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Work Force Skills

7. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the relationship between the level of skills in the work force and economic growth. [197390]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): As investment in high standards and skills is central to the achievement of our aim of high and stable levels of growth, we have raised investment in schools from £2,500 per pupil to £5,500 by 2008. Apprenticeships have increased from 70,000 to 250,000, and the number of students in colleges and universities has increased by almost 1 million. Overall, investment in education has doubled since 1997.

Lawrie Quinn: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Confederation of British Industry survey that was published at the conference earlier this week that showed that 98 per cent. of companies' human resources directors are calling for an increase in the provision of vocational education? However, only a quarter of business leaders say that their company is involved in the design and delivery of such training. If companies played a greater role in the creation of such courses, would not there be a beneficial return not only to the companies but to the wider economy? Is there not a gap that the Government want to bridge between the long-termism and optimism of HR directors and the short-termism of some financial directors?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend has taken a long-term interest in these matters, and he is right that we need to invest more. We also need a partnership involving employers, employees and Government so that, instead of being a nation in which 7 million people are without basic skills and instead of falling behind in some vital skills compared with other nations, we invest properly in the quantity and quality of education.

Apprenticeships, which were once almost dying, are now in the order of 200,000 and growing. We are prepared to invest more money in them. Equally, the employer training pilots, in which large numbers of employers are now involved, are working well and ripe for expansion. That can be done only if the nation has a wholehearted commitment to investing in training and education. I wish that there was an all-party commitment to it and that the Conservatives would not go about trying to cut the education and training budget as they propose.

Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Does the Chancellor agree that this country has much to learn from Germany and Switzerland in getting the balance right between skills training relating to employment and pure academic higher education? In recent years, as he is already saying, surely we have not had enough skills training.

Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to learn from successful examples of where training works better. Germany is indeed one of the countries where, historically, industrial training and now training involving the workplace and universities and colleges works well.
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I have to tell the hon. Gentleman—perhaps with the freedom that he now has on the Back Benches, he can pursue this—that we cannot increase skills training without spending a higher share of our national resources on education. That is what Germany and Switzerland do. That is what even some developing countries are now doing. Unfortunately, the ex-shadow Chief Secretary believes that we should cut education and training expenditure. That is not the right way forward for Britain.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration that there is still a great productivity gap between us and some of our leading competitors and that, surprisingly, it is more apparent in service industries, rather than manufacturing industries? Is it not about time that he spoke to the leaders of the CBI and other industrial leaders to get them to support some real innovation in skills training and 14 to 19 reform, which is represented by the new Tomlinson report?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend, who takes a big interest in these matters, is absolutely right. The productivity gap between ourselves and, for example, the United States is greater in retail than in some sectors of manufacturing. In the long term, we must invest more in the training of workers in the service industries, as he suggests. It is interesting that a number of very large companies that have not been involved in training, either through apprenticeships or other means, are now involving themselves, which is indeed the way forward. I believe that a partnership involving management, work forces and the Government, each accepting the responsibility for the future, is the only way forward for a country that will compete not just against the rest of Europe and America, but increasingly against China, India and Asia. We need to be the highest skilled nation, which is what such investment and resources can achieve.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Why are so many graduates unable to find employment when they leave university, while the country is short of joiners, plumbers and electricians?

Mr. Brown: First, graduate unemployment is very much lower now than it was several years ago, as the hon. Lady would be the first to acknowledge. Secondly, there has been a long-term problem in the industrial training that is available for the very trades that she is talking about. We are trying to rectify that using the sector skills councils and by involving employers, but people must be prepared to spend and invest in training and education. Her cause cannot be served by a Conservative policy of cutting education and training expenditure.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): In Inverclyde, there are individuals who began their working lives in the shipyards and heavy industry, moved on to work in the electronic manufacturing sector and now provide high-level IT support throughout northern Europe. Does that not demonstrate, first, that Inverclyde is an excellent place
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for inward investment and, secondly, the importance of investing in people's skills, not just at the beginning but throughout the entirety of their working lives?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right, and the growth in employment in Inverclyde—an area that, historically, had been entirely dependent on shipbuilding and other heavy industries—in recent years is not only something that he has played a part in contributing to, but something that is bringing jobs and opportunities to people who thought 10 or 20 years ago that there would be no work for them. But we must have recurrent and lifelong training available, so that adults can choose a second career and, in some cases, a third and fourth career if it becomes absolutely necessary. That is why the employer training pilots, which unfortunately were not supported by the Opposition, are making such a big impact, which is why employers are now saying that the policy should apply nationally. Again, that demands resources, and we must make a choice: the nation's long-term priorities require us to invest in education and training.

International Development

9. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues regarding levels of public spending on international development in 2004–05. [197392]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Following discussions with Cabinet colleagues, I announced in the spending review that total UK official development assistance will increase from £4 billion this year to almost £6.5 billion by 2007–08, and ODA as a proportion of national income will increase from 0.34 to 0.47 per cent. in 2007–08

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Members on both sides of the House recognise the Chancellor of the Exchequer's commitment to international development, international aid and, ultimately, to achieving the United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent. of national wealth on development aid, but does he accept that the Department for International Development spends aid very much more effectively in the poorest and most needy countries than does the European Union, which often concentrates on political objectives in neighbouring countries? Will he therefore ensure that a greater percentage of our aid is bilateral and decided by this country and given to the poorest and most needy nations?

Mr. Brown: We have of course increased bilateral aid and will continue to do so. However, multilateral aid has an important role, whether that is when nations come together through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank or the European Union's aid programmes. We should not reject the idea that the European Union should do work in this area, but ensure that the European aid programme is reformed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and I share a common objective on that. We have made proposals for the reform of the budget and we have a new Commission, so I hope that we can achieve such reform. I would hope that that would especially
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benefit the countries about which he is most interested: the countries of the British Commonwealth in which 70 million children still do not have schooling. We could make a huge impact on that situation in the next few years.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend is at meetings with the G8 or other Chancellors in the European Union, will he ensure that a lot of the spending will be focused on dealing with the problem of HIV/AIDS? Unless we can stop that scourge, teachers and other professionals will not be available to ensure that our millennium goal of making sure that primary education is accessible to all children can be achieved.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend takes a huge interest in such matters. There are 40 million people who live with HIV/AIDS and 20 million people have died of AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, as he knows, 25 million people are living with AIDS and 3 million children have AIDS. That tragedy can be dealt with. Of the £1.5 billion that the UK will spend on tackling HIV/AIDS over the next three years, at least £50 million will be dedicated to helping children who have been made vulnerable by what has happened to their parents, and that will be spent especially in Africa. I met the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria only a few days ago. He has a programme that would enable him to spend substantially more to deal with the problem, but the issue is the resources that are available to him for what is acknowledged as an effective programme. That is why we need measures such as the international finance facility.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is the Chancellor confident that sufficient contingency plans are in place so that when the odious, tyrannical Mugabe regime comes to an end, there will be proper aid to put that country back on its feet?

Mr. Brown: It is a common cause among the parties that, if aid goes directly to organisations in civil society that deal with problems, and thus sometimes bypasses Governments, it is to the benefit of people who were previously denied bilateral aid given between Governments. Civil organisations in Africa are increasingly receiving help directly from the World Bank or Governments, and I think that that will continue. We provide help to Zimbabwe where there is famine and disease, but the unfortunate thing is that its Government are not doing what they should, which is why change is needed in that country.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the importance of access to sexual and reproductive health education and services to achieving the millennium development goals and helping people out of poverty. Will he assure the House that, when he discusses financial considerations for overseas development, and especially the millennium development goals, he will examine carefully the proportion of money that he is giving to fund sexual and reproductive health services abroad?
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Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken an interest in these matters. The International Development Secretary has been doing a great deal of work on the matter and I talked to him about it only a few days ago. Much more of our increased aid budget is being spent on health generally and the specific services about which she talks.

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