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Lord Rochester: My Lords, from these Benches I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for the customarily clear way in which he explained these orders. As he said, in each case the proposals are the same as those approved by the House last year. It is good to know that, once again, they have the support of the employers involved as well as that of the respective boards.
Whatever attitude is taken to the grant and levy system generally, I am glad that the Government have deferred to the view of employers and other interested parties in the construction industry that it has special features in the greater use of contract labour, short-term working and general fluidity of the workforce which together mean that their co-ordination under the two boards is essential. Incidentally, I prefer the term "contribution" rather than "levy", for that would recognise that training should be regarded as an investment rather than just another cost.
In commenting briefly on the progress made by the boards over the past year, I shall refer particularly to the last available report of the Engineering Construction Board covering the year 1994 but much the same considerations apply to the Construction Board. It is a pity that it has not been possible to discuss the ECITB report until more than a year after the end of 1994, but there it is.
A disappointing feature of the report is that in it the chief executive of the board was obliged to acknowledge that for the first time training for which general grant was payable was down in the year to August 1994. I ask the Minister whether he has any more up-to-date information available concerning training in the industry for which grant was payable. I have not given him notice of that question, and so I shall quite understand if he is unable to answer immediately.
It is pleasing to note that the training of two groups of apprentices recruited in 1994 was sufficiently encouraging to enable the Engineering Construction Board to market its national apprenticeship scheme during 1995 as one of the Government's modern apprenticeship schemes. I shall be interested to hear anything that the noble Lord can tell us as to the progress that has been made in the development of that project during its pilot year.
The number of employees in the construction industry as a whole continued to fall rather drastically in 1994. To judge from the figures emanating from the Building Employers Federation this morning, numbers are likely to fall still further in 1996. More than that, I understand from the Construction ITB that trainee target numbers for each of the next two years--the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, made some reference to this point--have had to be cut very heavily from 15,000 to 10,500. All that will, no doubt, add in time to the number of long-term unemployed.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, will recall that last Wednesday the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked the Government what steps had been taken to implement two particular schemes aimed at assisting the long-term unemployed. Admirable though those schemes may be in encouraging employers to take on such people, as my noble friend Lady Seear said in the debate on the Address last November, unemployment will only be alleviated when we have the investment in training and education or learning that will enable people to acquire new skills of a kind that means that they can adapt successfully to changes in the labour market.
There may not be much that either of the training boards can now contribute to that end, but it helps to explain why my party is prepared, if necessary, to help finance the resources required for that purpose by an increase in taxation. I appreciate that this is not the occasion on which to develop that theme. For the moment, I am content, on behalf of my noble friends, to approve these orders.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support for the two draft orders. He said that he would prefer the word "contribution" to the word "levy". I suspect that we should all like to rename taxes in one form or another, whether we call them contributions, taxes, levies or whatever, and try to make them sound more user friendly. But that does not get away from the fact that they still have to be paid. Therefore, one has to bear in mind that they are a burden, even if they are an investment, on the employers concerned. For that reason it is important that a degree of agreement is sought by the employers--I believe, that is what the two boards have done--in terms of getting these contributions, levies, taxes or whatever one calls them, set at the right level.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord for raising one or two other points. He said that he would accept my writing to him. I shall take him up on that offer, if he will bear with me. I shall write to him in due course.
I turn to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. Again, I sense that she supported the two orders. I can assure her that her colleagues did not divide on these regulations in another place. Her colleague, Mr. Stephen Byers, made it quite clear when he spoke in the debate in another place, that it would not be appropriate to divide on the regulations. I understand that in the other place the debate went on to matters not entirely related to the regulations concerned.
I also note that, as usual--I say "as usual" because I believe that I debated these matters with the noble Baroness not last year (when my noble friend Lord Inglewood debated them with her) but the year before--the noble Baroness is in favour of such boards and would like to see many more of them. She rather regretted the review following the 1988 White Paper. Again, I note what the noble Baroness had to say but do not intend to rehearse the arguments that have been addressed on previous occasions.
The noble Baroness then addressed the question of whether small firms should be excluded. Again that points to a fairly fundamental difference of opinion between those on these Benches and the noble Baroness and her noble friends. We believe that small firms should be and must be protected from unnecessary administrative burdens in order to help them to thrive. The legislation governing the industrial
Perhaps I may move on to the question of the lifespan of the training boards. The noble Baroness regretted the fact that they had not been given a life lasting forever in the future. I can assure her that the review that the boards went through--the next review is in March 1998--involves nothing suspicious. It is merely the process that all non-departmental public bodies go through on a quinquennial basis. All have to be reviewed on that basis; first, to see whether the board or organisation is necessary and, secondly, if it is necessary, to see that it is fulfilling its role in the appropriate manner. It is nothing more nor less than that that the boards will go through at the appropriate time in 1998. It is simply part of the quinquennial review that all such bodies go through.
Lastly, in relation to women workers, I can assure the noble Baroness that both boards have equal opportunity policies and set targets for female participation in training. I hope that that assures the noble Baroness that they are alive to her anxieties regarding female participation in this industry.
Having dealt with a number of points raised by both the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and having noted their general support for the orders, I commend the order to the House.
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