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Volume 480: debated on Thursday 16 October 2008

The 2007-08 apprenticeships performance indicator of 75,000 framework completions has been met and exceeded early. with 112,000 people successfully completing an apprenticeship framework in 2006-07. Apprenticeship completion rates reached an all-time high in 2006-07 of 63 per cent. compared with 24 per cent. in 2001-02—and an effective rate of zero under the Tories. Apprenticeship starts have increased from 65,000 in 1996-97 to 184,000 in 2006-07. Expanding apprenticeships will play a key role in improving the nation’s skills base, and we plan to deliver more than 250,000 apprenticeship starts and 190,000 successful completions by 2020.

I welcome the Minister to his new job, and I wish him well in what is a very important responsibility. Following on from what was said on Questions 1 and 2, may I tell the Minister that many of the young people, and their families, in Southwark and Bermondsey would far rather they did apprenticeships than stay on at school to 16, let alone to 18? It is therefore important that we have good opportunities for work experience related to apprenticeships, and then good careers advice linked to real companies who are willing to take these young people on, if they are qualified to do the job. Can the Minister give me some assurance that there is a real—not a notional—opportunity for youngsters in construction and other industries who are clear about what they would like to do, but at present find it difficult to get the encouragement through their teenage years?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious words of welcome. I had expected a few such words from my old friend from South Holland and The Deepings, who was in fact just mean to me before I even had a chance to stand up and reply, but I shall soldier on. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, of which the Government are cognisant. We have introduced junior apprenticeships to try to take the whole concept of apprenticeships down into school so as to introduce schoolchildren gently to the notion of what an apprenticeship is and how it works, and to put them on the pathway to one. A whole new framework of careers advice and guidance will be part of the new Bill that we hope will be forthcoming in the next few months.

I have looked up the figures and noted that the number of apprenticeship starts in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is quite low compared with the national figure. If he would like to come to talk to me about that at any point, I would be more than glad.

I too welcome my hon. Friend to his new post, and I certainly do not see him as a novice.

There are disproportionately more apprentices in England and Wales than in Scotland. Does my hon. Friend have any advice for the Scottish Government about how to rectify that unacceptable situation?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words of welcome. Indeed, if I am a novice, it is overnight success after seven and a half years on the Back Benches.

As for Scotland, far be it from me to advise the Scots, but if I were a Scot I would support John Park’s proposed apprenticeship Bill in the Scottish Parliament. I would consider issues such as why apprentices get paid £40 in Scotland compared with £95 in England, and why the Scots have put all the apprenticeship budget into three sectors and abandoned the rest. I would be looking for answers to those questions in the Labour MSP John Park’s Bill.

I congratulate the Minister on his promotion and on his new sartorial elegance, and I wish him every success in his important task. Does he agree that there is no more richly rewarding career than that of craftsman or craftswoman? We owe an enormous amount to the craftsmen of the past in the country. What are we doing to encourage young people to embrace a career in the crafts?

We have now reached a situation in which everyone is being nice to me, and I am very grateful for yet another hon. Gentleman’s kind and gracious words of welcome. I can say only that my sartorial efforts, such as they are, like the hon. Gentleman’s are not so much a new fad as antique.

The bulk of my answer is the same as it was to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is absolutely right to say that learning craft skills from an early age is a way to encourage and develop a sense of the value of learning a craft, and of building or making something. That starts in schools and, more than ever in the context of a massively expanded, high-quality apprenticeship programme, there are junior apprenticeships in school. Young people are doing, in old-fashioned terms, woodwork and metalwork and really getting a love for the materials and the craft.

7. What steps he is taking to increase the number of people successfully completing apprenticeship schemes. (227253)

The number of adults and young people completing apprenticeships has almost trebled since 2001. The Government’s document “World-class Apprenticeships” confirmed our commitment to making apprenticeships a high-quality option for both young people and adults and set out steps to increase the numbers of people successfully completing an apprenticeship.

In the summer we published the draft Apprenticeships Bill to drive and help sustain improvements in the quality of the programme. That will be complemented by an increase in apprenticeships funding to more than £1 billion by 2010-11. Expanding apprenticeships will play a key role in improving the nation’s skills base and we plan to deliver more than 250,000 apprenticeship starts and 190,000 completions by 2020.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new post, and I welcome the news of the increase in apprenticeships and completions. However, particularly in the hospitality and catering trade, some apprentices leave because of maltreatment by employers. My constituent Rosario Guarneri, in conjunction with City college Brighton, has developed a ground-breaking apprenticeship scheme that will, hopefully, address those issues and others. Will the Minister or a member of his team meet my constituent to discuss the matter?

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind personal words. The short answer to the end of her question is yes. The relevant Minister is the noble Lord Young, who I know is aware of this matter. He has agreed to meet the sector skills council, and has said he is very happy to meet her and her constituent. This sector is important: there are 14,500 starts made in the catering sector every year. In an apprenticeship, any mistreatment of employees by employers is unacceptable, and our new blueprint makes it very clear that a relationship of mutual respect between both parties is key. I am sure that Lord Young will do everything he can to ensure that this situation is rectified. My hon. Friend is a great champion of these matters and of her constituents, as we all know

I add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon). I also congratulate the Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), on his elevation—we can say that he now truly is PC.

My concern is that, in the present economic climate, the number of completed apprenticeships will fall, because fewer apprenticeships will be offered. Can the Under-Secretary give the House the figures on those who, having completed apprenticeships, are offered full-time, permanent jobs?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words of welcome. I think that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) might be wishing he had been a little more gracious in the beginning.

Obviously, in economically straitened times there are pressures on this sector, just as there are everywhere. One of the things that we have done is to introduce, in the particularly pressed construction sector, a construction industry clearing house for apprenticeship places, so that as people are laid off, we can try to re-find such places for them. I do not have the specific figures on the placements that the hon. Lady wants, but I shall certainly write to her with them.

Is the Minister aware that Sheffield Forgemasters in south Yorkshire employs 70 apprentices, which is almost 10 per cent. of its total work force, and that the company has a record of taking on more than 90 per cent. of the apprentices who qualify? Does he agree that companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters are providing a best practice model for some of the bigger employers in the country in taking on apprentices?

I agree that Sheffield Forgemasters is an exemplary company. I know that my hon. Friend who is now Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property visited it when he was Skills Minister and was extraordinarily impressed by the outstanding work that he saw. I am thus happy to say from the Dispatch Box that the rest of the country should be looking to Sheffield Forgemasters for an example of how to do this brilliantly.

I am not going to be kind, because I expect Ministers to do a job. I want rights for apprentices who are working on building sites in England, because the way they are being treated is absolutely abominable. They are having to make themselves bogus self-employed. The situation is absolutely crazy—Siôn, sort it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I must say that it is not actually my job to sort it but that of Lord Young, and he will do so. As a former apprentice and a former senior trade union official with decades of experience, he is more than well qualified to sort it. My hon. Friend may know that we have set up a review involving the construction industry, the construction industry unions and the sector skills council. All the stakeholders are holding a review to examine exactly these kinds of issues and everything else that has an impact on the construction industry and apprenticeships at this difficult time. My answer is the same as it was to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow): any mistreatment, of any kind, including through low wages, needs to be dealt with, and is unacceptable.