|Previous Section||Home Page|
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Does she recall that, before the last general election, her party released a foreign policy paper which said that the Labour party believed that the future of the Falklands should be the subject of unconditional discussions with Argentina? Will the hon. Lady clarify Labour's current position and make it abundantly clear that there is no question of having unconditional talks with Argentina as that would undermine the sovereignty of the Falklands?
Mrs. Clwyd: If the hon. Lady is a little more patient I will be delighted to clarify the situation. I make it clear that the paper was not a policy statement; it was an individual statement which did not form part of the Labour party's policy.
The Falklands war played a major part in ending military rule in Argentina, although its intention was limited to the liberation of the islands. On an occasions such as this, it is appropriate to remember all of those, both British and Argentine, who lost their lives in the south Atlantic in 1982. In the following year the radical Government of President Alfonsin were elected, but differences over the issue of Falklands sovereignty prevented discussions between our two countries. Since the election of President Carlos Menem in 1989, British and Argentine relations have improved. The new president recognised the importance of restoring relations with Britain, especially if Argentina was to develop a satisfactory relationship with the European Community.
Diplomatic relations were restored and a new framework has allowed the lifting of the Falkland Islands protection zone which has removed much of the tension from the area. The United Kingdom is now in the process of developing a co-operative relationship with the present Government. I know that I speak for all hon. Members when I offer my sincere condolences to the President on the death of his son last week. Carlos Menem, who was 26, was killed in an air crash after his helicopter hit overhead power lines.
Areas of co-operation between the UK and Argentina include peacekeeping and counter-terrorism. British and Argentine troops are working side by side in United Nations peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and in Cyprus. In the trade area, British
Column 279exports to Argentina grew by 50 per cent. in 1993 and more investment opportunities are available. That is very welcome. Of course, the new relationship must also recognise that the rights and the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands are paramount. We desire cordial and constructive relations with the elected Government of Argentina. Provided democracy continues in that country, Labour in government will continue to talk to the Argentine Government to try to find a long-term solution to the Falkland Islands dispute. However, we emphasise that sovereignty is not an issue in current discussions with Argentina.
The future of Britain's military presence in the south Atlantic will depend on the evolution of UK-Argentina relations. However, for the foreseeable future, we do not propose or envisage a withdrawal of the UK military presence.
The major question about the Falklands' economic future involves oil. Perhaps the Minister will inform the House about any plans to commence drilling and what the revenue position would be if there were substantial oil finds, given the UK's considerable defence expenditure in the Falklands. The social and environmental impact of an oil bonanza would be enormous, and the matter clearly needs much thought. I share the concerns that my hon. Friends have expressed this morning. What plans are there for protecting the local environment, particularly plant, animal and marine life?
It is in Britain's interests to be realistic about any possible oil industry development in the south Atlantic. Effective exploitation of oil would clearly be difficult without Argentina's co-operation. It is logical to assume that oil and gas would be pumped ashore to the Latin American mainland for refining, particularly as the Falklanders--who are naturally very concerned about protecting their environment--have apparently rejected the idea of any onshore activity.
I understand that the question of oil exploration will be a matter for joint UK-Argentina discussions, which will take place along similar lines to existing dialogue on fishing and military security. Will the Minister confirm that? I ask that because, when the question was discussed in another place, Baroness Chalker said:
"it will be up to the islanders--and only the islanders--to agree the manner in which the oil industry will develop"--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 22 February 1995; Vol. 561, c. 1114.]
What is the true position? I am sure that the Minister will bear in mind the reality of the situation in the south Atlantic and will work to ensure that all diplomatic means are pursued in order to foster a healthy relationship with Argentina in the area of oil exploration and elsewhere. More specifically, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us when drilling is likely to commence and precisely how the oil management team is functioning.
The Government of the Falkland Islands have long made it clear that they wish to pay the costs of maintaining the garrison at Mount Pleasant, which at present are met by the British taxpayer. They also say that they wish to repay the British Government for the capital costs of the military infrastructure on the islands. Perhaps the Minister will give us some information about those matters. In addition, the development of an oil industry around the islands could bring employment benefits to the United Kingdom. If the industry develops, the Government of the
Column 280islands will look to our oil supply industry for equipment provision. The wind-down of the oil industry in Aberdeen, which is beginning, could be compensated for by the discovery of Falklands oil.
It is somewhat ironic that the discovery of oil in waters thousands of miles away could lead to employment creation in the UK when our own North sea oil revenues were squandered in paying the costs of unemployment during the failed economic experiment of the 1980s. I understand that bids for oil licences to develop the most promising offshore areas are expected to open this month. Perhaps the Minister will inform the House which UK companies are likely to be in the running for those licences.
We are pleased to see positive developments in the areas of fishing, agriculture and land ownership taking place in the Falkland Islands and we hope that the continuance of democratic government in Argentina will allow for a gradual strengthening of co-operation between our two countries. The links between Wales and Patagonia--or Y Wladfa, as Patagonia is known colloquially in Wales--have been mentioned already. Those links have always been strong, and Welsh and Spanish are the two main languages of Patagonia.
Finally, there is one area about which we have long been concerned. We are pleased that Argentina has offered to pay a third party to clear the 30,000 Argentine anti-personnel mines that are believed to remain in the Falkland Islands. I am sorry that we do not have more details about the mines that remain. I also pay tribute to the four British service men who were seriously injured when clearing anti-personnel mines in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands conflict.
Mrs. Clwyd: I am sorry, I do not have time. That is yet another example of why the international trade in anti-personnel mines must be stopped. Following the Prime Minister's inadequate response yesterday on that issue, I appeal again to the British Government to support such moves when the inhumane weapons convention is reviewed in September.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis): In the brief time available, I shall endeavour to answer thquestions raised by various hon. Members. Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Sir A. Bowden) on obtaining this important debate. He referred to his visit to the Falkland Islands with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I know from reports that it was a fruitful series of meetings and a worthwhile trip, as we also heard from my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for undertaking the visit and for taking the opportunity to inform the House of those proceedings.
As my hon. Friend will have noticed, there is an increasing air of confidence and self-confidence in the islands. The money from fishing licences, which a number of hon. Members have mentioned, has been wisely invested--both publicly in infrastructure and higher standards of health and education, and privately in increased direct involvement in fishery and in the sub-division and purchase of farms.
Column 281The Falklands is not just a very British society, but a society which is going places. A sign of that self- confidence has been mentioned in the debate--the two young islanders who have gone to Argentina to tell the Argentines politely but firmly that while the islanders want good neighbourly relations with them, that will be impossible until the Argentine Government drop their claim on their country.
The two young islanders--one male and one female--are currently in the middle of a two-week privately funded lecture tour, during which they are telling Argentines about life in the Falklands today. Their audience will realise that the islanders are as British as Members of the House. Once the Argentines accept that the islanders are British and have their own right to self-determination, relations can be built on a normal basis.
I am sure that, like me, the CPA visitors and others came back from the Falklands with a resounding message from the people of the islands that they are British now and they want to stay that way. Contrary to the perceptions of many people, the history of the islands did not start in 1982. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), whose expertise and commitment in this area is legendary, put it precisely in its historical context. Many islanders trace their roots there back five or six generations. It is not a transitory population; they have been there without interruption since 1833 and have chosen throughout all that time to remain under the British flag.
As hon. Members will know, the Argentines continue to lay claim to the islands. My hon. Friend noted that their President goes so as far as to say that the Falklands will fly the Argentine flag by the year 2000, but the islanders have no intention of becoming Argentine. We were particularly disappointed by the decision of the Argentine Constituent Assembly, which in 1994 inserted in its constitution for the first time a clause asserting that the Falklands were part of Argentina. Assertions that the Falklands will become Argentine are highly objectionable to us and to the islanders and we reject them and will continue to do so at every opportunity.
Despite our differences over the Argentine claim, however, our bilateral relations with Argentina on other matters have developed well since we reopened diplomatic relations in 1990. In a wise speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) spoke with knowledge about Argentina. We now co-operate in many areas and agreements have been signed on visa abolition, cultural co-operation, investment protection and promotion, anti -narcotics and air services. A double taxation convention was initialled last year and we hope to sign it later this year.
Our soldiers have served together with United Nations peacekeeping forces, as has been mentioned, and there is a regular high-level dialogue.
Column 282Political progress has been matched by closer commercial links. In 1994, our exports totalled £225 million. As the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said, exports were up 25 per cent. on 1993. Since the resumption of diplomatic relations with Argentina in 1990, we have been able to discuss matters of mutual interest and have agreed with President Menem's Government that we should discuss such issues without reference to sovereignty. That approach works well, but when the issue of the Falklands arises, we point out to the Argentines that they should respect the wishes of the Falkland islanders.
We have no doubt about the sovereignty of the Falklands and the right to self-determination involves respecting the wishes of the people of the Falklands. The wishes of the islanders could not be clearer, as was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge. Most recently, a MORI poll in the islands, conducted at Argentine instigation, found that 87 per cent. of the islanders were not prepared to discuss the issue of sovereignty with Argentina under any circumstances.
That figure of 87 per cent. is a stark statement of the islanders' wishes and of the fact that they wish to remain British. We are committed to the defence of the islanders' rights. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said when he visited the islands last April, we fought 12 years ago to sustain the wishes of the islanders to remain British, and we would do so again. There can be no compromise on that commitment.
The maintenance of the garrison at Mount Pleasant is an expensive operation. Building the port and the airfield cost some £300 million. In addition, it costs the British taxpayers some £67 million a year. We do not undertake such expenditure lightly, but we shall not be deterred from the task. So long as there is a threat, we shall commit the forces necessary to the defence of the islands.
Apart from defence, Britain is now responsible only for the islands' external relations. We lead in talks with their neighbours, Argentina, on matters of wider interest to the south Atlantic, such as fish and hydrocarbons--two issues that have been mentioned today. In all other respects, the islanders run their own affairs through their elected councillors, and they do it well. We enjoy close and fruitful relations with the councillors, both through the governor and through exchanges of visits between London and Stanley. We also liaise closely with Falkland Islands Government officials on a whole host of matters. We appreciate those contacts, as I believe do the islanders, and we look forward to them continuing.
The economy of the islands was traditionally based on wool. That part of the economy has suffered a recent decline due to the worldwide slump in wool prices in 1990. However, the islands still produce 2,000 tonnes of wool a year and income from that source shows signs of increasing as the wool markets recover ground. The income has been sensibly invested and the return from those investments makes up another important element of the islands' economy. A number of hon. Members have mentioned the fishery. The establishment of the squid fishery has generated considerable income for the islands. The sale of fishing licences began in 1987 and has since then been the mainstay of the Falklands economy. Income until now has been from the sale of licences to foreign vessels.
Column 283Falklands companies have done well out of brokering and the provision of services, but this year has seen the first Falkland-flagged vessels entering the business. That is an excellent development and will add further to the Falklands success story. One British and five foreign trawlers have now been re-registered in the Falklands, three of them during February. The Falklands now composes one of the most significant deep-sea fishing fleets by tonnage under the red ensign anywhere in the world.
As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) the fishery has been excellently managed. It has been commended for its approach, its concern and its technique in handling conservation issues. It is managed by the Falkland Island Fisheries Department, which I was shown round in January by the able Director of Fisheries, Dr. John Barton. It is also assisted by the valuable research facilities available at Imperial college London. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I know his commitment to the issue but I do not agree that those people's distance from the position in any way undermines their expertise, their commitment or their skill.
In the management of the fishery, it is obviously desirable and sensible to talk to the Argentines with whom the islanders share stocks--a point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. The illex, to which he referred, is a particularly fragile squid stock. A co-ordinated approach means that both countries ensure that stocks are conserved for the benefit of future generations. However, we would welcome greater transparency in Argentine licensing procedures.
Column 284On oil, the prospects for exploring for hydrocarbons in the sea bed around the Falklands are a highly topical subject in the islands. It is mildly controversial in terms of its effects. I talked it over with councillors and others when I was there.
No one knows for sure whether there is oil or gas. The signs are encouraging, but no one knows for sure. Seismic surveys took place in 1993. The Falkland Islands Government passed legislation in November last year permitting further exploration. They expect to announce this summer that a licensing round will open later this year inviting companies to bid for areas they wish to explore. If oil is discovered, it could boost the economic prospects of the Falklands. The Government are actively helping the islanders to benefit from that prospective resource.
There is also an Argentine dimension. The Argentines are the islands' neighbours in the south Atlantic, and one does not embark on major projects without discussing them with one's neighbours. There will be a need for co- ordination on matters such as safety, air-sea rescue and the environment. We are discussing the possibilities of co-operation with the Argentines. We would prefer to go ahead with an agreement but that is not a precondition. At the end of the day, that will be a matter for the Falkland Islands Government.
There will be scope for the provision of equipment and services from Argentina, Chile, Brazil and neighbouring countries. The Falkland islanders also want a significant role in such support services, and we will encourage that. We will continue discussing co-operation with the Argentines, and we are of course keeping Falkland Islands councillors fully informed.
Unfortunately, I must conclude. I am delighted that we have had this opportunity--
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): This debate must be placed in the context of decisions made in the 1993 Budget, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced proposals to cut £500 million from the Department of Employment's programme over the next three years. The training and enterprise councils' national council immediately announced that would inevitably lead to training cuts of between 10 per cent. and 28 per cent. [Interruption.]
One year later, the knock-on effects that are part and parcel of the Government's retreat from training are also clear. The sum of £170 million was cut from training for work projects. As a result, this year there will be 55,000 fewer adult places in that programme. TEC budgets around the country have collapsed. Calderdale and Kirklees have lost £7.5 million, or 25 per cent. of their training budget. Staffordshire lost £7 million, Teesside lost £6.5 million, Merseyside lost £15 million, and Devon and Cornwall lost £11 million.
The Minister might argue that such cuts represent progress rather than being a retrograde step. I suspect that his response will have three themes. One will almost certainly be a repetition of the argument made by the Secretary of State for Employment in the 1993 Budget debate, when he said that
"TEC budgets are being determined by outputs--by what is achieved--rather than by what is spent."--[ Official Report , 1 December 1994; Vol. 250, c. 1360.]
That is the "output, not input" argument.
The second defence will elaborate on that theme, with the claim that setting a target of 40 per cent. of trainees securing jobs marks another improvement. The third will be that 27 per cent. of trainees should be drawn from the disadvantaged--refining the quality of aid rather than stressing the quantity. The problem is not the aspirations behind targeting but the emptiness of the programme, which makes the Government's position dishonest.
We are invited to forget the cuts and to accept that there is an improved targeting regime that is the best of all worlds for the best of all programmes. Even the most cursory examination of the programme reveals that the underpinning of that argument is a lie, a folly and fraud.
I will support my claim with the example of the TEC that I know best, which is the one in Greater Nottingham. Other hon. Members will, no doubt, refer to their own areas. This year, a cut in Greater Nottingham TEC's budget from £20 million to £17 million has been announced. In Government terms, that is a mouthwatering and modest 15 per cent. reduction, but in relation to the achieved spending last year it amounts to a cut from £24 million to £17 million, which makes it a cruel and cynical 30 per cent. reduction.
Column 286The immediate impact on staffing is even harsher. The TEC has been compelled to reduce its staff from 75 to 47--a cut of 38 per cent. The Minister might argue that when unemployment falls, one can expect a commensurate cut in programmes that address the needs of the unemployed and long-term unemployed. In Greater Nottingham's TEC catchment area, 30,000 people are unemployed, 18,000 of whom are long-term unemployed. Unemployment in the city is 16 per cent. For those 18,000 long- term unemployed, the TEC will be able to deliver no more than 800 training places.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The hon. Gentleman paints a distorted picture because he does not take into account the Government money that is being ploughed into Nottingham through the city challenge project. Is not that going a long way to help training schemes and the people in that area?
Mr. Simpson: I will deal with that point later, but Nottingham's experience of other Government training programmes is that increasingly they are turning into a dog's breakfast of non-co-operation between Departments and cynical manipulation of funding, to deny the city money for bids that are among the best in the country. I will address the role of civil servants in that cynical process of stealing money from meretricious projects. TECs were flagged up as the centrepiece of Government training initiatives. If one focuses only on the long-term unemployed in Nottingham, one sees that at the current rate of funding it will take more than 22 years for this year's long-term unemployed to gain access to a training place. It may seem capricious of the Government to approach training in such a way that many long-term unemployed are likely to have an entitlement to retire before they are given a right to training. That is hardly the brightest picture of the dynamic market economy that the Government like to paint.
The Government may argue that although there are many long-term unemployed in Nottingham, they are not among the most disadvantaged in the country, but we must look a little closer. Of the gross unemployment figure, 48 per cent. of long-term unemployed in Nottingham are Afro-Caribbean. The city is home for 37 per cent. of all ethnic minority communities in the east midlands. A study of disadvantaged areas in Nottinghamshire showed that, of all of the wards in the county, 14 of the worst areas were in the city itself, in the area covered by Greater Nottingham TEC.
It may be argued that Nottingham is part of an underlying upward trend and that people will find their own prospects of employment. I refer those who want to hide behind that argument to the 1994 urban trends report of the Policy Studies Institute. In relation to employment change over the past decade, it says:
"Leicester and Nottingham . . . suffered the general decline in the proportion of full-time employees but did not share in the general increase in part-time employment--in Nottingham it actually declined."
That is hardly a picture of a dynamic expansion of work opportunities.
What about discrimination? Every TEC and trainer in the country says that all the evidence shows that the area of greatest resistance in taking on the long-term unemployed is among small and medium-sized enterprises. Those enterprises are not necessarily being run by people who are deeply prejudiced. It may simply
Column 287be that, in terms of this leaner, fitter Britain, many of them are running on the bare bones. The problems--getting the long-term unemployed back into work--which those enterprises and trainers understand, require considerable personal and financial support. If that is so, one must devote additional resources where there are a disproportionate number of small firms in an economy.
In the Greater Nottingham area, some 15,000 enterprises offer employment on different scales, but 93 per cent. of them employ fewer than 25 people. That is the marketplace in which the long-term unemployed must be placed if they are to have job and career prospects. The support needed to deliver stable and workable training programmes for those people is greater because of the propensity of the city to be dependent on small and medium-sized enterprises. Just when we have the greatest problems and the biggest backlog of difficulties in meeting the needs of the long-term unemployed, the training budget is cut by 30 per cent., and support and staff by 38 per cent. That nails the lie to the Government's argument about a serious commitment to training.
The farce is that underfunding of training turns programmes into cruel jokes. Nationally, we know that 58 per cent. of youth trainees leave training schemes early. Fewer than half are in full-time work. Only one in 20 gets part-time work, and one in two leaves without a qualification. Instead of investment to raise standards and qualifications, cuts are made, which turn farce into fraud. I say that because there is great pressure among TECs simply to look at the outcomes that are required and to tailor the "masquerading" of training into meeting targets that simply deliver the cash. We know already that training providers have fiddled qualifications to secure funding. We also know that there is great pressure--it is recognised in the TECs themselves--to train only the trained. If the trigger point for funding is a qualification, there is growing pressure to look for people who already have qualifications, who can be put through quickie courses to meet the next stage of a national vocational qualification, thereby releasing money.
The problem is that that creates a cynicism gap in the programme. That gap is not being filled by genuine training schemes for people with special needs, who face long-term prospects of unemployment. We know that the least qualified--the most vulnerable people in the work force--have extra needs that can be met only by extra costs and extra support. Instead, TECs will be under pressure to provide short courses that lead to junk jobs. What we will see--and I have talked this through with the TECs--is that a number of employers will come up with offers for TECs to meet the target needs by offering the most cynical employment contracts or opportunities afterwards: short-term contracts, irregular hours, perhaps even finding ways of getting zero-hour contracts recognised as a job without work. The most vulnerable people outside the work force will be cynically exploited simply to trigger the cash to keep training programmes on the road. In many ways, the new rules also reward underactivity and underperformance. The TECs that have spent their budgets on delivering training are precisely the ones that are most vulnerable to cuts. They have no reserves left to cushion cuts from one year to the next. Nor do they have the cushioning needed to do precisely what the Government often ask them to do: to get into partnership funding, whereby they have to provide matching moneys.
Column 288This is particularly important in relation to European funding. Without a cash reserve, a TEC will not be in a position to offer matching funding as part of the more generous offers of additional project-based activities, to which the Government will often lay claim. The TECs that are doing the most will be the most vulnerable to punitive cuts in their funding.
This country is systematically short-changing the unemployed. The average time that an adult receives on a skill-training course in the United Kingdom now amounts to just 20 weeks--the shortest in Europe. It does not surprise me that we see stories in the papers about hospital porters being asked to help in hip operations. We are systematically short-changing ourselves not only in the skill training that we offer but in the job security and the proper staffing needed to run the services in which we are supposedly training people to work.
The United Kingdom is also the meanest of funders around Europe. If we compare the United Kingdom, France and Germany, we can see that, in relation to labour market training as a percentage of gross domestic product, the United Kingdom spends 0.14 per cent., France, 0.39 per cent.-- two and a half times more than the UK--and Germany, 0.55 per cent., which is four times as much as the UK. For the entirety of its training budgets, the United Kingdom spends 0.5 per cent, France, 1 per cent. and Germany, 1.6 per cent. This country spends less than half the average for all EC and EFTA countries on training programmes. It is little wonder, therefore, that the chief executive of the Greater Nottingham TEC should write to the Secretary of State, warning him that he is in danger of creating two-tier TECs, where only those that have cash reserves can prosper, whereas those that do not, but have been delivering decent training programmes, are in danger of being driven to the wall.
This country needs a complete rethink of our approach to training the unemployed. First, we need a commitment from the Government that they will restore funding to training programmes. I say that at a time when the country knows, even though the Government will not admit it, that the Chancellor sat on a windfall bonanza income last year when constructing his Budget. Rather than investing that money in training the unemployed he has been stuffing it in his pockets to facilitate a "bung" Budget before he makes a dash for the next general election.
Secondly, we must restore local accountability. Elected representatives of local authorities must have a say in the shaping of local training programmes. The transfer of responsibilities to unelected civil servants has been a disaster.
Thirdly, bureaucracy must be reduced. The delivery of training is now in a dreadful mess, not only in my area but throughout the country. The granting of arbitrary powers to various civil servants, allowing them to create mayhem, is a cynical joke.
I am currently dealing with the case of a young person who is on a training course to become a joiner. The college says that he will pass with flying colours; the Benefits Agency has supported him. Unfortunately, the Department of Employment has subjected him to considerable pressure, telling him that unless he takes a course in office skills his benefits will be cut. When he asked about that course, he was told that it mainly involved answering the telephone. He pointed out that he was training to become a joiner and did not envisage spending much time on the office telephone, but the
Column 289Department was adamant, and has now reduced his benefit entitlement because he would not go on the office skills course. There are similar absurdities throughout the country: I am sure that other hon. Members can give examples, both absurd and tragic, of the way in which the system is falling apart.
Finally, we must restore a system in which local needs are targeted. Areas must be able to identify realistic job
opportunities--examining the specific needs of their labour forces and labour markets--and find ways of tackling the backlogs caused by discrimination and disadvantage. The system must be locally accountable, rather than being run by unaccountable civil servants and bureaucracies.
I cannot describe my anger at the way in which the country and the Government have treated the unemployed. Those who currently have almost nothing can expect to receive even less.
This debate is taking place at a time when the press seems obsessed with the notion of "outing". Let me tell the Secretary of State and the Government that they themselves cannot expect to remain immune from such "outing" much longer. They have produced a succession of policies that have amounted to little more than a belief in getting their leg over the long- term unemployed: they certainly have not been giving the unemployed a leg up into decent jobs.
Mr. Simpson: Perhaps it is sufficient to say that the Government's policies have been less than helpful in returning the long-term unemployed to secure and prosperous jobs. Before too long the Government will find themselves being judged by the public: they will be "outed" in the most responsible way that I can imagine--at a general election, when the public will "out" the lot of them. 11.53 am
Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash): My area contains the Southern Derbyshire TEC, and abuts the area containing the Greater Nottingham TEC, about which the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) has spoken. I must tell him that I do not share his pessimism about training and the job that TECs do: I believe that TECs do an excellent job, and my belief is confirmed by the experience of all who are involved with Southern Derbyshire TEC.
It is not only the Government's function to fund training; it is the function of employers as well. When I ran a company, before the advent of TECs, we organised and paid for the training ourselves.
Ms Harriet Harman (Peckham): Does the hon. Lady support the cut of nearly £2 million in Southern Derbyshire TEC's budget in a single year? Does she approve of the fact that training in her area has been cut by 9 per cent. in one year?
Column 290with Greater Nottingham TEC, I shall deal with Southern Derbyshire TEC a little later--and perhaps reveal another set of figures that may prove an eye-opener and make the hon. Lady wish that she had not intervened.
Who pays for training, who receives it and who benefits from it? Those issues involve a group of people and organisations. Let me inform the hon. Member for Nottingham, South that it used to be common for companies to pay for their own training; the advent of TECs has considerably assisted both those companies and the people who require training--people who are either working for the companies concerned or trying to improve their skills in order to enter the jobs market.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the length of courses. He should hesitate before deciding that long training is good training. When I was involved in training, I found that one of the difficulties was persuading young men, in particular, to remain at the college for any length of time. They wanted to learn their skills as quickly as possible, leave the college and the day- release courses and return to full-time work. Making courses too long does such people a disservice; flexibility is the key word. Training must meet the abilities and aspirations of those involved.
Before the debate, as my TEC is adjacent to that of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, I looked up the most recent report of Greater Nottingham TEC. The chairman introduced the report with a statement that strikes me as considerably less pessimistic than what we have heard this morning:
"As Nottingham starts to emerge from recession, GNTEC has streamlined and rebuilt its operation . . . we now have the right team and the right partners to position Nottingham as one of the country's foremost regional centres."
That implies that the chairman is looking ahead positively.
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The hon. Lady knows a good deal about the Greater Nottingham area, and about training in the east midlands generally. She has quoted the chairman of the Greater Nottingham TEC. Does she subscribe to his view that a £3 million cut in the budget was a retrograde step, and that the Secretary of State for Employment should reinstate the former budget?
Let me point out to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) that unemployment is falling substantially in both Nottingham and Derbyshire, which has benefited all who live and work there. Both TECs are becoming involved with other organisations, and gaining access to funds from organisations outside Government--and, in the case of the Greater Nottingham TEC, funds from Europe. Employers are funding more training in the areas. We should consider the funding of training in a wider context and examine the consequences of training, the way in which people benefit and the number of jobs that are being created in both our areas. Again, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that those issues are touched on throughout the Greater Nottingham TEC report, as is the number of long-term unemployed people whom the TEC is getting back into work. The figures are an excellent recognition of the quality of its work, the sort of funds that it is levering out of organisations now and the sort of funds that it is hoping to lever out in future. He and I are looking at something of a success story across our part of
Column 291the east midlands, with that region being hailed as the strongest-growing region in the country. It is a significant success story, to which the TECs are contributing.
Mr. Simpson: I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would simply accept yesterday's statement by Greater Nottingham TEC. It states that the cuts that it is having to deal with lead, first, to a serious undermining of the quality of training that it feels it can deliver, secondly, to the almost complete erosion of the basis on which it is able to lever additional funding because of the lack of reserves, and, thirdly, to the most enormous questions being raised about the partnerships that it is able to enter into with the private sector in relation to special needs training of people who have been out of the work force the longest.
Mrs. Knight: I too have a concern about partnership funding and the way in which that helps local economies. I am aware that Southern Derbyshire TEC did very well in obtaining additional funds to assist specific groups, such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, because it had exceeded its targets, whereas Greater Nottingham TEC was not as well able to perform against its targets and, therefore, did not receive the additional funding that it needed for those priority groups. In relation to those specific groups, the message to Greater Nottingham TEC is perhaps that it should consider what Southern Derbyshire TEC did to benefit from its experience of how to target those groups.
On funding, clearly I cannot comment on a letter that the hon. Gentleman has seen and that I have not, but I am aware that, in the coming year, one of the key objectives of Greater Nottingham and Southern Derbyshire TECs is to obtain funds from other sectors and not just to look at Government as the one and only source of finance for training. They are not the only source. We must get away from looking down that narrow road and should consider the broader field. Certainly, small, medium and large companies outside Government consider training in a broader way, as do the further education colleges. We must also do that and accept that, as unemployment falls, funds to help the unemployed will tend to change accordingly. Training is a partnership for all the people involved and is not just something for Government. I recognise that the Government put substantial funds into training and a great many people have benefited from that in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and in mine.