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Skill Needs (Government Policies)

Volume 81: debated on Monday 24 June 1985

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3.40 pm

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Government's failure to make proper provision for improving the extent and standard of modern skills training that is essential for Britain's economic recovery and industrial growth; deplores the Government's destruction of the nation's training system, including the abolition of industrial training boards, the closure of skillcentres and the catastrophic decline in apprenticeships, and its failure to provide quality training for the new technologies; believes that the present adult training strategy is inadequate; and demands a comprehensive statutory framework to deliver sufficient quality of training to produce the competent and committed work force Britain needs.

In moving the motion, I am aware that only recently we had a good debate upon the crisis which affects young people. I shall try to keep away from some of the points that I made in that debate, but training for skills in this country is a matter of such importance that you, Mr. Speaker, will perhaps permit me to go back over some of the same territory.

Training is vital for economic recovery and growth and for the future development of industry, commerce and public services. Training builds effectiveness, quality and commitment into that most crucial factor of production, our nation's work force. This proposition ought to be uncontentious. It is accepted by the Government and the Opposition, by key agencies such as the Manpower Services Commission and the National Economic Development Office and by the researchers and policy analysts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Institute of Manpower Studies and elsewhere; but the increasing turbulence of technology and of the markets and the role of the multinationals in exposing our work forces in different countries to direct competition one with another means that workers will have to train and retrain continually throughout their adult lives.

Training is not a sufficient condition for economic recovery and growth. It alone will not create effective and competitive industry, but it is a necessary condition without which it will be impossible to achieve recovery and growth. As that benchmark for all of us who are interested in training, "Competence and Competition", showed, this is so at the level of our international competitors. Japan, Germany, the United States of America and many other countries have vastly superior systems of education and training. This is linked to their relative economic success compared with ours. Our system produces a fraction of the qualified young people produced by those countries. This lays down attitudes and habits for a lifetime. Our adult participation rate in training is less than half that of our German competitors.

But now we have further evidence from our own country at the level of the company and its policy on training. These are remarkable figures. Against the notional target figure of 2 per cent. of turnover—I hope that the Minister will remember the figure — that companies ought to be spending on training and retraining, a yardstick that the director of the Manpower Services Commission regards as appropriate, the average private sector firm in this country spends just 0·15 per cent. This is the figure for larger firms which generally do more training. Instead of spending £26 billion, the private sector spends just £1·2 billion. Moreover, as between companies, nine out of 10 of the top performers carried out adult training involving nearly half of their employees, Jut only half of the low performing companies had done any training at all, and, in those that had, less than one in five of the work force was ever involved.

I do not want to give the impression that the education and training system of a country should be geared only to its economic needs and the requirements of industry, but so far as it serves those needs the training system of a nation is one of the essential supports of its economic and industrial system. Until recently there was something of a consensus on this question, built around the employment and training Acts of 1964 and 1973 and the terms of the new training initiative, the NTI. However, the Government have dismembered the system that was built on that consensus which, flawed as it was, none the less provided some of the essential support that training needed. Those supports have been kicked away like so many pit props. Sixteen of the 23 industrial training boards have been abolished. Instead of covering about half the work force, industrial training boards cover now only about one quarter. They were abolished in the name of voluntarism and 100 non-statutory training organisations have grown up to fill the void, but they have become known in the industry as industrial jokes in terms of training.

The apprenticeship system has been allowed to collapse. It used to be the envy of the world and provided a trained and skilled work force not just for this country but for many industries abroad. The apprenticeship system had 150,000 places in 1979, but the number had become about 100,000 in 1984. The number of entrants is down by three quarters. The recruitment level in engineering is down by about 15,000 from the 1970s level—from well over 20,000 to fewer than 8,000. That is a reflection not simply of what has happened in the industrial sectors, which have been ravaged by the recession and the Government's economic policies, but of the Government's deliberate policy, which has been to destroy, attack and undermine the apprenticeship system and to turn off the resources tap, as witnessed by the withdrawal of its Exchequer support.

Many of us will be conscious of the closure of our skillcentres, because 27 of the 87 are to be closed. There will be a loss of at least 3,000 training places, and 1,000 skilled instructors will be sacked for moved elsewhere. Those essential training resources for individuals and local industry have been taken from where they are most needed—the areas of high unemployment. That is, indeed, kicking away the pit props of training. In South Wales, where the mention of pit props is appropriate, there is a feeling of desperation about the level of unemployment, and an even deeper desperation at the knowledge of the pit closures that the Government are forcing on it.

Many local authorities in south Wales are doing their utmost to attract alternative industry to provide a future and hope for their men and women. I recently saw the Islwyn borough brochure. It is an attractive brochure designed to attract people into industry in that area. It describes the advantages of the area. The people and their quality are rightly given prominence. It gives pride of place to describing the skills that can be acquired at the local skillcentre. It says:
"Of particular advantage to incoming and existing industries is the Government skillcentre at Pontllanfraith, Blackwood, which currently has places for 160 persons on various industrial training courses."
That no longer exists because it is one of the skillcentres being closed.

Not even the much bally-hooed retraining of miners through the MSC and the skillcentre training agency will do any good, even though it is a perfectly placed skillcentre to make a contribution in that area. I do not wish to dwell too much on that but that is where the people from Brecon and Radnor would go to obtain their skill training. [Interruption.] Conservative Members laugh. They think that it is amusing, that an unemployed man or woman living in Brecon and Radnor will now have to make a round trip of 80 miles to the skillcentre in Newport. Removing a skillcentre that offers a retraining opportunity for people will mean—

—that people are deprived in a vital part of south Wales, and that is a crime against unemployed people who want a future.

This decision will not do anything for the 2,600 unemployed people in Brecon and Radnor. It could do something for them if the Government had used imagination. The Government could have tried to retrain the 69 people in Brecon and Radnor who have been unemployed for five years, the 63 people who have been unemployed for more than four years, the 179 people who have been unemployed for more than two years and the 1,724 people who have been unemployed for more than a year. That skillcentre would have given those people hope and a future, but they will not have that chance.

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that, by arguing the case in that way, he is arguing that we should train fewer people in south Wales, including Brecon and Radnor? Is that what the Opposition want?

The Minister knows precisely that that is not what I want. I now anticipate his next intervention.

People look at the destruction of our national training system and say, "We do not understand why the Government are doing this. Are they mad?" They are even more puzzled when I tell them that the Government are proud of what they are doing in adult training and when I explain that the Government have reassured us that it is not as we think it is. Let me give the Government's assurances. They say, "The national training system may have been destroyed, but this Government are training more people than before. In fact, they are training twice as many. There are even 50,000 training places on the community programme." That is one of the measures mentioned by the Minister. I go on to explain, "Not only that, but there is a series of programmes — PICKUP open tech, college employer links, local collaborative projects and REPLAN. On top of all this, the Government are mounting a national awareness campaign on the importance of adult training." For most people, their awareness of adult training has been heightened by nothing so much as the fact that their local skillcentre has been closed or is under threat. The prospect of local unemployed people obtaining high-quality training has plummeted.

The Government's claims are pure humbug. They are a tissue of deceit because, under their schemes, the unemployed will be given only a palliative. They will be given an illusion of training opportunities, short on duration, thin on content and bereft of qualifications at the end.

Is it not ironic and astonishing that the criteria for all the schemes that the Government have introduced are that they should be half the price and half the cost of those that they abolish? We cannot have training on the cheap.

Despite all this, the Government are not mad. Their approach to training is linked inextricably to what passes for their economic and employment strategy. Its features are by now only too familiar. The strategy starts with an idolatory of the market. Its objectives are to be set by employers and its delivery is to be privatised as far as possible. Most crucially, training policies are going to reflect, entrench and police the Government's theory of the dual labour market. The primary labour market consists of those sunrise and other private sector employers that the Government have decided have a future. It is to those companies and their needs that the adult training strategy has been harnessed. However, the bulk of the labour market is to be a secondary labour market, characterised by low wages, low skills and low technology and punctuated by bouts of unemployment so that workers can never become too secure.

Once this key proposition has been grasped, everything else falls into place, despite obfuscation and sweet talking. The Government will not increase resources for adult training, despite the importance that they claim to attach to it. To focus resources on these priority areas, the Government have written off the training needs of the unemployed and of the regions.

However, on the way, the Government have completely abrogated the third objective of the new training initiative, which was their own policy in 1981, and which seemed at the time to be the high water mark of the previous consensus on training strategy. Its terms were to open up widespread opportunities for adults, whether employed, unemployed or returning to work, to acquire, increase or update their skills and knowledge during their working lives. Viewed now, what humbug, what deceit that seems. What was never revealed was the secret codicil to that objective, which reads something like this: "We do not really mean the unemployed at all. As to the rest, there will be opportunities for training only if your employer wants a particular sort of training."

It is hardly surprising that the results of the strategy are beginning to show through in serious skill shortages. Who would have believed, in a country with 4 million or more unemployed people, that we should be suffering from serious skill shortages? With 4 million unemployed, industry is experiencing constraints because of the lack of skilled manpower. That trend has been going on systematically since the middle of 1982. The skill shortages are not just in the high tech areas, although they are there too. They include machine tool-setter operators, mechanical, maintenance and repair occupations, electricians, carpenters, joiners and sewing machinists.


What may seem extraordinary is the fact that industries that have been decimated by the recession are also experiencing bad skill shortages, including the textile industry. Representing Huddersfield, I know the industry very well. The reasons are there to see. The training infrastructure in textiles, as in many other industries, has collapsed. The industrial training board has gone, and the voluntary training organisations have not filled the gap. The skills of the workers made redundant have either ebbed away during their enforced period of non-use or been abandoned in favour of some other occupation if they are lucky enough to get one. The Government do not seem to recognise the importance of the mutually supportive structures of education, training and industry. Once they are gone, it takes a lot more to revive the infrastructure than hot air from Ministers and the employers' federations to which they listened when they abolished the industrial training boards.

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about skill shortages, about which he speaks with great passion. Does he accept that those shortages are not helped by the grossly irresponsible campaign of the young Socialists who are terrorising young people going on youth training schemes? The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I tell him that that is happening. It is happening in my constituency. If the hon. Gentleman does not condemn the actions of the young Socialists who are terrorising young people who are going on YTS, does he accept that he is condemning young people to further bouts of unemployment?

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again if he continues making such stupid interventions.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that faults are always on more than one side, and that one of the reasons for skill shortages is the refusal of trade unions to allow enough apprentices to be recruited over the past 15 to 20 years?

That is nonsense. If the hon. Gentleman had had any acquaintance with or had talked to any of the trade unions, he would know that that is not so.

I should like to refer to the area where one would have expected the Government to do best—high technology. I see that Ministers on the Front Bench have been joined by a Minister with some knowledge of the subject, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Given the Government's preoccupations and their rhetoric, one would expect them to do best in new technology. It is true that there are initiatives at various levels. Regrettably, all carry the mark of the Government's doctrinaire approach, and so have failed signally to meet their full potential. In schools, the technical and vocational education initiative has been introduced in a way that has caused great divisiveness between pupils, between schools, and between the education service and the Manpower Services Commission.

The obvious and desirable option of proper curriculum reform to introduce a technical element for all pupils has been ignored. That no doubt partly reflects expenditure restraints and a preference for doing things despite the education service rather than with it. But there is also the question of a dual labour market. Why encourage widespread technical literacy when the majority of young people under this Government's policies have a low tech future?

The information technology centres—the I-techs—were an initiative from the Community that was taken up by the Government. The Opposition supported expansion. But instead of building on that initiative as a permanent Community-based resource that would give access to high tech to all sections of the Community, it has been made subject to the doctrinaire arrangements that dictate short-term contracts for staff and a requirement to make money which will poison the training relationship within those centres and act to the detriment of I-techs in areas of high unemployment.

One wonders where this philosophy will end. Given the Government's philosophy on the closure of skillcentres and the way in which they do not favour I-techs, It seems that if they apply the same logic to the other MSC programmes, even YTS and the community programmes will cease to be available in areas of highest unemployment.

What of technicians and high tech graduates? There have been two reports from the Butcher committee, and an extra £43 million has been pumped into higher education. This is an absolutely classic case of too little, too late. The Government have known for years that there will be needs in the high tech areas, but they spent their time closing down large chunks of the national training system, and they brought some of the most important resources for procucing high tech skills, such as Bradford and Salford universities, to their knees through expenditure cuts.

When they finally woke up, the developing needs for high tech manpower had become a skill shortage crisis, but Ministers still met, wrung their hands and dithered. Finally, they acted by providing less than half of what even the Engineering Council regards as necessary in the desperate situation that we face. There are the self-same private employers to which the Government insists they are paying attention.

Contrast that with the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the other place. That has again provided some of the long-term thinking and undogmatic analysis that this Government so badly need. It rightly criticises the ad hoc approach to the organisation and funding of technological education and training and short-term attitudes to funding. It made 60 comprehensive and far-reaching recommendations which should make the Government feel ashamed of their failure to act decisively and effectively in that area.

In a moment.

The Government's public relations hopes are always pinned on YTS. Many people had high hopes of YTS, including the MSC and the TUC. Despite what has been said, the TUC is a prime supporter of any hopeful training initiative. In addition, many thousands of trainers and educationists have put much effort, energy and dedication into trying to give young people a better qualified start in adult working life.

Not for a moment.

The Opposition wish the second year of YTS well, most particularly for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of young people and their parents who will have no realistic alternative option in the next two or three years until there is a Labour Government. Although I expect the MSC, the TUC and others to produce a good outline scheme for the second year, I have grave fears that most of a two-year YTS will still be little better than the present one-year scheme — which for the most part is merely work experience rather than proper training.

There is a twofold reason for my fears. First, youth training makes sense only in the context of jobs at the end of training, yet the Government's dual labour market approach will consign the vast bulk of YTS graduates to low-tech, low-wage jobs or to unemployment.

A few days ago the Secretary of State for Employment challenged me when I said that only half the YTS graduates were getting jobs. He intervened in my speech and said that I was wrong and that I was misleading the House. He said that the figure was 60 per cent. or more. There was no doubt then who was right, and there is even less doubt now, because two days after his intervention the MSC reported that the figure was 48 per cent. If the Minister can read, he should read that report, which shows that 48 per cent. is the figure.

I shall give way only to the Minister if he wishes to say whether 60 per cent. or 48 per cent. is the right figure. He fails to rise. It is precisely because of the number and quality of jobs likely to be available to young people under this Government's policy that there is no real incentive for the Government properly to resource a high quality, two-year YTS.

That is a second part of the tragedy. A two-year YTS as a permanent feature of the education training system is an important and significant change. It ranks with some of the extensions of universal schooling in the 19th century, for it will lay the foundations for the British work force of the 21st century. It cannot, and must not, be done on the cheap, yet that is precisely what the Government have done and are proposing to do.

When YTS was announced three years ago, it was to be a £1 billion scheme. But when the two-year scheme is fully operational, it will cost barely £1 billion, even at 1984–85 prices. I challenge the Minister to dispute the fact that this would have been significantly less than £1 billion at the time when he made the £1 billion claim. I challenge him to come clean and to say just how much less it would be. He does not rise to answer that point.

The Minister is also selling short the adult training strategy, the adult unemployed and youth. His training strategy does not meet the needs of individuals, women, or black people; nor does it meet the needs of employers or the nation.

The education and training system is part of Labour's long-term social, economic and political objectives. We see it as serving personal and intellectual development and the building of democratic values in a nation rich in creativity, humanity and spirit which has the means to enable people to lead full and satisfying lives. We see it producing the skills and knowledge that are essential to the creation of wealth in working conditions which respect and value the people who create that wealth. We also see the education and training system working towards a better life and a better society. We want to equip people for a genuine economic and political democracy, to eliminate racial and sexual discrimination and to provide real opportunities for people from all walks of life—not only the privileged.

These objectives are closely related. The goals that education and training serve for individuals include the opportunity to contribute effectively to the economy. People's aspirations are bound up with the job that they want to do. Without work and economic security, those aspirations are illusory. It will be impossible to make the economy work for all the people, not just for the profit of a few, unless people have a real stake in a society in which they have work.

Education and training are the means to acquire competence and the skills necessary to contribute to an active and effective democracy both at the place of work and in the community. If workers are to exercise greater control over their lives, to have greater control in the industries of which they are part and to run, and participate in, the management of private and public enterprises, as we believe they should, competence at work is an essential first step. Far more people who can organise work effectively and participate actively in directing the change that our country requires need to be available.

Our training policies will be firmly located in our economic policies. We see training as being linked to the package of investment measures in the infrastructure, construction and industry, which a Labour Government will carry out. The key lesson from "Competence and Competition" and other studies of Britain's training problems is the need to develop a culture of training, and an environment in which training is perceived as natural, useful and desirable for workers who need to acquire many skills during working life. That means breaking the habit of using the school system to filter the academically bright.

To that end, we shall apply a series of co-ordinated measures to initial education and training. The first will be curriculum reform in secondary schools, leading to a common core curriculum, which will be relevant to all pupils and will motivate their participation, and which will include a technical element for all. Secondly, for the post-16-year-olds, the keynote will be a coherent and comprehensive approach. That will include coherence in financial provisions for those studying full time and those engaged in new training. It will include education maintenance allowances for children at 16. It will include coherence in terms of rights to education and training, which will embrace both those in study and on YTS, and those in employment. Coherence will also be extended to methods of learning and its certification and assessment, focusing on outcomes and based on a modular, integrated system to ease entry and re-entry, and the development of personal profiles of learning and achievement. [Interruption.] I am trying to spell out some of the vital elements of an education and training policy. It is a serious matter and I wish that Conservative Members would listen.

I shall not give way. I have taken up enough of the House's time and I shall not allow another intervention.

Although those measures will provide the framework for learning and the encouragement for future learning that the whole of the nation's work force needs, what will motivate the system and the young people who participate in it more than anything will be the knowledge that there are jobs at the end of it. For young people coming through the system, the culture of education and training will be part of their understanding of life and work—it will be natural to learn and to relearn, and in that learning will lie both better performance in work and growth in personal and intellectual development.

In the area of adult education and training our first act will be to restate what has been obvious to everyone, except the Government and some of the short-sighted employers to whom they have listened, since shortly after the war. If the Minister listens to nothing else, I hope that he will listen to this. Voluntarism is not the way to create a culture of training or to produce the quantity and quality of training that industry, commerce and public service need and demand.

What about Germany?

Indeed, what about Germany?

There will have to be a comprehensive statutory framework to bolster and promote the changes in attitudes and values that are required, and to ensure that the short-sightedness of some British employers is not allowed to disable the whole nation. Part of that statutory framework will be the establishment of a comprehensive contributory fund so that there are sufficient resources available for training to be carried out, and sufficient purpose in encouraging the training that most needs to be done. Part of that framework will be the rights of individuals to ensure that they play their part in being alive to the training opportunities that exist, and that they are encouraged to take advantage of them in a positive way. There will also be a specific measure aimed at the level of a firm. A Labour Government will put an end to the futile finger-wagging exercise at industry of the Government in favour of specific measures to encourage a firm to identify its training needs and to meet them. That will include the establishment of training committees with trade union involvement, similar to the health and safety committees. The trade unions know that training is their business, and it is right that they should play a full part. The comprehensive contributory fund will be available to support and encourage the measures that the training committees identify as necessary.

We shall also use the education and training system as a pace setter. That is vital. Skills can lead to productivity and improved performance, particularly when there is an extremely high rate of change. In that, a Labour Government will build on the pioneering work carried out by Labour local authorities in recent years, despite Government hostility and financial constraints.

The education and training system will also be an important path for tackling the lack of equal opportunities for black people and women. It will be specifically geared to the needs of increased industrial democracy, the development of a significant co-operative sector in the economy, and the talents required for effective municipal enterprise. That is what we believe in. The responsibilities of wealth creation and of improving production and performance are far too important to be left to the owners and managers of British industry. It is up to all working people to take responsibility for production, and taking that responsibility will be the measure of their willingness to share in the control of how that wealth is produced and distributed. The education and training system has a key part to play in equipping them for that role.

In short, the education training system of a Labour Government will embrace the concerns of industry, commerce and public and private services. But the purpose of that embrace will be, not merely to serve the economy as it is presently run, but to change it.

4.16 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'welcomes the Government's many major initiatives which are producing for the first time coherent industrial and training strategies for the country as a whole, within which employers, in co-operation with others concerned with providing training, can anticipate and meet emerging skill needs.'.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), just as I listened to what he had to say two weeks ago, but I did not hear anything new. Nor did I hear anything constructive—although, to give him his due, he was more constructive about the youth training scheme this week than he was two weeks ago. Despite the hyberbole towards the end of his speech, I did not hear anything relevant to the problems and needs of today. He talked about training committees, and a comprehensive contributory fund. We know what that means — the heavy hand of bureaucracy. That is precisely what the Opposition want. I assume that the hon. Gentleman was unable to answer my hon. Friends the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) and for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) because he could not. The opening speech was just like last week's debate, but, for all that, I welcome the opportunity to debate training again.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the underlying theme of "Competence and Competition", and the comparisons that are drawn between ourselves and our American, Japanese and German counterparts, show it to be an important document. All hon. Members could learn many lessons from it. The hon. Gentleman may have seen or heard of a new document produced for the Manpower Services Commission by Industrial Facts and Forecasting Ltd. which is being published this week and is entitled, "Adult Training in Britain". Research was carried out into companies in relation to their training, their profitability, their confidence in terms of their expectation of an improved position, and their expansion in their work forces and output, whether or not they use high technology skills and introduce new products. The research showed that 24 per cent. of the firms qualified as high performers, 47 per cent. as medium performers, and 29 per cent. as low performers. However—the hon. Gentleman and I may agree on this—there was found to be a high correlation between the amount of training done by firms and their business performance. More than 90 per cent. of the high performers had undertaken adult training, involving nearly 50 per cent. of their employees. Therefore, our objectives remain the same.

Of course, modern skills training is essential for Britain's economic recovery. As we have all learned, bad training equals no jobs in the future, and the pace of change is such that a sound foundation is bound to be needed on which to build further periods of training and retraining during an employee's working life. However — this is where the hon. Gentleman and I disagree completely—unless that training is relevant to the needs of today and tomorrow rather than yesterday, the time and resources spent on it will be wasted; worse, the time and resources spent on outdated training perpetuate manufacturing processes that are not only out of date but uncompetitive in world markets, so leading to lower employment prospects. That outdated training is training for bankruptcy and redundancy, not for profitability and job security.

That is why the Government have always maintained that employers are and will remain the main training providers. However, the Government can — I believe that they do—play an important role as a catalyst and as a pump-primer. Employers will remain the main providers, because they can spot the market demands first. They can then identify the skill needs and, with the Government and the providers of training, they must be in a position to plug the training gap quickly. The chasm—I believe that it was a chasm—that existed between industry and commerce and public providers of training was so wide that it was well nigh impossible to plug it quickly.

I hope that the House agrees that matters have improved, but there is still a considerable distance to go. It is a slow process made slower by vested and conservative interests, which obstruct every attempt to bring the system into the latter part of the 20th century.

Is my hon. Friend happy with the extent to which the MSC has consulted businesses in each community, especially in those areas where skillcentres will be closed, to establish precisely their preparedness to provide those training places and the basis on which such training will be provided? I agree with my hon. Friend about placing the emphasis on employers, but is he happy that there is an impetus to fill the gap that will be left by the closure of some skillcentres?

Yes, I am happy. I discussed that point with the chairman of the MSC and with my hon. Friend at some length. The MSC has an important role to play in this regard. Indeed, it fulfils that role extremely well because it brings the provider and the employer much closer together. However, the process is like building a bridge. It takes time to ensure that the foundations are properly installed, but by and large I am happy with the building process.

The Minister said that it is difficult to fill skill shortages quickly by training. Is he aware that many skill shortages arise not because of a lack of training, but because skilled personnel who have been made redundant are reluctant to take up their skills again? The problem is often to attract skilled workers back to their trades.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that technology moves on apace. With regard to the personnel to whom he is referring, in many cases a period of updating training is necessary to bring them into the technology of the next decade and the decade after. I was referring to the chasm between the training provider, especially in the public sector, and the employer, which makes it more difficult for the people about whom he and I are worried to obtain that retraining.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has introduced many reforms with regard to training providers in the public sector. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in the debate—will highlight what he has done. Among the initiatives that we have taken with the sole objective of bringing the two parts closer together is the technical and vocational education initiative, which we discussed in the House two weeks ago. The hon. Member for Huddersfield belittled it by saying that it was a small pilot scheme without any will behind it. He is wrong. Already, 62 local education authorities are participating in the initiative. The total cost of the programme is about £20 million. In Clwyd local education authority, the initiative is so successful that it has gone, voluntarily, countywide. Yet, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the initiative was resisted initially by many educationalists and by some Labour-controlled — tending to be Left-wing Labour-controlled — local education authorities, which have refused to participate in it. Why do they do that? Why do they deprive their 14 and 15-year-olds of the opportunity of this break?

The answer to the Minister's question is that the Labour-controlled authorities wish to know when that opportunity and those resources, in terms of capital equipment and teaching, will be available to all children in that age group, rather than only to the favoured few for a trial period.

The hon. Gentleman is arguing that Sheffield and Liverpool authorities are saying, "Here is taxpayers' money available for a group of 14 and 15-year-olds, but we shall deprive you of it because it is not available for all." They say that despite the fact that many will not want it and it is appropriate only for some. Their attitude is quite remarkable.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the information technology centres, 164 of which are already in operation and about 175 of which will come on stream in the autumn. He did not say that that was a bold initiative which, in many cases, has helped children with less academic records. He did not say that more than 60 per cent. of youngsters who go through the information technology centres go straight into jobs. He did not give the Government the credit for a significant and major initiative.

I should continue, because the hon. Member for Huddersfield delayed the House for some time and I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

The hon. Gentleman did not refer to the initiative begun by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment with regard to the non-advanced education budget. As he will be aware, in 1985–86, the MSC will spend about £65 million and in 1986–87, it will spend about £110 million. That, coupled with the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science — the college-employer links project — will ensure that the training and education in those institutions is much more closely geared to the labour market.

I was not surprised by the fact that the hon. Gentleman did not mention that, last week, the Audit Commission published a report on further education. I suspect that he did not mention it because it talks about value for money and makes the point that colleges should, within the present budget, take about 75,000 more students. The report states that there was much waste in that area. The reason he did not refer to it is simple: those who objected to its publication last week were supporters of the Labour party. The Opposition did not appear to notice that there was a need to change what happened in schools and colleges. Nor have they any desire to do something about it, even when the need for change is pointed out.

As the hon. Gentleman reminded us, two weeks ago we debated at length the youth training scheme. He was a little more fulsome about it today. He knows that I asked the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to substantiate remarks that he made about the YTS about three months ago. He said that it was a load of rubbish. I wrote to him once before the debate, and I have written to him since then, but the hon. Gentleman is still unable to produce evidence about any scheme to show that it is rubbish. We still have not received an answer from him. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who is not today flanked by his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, was a little more fulsome in his praise.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield talked about apprenticeships. I wonder how recently Opposition Members have visited a factory. I accept that the number of traditional apprenticeships has dropped substantially, but surely Opposition Members must accept that because of high technology the number of men and women on the line is substantially fewer. The requirement for apprenticeships in the traditional sense must therefore have dropped. The Opposition remain determined to perpetuate the old apprenticeship system which, for all its usefulness in the past, is no longer necessary to the same degree.

We are challenged to say whether we have been round any factories recently. In the west midlands there are many factories which we visit regularly. To what line is the Minister referring on which he sees fewer people, which makes him believe that there is a need for fewer apprenticeships? Is he talking about the toolrooms or engineering support systems, which are as much in need as ever of apprenticeships?

I am amazed that the hon. Member for Coventry North-West (Mr. Robinson) should say that. I am flabbergasted. Has the hon. Gentleman not been round the car plants in the west midlands? Has he not been round the manufacturing plants there? Does he suggest that with modern technology and machinery the same number of people are required to produce the same, or even six times, the amount? The hon. Gentleman must be blind and deaf if he does not realise that today's needs are different.

I am sorry, but I must get on. The hon. Member will have a chance to reply. I am amazed that he should try to make the same point again.

Apparently, the Opposition want to perpetuate age restrictions, time serving and a system with no agreed standards. If they do, I do not. It would be fair to say that I want to dismantle the apprenticeship system as it is. I want to dismantle that system because I want opportunities for people to join at any age. I want people to be able to achieve certain standards regardless of time served. That is better for the trainees, whatever their age, and it is certainly better for industry and commerce. I want a flexible and relevant system. Both those words are overused, but they are right in this context.

Between 1980 and 1983, the number of apprentices dropped by about 50,000. At the same time, entrants into full-time, non-advanced education rose by about the same number. That reflects a move from craft to technician-based employment in traditional industries. That is the route that we should take.

Apprenticeships led to the belief that training once in a lifetime was sufficient. That is no longer so, as all hon. Members will agree. In the United States, it is said that a period of retraining three or four times in a working life is necessary. That is why we have completely reshaped the adult training strategy.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield mocked the estimate that 250,000 people per annum are to be trained. That is double the number trained originally and it reflects, I regret to say, a genuine need because of the lack of concentration on training during the 1960s and 1970s. That is one of the reasons why unemployment has risen, as the hon. Gentleman will agree.

Doubling the number of people trained is not of itself enough. For too long, we have assumed that training for is own sake is good, whereas training leading to a job is really good. Training for its own sake is no good at all, because that raises hopes which are then dashed. Training is an investment with a return. Training leads to profit. That is the message which I and my right hon. Friends wish to put across to industry—we are already doing that.

I hope that the Opposition, like their trade union colleagues, will help to put across that message, because the adult training campaign which the hon. Member for Huddersfield mocked was launched with the help of all the parties involved. It will take time to change attitudes, but they must be changed. In the four years in which I have been associated with training, attitudes have changed substantially. However, we have not run the whole course. We have still a significant way to go. The Government have a role to play in stimulating and encouraging, and in providing incentives. Through the adult training programme that is precisely what we are doing.

I am talking of the job training scheme—formerly TOPS — occupational training, training for enterprise, access to information technology, local training grants, local consultancy grants, training for special groups and the wider opportunities training programmes. The Government are making a considerable effort in all those directions.

In addition, we have the open tech, which was launched in 1982, as part of our new training initiative. We lead the field in developing open learning methods. I expect that open learning will become more and more the way of training. That is the way ahead. The system takes training to the trainee. That is simpler than a person having to go to a training establishment. This year distance learning, thanks to the open tech, will benefit about 25,000 people and next year about 50,000 people.

The Opposition have been significantly silent on the open tech initiative. Will my hon. Friend suggest that they go to the Upper Waiting Hall tomorrow when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will open an open tech exhibition? The open tech demonstrates the Government's priority in connection with retraining. It will produce the training when and where it is required and make the maximum use of the many under-used training resources.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that the exhibition will be opened tomorrow. All hon. Members will find it interesting.

We have heard the rhetoric about skillcentres time and time again and we heard it again today. The hon. Member for Huddersfield missed the point about skillcentres. Does he want to perpetuate a system that would result in £50 million a year being spent on courses to which no trainee would go, and on bricks and mortar? That was his argument. The hon. Gentleman believes that any organisation must remain rigid. Because of rationalisation in another 18 months we shall have released £50 million—that is extra training for tens of thousands more people. It is as simple as that.

The hon. Gentleman made a party political point about the by-election in Brecon and Radnor. Therefore, we must assume that the Labour party does not like the idea of mobile instructors going into rural areas—whether in Wales or in any other part of the country. As a result of what we are doing with the skillcentre training agency, training will be brought to those who need it in Brecon and Radnor.

The Minister knows that cutting highly resourced centres that provide skills training over a period of time cannot be matched by short-term training, whether the capital resources are carried on the back of a bike or in the back of a van. We cannot take computer technology around the country on the back of a bike; we cannot take highly computerised engineering resources around the country on the back of a bike. We must put our money into training. All the schemes that the Minister has mentioned are training on the cheap, and he knows it.

The hon. Gentleman has lost the argument, so there is no point in jumping into rhetoric. He cannot argue with the figures. He seems unable to understand that more people will receive training, and it will be more relevant to obtaining jobs.

On industrial training boards, the hon. Gentleman again used the arguments and rhetoric of the early 1980s. Does he not understand that the 17 industrial training boards that the Government abolished had lost the support of employers because they had become a dead hand? They were a bureaucratic control, and the net result was that training became a dirty word. I am happy to say that that is no longer the case.

I have outlined some—but not all because time precludes me from doing so—of the enormous training programmes launched during the past five years. Our programmes start in the schools and carry on through working life. They include the open tech and the technical and vocational education initiative, which, among others, are modern and looking forward. The YTS provides a sound foundation. The adult training strategy focuses on the need for continuous updating of training. Hundreds of thousands more people are benefiting, including the unemployed—

The hon. Gentleman may say, "No," but they are. During the period 1979–80 to now, resources have increased from £458 million to £1,234 million; 353,000 people were being trained five years ago as compared with 643,000 now. That is a substantial increase.

I look forward to seeing whether the hon. Gentleman really does have the support of his colleagues tonight. Only seven Back-Bench Labour Members were present during his speech, yet I gather that this is an Opposition day. We shall see whether he is backed in the Lobby or whether the Government's record on modernisation and constructive reform will not be opposed.

4.44 pm

I regret to say that the Minister's speech did not measure up to the seriousness of the situation. It was an extremely complacent exposition of the Government's case in an area in which this country does not do well. I am sure that there is common consent across the parties that Britain has not done well in it for a long time.

The Government are charged with damaging and hindering the position for ideological reasons. [Interruption.] I hope that the Minister is not too complacent to listen to what others have to say. He will no doubt have seen the Labour Market Quarterly Report, published by the Manpower Services Commission, which said:
"The picture that emerges is that shortages are spread across all levels from skilled manual to professional, but are more serious at higher levels."
It also says that the problem has been getting worse and is expected to deteriorate during the next year. That is the MSC telling us that, under the regime of the Conservative party, the position will get worse. What is the Government's explanation for that? The Minister, in his avuncular manner, nods his head, smiles and chats to his colleagues. He does not seem very interested.

The report also said that a wide range of occupations were identified—173 in total. Therefore, there are skill shortages in 173 occupations. We do not need a blunderbuss to make us address ourselves to that point. The report cites sewing machinists, electrical and electronic engineers, computer programmers, machine tool setters, scientists, engineers and technicians.

I do not want to quote at length from the report; I hope that the Minister has read it. However, it states:
"The information indicates a general decline in training rates over the decade of about 3 percentage points."
Not only is the position bad and getting worse, but projected for the next 10 years it will deteriorate while other countries—our competitors—race ahead. I ask the House whether the Minister's speech measured up to the seriousness of that.

The problem that we face—perhaps based on our culture—is not new. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and others of my colleagues who served in the Department of Employment know that. The problem was identified in the 1960s, when it was realised that voluntarism was not the full answer because it did not work. It was necessary to have the carrot and the stick. Private firms had to be encouraged and guided, so Parliament established industrial training boards. They have now been abolished. In fact, the Minister — I almost said the vandal — was instrumental in that. He did not know much about industrial training boards in those days—

I do not hold against the Minister the fact that he did not know much about them in those days. Indeed, I served in Standing Committee with him when we discussed these matters. The Government gave him instructions to abolish the training boards. So what do we have now? The simple truth is that we go back to the 1960s, when we learned that there were not enough volunteers in British industry.

The most recent survey of British firms found that, what confronted with skill shortages and asked what they would do about them, they said, "We propose to recruit, not train." In other words, they proposed to poach people who had been trained by others. I ask the Minister—before he is moved from his present position—to think of how we can improve matters. Perhaps he could think of some tax reliefs for firms hoping to spend money on training. The taxpayer could match their investment pound for pound. Perhaps the Minister will make a note of that for the future. I ask him to think of ways to encourage private firms to train.

The skillcentre training agency was an integral part of the training division of the MSC; it was not shown separately in its accounts. It was cut adrift and told—I suppose on monetarist and ideological grounds—to sell its products in the market place and became self-financing in three years. That was unrealistic. After all, the training division had been its sole customer.

The training division found that it could get cheaper places elsewhere, primarily in colleges of further education. The labour costs in the skillcentres were half those of colleges of further education. We hear a lot about people pricing themselves into jobs. Those who taught in skillcentres charged only half what was charged by lecturers in colleges of further education. Despite that, they were given the sack. That seems a strange way of getting people to price themselves into jobs.

Although the labour cost of lecturers at skillcentres was about 50 per cent. of the cost of their counterparts in colleges of further education, when the service was delivered to the public it was 50 per cent. dearer. The reason for that lay in the accounting system, in that it did not compare like with like. The places at colleges of further education were priced on the basis of marginal costs, although their overheads were paid for by local education authorities. The skillcentre places were, by comparison, unrealistically priced because of their heavy overheads.

The MSC stated that, without the closures, there would be a loss of £52 million by 1987–88. When the Select Committee had the matter investigated by a specialist adviser, we found that that was not the true figure and that the cost would have been £12 million.

The hon. Gentleman should also consider the effectiveness of skillcentres. The skillcentre for Lincoln, for example, was in another county many miles away, at Long Eaton. As a result, few people from Lincoln who wanted training could get there. Now that that has been closed, the number of training places where we need them, in Lincoln, is being doubled. More people will therefore take up those training places, which will become more cost-effective.

I am happy to think that that will be the situation in Lincoln. I want more training places throughout the country. If we want to expand training, why sack hundreds of skilled trainers and put them on the dole? I want an expansion of the system in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and elsewhere, and in that process I do not want any centres to be closed. If it is said that skillcentres are offering the wrong products at the wrong prices in the wrong areas, let us have them supplying the right products in the right places. We want a general expansion of training.

One of the most important skills required in the offshore construction industry is welding. The skillcentre in Govan, and at the James Watt college in my constituency, provide marvellous instruction in that and other skills. I speak from experience. My hon. Friend is right to say that the centres have an important role to play.

Given the heavy overheads of skillcentres, they are likely always to be at a cost disadvantage compared with colleges of further education, which have their core costs met by others. If only market forces are to rule, with the sort of book-keeping that is undertaken in this sphere, few skillcentres will survive.

A heavy responsibility rests on the training division as the main customer of the skillcentre training agency. Does the Minister agree that the MSC and the Government have said that they regard the retention of the new network of skillcentres as being in the national interest, that it is the minimum necessary and that the present network will be retained for the future?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of what the chairman of the MSC said in the Select Committee, the point that the hon. Gentleman has reiterated. The training division's total obligation is to ensure the right training of the right quality at the right cost to maximise the number of people who can be trained in jobs or skills in which they are most likely to get employment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is the right approach?

Yes, but I remind the Minister that we were told by the Secretary of State that a national network of skillcentres was essential as a pace setter or benchmark of quality. He gave a number of criteria to show that it was essential to have such a network and we were told that the reduced network was the minimum necessary.

That being so, a great responsibility rests on the training division to understand the needs of the skillcentre training agency. The cost of shutting down a third of the skillcentre network is £12 million. In other words, the Government are paying that to shut them down. I do not know whether that is generally appreciated.

The Minister may not like my saying that, in relation to the YTS, many people believe that the motives of the Government are suspect. They fear that the Government are using it as a device to get people off the register, to keep people off the streets and out of trouble and to promote cheap labour. Many people regard the YTS as a cosmetic.

I hope that when the Government consider the second year of YTS they will take careful note of what youngsters are saying. It is no good the Government saying, "We know better than you." It is a voluntary scheme—that is the way we work in Britain—and it is not good enough for the Government to claim, "We have a parliamentary majority, so what we say goes."

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in the considerable time that he and I have been members of the Select Committee, we have had witnesses before us from the TUC and a wide range of bodies and that—with the exception of one, who totally failed to produce the evidence that he claimed would show that people thought that the schemes were no good—the evidence that we have consistently received has shown that the suspicion with which the YTS may have been regarded is diminishing rather than increasing?

There is a lot of good will for the idea of a proper high-quality youth training scheme. The Labour party has been advocating a two-year youth training scheme and the Trades Union Congress supports a two-year scheme. The TUC is a part of the Manpower Services Commission and is giving great support to a two-year YTS, so I concur with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Despite all that, many people doubt the Government's motives. Therefore, the Government have a responsibility to remove that doubt. Nobody knows what the two-year scheme will offer young people. I do not know whether the Minister of State is listening to me or to his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has great knowledge of skillcentres. I hope that the Minister will listen to the debate. We do not want more of the same or twice what we have now.

The credibility of the YTS will depend on whether there is a job at the end of it. We are told—perhaps the Minister of State will confirm this—that the most recent figures show that the number of trainees who get a job at the end of the scheme is diminishing. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that half, or less than half, of those on the scheme obtained a job. We now understand that less than half of those on a scheme get a job at the end of it.

The youth training scheme must be of high quality and the second year must be an upgrading year that builds upon that achieved in the first year. There is very little evidence that it will be a better scheme. No one knows what it will be. There is really no such thing as the youth training scheme. There are a number of different schemes that are voluntary. We must listen to the CBI and the employers. The cash made available by the Government for the scheme is roughly £1 billion, the amount that they originally set for one year. Now they want two years of YTS at £1 billion. Is it possible to have a high-quality two-year scheme for £1 billion? I do not think it can be done, and the employers I have met do not believe that it is possible.

On the day that the White Paper was published, the CBI told the Select Committee that it was anxious about it. The Ford Motor Company said that it was not prepared to put in any more money, and it had one of the better schemes.

Many trainees do not stay in the YTS for the full year, so will they stay for two years? What will they do for two years? No one has given any sign of what they are to do for the second year. If the Minister of State can give any clear guidance I shall be pleased to hear it.

Those who suspect the Government's motives see the YTS as a cheap-labour scheme. If the allowance was still indexed to inflation, in the first year it would be £34, but it is now only £26·25. If the Government want to protect themselves from the charge that the YTS is a cheap-labour scheme, especially in the second year, they will have to increase the amount of the allowance. I hope that they will understand that that comment is made by someone who wants a decent credible youth training scheme and does not believe that the YTS should be abolished.

5.4 pm

I do not agree with most of the rhetoric from the Opposition Benches but I think that the Opposition have chosen an appropriate subject at an appropriate time as we are about to embark on the public expenditure review for 1986–87. Much of what has been said has been an attempt to persuade the Government to alter their priorities on spending and, therefore, education, training and updating skills are extremely relevant issues. Those of us now sitting on the Government Benches recognise that as a major challenge to the Government to ensure that as the new jobs appear the appropriate skill training is available for those who are seeking new jobs.

I welcome the part played by the Open university in providing fresh opportunities, especially for the adult unemployed, for learning new skills. I welcome also the support that the MSC is giving to adult training courses. In my view, there will be widespread support for the recent creation of a new standing committee on continuing education. By bringing in the Open university and other further and higher education institutions, that committee will be able to provide new practical schemes which will enable people to acquire new skills. This new body will be able to learn much from the welcome growth in many part-time courses in polytechnics that we have seen in the past two to three years.

There are two points that I want to make about the role of schools in the teaching of new skills. There has been enormous and welcome popularity and support for the Government's introduction of TVEI because of its enrichment of the curriculum and because of what it is doing to help young people to get jobs. However, the equipment used is expensive to acquire and is expensive to maintain. It is much-used equipment. I hope that proper account has been taken of the need to maintain the equipment in the budgeting, financing and planning of TVEI. It will be useless unless it is properly maintained. It should be recognised also that the cost of maintaining it is increasing all the time.

The second year of the YTS is very much unknown territory. Given the growth of further education and the improvement generally in higher and further education, young people may want to use the second year of YTS to return to full-time further education. There is a problem for the Government, as it is not clear what system of student financial support will be available for a young person if he leaves YTS in the second year to go into non-advanced further education or another form of further education and his local education authority is not obliged to supply a mandatory award. There is thus a gap in our student financial support provision. We shall soon have the Green Paper on student finance and grants and in my view it will have to take up that issue, especially as we are moving into the two-year YTS.

The way in which the Government fund research has a direct relevance to skill training. We are rightly concerned to see much more innovation from small firms whereby we encourage the talented to exploit their ideas through the growth of small firms. One of the reasons why the United States has seen such a surge in its economy through the growth of small firms is that a proportion of federal Government research funding always goes to small firms and small businesses. That is something that we should copy quickly.

I welcome the recent Government announcement that an additional £4 million is being provided for nine key university research groups to support research of international standing and industrial promise. However, it is public expenditure review time and I want to highlight two of the statements made by the recent report of the Advisory Board on Research Councils to the Government on science and public expenditure in the next two years. The board made two statements which cause me to worry. First, it said:
"large new facilities with the Science and Engineering Research Council cannot be exploited fully because the Council cannot afford the necessary instrumentation."
Secondly, it pointed out that the
"Natural Environment Research Council does not have the resources to fund full UK participation in the Ocean Drilling Programme, of fundamental importance to advances in knowledge of plate tectonics and mineralisation".
The Government have time to make alterations. The report has to be considered by the Government and action can be taken in the autumn, when the public expenditure for 1986–87 has been agreed. The matters referred to by the advisory board need urgent attention because of their relevance to our efforts to improve skill training and increase employment. I am sure that the Government, in their spending review in the autumn, will want to take additional practical steps to accelerate economic activity, and above all to improve our research base, thereby helping to reduce unemployment.

Our aims with regard to learning new skills and updating skills will not be properly achieved unless there is peace and stability in the classroom. It does not exist at present, with deadlock in the teachers' pay dispute and classroom disruption happening in various parts of the country. I praise the Government for what they have achieved in obtaining greater co-operation between education and industry. As that co-operation increases, the teacher trade unions should look to industry for management advice and expertise in helping to create a new salary structure which will properly reward effective and dedicated teaching.

The debate has been about skills and employment. It is time to show some industrial relations skill in the education service, so that the dispute may be brought to an end quickly, and a phased salary offer, coupled with a new salary structure, can allow the education service to prepare young people for working life and enable them to take advantage of the rapidly growing new industries with new job opportunities.

5.12 pm

I welcome an opportune debate and congratulate the Opposition on raising it.

The issue of skills in Britain has a far wider effect on the nation that has been indicated in the speeches so far. I am by training an engineer and therefore aware that, even during the boom periods of the nation in the 1950s and 1960s, what Britain made was not a reflection of what we were capable of making but rather a reflection of the skills that were available to industry. In addition, many of the ways in which things were made were also a reflection of the skills available to industry.

It is interesting to consider who was to blame. I do not believe that the unions helped, with their restrictive practices, although I admit that I agreed with and enjoyed much of what the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said as a representative of one of the print unions. There was a degree of irony in his speech, because the print unions have probably done more than any other unions to oppose innovation, new technology and new working methods. They are the classic example of much of what is wrong with Britain and of the mire in which we find ourselves.

I often hear that said, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that last year the printing unions and the British Federation of Master Printers reached a comprehensive agreement on training, and that there is complete harmony in the industry on training matters? Indeed, it is one of the few good examples in British industry of agreement on training between employers and trade unions.

It is true that there is some willingness to allow training so that people can work the antiquated machinery that dominates much of the printing industry. What is required is training for the new technologies and an open-armed, welcoming approach to allowing it to be incorporated into our production system. I say that in the belief that one of the great duties of this House is to improve the living standards of people who work with machines.

It would be foolish to think that the blame lies only with the unions. When we consider our great industrial background and our role in the industrial revolution which transformed the world, it is extraordinary that we seem to live in an anti-technology nation. In the local sixth forms and colleges, where the brightest young people in a town or city are to be found, how many of them want to make something or grow something? Very few of them want to do that. That is not so in Switzerland, West Germany and France, where a reasonable percentage of the best and most able young people see their future in making or growing things, and look forward to such careers with enthusiasm and dedication.

To the extent that skill acquisition is now a political issue in Britain, I welcome the change of mind, because it is high time that we set to work to change attitudes. Much of our wealth-producing sector was based on low and medium technologies. We produced items that others could make, and that others made with a little higher productivity and slightly lower wages. In that way they undermined much of our economy. We have lost enormous swathes of our markets in the past few years. We lost them more rapidly than was necessary because of much of the Government's economic policy, but it could well be argued that we would have lost many of those markets in any event.

In debates such as this we tend to talk about training and jobs as though they were totally different entities. Although they are not the same, the two are closely connected. Suppose that by some miracle every person in Britain tomorrow could have a job. The current levels of skill and tuition would be inadequate to enable that position to be maintained for very long. Training is not an alternative to unemployment; it is a part of employment, and the nation's prosperity depends on it. We must begin to regard training in that light.

The youth training scheme has considerable potential. It is often referred to as a uniquely British idea, but it has been copied from other countries. It is none the worse for that, and I welcome the fact that we are now learning from the experience of other countries. I am, however, a little concerned about the content of the training schemes. In many communities training is often depicted as something that young people should do if they have failed to get a job. It is regarded almost as a sort of punishment. That is not how we want to see the YPS develop. It must be seen and believed by communities to be a sensible alternative to immediate employment, enabling young people eventually to enter the employment market at higher levels of skill, for which they will receive higher levels of reward.

To some extent I agree with the Government that the people who are most likely to know where training is most required are employers. After 10 years in this House, I have a shade more faith in the employers' choice than in that of any Secretary of State.

Employers are not forced to put anything like the resources into training that are manifestly required. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that employers should be spending £26 billion a year on training—that sounds like a figure plucked from the air and a shade higher than my guess. But to put it bluntly, employers are not spending enough and I believe that we should use legislation to force employers to pay their fair share and to make an active contribution towards training. If it could be demonstrated that the voluntary sector is producing the goods, well and good. But I see little that makes me believe that, when training is voluntary, the employer provides anything like the quantity that is required.

Skillcentres are not tablets of stone, nor is there any reason why skillcentres should be used indefinitely as part of the training scene. However, they work. If one goes to any constituency and talks to people about their lives, jobs and living standards, they point to the local training centre as a great turning point in their lives. Such centres enable them to obtain substantial skills which they are able to put to good use for themselves and their employers. This is precisely what is required—skills that are good for the individual and employers.

Some of the changes that the Government have made do not make sense to me. The situation in south Wales, not surprisingly, has been mentioned today, but there are other areas where there are problems of similar magnitude. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has said that many of his constituents have to travel 25 miles to the present training centre, at Killingworth, but it is to be closed, so the nearest will be 55 miles away. Even the most optimistic rural traveller, used to travelling further than urban dwellers, knows that 50 miles there and back puts an end to training on a day-to-day basis. That is the scrapping of the skillcentre and a local resource.

I do not say that every skillcentre should be maintained for ever but much of what the Government are doing worries me. I see the excellence of one section of our training being greatly reduced, but for what purpose? Clearly, it is to release a little money to offer a little training for a lot. I must tell the Government that offering a little training to a lot or offering a lot of training for a few are not acceptable alternatives. One way or the other, we must find the resources to manage both.

Other equally crazy examples are not difficult to discover. Plymouth runs a computer training course which my constituents are desperately keen to get on. However, to get on the course — there are none in Cornwall — Plymouth has to declare that it can find no one in Plymouth who wants to do the course. Therefore, if nobody in Plymouth wished to do the course, the droppings are offered to my constituents. That is crazy. There is no quality, no quantity and no analysis of who can use the course best. The centre is in Plymouth, so Plymouth people have first dab, and the Cornish are left out. I am sure that the same is true throughout the country.

We are told that in future there will be no list of applicants and no analysis of applicants. Courses will be stuck up on the board and the lucky person on his lucky day who wanders in and grabs the card off the wall before someone else will get the training. The Minister should talk to the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission and ask what logic there is in such a system. I know why the system exists—it appears marginally to reduce administration costs.

We are back to spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar. I suspect that the Minister agrees. He believes that we must improve training, and he works hard to that end, but we do not get the impression that the same is true of the whole Government. I am sure that one reason why the Government have devoted more, but still meagre, resources to the youth training scheme is their desire to reduce the unemployment figures. There is nothing wrong with the desire, but there are other reasons for improving training.

Unless Britain gets its attitude to skill acquisition and training right in the next 10 to 15 years the decline in our basic wealth production will continue and Britain's economic outlook will be very poor.

5.26 pm

A debate on youth training nearly two years ago provided the occasion for my maiden speech. I chose that debate because I take an interest in the subject, and it was of great interest in my constituency.

Last month, unemployment was 6·8 per cent., or 4,631 people. In that month, 663 vacancies were notified to my local job centre, and there was a stock of 679 vacancies at the end of the month. On the assumption, which I think is valid, that only about one third of vacancies are notifed, the pool is likely to be between 2,000 and 2,500.

By national standards, Slough has a relatively small unemployment problem, although it is just as tragic for the unemployed in Slough as it is for the unemployed in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt). Slough has not so much an unemployment problem as an employment problem which is typified by a chronic shortage of skilled labour. I have visited about 50 companies in my two years as a Member of Parliament and spoken to the managers of many more, especially at meetings of chambers of commerce. All tell me that the major curb to expansion now is shortage of skilled labour. That curb on job creation has spin-offs in other parts of the country.

Slough is at the eastern end of the Thames valley and has recently been dubbed silicon valley because of the increasing representation of computer and information technology companies in the Thames valley corridor. However, that is only part of the picture.

Although an increasing number of computer and information technology companies have moved into my constituency in the past few years, the traditional character of Slough as a centre for the engineering industry remains relevant. There are just as many shortages in the more traditional skills as there are in the new glamour industries.

Some of the problems of the engineering industry were highlighted in a recent Thames Television programme that featured one of the many companies that permanently have a substantial number of vacancies for skilled engineers. I visited my local jobcentre recently and asked the manager, "We often hear about the hard-core unemployed, but can you tell me anything about the hard-core vacancies? How many vacancies stay on your books from month to month?" We were unable to arrive at a precise figure, but he was able to tell me that there is a large unsatisfied demand for skilled engineers. One wonders why such vacancies remain unfilled when the problem of unemployment is on everyone's lips.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) mentioned the reluctance of some people to return to their original trade after they have had to leave it. It is part of the local perception in my community that people who left the engineering industry in the depths of the recession and obtained other jobs, at Heathrow airport for example, which are not skilled but have the same rates of pay, are reluctant to move back to the jobs for which they were trained.

There are obstacles to mobility. Because of Slough's relative prosperity, housing costs are high. Slough's major expansion, which started in the 1930s, was facilitated by importing skills from other parts of the country. That is no longer an option for many companies because of the barrier which housing costs create. No one can be expected to sell a house for £15,000 or £20,000 in the north of England and take a job in Slough, where perhaps an equivalent property would cost £40,000 or more.

There are structural features of immobility, such as the impact of our social security system. Immobility is created by the comparison between drawing benefit and drawing wages. I believe that the Secretary of State's review of the system will help to overcome some of those problems.

Surely some of the 4,600 or so people registered as unemployed in my constituency have skills that are in demand. They cannot all be unskilled and unsuited to the jobs that are available.

Another problem is that we have little or no information about the skills and experience of those on the unemployment register. Such information might be of little more than academic interest in an area where job seekers vastly outnumber vacancies, but in places such as Slough, where unemployment is relatively low and skill shortages are severe, there could be value in having such information available.

If a local employer contacts the Slough jobcentre and says that he has, say, 10 vacancies for capstan lathe operators, although the official statistics may show that 4,600 people in Slough are supposedly looking for work, it is not possible for the jobcentre to put the employer in touch with a single person who holds himself out as having that skill. The information simply does not exist.

As a practical step towards meeting the skill shortage that faces many companies in my constituency, Ministers should look again at the decision no longer to require the unemployed to register at jobcentres. We need to gather information about the skills and experience of the unemployed if we are to make good use of the reservoir of skill and experience which must exist in every constituency.

Slough has relatively low unemployment, but severe skill shortages. It would be a good place to restart gathering information.

Anyone who wishes to register at a jobcentre is entitled to do so, and it is in order for him or her to state precisely any details of previous skills and experience. Officials at the jobcentre will endeavour to match those skills with employers' needs.

I know that there are voluntary arrangements — the manager and staff of my local jobcentre undertake that task enthusiastically when requested to do so — but we need more structured information so that we can match skills to vacancies and identify the potential for retraining to meet skill shortages.

I suspect that there is not a close match between the skills that are in short supply and the experience and skills of the unemployed. Otherwise, there would be more initiative from the unemployed in finding jobs. I suspect that, with a little retraining to facilitate people building on an old skill, there would be considerable potential for them to move into new jobs requiring different skills, but ones for which they could be trained.

Slough is lucky to have a go-ahead chamber of commerce and industry, which has taken a leading role locally in the youth training scheme. We have 360 young people in training, and 350 local companies have participated in the scheme in the past two and a half years.

We have heard from the Opposition depressing statistics about the YTS. I can speak only for Slough, but 90 per cent. of trainees are retained in full-time employment at the completion of their courses by the company that provided them with the training. An even higher proportion get jobs. Local companies have seized on the YTS as a golden opportunity to train people to meet skill shortages.

The local chamber of commerce and industry, sponsored by the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of Education and Science, and in collaboration with the local further education colleges, is investigating skill shortages and training needs throughout east Berkshire. I do not suggest that we should have endless investigations, but I hope that this is not a one-off exercise. I am suggesting that there could be a much greater role for chambers of commerce and industry. They could be involved in both identifying local skill shortages and co-ordinating the required training. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) said that he had more faith in employers than in the Secretary of State identifying training needs. To use a different comparison, I have more faith in the ability of a good chamber of commerce and industry to identify the training needs of its member companies than I have in the Manpower Services Commission. Therefore, I should prefer far more of the funding made available by the Government for training to be routed through chambers of commerce and industry.

That is the way in which training is carried out in Germany, which has been held out to us as a shining example of how training should be organised. I had the opportunity to visit Germany last year to study vocational training there. Success in Germany is based not upon the investment of vast sums of taxpayers' money but upon investment in training by industry. It is common for the chambers of commerce and industry in Germany to play a leading role in both setting the standards and monitoring the performance of those who are being trained.

One reason why industry in Germany has been able to afford to maintain a massive training programme throughout the recession—this year German industry has provided 800,000 new training places for school leavers—lies in the sensible attitude towards the remuneration of trainees by both sides of industry. Whereas in this country apprentice pay rates have recently been about 60 per cent. of adult rates, in Germany the typical range is between 20 and 30 per cent. of adult rates. Over the years, trade unions in this country have succeeded in forcing up the rates of pay for apprentices to completely unrealistic levels. Consequently, they have succeeded in eliminating the training of apprentices throughout most of British industry. It is against that background—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) wish to intervene?

I could have made very much the same comment about the majority of the hon. Gentleman's opening speech, but I heard him muttering on the Front Bench and thought that he might wish to intervene. Clearly he does not wish to do so; he prefers just to mutter.

It was against that background that it became necessary for taxpayers' money to be injected in order to establish the youth training scheme. The Government are right, however, to insist that there must be a much bigger contribution from industry to the extended youth training scheme that was announced in the Budget speech.

I do not believe that skill shortages will be solved by throwing taxpayers' money at the problem, which seems to be the only solution of the Labour party; nor do I believe, in the words of the Opposition motion, that "a comprehensive statutory framework" will deliver the skills that the country needs. Nothing seems to me to be less like a recipe for success than a statutory framework. A major change in attitudes is needed. Our young people need to recognise that the long-term value of sound training is more important than a few extra pounds in their pockets during the early years of their working lives.

Industry needs to recognise far more clearly than it has in the past that training is an investment, not an overhead, and that the responsibility for providing training rests with each business, not just with its competitors. It is not good enough to rely upon somebody else to train and then hope to be able to poach in sufficient numbers to meet one's needs. I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) who made that point. The trade unions need to recognise that the contribution to overheads, let alone to profit, of trainees in their early years is negligible and that this should be reflected in the rates of pay for trainees.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-East referred to the youth training scheme allowances and the suspicion that this scheme is designed to provide cheap labour. That is not the reality. The allowance rates are a recognition of the work that is done in the early years of training. The time for bigger reward comes later, when the training has been completed and experience has been obtained.

Anybody who listened to the speeches of Opposition Members and who was ignorant of the facts could be forgiven for believing that until May 1979 Britain had a comprehensive system of vocational training which was then destroyed by a callous and indifferent Government. The Opposition motion refers to
"the Government's destruction of the nation's training system".
Yet anybody who looks at the facts sees that the reality is very different. The Labour Government introduced the youth opportunities scheme. That was mainly a cosmetic measure—an allegation that was subsequently thrown at the youth training scheme, but with very little justice. That cosmetic measure has been replaced by YTS. It is the first attempt ever in this country to provide school leavers with relevant work-related training.

No. I offered to give way earlier to the hon. Gentleman. Many of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to the debate, so I shall not give way now.

The industrial training boards were a costly bureaucratic money-go-round. The name of the game was to see whether one could load overheads upon one's training budget and then recover more out of grant than one had to pay through levy. It had very little to do with the provision of training. Apprenticeship schemes were made cripplingly expensive for employers by trade unions forcing up rates of pay, just as the Opposition would like to do with the youth training scheme.

This Government have produced the first coherent training strategy that this country has ever had. In partnership with industry, this strategy will, I believe, meet the skill needs that are so vital to my constituency and to the future industrial success and economic growth of this country.

5.46 pm

Tory Ministers dealing with skills and training are, in my view, amiable but incompetent and gullible. They are gullible because they have been taken in by the employers. In his Budget speech the Chancellor said:

"too many employers still fail to recognise that training is an investment in their own commercial interest. This is in marked contrast to our major competitors overseas." — [Official Report, 19 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 792.]
Both those statements could be wrong.

I say to my own Front Bench that it should not believe that training is always in the interests of the employer. I was a joint Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Employment before 1979. A problem that we constantly faced was that workers who were trained by one industry were then poached by another. Lorry drivers are a very good example. Heavy goods vehicle operators accept that, having paid for training somebody, others then poach those they have trained. Training is not necessarily a good investment. The Chancellor's statement is true if one refers to Britain in general, but in the case of each employer it is not necessarily true. It is cheaper and better for one's shareholders not to train if somebody else is carrying out training and if it is possible to poach those workers at the end of their training.

Ministers are gullible because they believed employers who said that they would do a far better job than the industrial training boards. There is no evidence for that. They have done worse. However, Ministers believed the employers when they asked to be freed from the industrial training boards so that they could provide the training. The result is that we have the pathetic sight of the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ticking off the employers because they are not doing the job that they promised they would do. Employers are being begged to do that job and they are being threatened if they do not do it. Mr. Deputy Speaker, would you be frightened by the Under-Secretary of State who is sitting on the Front Bench now? Would you part with your shareholders' money if the Minister was sent to tick you off?

Of course you would not. The Minister of State goes around the country chiding employers for not training. The employers smile and enjoy the speech. They are amiable, and they share a gin and tonic at the end of the meeting. They then go their respective ways and no training takes place.

I do not believe that Ministers are callous and indifferent. They are amiable, incompetent and gullible and the country suffers from the gullibility. I asked the Minister of State a serious question about skill shortage, and he did not seem to grasp the point. The Minister of State contradicted me and the Secretary of State nodded in agreement with me.

Everyone knows that one of the reasons for the present skill shortage is that people who have used their skills for 20, 25 and even 30 years and been declared redundant, have found more secure jobs perhaps as postmen or milkmen. They have grown to like the independence of that job and because they no longer face redundancy, they stay in that job. As a result, a semi-skilled or unskilled person who could be trained as a postman or milkman is kept out of a job, and we are short of a skilled worker.

When I was in the Department of Employment I was appalled at the waste of skill. We had no policy to cope with that wastage. The Chancellor has compared this country with Japan, but great differences exist between us. The Japanese have lifetime security in a firm. That security has two effects. First, because there is little mobility between firms, it is worth while for a company to invest money in a youngster and subsequently throughout his adult working life, because the company knows that its investment will be repaid. After all that training the individual will not disappear. Secondly, it is worth while for the individual to accept that training because he or she knows that the job is secure.

Hon. Members should not think that the answer to skill shortage is simply further training. It is pointless to continue training if the trainees will not use their skills I must however modify that statement. I disagree strongly with my hon. Friends, the Chairman of the Select Committee and the Minister when they say that training is only worth while if there is a job to go to.

When I was in the Department of Employment I saw hundreds of young people in training who would otherwise have been on the streets. I defend training for training's sake, if the alternative is for the young people to do nothing. Apprentice training is not only about teaching a youngster to use or maintain equipment; it is about giving youngsters dignity, self-respect, status and a position in society. Industrial training is as important to the individual as it is to the employer.

We heard a lot of claptrap from the Minister about training for the new technologies. He said that we should forget the traditional apprenticeships and concentrate on the new technologies. I tabled early-day motion 574 to draw attention to the fact that only 32 apprentices are to be recruited this year by British Telecom, London, which has an engineering work force of over 27,000. It is a highly profitable company engaged in high technology with an expanding market. I was shattered when I realised that British Telecom was cutting its apprentice recruitment. We are not talking about the traditional apprenticeships that the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers proudly controlled for a century or more. We are talking about modern apprenticeships in a modern technological industry. BT has decided to cut recruitment of apprentices in this important company because it is responsible to private shareholders now and not to the public good.

The Minister of State is not present but when he returns the Under-Secretary can tell him that I have not been to a telephone exchange for at least a fortnight. I say that because the Minister of State chided the Opposition Front Bench for not visiting factories.

What BT is doing for training is an illustration of what is happening elsewhere. The Minister of State talks about modernising training. BT's attitude is to stop training engineers in the complete system and to teach them only what they need to know to do the job in hand. Its training philosophy has retreated centuries. For a long time BT took great pride in its training. That pride was shared by trade unions and management. Entry was not restricted. Training at all levels and ages was accepted.

Management is now saying that it will not train in systems so that trainees can understand all the work, or in a way that will enable them to adapt in the future. It is training people to perform some industrial tasks only. That is not good enough. BT has been cutting its regional training schools. I understand that its Kew training school is closing. BT prefers to issue glossy periodicals, to spend money on useless advertisements and to reduce consumer relations training. It does not make sense. It accords, however, with management thinking in British private industrial companies. I understand that the training of clerks is also being restricted.

The MSC's "Labour Market Trends: Midland Region" assessment is a devastating report for anyone who has the interests of British industry at heart. It talks about the vast need for training. It refers to upgrading, updating, giving operatives many skills and the acquisition of management. I shall not go through them all because I want other hon. Members to have the opportunity to speak.

It is clear from the report that there is a need for industrial training. We should not look at this subject merely against the background of training cuts during the recession because of Government and management decisions. It is decades since the unions restricted entry into apprenticeship schemes. When I was Under-Secretary of State for Employment, I spent my time receiving deputations from unions demanding an increase in recruitment of apprentices.

The MSC report states:
"It must be obvious that sufficient money is not available to fund the sheer enormity of the training that is required in the new technology age."
The MSC seems to accept that smaller firms will not be able to afford training because of the expense of the equipment used in training.

When I was Under-Secretary of State for Employment, I oversaw the payment of unemployment benefit and training, but I found it difficult to get hold of the training aspect. The training division of the MSC did not show sufficient leadership. Often the industrial training boards were not properly staffed. I came across some that had been staffed by ex-colonials. One empire collapsed; another was created. Let us make no bones about it: neither the MSC training division or the ITBs had sufficient clout to do the work that was needed.

I believe that the Government have been totally wrong in finding defects in the MSC and then saying that they will abolish the ITBs. I recommend that they read Burke who referred to conserving and improving. The Government seem to be not conservators but smashers. They should have improved, not smashed, the system. The Government have been wrong to dismantle the skillcentre system.

The Government should not believe that employers will ever part with their money for training unless forced to do so. We shall be short of money for training unless someone pays. Either the taxpayer or the employer must pay. Both parties seem to agree that the employer should pay. If we are to have training, payment must be compulsory. It is no us sending the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher)—or the Minister of State, Department of Employment, whining—not "wining"—and dining with employers. It would be far better for Parliament to say to the employers, "In the interests of individuals, industry and industrial efficiency, we need industrial training. You must pay and provide the training on which this nation's future depends. We will introduce collective funding."

The Government will throw away Britain's industrial future unless they have the courage to face the employers with this unpalatable fact.

6.4 pm

I am disadvantaged compared with other hon. Members, because I became a Member later in life than most. I carry with me the disadvantage of having worked for my living in industry and knowing at the sharp end more about training than some of the Labour Front-Bench Members who have sought to make derogatory remarks.

We must look at the seed corn of education to determine where the original fault lies. In the education system we start by denigrating those who work in industry and commerce—those making or growing something, as the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) said. It is perhaps not accidental that few people at school ever want to be salesmen. Few teachers ever say to a young person, "You should be a salesman." Yet there is no shortage of salesmen. One reason is that salesmen invariably get a car with the job. That is why the percentage of company cars in Britain is the highest in the world. That does not come about by accident, nor does the education system bring us by accident to where we are in industry.

Why do our schools teach almost exclusively French and a little German, almost to the exclusion of other languages? When will our schools start teaching more Spanish and Japanese and one or two Eastern bloc languages? It would be good for commerce and trade and for international relations if one could have a face-to-face dialogue with another person instead of relying upon an interpreter every time. However, if one tries to bring a greater variety of language teaching into the education system, the teachers rise up, almost as they are doing at the moment.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts), I chose to make my maiden speech on this subject. I wish to continue the theme on which I started in the House two years ago but on which I had been speaking publicly outside for more than a decade—the theme of the lack of cohesion between education and training. Education happens in schools and training happens outside schools. There seems to be almost no relationship between the two. I resigned from an MSC committee because I wanted a headmaster of a school to be included on the committee so that there was a link between education and further education. A principal of a college of further education said that he would resign from that committee if I tried to force through the measure. In the end, I gave up trying to beat such bureaucracy.

Training boards were a good idea when first set up. They had some fundamental good points, but they were also flawed and, in the end, became a cop-out. They became too bureaucratic. There were many more bureaucrats shuffling pieces of paper around making sure that levies or grants were right than there were people involved in training. The boards were wasteful in that they did not give a true return for the amount of money that employers were forced to put into the scheme. In fact, the grants and levy scheme did not work. My company was able to obtain an exemption because it was good at training. That had nothing to do with the money element.

We should have an audit of training, not of whether companies are putting in the right amount of money. I should like to see an audit of training as part of the Companies Act in the same way as there is an audit of a company's accounts at the end of every year. It would be interesting to see how many people have been engaged in and completed training, and, in the final analysis, whether it is cost-effective.

Therefore, training boards were a cop-out. They were somewhere for people in their latter years to go on an occasional afternoon. The further education colleges are not much better. The audit report shows that they are almost worse. However, even the audit report could be flawed because the statistics on which the commission has just reported are, I understand, three years out of date.

There has been considerable discussion about skillcentres. I believe that the Government have got it wrong. It is not the first time that I have told the Government that they have got it wrong on this issue. I have told them on at least four occasions in the House, and I make no secret of it. To close the skillcentres before the other scheme had been introduced and was proven to be better was wrong. The Government should have maintained the skillcentres and found the additional resources and finances necessary to try out the new scheme, which I am sure will be successful in the rural and far-flung areas. They should not have closed the skillcentres first.

My skillcentre in Middlesbrough is one of those that are doomed. I wrote and asked why Southampton and Twickenham were not having their skillcentres closed, and why they were removed from the list. The answer that I received was that the chamber of commerce in Southampton had decided to take on any shortfall in financing of the skillcentre in Southampton. I wonder whether that option was given to the chamber of commerce in Middlesbrough, or to chambers of commerce in any of the constituencies in which skillcentres are being closed. Therefore, the Government have got it wrong in closing skillcentres.

The main reason why the Government have got it wrong relates to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough. Seven days ago at this time of day there was a television programme on BBC North in which I launched an initiative called Job Link North. As is apparent to most people, I do not have a northern accent, although I represent a northern seat. I found that in Slough and the adjacent area where I come from, hundreds of jobs were unfilled. Therefore, I have now introduced a scheme, with the help of the jobcentres, chambers of trade and many other people, to have the local newspapers from that region sent up to the north so that people in the jobcentres and clubs can see them. I have not been partial about that because the newspapers have been put in Conservative and Labour clubs, and I think that there is even one Liberal club somewhere. Thus, as wide a spectrum of people as possible can see what job opportunities are available.

However many such initiatives are introduced, unless something is done about housing, the "on your bike" syndrome will fail. On 5 June I suggested that Ministers consider a scheme whereby anyone who has been unemployed for six months or more should be granted the equivalent of one year's benefits to act as a deposit on a house in a region of high-cost housing, subject to that person having a job and retaining that job over a given period. That lump sum, which would have been given to the person anyway for staying out of work for a further year or two or three, would allow the person to move to an area with skill shortages such as Slough and the adjacent area. It would save the Government money and give pride and impetus back to the person, but, more important in skill training, it would give a goal to some of the people in my area, so that they would take the trouble to learn skills in the traditional, old-fashioned sense, and would know that there might be a job in the end.

The prime reason why Middlesbrough skillcentre is to close is that one of the criteria is how many people go into jobs having been through the skillcentre. In an area of high unemployment, there is no need to give a person training in skills. It seems that that is the Government's attitude. I should have thought that we would want more people to be trained in skills so that they could go wherever they wanted with those skills.

Apprenticeships have changed and will continue to change. Skills are a movable feast. One of the things in which we have a proud tradition is the standard of skill training in the City and Guilds of London Institute, which has been recognised worldwide for many years. It celebrated its centenary not long ago. The institute, which I think many people would respect, has a new director-general, who took up his post last November so that he could have a break-in period before fully taking over in April. I have spoken to the new director-general. I asked him how many Ministers he had met. After all, he is the director-general of the most prestigious craft training institute in the world. The answer was, none. There are to be informal discussions between officials, before the formal discussions between officials, before they finally meet Lord Young in November.

I thought that perhaps I had got it wrong. I thought that perhaps the trade unions had been to see the director-general and everything was all right. I have to admit that one trade union has bothered to send its man in charge of training to the institute to talk about training today and in future. That trade union is the one that is least liked by Opposition Members — the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union. By and large, the trade unions have little to boast about in that area.

I am getting signals from the Whip to shut up, but I want to tell the House something about voluntarism. I know a teeny bit about this industry. I should declare an interest. There was not a single betting shop anywhere in 1963—not one—because they were illegal. Since 1963, many betting shops have been opened in this country Almost all of them are managed by someone who has been trained, entirely voluntarily, in bookmaking. Not a single penny piece of public money has been put into it. Perhaps one of the reasons is that the mathematics is a little too complex for some of the teachers in our schools. However, the industry has stood absolutely on its own two feet. It has never sought anyone's assistance. It has many skilled, trained people today, all of whom have come through the business.

I spoke first on this subject two years ago. I shall no doubt speak on it again in two years' time, and again two years thereafter, because training is an ongoing subject. I wish the Government well, but I wish that they would sometimes watch the amber lights as well as the green ones.

6.19 pm

It always seems to be my lot in debates to be what would be termed in football parlance as the sweeper-up. However, I have sat through the debate patiently and enjoyed some of the speeches. I have been amazed at the abysmal ignorance of some Conservative Members about real life in engineering and industrial apprenticeships. I agree with the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) that the closure of skillcentres was a gross error of judgment. The skillcentre at Killingworth is being closed when thousands of miners are being put out of work, and there is a need to train mining, electrical and mechanical engineers from the mining industry in other skills.

The history of the Government's approach to training has not been good. Indeed, it has been abysmal. The Minister made some remarks which got up my nose, especially when he asked the Opposition how many hon. Members had visited a factory. I have visited many factories, especially during the last few years. It is normally a visit to hear about redundancies or, as it was last week, to hear about the loss of 700 jobs and the closure of a plant. That pattern has gone on for years in many areas.

The Minister then said that training must be relevant to the future. If he had said that five years ago, the position might have been different. A glorious opportunity has gone. We should have been spending our way out of trouble and on industrial training at the height of the depression. That opportunity has gone, as has the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts). I wanted to tell him that he has an abysmal knowledge of the trade union movement and the apprentice payment scheme. However, I agree with him that there are skill shortages in some areas.

The Government have engaged in an academic exercise on how to spend less money and gain more, but it does not work. We are not spending the necessary time, effort and energy in training for the future, relative to a greater need and a higher level of technology, to meet the rapid changes. That is where the Government have gone wrong.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park) who contradicted the Minister's remark that training for its own sake was no good. That is open to challenge. Training does not merely involve studying technology, and training, but meeting people and discussing the progress of educational training. It provides the opportunity to discuss the problems that arise in industry and commerce, and helps to build up an ability to communicate with others on problems. Earlier, it was argued that training facilities were being moved into rural areas. What good will that do when one instructor trains four or five people in a village of 400 people? Those people will remain isolated from the arguments that go on about the problems of industrial training. They will become introspective, instead of seeing the wider world of technology.

I too have limited time, I shall conclude. The motion sums up every problem that faces the Government, and their complete failure to meet the challenge. I feel sorry for the Ministers. The Secretary of State and his Ministers know in their hearts that they are being forced by the Treasury into financially based action, which they dislike. They have been in office long enough to realise that the policies that they are being forced to implement will not work. It is time that someone from the Department said so, and took a much tougher stance in Cabinet.

6.24 pm

Proposals by the Manpower Services Commission to streamline Britain's skillcentre network have met with the predictable response from Labour spokesmen that the Government are applying their dogma of market forces to training. However, closer examination of the facts shows that the proposals are necessary if Britain is to have any genuine hope of competing effectively against our major rivals for world trade.

Last August, the Institute of Manpower Studies published a report with the stark message that spending on vocational training must rise if Britain is to compete. The report, entitled "Competence and Competition", concluded that Britain was seriously lagging behind its rivals in training, notwithstanding that the Government and British taxpayers were paying a higher proportion of training costs than was the case in the other three countries studied—Japan, West Germany and the United States.

The difference in training and competitiveness is not because of too little being done by the Government but, as the report found, the fact that whereas businesses in Japan, West Germany and the United States want to invest in people's training, British employers rarely assess what they should spend on education and training. In West Germany, which has a similar population to Britain, each year employers spend about £7 billion on continuing vocational education and training. Some 80 per cent. of the costs of Germany's expensive apprenticeship system is funded by employers, yet there is no need for compulsion because German employers see the value of investing in their work force. By contrast, too many British employers for too long have been inclined to think that whenever they are short of skilled people, they have only to telephone the local job centre and the people they need will be available and ready trained. They are not.

If Britain is to have a better skilled, more flexible work force, employers must take the lead in training. After all, they are in the best position to know their skill needs and to train people for new jobs. The machinery and technology in which companies invest can be the same the world over. What makes the difference in a highly competitive world is what people do with that machinery or technology—that means training a skilled work force, and employers investing in people.

Until recently the skillcentre network has had all too little to do with employers. All too often people at skillcentres have been trained speculatively for yesterday's skills with no prospect necessarily of a job at the end of their course. Without business direct from industry, skillcentres became all too dependent on one source of income — the budget of the training division of the MSC. But the MSC found that it could often buy equally good training from colleges of further education, often at half the price of skillcentres. Skillcentres have become increasingly under-utilised and expensive to run and, therefore, last year the skillcentre network had to be subsidised by taxpayers by about £12 million. That £12 million was spent on bricks and mortar, not on training anybody. If that had not been rectified, that subsidy would have been become £50 million in a couple of years' time, which is almost a quarter of the money available for adult training. Every pound spent on subsidising skillcentres is a pound less for training people. Therefore, it must make sense to streamline the skillcentre network to ensure that it carries out training directed to known employment needs, and to skills that are needed today, in the 1980s and in the next century.

It does not matter whether the building is called a skillcentre, a college of further education or a technical college. What is important is the quality, relevance and cost-effectiveness of the trainingin. Regarding the adult training strategy, the number of adults trained under MSC programmes each year will double to 250,000 by 1986, including a significant increase to 125,000 in the number of unemployed people getting new skills training. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that both the adult training strategy and the skillcentre training agency's business plan received the unanimous endorsement of the Manpower Services Commissioners, including the trade union commissioners.

I shall conclude by touching on the youth training scheme. It is only Opposition Members who knock the YTS. They pay lip service to it, but when it comes to the crunch, they never give it their wholehearted endorsement. They are torn between wanting to endorse it and not wanting to give the Government credit for a good scheme. We have been asked what we want from a two-year YTS. It is clear what we want and what the Government and the MSC can deliver. It is a scheme to provide a vocational and educational training and work experience to all youngsters, ending with a vocational qualification—a qualification demonstrating occupational competence that can be taken into the work area.

Much has been said about the Government's contribution to the scheme in terms of funding, but we should remember this. It looks as though the Exchequer money available could stretch to a contribution of between £150 and £170 a month for each trainee for each of the 24 months of the two-year programme. If we take the mid-point of that range, it would mean an expenditure of £3,840 per trainee per annum. We should compare that with what is provided in West Germany. On its two-year apprenticeship scheme, the average net cost to the employer is £3,600 per trainee per year. No money is provided by the state. Why do German employers continue to make that contribution each year? The Germans are fully conscious that their industrial success and high standard of living depend upon their ability to produce advanced goods reliably and efficiently. That means that the Germans have stopped regarding training as an on-cost and now regard it as an investment.

Britain will improve its position not by forcing employers, through a statutory framework, to contribute more towards training, but by making employers realise that training is an investment, not an on-cost.

6.31 pm

I do not wish to blight the parliamentary career of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) by saying that I agree with his comparison with German industry. Suffice it to say that, in any recession, training is the first casualty. I understand that, especially in small businesses employing fewer than 200 people, the struggle to keep the business alive—it certainly is a struggle under this Government—often leads to dispensing with training. It may seem to be necessary as a short-term measure, but it is not prudent in the longer term.

A vital element in any recovery is confidence. The Government do not help to create confidence by saying that they will abolish the state earnings-related pension scheme because it will not be affordable in the future. The only conclusion that can be drawn from that is that the Government are not confident that Britain will have the sustained recovery that would make such a pension scheme affordable.

We are entitled to ask why there is such a shortage of skills. Between 1980 and 1984, 170,000 craftsmen were lost to the engineering industry and several thousand apprentices were made redundant. But skilled workers can turn their hands to other jobs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) said, people may be reluctant to return to an industry when it is held in such low esteem by a Government who believe that we can earn our living by taking in each other's washing. Our competitors realise that a strong manufacturing base is essential for a thriving economy, and, therefore, Germany trains twice as many technicians as we do.

Without wishing to detract from the initiatives which the Minister mentioned, it is still true that, on 26 April, the CBI announced that one in 10 firms expects its output to be held back by a shortage of skilled labour during the next quarter, and that this was expected to remain the same during the next year. Some firms expected the position to become worse.

Unfortunately, industry, with some honourable exceptions, has never given training and retraining the priority that they deserve. That applies especially to firms employing fewer than 200 people, which rarely have training facilities. They expect to be able to lift skilled personnel off sky hooks when they need them, and to replace them on the hooks when they do not need them. They expect to be able to poach enough people to meet their needs. Firms must substantially alter their attitude to training and regard it as an essential cost if they are to remain in business over a period, because a major stumbling block to better performance by British industry is technical expertise and training. I accept that apprenticeships must change with the times, but now we have only 8,000 engineering apprentices compared with 25,000 only recently. If anyone imagines that those 8,000 apprentices will meet our future needs, he had better think again. That number will go nowhere near to meeting the needs of industry.

As to the introduction of a two-year YTS, given the will by Government and industry, it should be possible to identify and tailor schemes to the needs of industry. That should be possible, but I am discouraged about the appreciation of the need, because on the same day as the CBI made the announcement to which I referred, the west midlands CBI said in a covering letter that it had done no more work on the identification of skills shortages than had been done at national level. Had that organisation been seized of the need, it would have examined the matter much more deeply.

Those tailored schemes would be aimed at specific needs. I believe that industry would be prepared to contribute towards the cost, and it could even go some way to eliminating the criticism that YTS is a cheap labour scheme by providing real jobs at the end of the training. Such a scheme would need greater commitment, but if translated into reality the problem would be to accommodate all those who wished to take up the training.

6.38 pm

The motion tabled by the Labour party is a combination of reaction and party political propaganda of the most depressing sort. The Opposition hark backwards to a pattern of training that was inadequate and which the Labour Government did nothing to improve. The principal features of the Labour Government's policy for the provision of skills were the abolition of grammar schools and the invention of the youth opportunities programme. That response was derisorily inadequate, if not actively destructive.

The speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) betrayed his resentment of the Government's approach, which has been thoughtful, constructive and determined, and through which a great deal has already been achieved. The Government have produced a succession of documents, including the "New Training Initiative" and responses to consultation, "Training for Jobs", "Education and Training for Young People" and, on the education side, "Better Schools" and "The Development of Higher Education." Those documents have defined the issues, led the debate and helped us to establish a national recognition of our modern needs.

Those needs are a foundation of basic education in which every pupil has the opportunity to acquire intellectual, practical and social skills, as well as the confidence and discipline to enable him to cope with and adapt to the modern world of work. That foundation must be built upon with a period of occupational training which will provide the bridge from education to a job. Thereafter, every worker must have the opportunity of periodic retraining so that he will have the security and dignity of knowing that he will be needed and can continue to contribute.

Central Government have increased their spending allocation to training by four times in the last five years. We are moving away from a situation in which 16-year-olds are cast, vulnerable and often ill prepared, on the job market, 40 per cent. of them with no formal qualification and a high proportion of them having been for years demotivated at school and personally pessimistic about their future. We are moving to a situation in which every school leaver will have the opportunity to undertake a considered programme of work experience and structured training leading to qualifications, so that at 18 youngsters will be able to take their place in the job market, properly equipped and prepared.

What is really happening in relation to skill shortages? Certainly the skill shortages are not such as to abort the present recovery. The CBI survey in April found, however, that one in 10 companies expected skill shortages that would inhibit their future progress. It is interesting that within the severe shortages were shown shortages of skilled textile workers. The traumatic experience of the textile industry in recent years has shown that there is no absolute shortage of skilled textile workers.

Policies to meet skills needs must take account of three aspects of the labour market—mobility, cost and training.

We must help put the right people in the right places. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) spoke shrewdly on the subject. I will only add to what he said by pointing out that it is important to pursue policies to improve the provision of private rented accommodation, so that people who choose to move from Sunderland to High Wycombe, for example, can find somewhere to live.

If there are shortages in skills and a tradition of under-investment, it is partly because of excessive costs. In that, the trade unions have, unfortunately, played a damaging part. They have sometimes made it impossibly expensive to provide the necessary training. They have insisted on time serving when increasingly we need to achieve competitive standards and to adapt rapidly. The unions insisted upon demarcation when there was an increasing premium on adaptability and the transferability of skills. Above all, trade unions have forced up the pay of young workers. The whole labour movement remains doggedly intransigent on that. In the interests of young people, it is realistic to recognise that in the early years of their work experience they should be trainees rather than employees. As a result of training, they will be able eventually to make their full contribution and earn adult levels of pay.

When considering the educational content of training we must continue to address ourselves to the problem of the cultural gap which has long been established between education and industry. Much is now being done to build bridges. The Government are making grants to improve local liaison. The CBI has its Understanding Industry initiative. That is helpful, but I should like the in-service training of teachers to offer more opportunities for teachers to be seconded so that they can enjoy first-hand industrial experience. Then they would no longer convey to pupils the idea that a career in industry or commerce is second best. Equivalently, I should like industry to be more active in contributing to the development of the curriculum.

We chose to destroy our technical schools in the 1970s. It is an interesting and sad irony that over the same period the Germans have moved to a position in which 50 per cent. of their schoolchildren now attend technical schools—the Realschulen. Research under the auspices of the NIESR has found that average levels of mathematical attainment by German school leavers are two years ahead of ours.

Much has to be done. There is no doubt that the Government's initiatives in the reform of the curriculum and the examination system — for example, the introduction of the GCSE, with its emphasis on practical competence and problem solving—will help, as will the TVEI.

However, we cannot afford certain self-indulgent professional, political and bureaucratic attitudes. We cannot afford the NUT to block the reform of teachers' career structures. Local education authorities, including some which were Conservative-controlled, went into sulks because the Government insisted that the MSC should spend some of the money which they were accustomed to spending. Some Left-wing Labour-controlled authorities are spurning TVEI on the bogus principle that it erodes their proper sphere of influence.

Industry can make a much larger commitment to training for the future. The lessons which are so well expressed in the MSC document "Competence and Competition" will not be ignored. The best of British companies recognise the need for a policy of investment in the use of human resources from the top down. It is people who cause a company to succeed or to fail.

I am confident that industry will respond to make an even greater success of the youth training scheme which has already had a remarkable effect in only two years. We must build on the successes and recognise that YTS is not a palliative for unemployment but a key part of a policy to build suitable training bridges between school and the entry to employment at 18-plus on a properly trained and qualified basis.

Unions and industry should respond to the Government's challenge of a second-year YTS. There will be difficulties. Many firms have as many YTS trainees as they can handle. Some industries, including parts of engineering, are in a fragile financial position. Training costs are higher in some industries than in others. Many new participant firms will be needed and much has to be sorted out before April 1986. However, industry will benefit from a better trained, better motivated, better skilled and more flexible work force.

The Government deserve to be congratulated on their policies to meet Britain's skill needs.

6.46 pm

The House is at least agreed about the appropriateness of the timing of today's debate. However, the Minister's speech betrayed an awful complacency and a dangerous ignorance of the extent and gravity of the problem. He was blasé. Perhaps he is bored with the subject.

I sympathise with the Minister because the problems with which he has to grapple daily are not easy. However, the problems will not go away. Nothing that he has said today will make it easier for him or his Department to deal with the problems of British industry or of British youngsters who are in urgent need of skill training to meet the country's needs.

This has been a good debate, but we expect something better from the Under-Secretary of State than a recital of the odds and ends about which he will be anxious to tell us. We want him to respond to the heart of the debate and to tell us how the Government intend to reverse the downward spiral. I accept that he will not have long to do that.

I must comment on four outstanding speeches from the Opposition Back Benches. I refer to the speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), who spoke with the full authority of a Chairman of a Select Committee; my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding); my very close friend the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park), who spoke with detailed knowledge of the midlands; and my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), who spoke with a depth of experience derived from a lifetime in industry.

Opposition Members have our different perspectives and emphases, but we are agreed about the extent and gravity of the problem. A wealth of reports has been issued in the past two years. It seems that everyone but the Minister and his Department are seized of the difficulties and dangers. The document "Competence and Competition" from the NEDC and the MSC — [Interruption.] It is here. It has obviously not been read by the Minister. All that he has done is read the title, but I have read the report. That is why he could not today talk with any meaning about that important report. If the Minister had read the report, he would not have talked so much rubbish about going round factories in the west midlands, without understanding that, behind the automated assembly lines, there is a need for technicians, apprentices and skills. The Minister does not understand. If he cannot see people or apprentices, he does not think that we need skills or apprenticeships. Of course we do, and we need them in the same numbers as we had previously. We are not even replacing those who are leaving because our factories are declining. Skilled fitters and skilled electricians are doing other jobs in the economy and no longer fulfilling their proper roles.

There have been many reports on the matter, including one from the House of Lords. There can be no doubt about the serious danger that we face. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) quoted the figure for the amount spent by British industry on training —figures provided by the MSC—as being 0·15 per cent. compared with what the MSC believes should be 2 per cent. of turnover. I do not want to quibble about the figures; I wish only to bring home to the Minister, the Under-Secretary and Conservative Members the extent of the gravity of the position. There is no room for complacency. Britain is going backwards while other countries are racing forward. That is something that the Minister does not want to grasp.

In a moment, I shall put forward policies that the Government should adopt—[Interruption.] I could take a great deal longer with my speech, but the Under-Secretary would not like his hon. Friends to encourage me to do so. If the Minister does not believe what I am saying, let him read the news release from the CBI. After all, Sir Terence Beckett is a great supporter of the Conservative party. It states:
"A breakdown of the skill shortages now being faced by British manufacturing industry shows that they cover many types of jobs ranging from welders"—
[Interruption.] Of course robots are on line doing blind spot welding—it is the first generation of robotics. But there is a great deal more to manufacturing than robots on a car assembly line. The report continues:
"and sewing machinists, to technicians and computer programmers … they cover a wide range of jobs and are not confined purely to information technology."
I shall not read on because time does not permit me to do so.

What has been the Government's response? I can pick out four points, having listened to the debate. First, they have reduced the skillcentres by one third, and it has cost them £12 million to do so even though there was opposition from their own supporters. Secondly, the Government have abolished 16 training boards because they were not perfect and, supposedly, were not doing their job. Has the private sector been doing its job? Of course not. If we are to give the private sector a lead, if we are to encourage it and bring it with us, we must establish something to achieve that. Of course the boards were not perfect, but the answer was not to close them; it was to make them better.

Thirdly, the Government have blamed the unions. We hear that time after time, ad nauseam. Yet the Policy Studies Institute said about Britain's non-problem, the unions:
"In Britain opposition to the introduction of the new technology from the shopfloor or the trade unions is seen as an obstacle to its adoption far less frequently than economic, technical or skills problems."
If only the Minister and his hon. Friends understood that.

It continued:
"half as many"
are experiencing problems because of the unions
"than in Germany … or France."
I shall let the Minister see that report.

Fourthly, the Government have said, "Let us leave it to the companies; voluntarism will work." Cannot the Minister understand that it was because voluntarism was not working in the 1960s that we embarked on industrial training boards? Cannot the Minister see the crisis of the growing shortage of skills across the whole range of industrial requirements? It means that voluntarism is not working.

If the Minister does not like what the Labour party is saying, let him read the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology entitled "Education and Training for New Technologies." What is wrong with the four or five important recommendations that it contains? We have not heard a word about that from him. Perhaps the Under-Secretary, when he replies, will say that he will implement those recommendations because he is responsible for training for industry.

I do not want to get into the debate about whether training should be for training's sake — although I happen to believe that. I believe that we will get the training that we need only when we stop allowing our industrial base to decline. It is only when the jobs are available that there will be training geared for them. The expansion of the economy and of the skill training programme are the twin pillars on which we must base our policy to meet the requirements that those will bring with them.

6.54 pm

In the six minutes left to me, I wish first to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel), for Slough (Mr. Watts), for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) for their contributions. I also acknowledge the contribution of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), who got things totally wrong when defining the industries for which we should train and those for which we should not.

I thank the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) for his sometimes elegant and sometimes inelegant swipe at the YTS. I also thank the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne (Mr. Golding), whose filibuster I have heard eight or nine times before, and which was inevitably targeted on British Telecom—a success story that he would rather not begin to recognise.

I wish to address my brief remarks to those parts of the motion that state that the Opposition
"condemns the Government's failure to make proper provision for improving the extent and standard of modern skills training that is essential for Britain's economic recovery and industrial growth."
It then admonishes the Government for
"its failure to provide quality training for the new technologies"
and goes on to recommend a comprehensive statutory framework.

I can leave to one side the micros-in-schools programme. There is not time to discuss that today, other than to say that it has been a magnificent success, producing the first computer-literate generation of school leavers. There is no time to discuss the information technology centres—all 175 of them. There has been a great deal of argument tonight about placement rates from the various programmes, but we are talking about 75 per cent. — plus placements in jobs from the information technology centres.

Saddest of all, there is not time to discuss a certain document. There has been some to-ing and fro-ing about who has read what and who has bothered to do his homework. I am convinced that Opposition Members have not read the script for tonight's debate—it is called "The Human Factor—The Supply Side Problem". Not only has my hon. Friend read it; he helped to write it. There were contributions from the MSC and, most important of all, contributions from people in industry who actually hire graduates in the new technologies—the graduates on whom we depend for our future economic well-being.

We must address ourselves to another problem—one that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) failed to diagnose accurately. He fell into the old mistake of talking about a dual labour market and high tech versus low tech. There is no such thing as a clear distinction between high tech and low tech. The so-called low tech industries, by becoming involved in new production processes and by applying intellect and added value to their manufacturing processes, in fact become sunrise industries; they become the users of information technology.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield said. He spoke about a coherent and comprehensive approach. He then spoke about a modular integrated approach—part of the overall understanding of life and work. He then went on to talk—a little more ominously — about a comprehensive statutory framework, then about a comprehensive contributory fund and then about training committees with trade union involvement. The hon. Gentleman wrote his speech on the basis that he might obtain a good mention for terminology in the editorials of The Guardian; it was not a speech suitable for tonight's very serious debate.

The missing element in the assertions of the hon. Member for Huddersfield was the costing of the proposals contained in "Plan for Training". On the Labour party's own figures, the centralised, bureaucratic, modular, comprehensive and integrated—call it what one will—approach would cost £6 billion. The statutory minimum wage to which his party is committed would cost another £200 million. The cost of full trade union rates of pay for YTS trainees would cost £260 million—and the hon. Gentleman tells us that we do not understand the market forces behind training. The Government realise that the pace of change, the flexibility that is required and the fluidity that is necessary in our labour markets and training markets—

It being Seven o'clock, and there being private business set down by direction of THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further proceeding stood postponed.