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Mr. Lammy: We are talking about an increase of 250,000 apprenticeships at this time, and they are work based. I suspect that behind the hon. Lady’s question is the idea of programme apprenticeships, of which there are more than 24,000. Those apprenticeships are important as well, and I would encourage Opposition Members to look carefully at them before condemning them. There is a group of young people who do not yet quite meet the standard necessary to take up an apprenticeship. The opportunity to do a programme
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apprenticeship for a year, often based in a college, will often enable them to get to a place where they can take up an apprenticeship, so they are worth while. They are not included within our overall figures.

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman must be straightforward about this. When Professor Alison Fuller gave evidence to the House of Lords inquiry into apprenticeships recently, she said that many apprenticeships had

Was she telling the truth?

Mr. Lammy: As I have said, there are 24,580 programme apprenticeships, which are college based and provide young people with a route into apprenticeships. In that figure is included young apprenticeships—for young people in schools—and pre-apprenticeships, which prepare young people for taking up an apprenticeship. Business and industry are saying that they want to be in schools so that they can expose young people below the age of 16 to those sectors. That is all worth while, notwithstanding our desire to grow apprenticeships.

Mr. Chaytor: On the question of popularity, I should like to tell the House that young people in my constituency have benefited from a 95 per cent. increase in the number of apprenticeships in the past 12 months. That is very significant; it is one of the highest rates in the country. Does the Minister think that there might be a role for apprenticeships in dealing with some of the issues that we have just been considering in the statement on the future of Remploy factories? Will he comment on the possibility of providing apprenticeships for some of the younger disabled people who are currently working in Remploy factories? Also, does he think that the present rate of take-up of apprenticeships would be as easy to continue if there were no increase in the participation age in education and training to 18 years? The Opposition are arguing for no change—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions should be short at all times, but especially in topical debates. The Minister’s time is being taken up.

Mr. Lammy: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) on that contribution. I share his praise for everyone in the learning and training sector in his constituency for getting the rate up. He is absolutely right: following the Leitch report, my Department and the Department for Work and Pensions have the key job of looking again at employability and skills together. That must include programmes and appropriate apprenticeships for those with disabilities, and we will continue to do that. If I may, I will answer his last question later in my speech.

Mr. Denis Murphy (Wansbeck) (Lab): I went through an apprenticeship scheme in the 1960s, along with 250 other colleagues. We were there to supply fitters, electricians, blacksmiths and welders to the mines of south-east Northumberland. Before we even set foot in the workplace, we had a year’s full-time education and training. That is a good model to continue for the future.

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Mr. Lammy: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes the case better than anyone for the benefit of vocational training in schools as well as in the workplace.

Alongside the new diplomas, apprenticeships will give a real quality choice for young people and adults who want to learn. Whether they are taking a full-time diploma in college or an apprenticeship while at work, the future of vocational learning is, on that basis, a bright one. Apprenticeships will make a major contribution when we raise the school and training leaving age to 18 so that all young people can stay in education and training and work towards gaining the skills they need to progress into either higher education or employment.

In July we published “World Class Skills,” setting out how we plan to improve the skills of our people in order to compete successfully in the world economy. Apprenticeships are a major part of our strategy and we are committed to providing 400,000 apprenticeship places in England as our contribution to the overall aim of having 500,000 apprenticeships in the UK by 2020.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that in order to fill our skills gap, we need to take very seriously the potential of young women in our society? What concrete steps will he take, together with his colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, to ensure that all our careers advisers and those in a position to offer advice to young people offer a full range of opportunities, particularly to young women, and to encourage them to think about taking apprenticeships in areas that they would not traditionally consider as suitable for them?

Mr. Lammy: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that contribution. She is right that if young people are to take up apprenticeships, they need the right advice and guidance in schools. Legislation published today and the forthcoming education and skills Bill show that we—along with Connexions and independent advice and guidance counsellors—are trying to ensure that there is a standard across the country and that women in particular can gain access to that advice. I would also say to my hon. Friend that it is important that our sector skills councils are there, driving this agenda in their respective sectors. I was very pleased to see that Construction Skills is absolutely determined through its sector skill agreement to see more women take up opportunities in construction. We are seeing more women coming forward in that sector, although often a bit later, which is why adult apprenticeships are so important in order to allow people to take up those opportunities. That issue cuts to the heart of the apprenticeship review.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What are the Government going to do about the fact that many young people do not have the necessary English and maths even to achieve a level 2 apprenticeship qualification?

Mr. Lammy: The right hon. Gentleman will know that a key component of apprenticeships is basic skills within the context of apprenticeships. We also hope to come forward with plans to develop functional skills within the context of our review, so that we can continue to develop skills in vocational training, whether it be through the diploma or apprenticeships.

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There are currently around 250,000 apprentices. When we came to power, the figure had dropped alarmingly to barely 75,000. The country's proud tradition of apprenticeship had almost been wiped out by the previous Government; we were determined to reverse that, and we have done so. More than 130,000 employers already offer apprenticeships. We have also had great success in increasing the quality of apprenticeships.

Clive Efford: Talking about the opportunities for employers to participate in providing more apprenticeships, does the Minister agree that one measure of the success of developing sites for the Olympics, for the Thames Gateway and for many other regeneration programmes will be the number of apprenticeship opportunities created by them and how they add to the skills base of this country’s work force?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was at the Olympic site a few months ago and was pleased to be able to announce an extra £5 million from the Learning and Skills Council precisely to ensure that young people and adults can secure apprenticeships and benefit from the need to acquire the necessary skills in their particular areas. Indeed, I met some young people who had gained apprenticeships in carpentry and joinery in preparation for the Olympics. My hon. Friend has thus raised a very good point. We also needed to improve the quality of apprenticeships, which we have done by ensuring quality inspection and by seeing poorer providers moved out of the system.

The comprehensive spending review has provided us with more funds to invest in apprenticeships. The total funding for adult skills and apprenticeships will rise to a record £5.3 billion a year by 2011. The Learning and Skills Council budget for the next three years has set aside enough funds to increase the number of apprenticeships in England in line with what the Prime Minister has said.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con) rose—

Mr. Lammy: I am not giving way because I am running out of time.

Increasing the number of apprenticeships will not be an easy task. To give just one example, in London alone, despite the cohort of 100,000 young people, there are only about 5,000 apprenticeships. Indeed north London, which includes my own constituency, has the lowest proportion of apprenticeships in the country. We have set up a review in order to meet employers’ needs, to look again at the bureaucracy associated with apprenticeships and to assess important issues of equality and diversity as apprenticeships are taken forward. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already set out the fact that we need a matching service; following pilots, we will bring it forward.

The essential key to our ambition is to grow the number of apprenticeships—not just for the sake of charity, but because it is beneficial to the country, beneficial to business, beneficial to the young people who take up these opportunities and because it goes to the heart of what community is. It is all about passing learning and skills on to the next generation so that we can be a powerhouse in the world into the future.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House of the tight rules that apply to Front-Bench speeches. They have one minute added for every intervention up to 10 or up to six in the case of the Liberal Democrat spokesman. If Back Benchers take all those opportunities, they will be reducing the number of Members who can speak in the debate by about three.

1.47 pm

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): It is for that reason, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will not take many interventions, as I do not want to deprive Back Benchers of their chance to speak.

We welcome the Government’s announcement of a draft Bill on apprenticeships in this parliamentary Session. Frankly, however, if the Prime Minister were serving an apprenticeship on leadership, the report on his progress so far would suggest that he had neither the aptitude nor the skills for the job. Nevertheless, we support the aspiration of increasing the number of apprentices in training, but let us be clear that these announcements follow 10 years of the Government’s failing to develop an attractive pathway for vocational learning.

I have to say that we have heard so much of all these aspirations before. Back in 1997, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about the significance and importance of apprenticeships. In his 1998 Budget speech, he said that he needed to deal with the skills shortages that were holding back our economy. He said much the same in 1999—that we needed to make a “quantum leap” in skills. In 2001, he spoke again of our duty to invest in skills—and so on and so forth. Yet, as the Government’s own report on skills, commissioned by the then Chancellor and completed by Lord Leitch, said, after 10 years of Labour Government, Britain is suffering from a fundamental skills shortage—some would call it a skills crisis—which is having a dramatic effect on our competitiveness.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Swayne rose—

Mr. Hayes: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who is a very important man.

Mr. Swayne: That is very kind. I think I am right in saying that there are sectors and age ranges where the drop-out rate is as high as 60 per cent. Does my hon. Friend believe that we could deal with it if we were much more rigorous about what constituted an apprenticeship and what accreditation was provided or might not that start to constrain some of the available opportunities?

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend, with his usual perspicacity, has hit on the very nub of the weakness in the Minister’s argument. He is right in two respects. The Minister shakes his head, but he is wrong to do so. He knows that completion rates in, for instance, retail and health care are well below average: indeed, fewer than 50 per cent. of apprentices in those areas complete their apprenticeships.

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My hon. Friend is also right in suggesting that what the Government have done over those 10 years is re-badge a whole batch of training which, while worth while of its kind, is not what most people regard as an apprenticeship. In the eyes of most members of the public and, indeed, most Members of Parliament, an apprentice is an eager young learner acquiring, at the side of an experienced craftsman, a key competence that is likely to increase his or her employability and to fill a market need. Sadly, many apprenticeships do not now meet that definition, as I shall explain in my short but stimulating peroration.

Mr. Redwood: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: I will give way once more.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his very good definition of apprenticeship. Could he find any models of master-craftsman Ministers in the Government to whom all the struggling Ministers could look? I am rather challenged to think who might fulfil that role.

Mr. Hayes: I do not want to digress, but I think that most of the mentors might be drawn from the ranks of former senior Ministers on our side of the Chamber, although I do not want to flatter my right hon. Friend unduly.

Kelvin Hopkins rose—

Mr. Hayes: Out of fairness and for the sake of equity, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am most grateful.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is taking an historical perspective. Does he agree that one of the reasons why there was such a serious decline in training and apprenticeships is the massive de-industrialisation that took place during the Conservative years, along with the widespread privatisation of the public sector, which used to provide tens of thousands of apprenticeships for our people? Does he also agree that we can now expand the public sector and develop direct employment as a basis for further training and apprenticeships in the future?

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman has a noble record of concern and knowledge in this field. I know that he is committed to the principle of apprenticeships that teach and test real competences, but I have no intention of debating the ancient history which I know is his preoccupation. What can be truthfully said is that Governments of all political persuasions, and parties in this Chamber of all colours, have a key responsibility to ensure that those young people and others who engage in apprenticeships study matters that increase their employability. That should be the acid test of apprenticeships. When someone signs up as an apprentice, the least that we owe that person is to ensure that when he or she has completed the course successfully, he or she will be employable. If we do not do so we shall be cheating apprentices, and cheating employers as well.

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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not return to the past, because I am, perhaps, one of the few people in the Chamber who have taken people on and given them what I think we would call an apprenticeship. The key to it was that they worked in the business, went away for professional training, and were given a job at the end of it. Some actually became directors of my company. That is what apprenticeship is about: it is not about some fuzzy training that does not involve any part in the business.

Mr. Hayes: I too was a business man, although altogether less distinguished than my hon. Friend. Like him, I found that training of that kind was both efficacious for business and right for the people being trained. It gives people a sense of accomplishment based on the recognition that they have gained something of use in terms of their future employability.

When I embarked on my description of apprenticeships, the Minister began to look disappointed. I do not want to disappoint him in turn, but he is not half as disappointed as the young people aged between 16 and 24—more than a million of them—who are not in education, employment or training, and he is not half as disappointed as those of us here, in all parties, who regard the fact that that number has grown by 15 per cent. since his party came to office as one of the biggest indictments of the Government over the past 10 years. So many shattered dreams; so many broken lives. Reducing the number of NEETs depends on making training more attractive to both potential learners and potential employers.

Mr. Lammy: I do not want to make what I think should be a cross-party debate too partisan, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have reduced long-term unemployment and scrapped the youth training scheme which left many of my contemporaries on the dole for months and years on end. I would add that rounding up the figures to include students on gap years does the hon. Gentleman’s case little service.

Mr. Hayes: The Minister really must learn to be more precise about numbers. The 15 per cent. figure that I gave is based on exactly the same measurement as was used in 1997. It included gap-year students then, and it includes them now. It is true that not every single one of those NEETs is a hapless and helpless young person desperately seeking a job or training, but I estimate that a very large proportion of those 1 million young people fall into that category, and that is not good enough. It is not good enough for the Government, and it is not good enough for the House. We all have a responsibility, and I share the view that this is something that we should all take very seriously indeed.

Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend has spoken of the skills crisis. Has he thought about the fact that a number of skills—particularly creative skills such as thatching and gold-leaf signage—are in danger of dying out? He will recall that when York Minster burnt down, the whole country had to be scoured to find enough stonemasons and wood-carvers. Those may be creative skills that do not occur to some young people, but could be offered to them at careers advice level.

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