According to the Labour party's glossy new policy document, it is bent on repeating old mistakes. Opposition divisions about employment training have already been effectively disposed of in this debate. The Labour party has done the unemployed a disservice by the way that it has set about attacking a particularly good scheme.
Column 352The Opposition's attitude to the youth training scheme has been equally negative. It is equally well known, so I do not need to set it out in detail.
Mr. Tracey : My hon. Friend said that the Labour party had done a disservice to the unemployed. He may not have been aware of it, but he was echoing the words used by Mr. Bill Jordan of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who criticised the Labour party's attitude to employment training.
Mr. Thompson : I welcome and agree with that intervention. If time permitted, I could quote many other Opposition politicians who are unhappy about the Labour party's training policy. I share the surprise expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it should have chosen this subject for debate.
The Labour party's policy document proposes quangos, extra bureaucracy and more centralisation, not to mention subservience to the trade union movement, which exposes its policies as hollow and shallow.
The Labour party's motion is wrong-headed, reactionary and positively prehistoric. I shall be delighted to support the Government's amendment, which shows the way forward for training to help our young people and people at all stages in their careers. 6.13 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I join the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) in expressing concern about training in the engineering industry. It is important that an adequate number of able people are attracted into the industry and that standards are maintained. I am sure that the Government will bear that in mind when considering the future of training in the industry following the ending of the statutory levy boards. I also join the hon. Member for Norwich, North in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) on his maiden speech and the tribute that he paid his predecessor, Bob McTaggart, who was much liked and respected by hon. Members.
I agree with the hon. Member of Glasgow, Central that one does not have to be a Socialist to tackle unemployment through training and retraining. One must, however, be a Socialist to follow in the tradition of the Red Clydesiders. If the voters of Glasgow, Central were looking for a worthy inheritor of that tradition, judging from the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central they have found one.
I do not wish to take up too much time as other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall therefore try to confine my remarks to one or two points. No matter what the Secretary of State said, I am sure that the response to employment training has not lived up to Government expectations. It would have been more helpful if other Opposition parties and local authorities had tried to make the scheme works despite its warts. Nevertheless, it cannot be recognised as the best possible training scheme available for unemployed adults. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) mentioned the difficulties with employment training experienced by married women. The Minister of State will know that I have made representations to him about the problem in my constituency of the wives of men who spend much of the week at sea not qualifying for the child care allowance that has been made available to single-parent
Column 353families. That is unnecessary discrimination. It is all very well for the Minister to suggest creche facilities and the use of distance-learning materials, which I do not dispute might be worthy, but they are less than adequate compared with the proper support provided by the child care allowance. The cost involved is probably minimal compared with the benefit that it would offer, bearing in mind the changing shape of the labour market and the fact that more women will have to be attracted into work.
We should be trying to improve the quality of training. Hon. Members have given examples of schemes operated in other countries. In Sweden, which has a high-quality training programme, redundancy is regarded not as a tragedy but as a challenge and an opportunity. Rather than spending £5,000 per annum per place, Sweden spends almost £13,000. People who have been trained and retrained in the latest techniques and shown how to use the most up-to-date technological skills become a valuable asset when they return to the labour market. Not only do we have the tragedy of unemployment, but we are failing to capitalise on what could be a good and useful resource for Britain.
It is impossible to generalise about the youth training scheme. At the outset, it could have been argued that it was a makeshift method of removing young people from the unemployment statistics, but it cannot be denied that, in many places where efforts have been made to make the scheme work, it has done so. I suspect that its effectiveness is patchy, and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central rightly said that the promise of places for all has not been fulfilled. Figures from Strathclyde regional council suggest that in May this year there was a shortage of almost 1,400 places. There has been misunderstanding or a lack of imagination from the centre about the scheme. Within a local authority area, a place may be available on a scheme, but the distance that has to be travelled to take it up may be vast indeed. Although in theory places are available for young people, often in practice they are not. The amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and others, which has not been selected, highlights the need to place greater emphasis on the educational component of training. It is agreed among hon. Members and industry that there is a lack of some important skills. I urge the Government to take account of the fact that in an advanced industrial society there will be fewer jobs for 16-year-olds in the basic service industries. Job growth will occur in the professional, scientific and technological occupations, which will obviously require higher educational attainment. Only 32 per cent. of young people in Britain carry on full-time education to the age of 18 compared with 95 per cent. in Japan and 72 per cent. in the United States. We must encourage greater participation in full -time education.
The importance of education must be recognised, which means that there must be a well-resourced education service, not an approach which puts teachers in the category of second-class citizens. We should think about compulsory day release schemes. I have been informed, although I have not checked, that the Education Act 1944 included provisions for part-time education and training for people up to the age of 18, to be implemented as soon as conditions permitted. It is now 45 years later and that must be done. I hope that the Government will seriously
Column 354consider providing for compulsory release from work for training, as many young people are not given any training at all.
Over the years, there have been a series of training organisations and a plethora of initials and now we have the TECs, the training and enterprise councils. I welcome the idea that the private sector should take a greater interest and be more involved in training. Over the years, part of the difficulty has been caused by the lack of such interest and involvement. The Government admit in the White Paper "Scottish Enterprise" :
"Efforts to date to persuade the private sector to take greater interest in and responsibility for training have had disappointing results. Far too many firms take little interest in assessing and training for their own future needs, assuming that supply will always be there to meet demand."
But the Government have gone wrong by putting all their eggs into one basket. As they admit, the private sector has not been at the forefront in meeting training needs.
Will people of calibre be found in all parts of the country? In paragraph 5.1 of "Scottish Enterprise" the Government admit that the concept of locally led training
"stands or falls on the willingness of people of calibre to respond to this exciting challenge."
We are afraid that many people of calibre will be so busy running their own successful enterprises that they will not have the time to lead training initiatives. There may be a patchy response and delivery of first-class training throughout the country may not be guaranteed.
It is regrettable that United Kingdom business spends only 0.15 per cent. of its turnover on training, compared with between 1 and 2 per cent. for most of our major industrial competitors. I ask the Government to consider the possibility of local authorities being more involved and to look towards a remittable training tax based on turnover. If a company showed through an auditor's certificate that it was genuinely spending money on training, that money could be remitted to it. I regret the element of compulsion, but only in that way can we guarantee that training is taken seriously.
Training and retraining are important to tap the skills of the unemployed and to allow many of those who are employed to learn new skills and adapt to new technologies so that the United Kingdom is geared to the technological age.
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : Much has been said about the differences between this country and our major competitors, primarily in Europe. Those differences have been emphasised in terms of expenditure, but I suggest that expenditure is the secondary item and that the primary factor is the difference in attitudes. If attitudes towards training and the culture of training are right, expenditure and investment will surely follow.
Over the years, the attitudes of employers and employees in this country have differed from the attitudes in the countries of our competitors. British employers have tended to see training as a cost rather than the investment that it is. To a certain extent, that has been spurred on by the City demanding short-term returns on investment rather than long-term returns.
The attitudes of British employees have differed from the attitudes in Germany, Sweden and other western countries. There has been a tendency here to demand a high wage on leaving school, probably at the expense of training and almost certainly at the expense of
Column 355advancement in years to come. There has been a belief in once-for-all training in the first few years after leaving school, in the expectation that it will lead to a trade for life, but that approach has failed to recognise that advancing technology--to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) referred--means that people will have to change their jobs repeatedly because of the rapid pace of our economic growth.
Trade unions have tried to protect jobs in outdated skills, without grasping the need for employees to change their skills, often several times in mid-life. That attitude is exemplified in the Opposition's motion. They have concentrated on the 16 to 19-year-olds and have not referred to training throughout the working life, the most critical part of all. How are we to change attitudes?
The Labour party went into the last general election threatening a payroll tax of 1 per cent. to pay for training. That amount has now been reduced to 0.5 per cent., but we are left with the fundamental principle of Socialism, that the state can spend better than individual businesses. This is an extension of the levy system which the Labour party has espoused. If the levy system is so wonderful that the Labour party opposes the Government's proposal to remove statutory training boards, why are there skill shortages? Perhaps this policy is founded on the policy and philosophy of Mr. Scargill, who believes that the only reason Socialism has not worked is that we have not had enough of it, so the more levies we have, the more it will work.
The levy system today, whatever function it has served in the past, is out of date and irrelevant to the needs of industry and the range of training that is required for the ever-increasing variety of businesses in Britain. The abolition of a number of training boards in the past few years has spawned many private training organisations, often co-operative ventures, with many employers joining to provide for their training needs. They can respond quickly, have a common feature in that they are much closer to the businesses for which they work and can meet their clients' needs as and when required. The investment picture has been changing rapidly. In 1984, research by the Manpower Services Commission showed that there had been an 11 per cent. increase in training activity by businesses over the preceding five years. We do not have an exact comparison in the succeeding five years, but the evidence is that that relatively low increase has been well surpassed.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : I agree with my hon. Friend about statutory levies as they apply to most industries, but the construction industry is characterised by many small firms throughout Britain. Surely, without the construction industry training board, which would not survive without a statutory levy, those firms would not have the training and safety provisions that are so badly needed. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is imperative that we keep some statutory levy for the construction industry?
Mr. Paice : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that subject : he has put his finger on the one exception. I accept that, contrary to my fundamental beliefs, activity in the construction industry is so different from activity in other industries that we must retain the levy.
Column 356According to the labour force survey, the number of employees receiving training has increased by nearly 1 million during the past five years. Much of the changing attitude we have already seen has come as a result of the youth training scheme. It has encouraged businesses to become involved in training. Many businesses that have never had anything to do with training before have taken on YTS trainees, for whatever reason, and from that, they have developed an involvement with and activity in training, which has spread throughout the business.
I have a small criticism of the YTS, which is that the Manpower Services Commission did not act vigorously or ruthlessly enough on the approved training organisation status in weeding out those organisations that were not delivering the expected quality. However, the important point is that we have seen industry becoming more involved. That is the principle behind the training and enterprise councils, which I wholly support. They encourage industrial involvement and encourage business to ensure that the YTS and employment training programmes are delivered locally, based on local needs.
It is necessary, of course, to retain a national framework of standards. The use of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications will be of great value in that. We must recognise that modern training techniques can substantially reduce training time ; that is one reason why it is no use pining after the old apprenticeship scheme. Much of that was time serving. It is true that the apprentices learned skills, but modern training technology means that training schemes do not need to run for as many years as they did for the old apprenticeships.