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House of Commons

Tuesday 19 October 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Citibank International Bill

[Lords] Unibank Bill-- [Lords] Orders for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 21 October.

Oral Answers to Questions


Low Pay (Lancashire)

1. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with jobcentres in Lancashire on low pay.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : None, Madam

Mr. Pike : Will the Minister recognise that it is an absolute scandal that in a survey of five jobcentres in Lancashire in September 1992, 45.8 per cent. of jobs on offer paid less than £99 per week? Will not he recognise that the Government's abolition of the wages councils has increased the number of jobs offering less than £3 an hour? Is not it time that the Government started to give workers in the country fair pay for a fair day's work?

Mr. Forsyth : If the hon. Gentleman had gone up the road to the jobcentre in Victoria earlier in the summer, he would have seen a job advertised at no pay at all, placed by his hon. and learned Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment. That job was to work for two months with expenses and resulted in an individual being placed in full -time paid work. That is the job of the Employment Service and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would congratulate it on the splendid work that it is doing.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : My hon. Friend will be glad to know that many fewer citizens of Lancaster will require the services of the jobcentre, because unemployment fell by 179 last month, which takes us below the national average and below the regional average.

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right, not only in what she says about her constituency, but in what is happening up and down the country. Unemployment in the past month fell in every region, and Britain is leading Europe out of recession. We are the only country in Europe, apart from

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Ireland, that has seen falling unemployment this year. That is entirely due to the policies pursued by the Government, which are opposed by Opposition Members.

Mr. Dobson : Referring to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), how can the Minister justify a situation in which many jobs in Lancashire pay less per hour than the £2.50 a minute that is paid to the boss of the privatised North West Water plc?

Mr. Forsyth : As anyone who is involved in helping unemployed people find jobs knows, for those people who have been out of work for a long time it is most important that they should have an opportunity to have a job that will give them experience. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that when people are on low pay, family credit and other benefits ensure that incomes are maintained. The truth of the matter is that if the hon. Gentleman had his way with a national minumum wage, 2 million people would be thrown on the dole. The people of Britain do not want that, which is why he is sitting on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Pike : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory and insulting nature of that reply, I shall seek to raise matters on the Adjournment.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key to higher pay--

Madam Speaker : Order. I am very remiss. That point of order closes the question. I overlooked that.

Labour Statistics

2. Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were employed in manufacturing industry in Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon and Cornwall, respectively, in 1983 and at the latest available date.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Hunt) : The information is not available in the form requested, but I am happy to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the number employed in the civilian work force in the south-west between 1983 and 1993 rose by 279,000--the highest increase of any region in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Taylor : But if the Minister had answered the question that he was asked, he would have accepted that manufacturing employment had fallen dramatically in those areas, most of all in Cornwall, and that many local businesses associate that with the Government policies that have given us the highest gas, electricity and water prices in the country, yet lower levels of support than other deprived areas such as Scotland and Wales. Does the Secretary of State accept the case of the business men who feel that it is time that the south-west was given a fair deal by the Government?

Mr. Hunt : I cannot quite follow the hon. Gentleman's question-- [Interruption.] I know that he is only a Liberal, I shall take the Liberals seriously when they take politics and decision making seriously. I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would pay tribute to the substantial rise in the number of self-employed people in the south-west, which has risen from 215,000 in 1983 to almost 300,000 now. That bodes well for the future of the south-west.

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Mr. Nicholls : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Liberal party is the most federalist party in the House of Commons and has called, throughout, for the full cost of the social chapter to be dumped on British employers? How many jobs would have been destroyed in the west country if the social charter had been implemented in full?

Mr. Hunt : Undoubtedly, thousands of jobs would be destroyed if we were to implement the policies proposed by the official Opposition and the Liberal party. I recall that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) was once a defence spokesman for the Liberal party. Mr. Matthew Taylor indicated dissent.

Mr. Hunt : The musical chairs stopped in that direction at one stage. Of course, the Liberal party's defence policies would destroy many defence jobs in the south-west, which would be bad news.

Northern Region

3. Mr. Jack Thompson : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had recently with the Northern Development Company about increasing employment prospects in the northern region.

Mr. David Hunt : I met Dr. John Bridge, the chief executive of the Northern Development Company, recently and had a useful discussion with him.

Mr. Thompson : The Secretary of State must be aware of the fact--he should have nightmares about it--that unemployment in the northern region in 1990 was 120,000 and had risen in September 1993 to 171, 000--17 per cent. of that figure consisted of those aged between 16 and 18. Would it not be better if he and his Department took a greater interest in the excellent work of the NDC which is supported by local authorities, trade unions and employers in industry in the district? To my knowledge, his Department has shown little interest. It would be helpful for the northern region if his Department would get off its backside and show that it has an interest in reducing unemployment in the northern region.

Mr. Hunt : I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not mention the Wansbeck initiative, which brings together the key players. I had understood that the hon. Gentleman was an observer on the Wansbeck initiative. If he were, and had been attending, he would know that my Department attends and is part of the initiative, as is the Employment Service, the Department of Trade and Industry, churches, trade unions, local councils, the Northern Development Company and the Northumberland training and enterprise council. May I have the hon. Gentleman's support in wishing the Wansbeck initiative every success in future? I believe that that partnership has the determination and skill to turn the problems of Wansbeck into the problems of success.

Mr. Bates : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the latest edition of "Business Survey North"--a quarterly survey of 764 firms in the northern region conducted by the Northern Development Company--was published this morning? Is he aware that it pointed to business confidence being at its highest level for three years, investment in plant and machinery being at record levels and profits at their highest levels since the survey began? Does not that give the true

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picture of the diverse and dynamic economy in the northern region, which is very different from the gloomy one so often painted by the Labour party?

Mr. Hunt : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is sad that the Labour party does so much to talk down the northern region and the United Kingdom. Our GDP--whole economy output--has risen for five consecutive quarters, manufacturing output is up 1.25 per cent. on 12 months ago and industrial production is up by 2.5 per cent. As my hon. Friend said, we are leading Europe out of recession, through recovery and into growth. It is about time that Opposition Members realised that and paid tribute to the work carried out.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : What can Ministers do to help the Northern Development Company find a tenant or a new owner for the 500,000 sq ft former Leyland Volvo national plant in my constituency?

Mr. Hunt : Create the background environment in which people will find the opportunity to create more jobs and more opportunities. The last thing that we should do is adopt the policies of the Labour party by introducing a statutory minimum wage, and adhering to the social chapter, which would destroy millions of jobs in this country.

Labour Statistics

4. Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what were the figures for the last three months for unemployment in Basildon.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : Unemployment has fallen in Basildon for the past three months. The figures are 9,149 in July ; 9,009 in August ; and 8,841 in September.

Mr. Amess : Is my hon. Friend aware that, during the summer recess, in my constituency, I opened Mobil Oil's Pegasus training centre, the United Kingdom headquarters of Cosatto, which makes the finest prams and cots in the world, and the international headquarters of Hay Pollock, freight forwarders? Does my hon. Friend agree that that, together with the downward trend in unemployment, is most encouraging and that, contrary to what the Opposition think, Basildon has a bright future?

Mr. Forsyth : If only every constituency represented by Opposition Members had such a doughty champion as the people of Basildon, our work in the Department of Employment would be much easier.

Ms Quin : Will the Minister confirm that unemployment in Basildon rocketed between 1990-93 by 126 per cent? Does he recall his colleagues saying to the people of Basildon and elsewhere that, if they voted Tory in the general election on Thursday, the recovery would begin on Friday? How was it, therefore, that unemployment in Basildon rose so sharply the following year? In the light of that appalling record, is it not clear that the voters in Basildon and elsewhere will never trust the Tories again, and that the only bright future that they are likely to experience is under a Labour Government?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Lady, along with her hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), is getting a reputation for shooting messengers when they bring good news. The good news is that

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unemployment is falling in Basildon. It is typical of the Labour party that it looks back to the past and not forward to the future. As to the socialists having the answer, is the hon. Lady not aware that a socialist Government in Spain are presiding over unemployment in excess of 20 per cent. and are now abandoning the policies of job protection, which were embraced by the Labour party conference a few weeks ago? The fact is that the Labour party is looking backwards and not forwards. That is why my hon. Friend will continue to represent Basildon for many years to come.

School Leavers

5. Mrs. Dunwoody : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he has taken to provide employment for 1993 school leavers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe) : All young people aged 16 and 17 are already guaranteeda place on youth training. Figures show that, if one has a qualification, one is more likely to be in employment. Those aged 18 or over benefit from a wide range of employment and training measures. I am delighted to say that, as a result of economic recovery and the YT guarantee, the increase in unemployment in July and August, when school leavers enter the labour market, was fewer than 10,000, compared with more than 90,000 for the same months last year.

Mrs. Dunwoody : When the Minister stops being quite so pleased with herself, would she like to consider the fact that there are 22 people searching for every job vacancy? Will she seriously address the problem of youth unemployment, which is not only a disgrace to the country, but a great waste of human resources for which we shall all pay in the future?

Miss Widdecombe : Dear, dear, dear. What little rays of sunshine the Opposition are. Perhaps I could spread some light and sunshine by pointing out to the hon. Lady that, in her constituency, there are only 33 young people waiting more than eight weeks for their offer. Therefore, youth employment is under considerable control in her constituency. Why does not she encourage the young people instead of trying to depress them?

Sir Michael Neubert : As the matter has been raised by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), is not it apposite to point out that the Labour party's proposals for a minimum wage would severely worsen young people's prospects of employment? Has not that been the experience in France? Is not youth unemployment there higher than here?

Miss Widdecombe : Indeed. We have considerably lower youth unemployment than several countries in Europe and we are below the European average. If we were to sign up to a national minimum wage, or to the social chapter of which the Opposition are so fond, we should probably find ourselves on the European average or even worse. So once again, our policies have proved to be the best for the young people of Britain and my hon. Friend is right.

Ms Eagle : Will the Minister admit that only one of the 22 people chasing each vacancy will be successful? Will

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not the hon. Lady also admit that when the Secretary of State for Employment left school there were more jobs than there were people looking for them? When will the Tory Government give our school leavers the same job opportunities that the post-war Labour Government gave them?

Miss Widdecombe : I need no lectures from the Opposition on opportunities for the young, because when we took over in 1979 only 28 per cent. of them stayed on in further education in schools. Today the figure is 56 per cent. We are devoted-- [Interruption.] --The Opposition have summed up their view beautifully. They see education and training not as skilling for jobs but as optional. That is the philosophy of the dark ages. Training and education are essential if we are to have an internationally competitive work force. Our record on training and education is second to none. The Opposition merely have that of which they should be thoroughly ashamed.

Mr. John Townend : Does my hon. Friend agree that we should make education more relevant to the needs of the workplace? Is not the best help that we can give school leavers the elimination of illiteracy and innumeracy? Our education reforms are more likely to do that and is not it a scandal that they are opposed by the Opposition?

Miss Widdecombe : My hon. Friend is right. Our education reforms are crucially designed to ensure that people are equipped to enter the world of work. The training and enterprise councils that we have set up and which are operating so successfully exist specifically to bring business and education closer together and our education and business partnerships are doing just that. What have the Opposition to show? Have they one single initiative, one single proposed policy, that would do more than our policies are doing at the moment?

Unemployment, West Yorkshire

6. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met representatives of local authorities in West Yorkshire to discuss unemployment.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not had a request to meet representatives of the local authorities in West Yorkshire.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Is the Minister aware of the great anger within West Yorkshire among local authorities and the public in general at the way in which the House was conned by the Government over the coal closure programme? Even before the present closure programme the Wakefield district had lost 20,000 mining-related jobs. Bearing in mind that the coalfield areas fund is based

Madam Speaker : Order. I must have a question from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Bearing in mind that the coalfield areas fund was based on the assumption that 12 pits would be saved, which clearly will not happen, what steps will the Minister and the Government take to generate employment in areas such as Wakefield which have been devastated as a direct result of the Government's policies?

Mr. Forsyth : I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not find time in his question to point out that the

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Government have made available £75 million to create new jobs where jobs have been lost as a result of colliery closures. I am also surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not find time to refer to the new jobs that have been created in his constituency, such as

Mr. Skinner : There are none.

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman says that there are none, but what about the 420 recruited by the jobcentre for Morrisons in the Wakefield constituency? There are a number which I shall not detain the House by listing. The Labour party must recognise that the only way to have secure employment is by being able to produce goods and services that people wish to buy.

Mr. Batiste : Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that unemployment fell last month in every one of the 23 constituencies in West Yorkshire? What assessment has he made of the further prospects for job creation in the area, and the welcome change of policy by the European Community which enables areas such as the city centre of Leeds to qualify for objective 2 status?

Mr. Forsyth : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the good news of falling unemployment as businesses take advantage of the economic conditions created by the Government in the teeth of opposition from Labour Members. The news on objective 2 status is welcome and is something for which the Government have campaigned long and hard. I am delighted that at least there is one Conservative Member who is prepared to take a positive and optimistic view of the future.

Mr. Cryer : Will the Minister tell the leaders of local councils in West Yorkshire, including Bradford--who are suffering because of the loss of assisted area status brought about by the Government--when the current level of unemployment in Yorkshire and Humberside of more than 10 per cent. will be down to the level of April 1979, which was 4.1 per cent? When does the Minister expect to equal the record of the last Labour Government?

Mr. Forsyth : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed, but unemployment is rising all over Europe and is approaching 18 million. Unemployment is highest among the young. Unemployment is also growing in those countries that have had the "benefit" of socialist Governments.


7. Mr. Clappison : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made in setting up the workstart pilot projects.

Miss Widdecombe : The programme is now under way in all four pilot areas. The first long-term unemployed people were recruited under the programme and started work with employers in July.

Mr. Clappison : Does my hon. Friend agree that this innovative scheme, which is rightly aimed at helping the long-term unemployed, will have to be carefully monitored? Does she further agree that, in monitoring the scheme, a great deal of weight should be attached to the benefits to society of getting the long-term unemployed back into work?

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Miss Widdecombe : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks about the scheme. At the moment, it is going extremely well and it is thought by employers that long-term jobs will be created after the temporary period of employment is over. This is a very welcome initiative. As my hon. Friend said, the crucial thing in dealing with the long-term unemployed is to make sure that they have work experience and get back into the labour market, which is what this scheme is intended to do. I have high hopes for it.

Mr. Flynn : Is not this just a new name for an old confidence trick? Does the Minister agree with her predecessor, who said that the main intention of her Department is to create almost entirely useless schemes in order to get the unemployed off the unemployment register? Does the Minister agree with Mr. Alan Clark?

Miss Widdecombe : My predecessor, as the hon. Gentleman describes him, was in the Department of Employment a decade ago. The hon. Gentleman may not have caught up with events since then, but the unemployed have.

Labour Markets

8. Mr. Jenkin : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what initiatives his Department has pursued to increase the flexibility of labour markets in the United Kingdom.

Mr. David Hunt : My Department is taking a wide range of measures to improve labour market flexibility. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are doing our best to convince our European partners to follow the same policies. I certainly tried to do that at the Social Affairs Council last week.

Mr. Jenkin : I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. I congratulate him on as successful an outcome as may have been hoped for at the Social Affairs Council last week. In particular, I congratulate him on the veto that he applied to the works council directive, as he said he would at the Conservative conference. Is it not the case that the works council directive will be applied to the other 11 member states under the arrangements of the Maastricht treaty? How will we make the veto effective in the United Kingdom if British multinationals operating in Europe have to set up works councils as if they applied in the United Kingdom as well?

Mr. Hunt : My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. First, on the veto that I applied, I made it clear that we were not prepared to contemplate the imposition, under the treaty of Rome, of statutory works councils in Europe. As my hon. Friend is aware, the social protocol, which Opposition Members would have us sign, exists and it now remains for the Eleven to consider how to proceed. I must tell my hon. Friend, however, that there is increasing evidence that our partners are coming round to our point of view. [Hon. Members :-- "Where is the evidence for that?"]. Wait a moment. There is, however, also evidence to show that all our companies must deal with the home laws of each country in which they trade, including the Community. What is clear is that a directive of the Eleven will not apply in the United Kingdom.

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Opposition Members have shouted for the necessary evidence and I highlight today's edition of The Guardian --I do not often do that--which reports :

"Jacques Delors has admitted that he is close to becoming a lame-duck president of the European Commission, unable to stop the community drifting towards an English-style Europe'."

That is very good news for the United Kingdom and for the rest of the Community.

Mr. Boyce : In Rotherham we have a steel plant that is recognised as one of the best in the country, if not in Europe, with a flexible work force second to none. It is proposed, however, that the Templeborough steel works will close at the end of December. What message of comfort can I take back to the 260 workers who will lose their jobs?

Mr. Hunt : I regret any job losses anywhere in the United Kingdom, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that job losses would be threatened for thousands and millions of people if we were to adopt the policies that he and his hon. Friends urge on us in trying to make us sign up to a social protocol that would mean a more inflexible labour market. He must ask himself why more inward investment is coming to the United Kingdom than to any other part of the European Community. It is because everywhere else in the world sees the United Kingdom as a haven for inward investment.


9. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met representatives of the TEC movement to discuss training initiatives.

Miss Widdecombe : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meets TEC representatives frequently to discuss the work on which they are engaged. Only yesterday, he and I met a group of TEC chairmen to discuss recent developments.

Mr. Coombs : Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to discuss with the Central England training and enterprise council the success of the training offered at Kidderminster college in my constituency, which has attracted a record number of entrants to its training programmes this year? The vast majority of those students are taking national vocational qualifications to a much higher level than ever before. Is that not evidence of the huge investment that the Government have been making in training programmes in the past 10 years and of the higher level of training that is now being attained through NVQs?

Miss Widdecombe : Yes. My hon. Friend is right. I congratulate the TEC on the initiative in his constituency. It is certainly true that the Government place a great deal of emphasis on proper skilling of the work force through training and vocational qualifications. The local example that my hon. Friend has given is just one of many national examples, but it is an outstanding one.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : With graduate unemployment at 13 per cent. and with the Government actively encouraging more students to undertake further and higher education, does the Minister agree that that poses a serious problem? Can she tell us what initiatives she proposes to take through the TEC system to ensure that there are adequate jobs for those who complete further and higher education?

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Miss Widdecombe : It is still overwhelmingly the case that graduate unemployment is much lower than that experienced by those in general employment. For example, 5 per cent. of all graduates are unemployed, as opposed to the national unemployment level of just over 10 per cent. It is still overwhelmingly the case that if one is a graduate one has a better chance of employment. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we are concerned that graduates, along with everyone else, have had to bear their fair share of pain, but, along with everyone else, the number of unemployed graduates is falling and opportunities are growing. I will encourage TECs to find schemes and training that are suitable for graduates as well as all other unemployed people.

Mr. Rathbone : Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the Government's efforts to encourage company training schemes such as those that are being so admirably encouraged by Brighton university in Sussex? I believe that that is the largest company training scheme centre in Great Britain.

Miss Widdecombe : Yes, we are very keen that employers should not only train new recruits but train throughout life. We are encouraging lifelong training programmes through the investors in people programme, through company training initiatives and through our NVQs. We have made immense strides. Unlike the Opposition, we do not divide the functions of education and training from employment ; they are interlinked and the Opposition should recognise that.

Mr. Dobson : What representations has the Secretary of State received from tll centres, training more than 100,000 people. Just 27 are left, 13 of which have been sold to Mr. Patrick Doyle. Why have they been sold to Mr. Patrick Doyle? It cannot be because he has a reputation for integrity, because he was imprisoned for forgery and fraud ; it cannot be because he has experience of running training schemes, because he has none. Is it because he has raised fuunds for the Conservative party? That he certainly has.

Hon. Members : Answer.

Miss Widdecombe : If hon. Members are keen to hear the answer perhaps they would like to listen.

First, the hon. Gentleman asks what representations we have received from TECs. TECs have told us that they are satisfied that they can supply all the traininig that used to be supplied by the Astra outlets that have been closed. Secondly, 16 Astra outlets have so far been sold, and they have been sold as going concerns. We have no legal power to tell the receiver to whom he should sell the assets of a private company.


10. Mr. Richards : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received since 28 May about apprenticeships and the provision of training for 16 to 19-year-olds.

Mr. David Hunt : Several, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Richards : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the recently introduced general national vocational

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qualifications have been an outstanding success and that they are popular with 16 to 19-year-olds as well as with employers, who regard them as being especially relevant and important at the workplace?

Mr. Hunt : My hon. Friend is right that the pilot scheme for GNVQs was extremely popular, and it is hoped that by 1996 one in four 16-year- olds will participate in GNVQ courses. GNVQs or vocational A-levels will provide an excellent grounding for the place of work, and many of the students attaining those qualifications will be able to build up their skills by obtaining NVQs as they progress through a lifetime of work.

Mr. Grocott : Will the Minister cast his mind back to the heady days of the 1970s, when there was hardly a motor component maker or a motor manufacturer in the west midlands that did not have an engineering apprenticeship school? One of the privileges of being a west midlands Member of Parliament was to attend the annual award ceremonies at apprenticeship schools. Can he confirm that since the Conservatives have come to office those schools have progressively closed and that few now exist? When does he hope to give school leavers the kind of apprenticeship opportunities that they had in abundance in the 1970s?

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman must recognise that there are serious unemployment problems in the European Community, especially those of youth unemployment. Youth unemployment in this country is less than the European Community average. In, for example, Belgium, France and especially Spain, where youth unemployment is more than 30 per cent., there are some very serious problems. I have to recognise that I should like a return to the traditional form of apprenticeship and have said so on several occasions. I should very much like it to be based on learning rather than merely on time serving. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are considering various proposals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I are considering the subject at the moment.

Mr. Ian Bruce : First, may I say what a wonderful job the Dorset training and enterprise council is doing to encourage apprenticeships and skills training. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he will vigorously defend his budget and that of the TECs, as there is worry that more money might be switched to the academic education of that age group rather than to vocational training, which I believe all hon. Members value?

Mr. Hunt : I recognise that there is a need to maintain a work-based vocational training scheme and readily accept what my hon. Friend has said. I join him in paying tribute to his TEC. I sometimes wish that Opposition Members would spend a little time, sit down with their TECs and give them the support that they need, in the way that my hon. Friend has said that he does.

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