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Mr. Lammy: I was coming to precisely that point. The work of the 18,500 union learning representatives across the country has been incredible, and we must put on record what a contribution they have made. Last week I was at the Boots distribution centre in Greenwich, which will unfortunately close within the next two years. The work of the centre’s manager to get people on courses, supported by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, has been incredible. It transforms the lives not only of the learners but of their families. They will leave Boots, but they will move into employment, and some of them will progress into even better employment as a result of those courses. I was proud to give them their certificates.

My hon. Friend mentioned her previous role as a National Union of Public Employees representative. I wish to put on record the work that that union has done over many years. My mother was a member of NUPE. Sadly, she died just a few months ago, so I am in that period of reflecting on someone’s life. The other day, I was in the kitchen of my family home, and on the wall were her basic certificates. Without the support of her union, at a difficult time in her life—she had five children to raise on her own without much money coming in—I would not be here today. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to put on record the fact that we have standardised that work and that more funding is available, which makes a huge difference. To some extent, my ability to contribute in this debate is testimony to that.

I was very grateful for the manner in which the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) made his remarks, and of course he has many years’ expertise in this area. He was right to concentrate on the scale of the ambition and to indicate the confidence that is a key issue for the communities and people about whom we are talking. I am sure that he would agree that in parts of his constituency—and certainly in constituencies such as mine—there are five ingredients to success: good-quality education; good-quality and sustained—not jobs just for a month or two—employment; an aspirational culture, which is difficult; the community being at the centre; and far more work on parenting. The real joy of skills for life is that when it works it covers all five areas.

The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted me to give him some confidence that we really understood that. I can tell him then that we are increasing the budget for family learning, because we understand that the family are at the centre of many communities—I am thinking in particular of Traveller communities and others that have been here for many decades, such as the Bangladeshi and Bengali communities. We want to work with mothers and children and help them to make the necessary steps to literacy and numeracy, which is why we are increasing those budgets.

I have talked already about the important work of unions. The hon. Gentleman is right that a lot more needs to be done in Train to Gain, but we should recognise the successes achieved so far. The programme is relatively young—less than a couple of years old. Money is in place for hard-to-reach companies, which we define as those that have not invested recently in training. Across the country, those benefiting from Train to Gain are those who have not had training in the past—this is not dead weight. We are reaching into new places. Last year, employers spent £38 billion on training,
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and the Government have about £5 billion to spend on skills. It is important that we lever in our money in a way that has the most effect, and that we hit the places that employers might not touch were we not there. That is where skills for life comes in so acutely and importantly.

It is right for the Government to have something to say on qualifications. All of us here probably have qualifications, so if our constituents turf us out at the next election, we would have the means with which to apply for a new job and to demonstrate the skills from which we have benefited. In the past, local short courses, based solely on entry-level certification by a particular college, left people ill-equipped to progress across the system, to more from town to town and county to county and to demonstrate where they had come from and where they were going. That is why we have insisted on qualifications. Given the current low level of skills, ours is a huge ambition: that 95 per cent. of the country have the appropriate literacy and numeracy skills by 2020. We are talking about entry level 3 for numeracy and slightly higher for literacy.

We are starting from a low base, however. As I, and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, indicated in our earlier contributions, at about the age of 12 or 13, people switch off from maths at school, and never switch back on. We will publish further elements of our strategy over the coming months, but we have a big task to get that message across. He will have seen the adverts on television tempting people back on to courses, but he is right to indicate that we must reach out to communities and where people are at. We need a cadre of people with the necessary skills across our work force, which is why we are working with companies such as McDonald’s and Microsoft, which has a wonderful online resource. We are working in all sorts of ways to get the message across.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley mentioned how such work is bearing fruit in her area. The contribution from unions is important, but it is important also to expose young people to different ways of looking at maths early on and to connect that to other opportunities. That is why we believe that participation in education, training or learning up to the age of 18. Too many young people leave school at the age of 16 and miss out on that journey. That is not appropriate. However, work is not just being done in our colleges and by the Government and the unions. We rely heavily on organisations such as the Prince’s Trust, Rathbone and Rainer, and the many other voluntary organisations working in communities.

We must remember that in constituencies such as mine many of those whom we are talking about have been in trouble with the law. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough be familiar with that. He spoke about estates in Leeds, which I know well and have visited on a few occasions. We have increased the budget for offender learning. Learning in our prisons is much better, and connections are much better between probation services and local colleges for prisoners in the community and for those who are just leaving prison. Right across the piece, we have to be in the business of securing for our population those basic skills. I do not need to repeat the figures that the hon. Gentleman used in respect of the jobs that simply will not exist. One privilege of being a Member of Parliament is the many foreign and international connections that it allows,
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and most of us will have visited India and countries in the far east, such as China. We know what is around the corner and what could happen to many jobs, so we understand the urgency with which we must deal with the problem. I was pleased that all Members put on the record their commitment to the Leitch agenda and to the drive that we are making in relation to it.

I hope that I have dealt with the comments in today’s debate. It has been a pleasure to lead on behalf of the
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Government. Some Members, watching or dipping in and out of the parliamentary channel, may have been union learning reps or have benefited from a numeracy or literacy course, and I hope that they will take heart from the fact that all present are committed to this agenda over the next 12 or so years.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Four o’clock.

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