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Volume 467: debated on Thursday 15 November 2007

We have raised the proportion of young people completing their apprenticeships from 24 per cent. in 2001-02 to 63 per cent. in 2006-07. That has been achieved while the number of apprenticeships has trebled since 1997, standing now at 250,000. We are on track to achieve within the next few years completion rates similar to those of the best of our competitors in Europe.

I hear what the Minister says, but a number of my constituents regularly tell me that they would like shorter and more intensive apprenticeships and similar training courses. Does he not agree that for people on low incomes, or perhaps even no income at all, that could be a useful solution? Can he give me any encouragement on that subject?

There is a balance between the length of a course and its quality. Nevertheless, we will shortly be making some announcements about how we can ensure that there is greater flexibility for people coming forward with qualifications below level 2—the equivalent of five GCSEs. We need to do more to expand the number of apprenticeships, and we are committed to doing that—but there are already three times as many apprenticeships as there were 10 years ago. That represents real and significant progress.