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Skills and Further Education

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

I inform the House that I have selected the Prime Minister’s amendment to both the motions that are to be debated today.

I beg to move,

That this House regrets that the number of young people not in education, employment or training in England has grown from 686,000 to 850,000 since 2000, that the number of adult learner places has fallen by 1.3 million in just two years, and that the number of UK students enrolled at university is now falling; notes that current policies are hindering training opportunities by cutting support for second-chance students, placing too much emphasis on paper-based qualifications rather than raising skills, imposing too many bureaucratic obstacles on employers wishing to offer apprenticeships and freezing the further education capital spending programme despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to bring forward capital projects; believes that providing improved opportunities to up-skill and re-skill is more important than ever given the challenges posed by the recession; and calls on the Government to boost the number of apprenticeships, provide more support to young people not in employment, education or training, help small and medium-sized employers access training, improve opportunities for adult learners, and introduce an all-age careers service.

These are tough times. Our challenge is, of course, to emerge from this recession with a better-balanced and stronger economy, which means an economy that has invested properly in skills. In order to assess the challenges that we face, we should review the record of the past 10 years to see how we managed to prepare ourselves for the tough years ahead during the boom years, which are now dismissed as the age of irresponsibility. Those were the years when employment was rising but the number of young people not in education, employment or training, or NEETs, also rose, from 660,000 in 1997 to 780,000 10 years later, an increase of 18 per cent.

That is what we were doing in the good times. We also know what we were doing in comparison with other advanced western countries. A valuable report from the OECD entitled “Jobs for Youth” records our performance during the growth years compared with the performances of those other countries. Again, the story is very clear. While our rate for NEETs was getting worse and worse, the rate across the OECD on the very same measure was improving. Having been better than the OECD average at the start of Labour’s time in office, after 10 years our rate was below that average.

The unemployment rate among 16 to 24-year-olds rose in Britain from 13.4 per cent. in 1997 to 14.4 per cent. in 2007. In other words, youth unemployment was higher by the end of the boom years. By contrast, across the OECD as a whole the average youth unemployment rate fell from 15.6 to 13.4 per cent. In other words, we entered the boom years with a youth unemployment performance that was better than the OECD average, and we now enter the recession with a performance that is worse.

In his plethora of statistics, the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the historical record of the unknown, as opposed to the known, NEETs. Will he compliment Connexions in the black country, which has bucked the national statistical trend by both getting an increased number of 16 to 18-year-olds into training and work, thereby reducing the number of NEETs, and, in Sandwell, lowering the percentage of unknowns? It has therefore managed to improve statistics in both those areas.

That was an excellent speech. I happily congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the performance of the Connexions service in his area, especially as he made the crucial point when he described its performance as bucking the national trend, because it is precisely the national trend that we are focusing on in this debate.

If we had predicted in 1997 that we would be in the situation that we are now in, nobody would have believed us. If we had said that after 10 years of economic growth, and even after all the well-intentioned initiatives such as the new deal, we would have more young people not in education, employment or training and more youth unemployment than when the Labour Government came to power, Labour Members would not have accepted our forecast, but that is exactly what has happened.

I spent many years working in further education, and I recall that, in the period leading up to 1997, FE was left to go to rack and ruin; indeed, there was no capital spend towards the end of that period. One day when he has a spare moment or two, will the hon. Gentleman come with me to the A511 just a little north of Coalville town centre to have a look at the magnificent Stephenson college, named after George Stephenson, that has been built there, and which is having a huge impact on FE in Leicestershire? We will then see whether he can still read with a straight face the following phrases in the Conservative motion:

“current policies are hindering training opportunities…freezing the further education capital spending programme”.

What hypocrisy! If I were allowed to say that, that is the word I would use.

Thank you. Let me add that an intervention should not be taken as an opportunity to make a speech; it should be brief.

I will happily accompany the hon. Gentleman on a visit to his FE college if he will come with me and some of my hon. Friends to visit all the FE colleges whose governing bodies are now in little short of a state of crisis as their capital spending plans have been held up by this Government. That is the crisis in FE that we are drawing attention to, and it is causing a great deal of concern across the FE sector.

On 12 February, the Secretary of State will have an opportunity to visit Southgate college and there to hear of the plans for an £80 million development that would transform the college and make it a community hub. Sadly, however, the rug has been pulled from under its feet, because the capital approval has been withdrawn. That is the reality of the future facing what the Prime Minister said would be world-class accommodation.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope to turn to this issue later in my remarks, because we very much hope to get clear information on it today from the Secretary of State so that our FE colleges know where they stand.

We enter this recession with a weak position on skills, youth unemployment and young people not in education, employment or training. We need to learn the lessons from this policy failure so that we do not carry on making the same mistakes. There are several such lessons.

May I most warmly commend my hon. Friend for the good sense both of his motion and his speech so far? However, as he has moved on to the subject of skills, may I kindly ask him to rediscover his legendary cerebral powers and make sure that future motions in the name of our party do not contain such appalling terms as “up-skill” and “re-skill”?

My hon. Friend is fighting a very important battle for common-sense English. I shall take careful account of the point he makes, and we shall try to do better.

One of the reasons we face the problems that I am discussing is the policy mistakes made by this Government. One of those mistakes is, of course, the endless reorganisation of the world of skills. I am not going to give the House another potted history of the Government’s measures—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), says that he is relieved, but we are talking about his Government’s measures: the abolition of the training and enterprise councils, at a cost of £62 million; the abolition of the Further Education Funding Council for England; and the creation of the Learning and Skills Council and its 47 different local LSC branches. They had to be abolished so that instead there could be nine regional centres and, of course, the LSC itself is to be abolished and replaced by three new bodies.

In 10 years, we have seen a classic example of Labour’s hyperactivity in its endlessly abolishing and reorganising things. The end result was very well put in the recent “Simplification of Skills in England” report, in a section entitled “Rapidity of change”, which stated that

“the rate of changes in programmes, initiatives, organisations and procedures adds a further dimension of confusion for employers, who can find it extremely difficult to keep up with change and even become aware of new developments, let alone understand them.”

One of the problems is the endless process of change and confusion, which means that it is very hard for individual employers, and for individual young people who are trying to increase their skills, to find their way through the system.

Another problem has been the failure to reform our schools. As well as that schools failure, there is a skills failure: the failure to establish an effective skills policy that understands the difference between skills and qualifications. The Government have become obsessed with paying FE colleges to churn out paper qualifications, even if they are not valued by employers and even if they are not what young people or learners of all ages need. There is more to life, and indeed to education and skills training, than simply building up paper qualifications. It is because of the Government’s obsession with paper qualifications that so many people have lost out.

Adult learners have lost out, so I commend the excellent early-day motion signed by Members from all parts of the House on behalf of the Alliance for Lifelong Learning. Some hon. Members who are present have subscribed to the

“concern that over 1.4 million”

adult learner

“places have been lost in the last two years”.

We thought that the Labour party believed in adult learning; we thought that was one of the commitments and beliefs in the history of the Labour party. It is shocking to see this Government presiding over such a big decline in opportunities for adult learning across the country. The Government say that we do not need to worry because these are places for people to do basket weaving and belly dancing. Conservatives understand the value of those things—

I see my hon. Friend nodding in assent to that proposition. It is very important that people have an opportunity to enjoy those sorts of skills and activities, but it is not just those activities, however worth while, that have suffered—many that are of direct economic benefit have lost out as well.

I shall give way, provided the hon. Lady is a little briefer than her two colleagues were—I would appreciate that.

I recall that when I was working as an adviser in Surrey county council in the 1980s and 1990s, the then Tory Government cut belly dancing and basket weaving classes. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman recalls that too?

I do not recall those exact details. My recollection is that if one examines the figures for adult learning places, one finds that there has clearly been a significant reduction in the past few years. That is a direct result of this Government’s policies, and those reductions are not simply in respect of basket weaving and belly dancing.

Only last week, I received a parliamentary answer to a question in which I asked Ministers to describe in detail the different types of learning opportunities that had been cut under this Government. It revealed that in 2004-05 the Learning and Skills Council funded 1,456,000 places studying information and computer technology, but many of those places were filled by people who were not necessarily going to get a paper qualification in the end, so the axe came down. So by 2007-08, the number of places had fallen to 590,000, which means that nearly 1 million places have been lost in the last three years.

While the number of places has undoubtedly fallen, may I commend the proactive work of the Open university? It has recently introduced the Re-launch website which acts as a search engine to find both places and potential sources of finance?

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does on behalf of the Open university, which is based in his constituency. His point is well made and I strongly agree with him.

I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to Oaklands college in my constituency, which provides many courses for severely disabled learners, who struggle desperately to get funding, especially those in the 19 to 21 age bracket who cannot access student grants. The Government have severely cut the support given to my local college.

My hon. Friend is right, and that is another example of the obsession with paper qualifications. I spoke recently to a student with learning difficulties who was studying horticulture at an FE college, but the course would not gain her an NVQ. The LSC decided that it would fund the course only if it resulted in a paper qualification, so her worthwhile activity was cut as a result of a policy decision by the Government, and they should be ashamed of that.

Does the hon. Gentleman regret the way in which the Conservative Government introduced the national curriculum into schools in the early 1980s? It had the effect of pushing vocational education off the curriculum and alienating a generation of less able children.

We are now digging into the distant past. In fact, I support the principle of a national curriculum. As the hon. Gentleman will know, over the years it has been amended and changed in the light of concerns such as the one that he has expressed. I am trying to draw attention to why the decisions made by the Government have meant that this nation is not investing in the skills that we need, especially now in these tough times of recession.

My hon. Friend has made a powerful case about elements of complacency in the lifelong learning agenda over the past 10 years, but I am sure that he and others would want to look to the future instead of going through the history. Does he agree that, in view of globalisation and the tumultuous economic events of recent months, which will have a great impact in the decades ahead, we now need to train and retrain for four or five different careers over a lifetime in work that may last for 50 years, depending on changes to the retirement age? That is important beyond the paper qualifications achieved at university and to those who may never go to university, but who will need skills in a career that may last many decades.

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why many of my hon. Friends were shocked by a brutal answer from the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, in oral questions last week. We were talking about the importance of what are called—if I have permission from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) to use the phrase—green collar jobs. The Under-Secretary said that people could get such jobs only if they had studied a STEM subject—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—at university. We then asked about retraining, including going back to university to get a new qualification that might help people to obtain one of those new jobs. Such opportunities have been cut yet again by the notorious equivalent level qualification cuts made by this Government. They simply do not get the importance of adult learning and giving people the opportunities to learn and reskill.

I have been generous in giving way, and I will give way to the hon. Gentleman because I know he has a longstanding interest in this subject. However, after that I will try to make some progress.

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about adult training places, why is he proposing to cut £610 million from the budget?

No such cuts are proposed. We are refocusing the Train to Gain budget on what we think is the real need in our economy, which is more apprenticeships. Those are the proposals that my party has set out and they are the right policies for the economy.

I want to make some progress by inviting the Secretary of State, as he is about to intervene, to tell us more about the facts and figures behind the concern of many further education colleges across the country about the future of their capital spending plans. That is what we want to hear about today.

Indeed, I shall do that in a moment. However, will the hon. Gentleman help us? The leader of his party announced billions of pounds of spending cuts for the next financial year. He protected some areas of spending but not this Department. That is where the £610 million of cuts comes from. Is the hon. Gentleman in complete denial about the promises made by the leader of his party on 5 January?

The leader of the Conservative party made it absolutely clear that there would be reductions in the growth rate of public expenditure in the financial year 2009-10. They are a proposal in aggregate. Where we would make those necessary savings if we were in government is a subject for careful consideration. That is the position. I want to hear about the Secretary of State’s plans for the capital spending of FE colleges which are today trying to decide whether they should go ahead. We have already heard from several Conservative Members, but I shall quote to the Secretary of State some of the concerns that are being expressed in local papers. Let me quote from The Argus in Brighton, for example. City college Brighton and Hove was

“approaching a key stage in its application for funding but will now face an anxious wait to see the LSC’s next move…Plans for major work at Chichester College, Worthing College, Northbrook College in Worthing, Central Sussex College’s Crawley campus”—

and other colleges “have also been affected”. We have the same concerns about Wakefield college in Yorkshire and there are concerns in north Norfolk about an FE college there. We want to know from the Secretary of State—

If the hon. Lady is going to tell us what she is doing on behalf of her FE college, which is faced with capital cuts imposed by this Government, we shall be very interested to hear her.

I met the relevant Minister and representatives of Wakefield college less than a week ago, as soon as I was aware of the delay to the capital spending programme. I reinforce what I am sure my Front-Bench colleagues will say: this is a three-month review. It is a delay, not a capital cut. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should be wary of exaggerating and causing greater anxiety up and down the country.

If I may say so, the anxiety is not created by us. There is real anxiety among people on the governing bodies of FE colleges and the principals of FE colleges who are approaching us and asking us to raise on their behalf a statement from the Government about what they are doing. Perhaps it was my eternal optimism, but I thought the Chancellor meant something when he said in his pre-Budget statement last November:

“I can announce today that £3 billion of capital spending will be brought forward from 2010-11 to this year and next.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 495.]

I thought the Prime Minister meant it when he said in a speech on 5 January that

“we have…taken…tough decisions that will also benefit every region and nation of the UK to bring forward our capital spending programmes”.

If the Government are bringing forward capital spending, why is capital spending being delayed in the FE college sector?

The Secretary of State said in answer to questions on the subject last week that we should not worry because it is all in the pipeline. His pipeline is about as reliable as the one bringing gas to the Ukraine. His pipeline is not delivering the capital projects that Conservative Members are fighting for on behalf of our FE colleges. If it is all so fine, why has the Secretary of State asked Sir Andrew Foster to review the matter? What is the purpose of calling for yet another review if it is not a recognition that there is a problem? We want to know how many capital projects proposed by FE colleges are affected, the size of the funds involved, and when the Department first knew about the problem.

Another matter I want to refer to is the crisis involving wildcat action by workers in various parts of the country, which has been caused by their concern about what they believe to be the threat to their jobs from foreign workers. Clearly, we have to be very careful in how we approach this, as no hon. Member on either side of the House would have any truck with xenophobia. We believe in the free movement of goods, services and people around the EU, but perhaps the Secretary of State will illuminate the rather striking gap between what the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform have said about the action. The Secretary of State for Health said:

“If workers are being brought across here on worse terms and conditions to actually get jobs in front of British workers…that would be wrong and I can understand the anger about that”.

However, the Business Secretary said in another place the following day that there was no problem with the EU rules on the free movement of labour. He said:

“The statement issued by Total last night confirmed that workers from overseas are paid at the same rate as other workers on the site.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 February 2009; Vol. 707, c. 473.]

Being very generous-spirited, I shall take at face value the words of Lord Mandelson—and it is a long time since anyone has done that—about what he had discovered and the “confirmation” from Total. If all that is so, however, what is the competitive advantage of the workers being brought in from abroad over the workers we have seen demonstrating and asking for their jobs? That is the crucial question, and the crucial clue is surely in what the Prime Minister said when trying to explain the slogan—taken from the British National party—that passed his lips about British jobs for British workers.

On “The Politics Show” of 1 February, the Prime Minister said:

“When I talked about British jobs, I was talking about giving people in Britain the skills, so that they have the ability to get jobs which were at present going to people from abroad.”

That was the Prime Minister’s attempt to explain his egregious remark. If we take him at face value, the only explanation left for the failure of the workers we see protesting to get the jobs they hope to secure is the failure of his Government’s policies on skills. That is the only explanation left if we accept what the Business Secretary said and what the Prime Minister has offered as the meaning of his remarks. He meant that he was going to raise the skills of British workers so that they could secure those jobs, and they are protesting because they cannot get them.

I know the hon. Gentleman wants to be constructive on this issue, and it is clear that we want more skilled people and that there are people in this country who need more skills if they are to compete in any labour market, be it in England, Scotland or elsewhere. I have no particular knowledge of these matters, but I want to make an observation about remuneration and the rates for the job. I do not know what arrangements are made for workers’ accommodation—for instance, they may be put up in a large hulk or vessel—so we must be careful about this matter. The real point is what they take home and what they can send home, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that we must be constructive in our approach. We want as many skilled people as possible in this country, and it does not matter whether they are 20 or 60.

The right hon. Gentleman’s comments are a very salutary warning for Lord Mandelson, who should bear them in mind before he makes remarks such as the one that I cited about pay rates for workers from different countries.

The hon. Gentleman represents the party that gave us “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”, at a time when hundreds of thousands of British workers had to flee because there was no work for them here. He is talking about European directives, so can he confirm that, were his party to win power, its official policy would be to withdraw from the European social rights packages that are part of the law of this land—yes or no?

We believe that that is one of the things that need to be looked at as part of a negotiation about how the EU can tackle the jobs crisis that it faces. I am trying to focus on the Prime Minister’s words: his defence of the statement “British jobs for British workers” was that he meant that, by investing in more skills, we would be able to secure more British jobs for British workers. By its own measure, that approach has clearly failed.

We need more apprenticeships, and we can finance them by refocusing the money in the Train to Gain budget; that would pay for more apprenticeships, especially for people aged over 19. Labour Members raised the issue of the age range of people studying. The difference between the funding for apprenticeships for those aged under 19 and those over 19 is a form of age discrimination that we do not think is right. We want to offer workers aged over 19 a better deal when it comes to apprenticeships. We also want to offer a better deal to small and medium-sized enterprises. We believe that that, too, could be financed by a refocusing of the Train to Gain budget.

I have waded through one of the more tedious Government documents—their response to the Cabinet public engagement event in Birmingham in 2008. On that occasion, the Cabinet went to my home town and apparently met large numbers of local people, who raised with the Cabinet their concerns about various aspects of Government policy. Most of the comments in that Government document are pretty sanitised, but on skills for employment, the following crept in:

“While acknowledging the greater availability of apprenticeships, some employers were of the opinion that Government initiatives such as Train to Gain did not always meet their needs. Individuals also found it difficult to find the right apprenticeship for them, particularly in their local area.”

That is the Government saying that Train to Gain is not meeting the needs of local employers. That is what employers tell us, too, and that is why we think that the money should be focused on helping with apprenticeships.

I have set out the problems that the nation faces when it comes to skills. We want investment in apprenticeships, and we want more opportunities for people to get practical training, including adult learning places that are not linked to paper qualifications. What we have from the Secretary of State is an endless flow of announcements, many of which, on close inspection, add up to very little. Last week in oral questions I referred to the national internship scheme, which does not appear to exist.

Perhaps I could refer to another of the Secretary of State’s announcements—one that made the front page of The Daily Telegraph before Christmas, on Tuesday 9 December 2008. Underneath the fantastic banner headline of an article by Boris Johnson, “When did Christmas Trees Get So Expensive?”, there was the following headline: “Jobless middle class get study cash”. That article included the statement:

“John Denham, the Skills Secretary, announced in the Commons yesterday that he had spoken to university vice-chancellors to urge them to use the extra funds they will receive as a result of recent changes to VAT rates to spend on the ‘hard to reach’ group.”

I was in the House debating with the Secretary of State on 8 December, and I read that day’s Hansard. There was no such announcement by the Secretary of State. He did not announce any use of VAT. He had briefed The Daily Telegraph[Interruption.] Well, the story comes from him. He had briefed The Daily Telegraph on an announcement that he did not even make in the House of Commons. That is typical of the way in which the Government approach skills—through bogus announcements with no real policies behind them. That is no way to tackle the skills crisis that we face in this country.

I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman. What we need is very simple: less bureaucracy, less interference in further education colleges and fewer fake announcements. We need more real apprenticeships, more adult learning, and more assistance to get young people who are not in education, employment or training into work. We need a more robust and responsive skills system. That is why we Conservative Members will vote for the motion tonight.

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

“commends the Government’s efforts to boost the number of apprenticeships, provide more support to young people not in employment, education or training, and improve opportunities for adult learners and introduce an adult advancement and careers service; welcomes the real help provided to those affected by the downturn, including increasing the support available through the further education and skills systems; further welcomes the £240 million allocated to help those facing redundancy or newly unemployed; welcomes the additional £140 million to boost apprenticeships, the trebling of Professional and Career Development Loans, and making the Train to Gain programme more responsive, including through £350 million support for small and medium-sized enterprises; notes the Government’s planned investment of £2.3 billion in renewing and modernising further education facilities over this spending review; commends its efforts to help colleges and universities become more responsive to the employer’s needs, including the £50 million Higher Education Funding Council for England economic challenges fund, and to ensure the £175 billion public procurement budget maintains and strengthens investment in skills; further welcomes the simplification of existing systems; further notes that three million people access the skills system every year, with more 18 to 24 year olds working or engaged in full-time education compared to 1997; further notes the number of students in higher education in England is rising, not falling; and further notes that the Government will resist calls to cut skills budgets, as this would undermine the steps being taken to provide real help to business and individuals now.”

I shall choose my language with care. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) chided his Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), for using the words “up-skill” and “re-skill”. He may not know that I know that the hon. Member for Havant took those words from the recent Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee report on skills—the same Select Committee that recently criticised my Department for using “impenetrable” jargon in our annual report. This is probably a topic where we should all tread very carefully, because it is easy to slip into the jargon of the insider and the professional.

I very much welcome the debate. The hon. Member for Havant has saved me a little time and effort, as I had been urging the usual channels to hold a debate in Government time on the very same topic that we are discussing today. The debate is needed to remind everyone just how much the Conservatives neglected skills and further education when they were in government, and how much the legacy, such as the appalling number of adults left without basic numeracy and literacy at the end of the Conservatives’ term of office, has hung over, and still hangs over, the population of this country. The debate is necessary to remind people just how much of a threat the Opposition still pose, because they get it wrong time and again—as we have heard this afternoon. They misunderstand the problem and propose the wrong solutions time and again—as we have heard this afternoon.

Can the Minister explain why, after 10 or 12 years of a Labour Government, 40 per cent. of school leavers are unable to get five GCSEs, despite the fact that those have been watered down, and 60 per cent. of working class boys are leaving school with virtually nothing at all—one in four people unable to read and write after 10 or 11 years of Labour government? How on earth can the right hon. Gentleman put the blame for that on the Conservative Administration?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman go back and look at the statistics about 10 years ago, and he will see that on every one of the measures that he quoted, there has been a dramatic improvement under this Government as a result of the investment that we have made. I, and other Labour Members, give nothing to the Opposition for the fact that we remain dissatisfied and want to continue to press forward, but we have every right to know how much we have achieved following the appalling legacy that we inherited.

I acknowledge, by the way, that there are hon. Members on both sides of the House concerned about local further education college projects currently in the pipeline, and I will deal with that situation as fully as I can in a few moments.

Does my right hon. Friend find it interesting that the Front-Bench spokesman for the Opposition totally neglected to mention the huge amount of money that has been spent on union learning representatives—the £400 million or so that is vital to provide peer education? In Wakefield 39 per cent. of people in work have no formal qualifications whatsoever. Is it not vital that we invest in peer education and making sure that those people have qualifications? When we talk about ancient history and people in the 1980s going on youth training schemes and on the other botched training schemes that the Conservative Government ran, we should recognise that those people are now in their 30s and 40s, and will be working for the next 20 years.

My hon. Friend is right on both points. It is indicative that the hon. Member for Havant was unable to recognise one of the biggest success stories of recent years—that by providing modest financial support for people at work to encourage their friends to get involved in learning, we have reached many thousands upon thousands of people—about 250,000 every year—who would not otherwise have gone into learning. And they often volunteer for learning in basic numeracy and literacy, two areas where people find it most difficult to say, “I’ve got a problem and I want some assistance.” My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

I shall set out the huge gulf between the Opposition and the Government in respect of skills. We believe that in a downturn we need to invest in skills and training. The Opposition want to cut investment in skills and training. It is not acceptable for the leader of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), to announce that if his party was in power, from 1 April 2009 it would cut billions of pounds from public expenditure, and to name the Departments that would be protected and those, including this area of work, that would not be protected, and then for the hon. Member for Havant to say that there would be no cuts in any of these areas of spending. It is not credible or believable, and until I get a different answer, I will proceed by analysing the share of cuts that would fall to this Department and telling the House exactly what those Conservative cuts would mean for education and training.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that there are seven spending commitments in the Conservative party motion before us? They are:

“support for second-chance students…opportunities to up-skill and re-skill…boost the number of apprenticeships…more support to young people not in employment…help small and medium-sized employers access training, improve opportunities for adult learners, and introduce an all-age careers service.”

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a lack of shame is a hallmark of the bourgeoisie, and is now being exposed in Conservative Front Benchers, who put forward all those spending commitments but also wish to cut spending?

I might choose more temperate and moderate language. However, it is reasonable to assume that many Conservative Members seeking to intervene will, like the hon. Member for Havant, want to suggest that more money should be spent. Conservative Members need to understand that they come from a party whose leader has told them that less money—that includes less money for skills and further education—should be spent. That means cuts.

On the subject of Train to Gain, I should say that the Government, along with the various bodies, have announced some important flexibilities for small and medium-sized companies. That will be really important for constituencies such as mine.

We have talked about how money has been spent in different ways. Does my right hon. Friend not find it curious that the Conservative party seems to be unclear about whether it intends to abolish Train to Gain or whether—like the Liberal Democrats and their “penny on income tax” before the last election—it intends to spend the money in about five different ways?

As the Conservative party has made clear, the whole £1 billion in the Train to Gain budget for 2010-11 would not be spent on those activities. I shall come back to that issue later. The whole package of support for small businesses, and now for larger companies, and for the 1 million people who will gain qualifications every year under the Train to Gain programme, would be removed. There is no doubt about that, and it is a great shame.

Further to my right hon. Friend’s comments about cuts, does he share my puzzlement that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) claimed that under his plans there would be more apprenticeships for young people over 19? In fact, the cuts announced by his party leader would mean that not one young person over 19 would have an apprenticeship next year.

I am afraid that that is true. If we move to cut hundreds of millions of pounds from a budget in just a couple of months’ time, large areas of spending will not be possible. For that sort of cut, we could shut six universities—but of course we could not do that overnight, and huge costs would be involved. The only things that could be turned off to achieve that are those that can be turned off quickly, and that means cutting all apprenticeships for those over 19.

I shall make a little progress and then come back to my hon. Friend.

We believe that, in addition to support for investment in skills and training, there should be an increase in support for those who lose their jobs. The Conservative party opposed the measures needed to pay for that. It would do what it did before—nothing. We should work with Britain’s businesses to deliver the training that they say they want. That would give people the chance to gain the skills that they need. As we have just said, the Conservative party would take that chance away from 1 million people and thousands of firms.

In these difficult economic times the Government have three priorities: first, delivering global action to tackle a global downturn; secondly, delivering real help now to families and businesses to help them through the challenges of the here and now; and, thirdly, delivering real hope for the future by stepping up investment in our infrastructure, industries and skills.

Let us start with investment. When the Conservative party left office—at the time when the current, recycled, shadow shadow Chancellor was Chancellor of the Exchequer—the budget for further education colleges was zero. At the time, the National Audit Office described FE colleges as

“ageing and their quality and fitness for purpose was often unsatisfactory, affecting the reputation of the sector.”

Colleges were not fit for purpose. Since 1997 the Government have invested more than £2 billion in renewing and modernising FE facilities, and we will spend another £2.3 billion in the current spending review period. Since the programme began, nearly 700 projects in 330 colleges have been agreed.

I sense from the Secretary of State’s tone that he welcomes this intervention. I hope that he will be able to give good news in advance of his visit to Southgate college, where people are hoping to improve their build dramatically but where its principal and governors, and other constituents, are concerned that although a lot of money and time has been spent on these plans, which went to the planning committee last Thursday, they have effectively been withdrawn because of the removal of capital approval. Will he now give a commitment that there will be approval for Southgate college’s plans?

As I understand it, no college plan has been presented to the LSC in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency for approval, even in principle. It may well be that his local college has aspirations and hopes to move forward, as many others do and rightly should, but it does not do this debate much good to claim that colleges were on the verge of final approval when they are clearly some way further down the line in terms of planning procedures. I will be happy to discuss the situation at the college when I visit it in a few days or a few weeks’.

As I was saying, since the programme began nearly 700 projects in 330 colleges have been agreed. At present, 253 schemes are under way or are fully approved. Only 42 colleges in the whole of England have yet to receive any investment. Last summer, the National Audit Office reported the programme as making good progress with the renewal and modernisation of the FE estate. It found that the great majority of projects had come in on budget and delivered great improvements for learners, and said:

“The capital programme for further education is enabling colleges and the Learning and Skills Council to achieve together what neither could have achieved on their own, and is delivering high quality buildings.”

Let me get a little further, if I may, in setting out the position.

As part of the boost to the economy, which the Conservative party has opposed, we have brought forward £220 million over the spending review period to this year and the next. Let us be clear: it is my intention to ensure that every pound that we have promised to spend will be spent. The capital programme has not been suspended.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem has been that the Learning and Skills Council announced the deferral of a small number of projects for three months, alarming every college principal with a capital project? Aquinas and Stockport colleges in my constituency have capital projects worth over £60 million, which is a big investment in Stockport and in further education. Those two colleges have planning permission. Can he assure me that their plans will go ahead?

As I understand it, the two projects to which my hon. Friend refers have received full approval in detail. None of the colleges that have received such approval is affected by the current delay in LSC consideration.

My constituency, Rotherham, has been hard hit, with job cuts at Corus and with Burberry shutting down. Three weeks ago, the Rotherham Advertiser filled two pages with the new plans for the new development at Rotherham college of arts and technology, which had been signed off. I was concerned about that being displayed, given the misleading guidance to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) has just referred. I am meeting George Trow, the college principal, on Friday. Could the Secretary of State’s private office write to me before then with the assurance that he has now given at the Dispatch Box, with reference to Rotherham college of arts and technology? I would be most grateful.

The remarks that I made apply to colleges that have received full approval in detail to proceed. I am happy to write to my right hon. Friend ahead of his meeting.

Having set out the success of the programme and made it clear that it is my intention to ensure that every pound that we have promised to spend will be spent and that the capital programme has not been suspended, let me turn to an issue that is of genuine concern to Members on both sides of the House. There are schemes in the pipeline that have not yet been fully approved, and the LSC has put further approvals on hold until it has assessed the whole programme. The LSC has not yet provided a full analysis of all those schemes, but I need to be frank: many more schemes are currently in preparation than can be funded in this spending round. Some colleges that have anticipated early approval will be disappointed. Priorities will have to be set and hard decisions will have to be taken.

It is clear that in some cases, unrealistic expectations have been allowed to develop or have been encouraged, which is unacceptable. The LSC is, by statute, responsible for the management of the capital programme, but as Secretary of State, I will apologise to any colleges that find themselves in the position we have discussed, and as Secretary of State I need to find out how that situation arose and what lessons must be learned for the future. That is why I have agreed with the Learning and Skills Council that Sir Andrew Foster should carry out an independent review of the LSC’s handling of the programme. I hope that I have outlined the current position to the House as much as I can, and I undertake to bring forward more detailed information when it becomes available and when I am able to do so.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State has recognised the problem faced by FE colleges. Could he add a bit more information about the number of colleges whose plans are “in the pipeline”, and on the value of those projects, so that we can have a rough idea of the scale of the disappointment that he is talking about?

I am not able to do that reliably. The problem is that if I were to give the number of schemes that have formally been through every process and which are, as it were, sitting in the LSC’s in-tray for approval either in detail or in principle, I would be understating the problem—and I do not want to do that. We have just discussed a college in north London that would not fit into that category, but where I accept that some work has been done in drawing up plans for the future. The procedure has a regional and a national element, and I would prefer to make information available to the House when I have a full picture of the number of projects in the pipeline, and the stage that they are at. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that as an honest answer. It would not help for me to present what might be seen as a narrow definition of the colleges that have expectations of approval in the next year.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way a second time. I understand what he is saying, and I appreciate the suggestion that he will make information available, but will he undertake to come to the House with such a statement? Can he tell the House when he might be able to give us the information? The uncertainty is itself part of the problem for the FE sector.

The LSC told me that it is working towards being able to take the complete picture, with some clarification on the decisions it can take, to its council meeting, which is due to take place on 2 March. I hope that in the days or weeks before 2 March it will be possible, by written statement or in whichever way is appropriate, to make information available. I make that undertaking to the House because we are very proud of the programme. It was praised by the NAO and it has achieved a great deal of good. Colleges are being built, the programme will be delivered over the next two years, and it is unacceptable that some colleges that hope to be part of that process in the near future may face disappointment. We will make available any information that we can as it becomes available.

Before the Secretary of State leaves that point, he will note that the management and administration of the LSC has been one of the most messed-about aspects of education in recent years. Will the inquiry have a look at whether the continual chopping and changing in the way in which the LSC did its job contributed in any way to the freeze that he is dealing with at the moment?

I have asked Sir Andrew Foster to look specifically at the handling of the capital programme. Moreover, we are going to establish an agency focused on young people and on skills, which the House will be debating in a few days’ time, to advise us and the LSC on what lessons should be drawn from what has happened in the past few months for the future handling of the programme by those two agencies. I hope that that addresses the hon. Gentleman’s point, at least in part.

I look forward to the Secretary of State’s visit to my constituency in a few weeks’ time, where he will be able to see for himself the remarkable rebuild of the two outstanding colleges in my constituency. But, as far as future capital spend is concerned, would he remind us about what the Opposition have said about the extent to which they are prepared to match the Government’s spending programme?

It would have been seriously remiss of me to forget to draw attention to that point, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Opposition spokesman told the Association of Colleges that he could not even guarantee to deliver the capital spend promised by this Government in 2010. I hope that any Opposition Members who are rushing to put out press releases saying how terrible the whole thing is will say that their own party wishes to cut spending in 2010.

A global economic slowdown is the time to increase, not to reduce, investment in skills and training. Companies that invest in training are two and a half times more likely to come through the downturn successfully than those that do not. Today it is even more important that business knows that it can get real help from the Government. Those who lose their jobs need support, including help with skills to get back into work, and young people need more opportunities to learn and train for the jobs of the future. That is what we are providing, and what the Opposition oppose. They say that my Department should cut £610 million a year, starting from 1 April. They oppose the Government’s fiscal stimulus and the borrowing needed in a downturn, so they could not match the new investment that we are making or the new support provided by Jobcentre Plus. Now is the very worst time to make cuts, just when people need training to help them keep their jobs, when businesses need to train their staff to boost productivity, and when people need extra support to help them train or retrain to get a job.

The hon. Member for Havant talks of young people without work, education or training. He knows that the figures that he throws about represent a smaller proportion of a much larger generation of young people. Not content with ignoring the extra 1 million young people in work or education since 1997, he throws into the figure young people who are at home bringing up children—the Tories used to be in favour of that. He throws in part-time students—they used to be in favour of them, too—and students on gap years, just to pad out his press release.

Of course there is a real, if much smaller, problem of young people apart from the system. But what does the hon. Gentleman do? He opposes the very things that would help, such as raising the participation age so that more young people get work with training, and the new deal, which is giving young people extra support. His concern turns out to be empty rhetoric.

I hope that the Secretary of State will treat this as a genuine request for information. Given his commitment to getting people back to work, what assessment has he made of the potential cost of adding students currently on benefit to those who are exempt from his reversal of funding for equivalent or lower qualifications?

That is a slightly complicated question, which I may need to reflect on when I have a look at Hansard. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the change that we have made to ELQ funding, to create new opportunities for those who have never been able to go to university, was the right decision. Further measures have been taken to ensure that there are higher education courses to enable people with higher-level skills to reskill—I can say that word, as the hon. Member for South Staffordshire is no longer in his place—and gain new skills. That is the right approach to meeting the labour market’s need for people to retrain for a new career or a new direction.

The hon. Member for Havant mentioned apprenticeships. This Government have rescued apprenticeships from their collapse under the Conservatives and built them up so that they are well on their way to taking their rightful place as a mainstream option for young people. He could not match the extra £140 million that we are investing to provide 35,000 extra places this year. We want more than 250,000 apprenticeships next year, just when young people, and business, need that boost. The new national apprenticeship service will enable us to meet our ambition that one in five young people will take up an apprenticeship in the next decade, and to extend group training associations and support the extension of existing schemes. We expect the public sector to shoulder its share of responsibility.

Labour Members all know that when the Opposition were in power, apprenticeships were going the way of the dodo. None the less, does my right hon. Friend accept the concern about the position of some apprentices, given the difficult economic circumstances in which their employers find themselves? What action might be taken to ensure that the investment in current apprenticeships is not lost?

We have established a clearing house in the construction sector to try to match apprentices who may lose their jobs with other placements. We have also changed some of the rules in the system to make it easier for apprentices to continue their college-based training to get the necessary technical qualifications. We acknowledge the problem that my hon. Friend mentions and we are tackling it.

I have taken many interventions and I need to make some progress. I shall take more interventions if I can.

Even if the Conservative party stopped all apprenticeships for those over 19 next year, they would have to make further cuts of £400 million in education and training. We continue to expand higher education; Conservative Members could not.

More than 330,000 people learned new skills through Train to Gain last year, and more than 100,000 employers have engaged with the programme. By 2010-11, the programme will train 1 million a year. Train to Gain means training when and where employers want it, and it works for businesses and individuals. Forty-three per cent. of Train to Gain learners reported that they earned better pay, and 30 per cent. gained a promotion as a result of their training. Fifty-one per cent. of businesses reported an increase in staff productivity and 64 per cent. said that it improved their long-term competitiveness. The deputy director of the CBI recently said that Train to Gain is exactly the product we need at this time.

Yet the hon. Member for Havant and the Conservative party have repeatedly called for the abolition of Train to Gain. That means denying 1 million people and thousands of firms the chance to get on or use training to come through difficult times. Train to Gain lets us offer small businesses flexible training—short courses, which have an immediate impact on productivity. It has enabled us to work with companies such as Nissan, JCB and others to train workers who face short-time working. The Conservatives would stop that.

In the past two years, more than 1 million adults have gained their first literacy or numeracy qualification. Last year, almost 300,000 people got a level 2 qualification and 130,000 got a level 3 qualification—huge increases compared with five years ago. Those record improvements transform people’s lives and make a genuine difference. What would the hon. Member for Havant do? He believes that we should turn back the clock, end the courses and revert to subsidising Spanish courses for holidays.

Training will help companies through the downturn, but it cannot prevent every job loss. In the last recession, people who lost their jobs were abandoned without help or hope. Many drifted or were dumped on to incapacity benefit. Some never worked again. We will not turn our backs on those who lose their jobs. We have provided £158 million in new support to colleges, third sector organisations and Jobcentre Plus to help people get the skills they need to keep their job or find a new one quickly. We are challenging the whole education and training system to change the way in which it works, and to respond better to individuals and businesses. An extra 75,000 college places will be there for those who are out of work for more than six months. People will not have to choose between learning and earning; as they get into work, their training will continue.

At every level of education and training, people may want to reskill or retrain. We have supported and encouraged the Higher Education Funding Council, with £50 million match funding to help universities and support individuals and businesses now. A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Havant complained that he had read about that in The Daily Telegraph. Now the scheme is a reality, but he has not even congratulated us on it. That funding is possible because of the VAT cut, which the Conservative party also opposes.

We are trebling professional and career development loans, allowing for 45,000 new chances to gain skills and qualifications. We are planning for the future. We are establishing the skills funding agency to ensure that we can develop the skills that we need in the strategic parts of the economy, which will enable us to prosper when the upturn comes.

I welcome the fact that we are having this debate—a debate that the Government themselves intended to hold. I hope that I have explained why we wanted it. The Conservative party has a bad history, a wrong analysis of the problems, the wrong policies—and does not even have the courage to come to the House and explain how the cuts that its party leader has promised would affect this area of activity. Everybody will learn lessons from that.

The Secretary of State mentioned previous recessions. I have bitter memories of two recessions—one when I was in school and the other when I had just started work.

In the early 1980s, when I was in secondary school, my community in south Wales was devastated. Hundreds of people in one village could be thrown out of work in one day, sometimes as a result of the deliberate policy of the Government of that time. Shops were boarded up and people were in despair. Indeed, some people of my father’s era faced unemployment and insecurity for an entire generation.

I also remember being a young graduate trainee in 1990 in what is now PricewaterhouseCoopers, when the three people who sat near me—my manager and two supervisors—got a telephone call, reported to the fourth floor and were made redundant. They were then marched on to the pavement and I was told to clear their desks.

I have bitter memories of previous recessions, but many young people today simply have no idea what a recession is, because for the past 15 or 20 years they have grown up in an environment of increasing prosperity, rising house prices and a credit bubble—that is, in an age of consumerism. Now they suddenly find that that certainty—indeed, that bubble—has been pricked.

In a few months’ time, one third of a million undergraduates will be leaving university and, for perhaps the first time in a generation, they will not really know what the future holds for them. When I graduated 20 years ago, the pattern was the same as it is at present. Traditionally, the largest employers of graduates were in financial services, banking, the City and the professional services that support those occupations. However, the sector is facing its worst recession in a generation, so young people leaving university will be uncertain and worried about their future.

Those who are yet to decide what to do beyond school—to go into further or higher education—must be wondering whether it is worth making that investment, which now comes with increased personal debt, or whether they would be better off taking their chances in the workplace. Those already in the workplace knew that the dynamic 21st-century economy meant that they would probably have to train and retrain throughout their working lives. However, in a downturn or recession, they will have to rethink and to retrain all over again.

It must be something of a record in a debate on skills—I have had to do several in the three and a half years that I have been a Member of Parliament—that neither the Conservative spokesman nor the Secretary of State mentioned the Leitch report, which was meant to be the foundation of the Government’s skills strategy, taking us up to the 2020 economy. Perhaps that is because, two years on from Leitch, the Secretary of State and the Government realise that many of the recommendations and conclusions of that report are already effectively redundant, because the economy has changed. Many of the criticisms made of the report from the Liberal Democrat Benches in 2006 and 2007 are perhaps more apt now. In particular, employer-led demand does not seem so relevant when many people no longer have an employer.

Those who are unemployed or who fear unemployment will not be interested in arbitrary targets for qualifications. They need practical help now. We need a skills strategy, not a target for qualifications. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) may no longer be in his place, but I am afraid that we do need reskilling, which is ever more relevant, and not just the upskilling that seemed to be the foundation of the Government’s strategy just two years ago.

Some of the targets in the Leitch report, which are still embedded in Government policy, such as the attainment of a full level 2 qualification, as well as the funding linked to those targets, are perhaps not relevant to the many people who are having to refocus their lives and their priorities. For older workers in particular who may need to retrain to get a specific new skill, attaining a broad level 2 qualification, which is the Government’s main target, is not necessarily appropriate.

If we take reskilling to mean learning new skills in order to move into a different area of employment, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that such work is certainly happening in my constituency, particularly with the Honda workers. The Government are not ignoring such work; in fact, it is happening apace in my constituency.

I am not saying that no reskilling is taking place at all—obviously that would be absurd—but all the Government’s targets in the strategy that was commissioned by the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor back in 2006 are linked to upskilling the work force. Those targets were not so focused on whether people needed to reskill throughout their working lives. That is the point that I was making.

That point is backed up by research that some of us will probably have received in advance of today’s debate from, among many other organisations, Age Concern. A study by Age Concern has shown that an unemployed man over the age of 50 probably has only a one in five chance of returning to employment within two years. That is worse than the survival rate for many critical illnesses. Those people need a quick, personalised intervention.

We need a whole new approach to adult learning that involves retraining the older workers in an ageing work force as well as preparing the young for the fast-changing world of work. Adult learning—formal and informal—is especially good for women, as was illustrated by the conclusions of the skills study that the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) has been chairing. Perhaps he will speak about it shortly. The study shows that women in particular benefit from adult education, because many of the women who are now in the work force did not attain particularly good results when they were at school. The attainment levels of girls in the 1970s and 1980s were behind those of boys—a complete reversal of where we are today.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for publicising the “Women and Work” report that was published today. Does he agree that, when we are looking at reskilling in the downturn, we need to look carefully at giving proper value to what some people might call soft skills—the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is not here, so I can say that—although I prefer to call them enabling skills? They are precisely the kind of development and personal skills that will assist older workers, and women in particular, to get back into work or to improve their work skills base.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was pleased to be able to play my part in giving evidence and taking part in the seminar that assessed the evidence that has led to today’s report. Soft skills are relevant to women in the work force, and to young people entering the work force. One of the most common things that I hear from employers, and the organisations that represent them, is that they want people entering the work force to have not only literacy and numeracy skills but cross-cutting skills that will enable them to sell, persuade, articulate and engage in teamwork.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to get across the message that we are absolutely determined that people who are just over 50 should have the same opportunities as anyone else? I had two such people in my surgery last week, one woman and one man. Such people might have 10, 15 or 20 years’ work left in them, and they have the capacity and the will to do it. They must not be made to feel that they are second class when looking for new skills, new opportunities and new work.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a result of the demographic change that is to take place over the next decade or so, our national prosperity will become increasingly reliant on the people who currently make up that part of the work force. As a result of the economic downturn, their pensions and economic stability are now more uncertain, and many of them have realised that they are going to have to stay in the workplace for a lot longer than they envisaged 20 or 25 years ago.

One qualification that definitely needs greater support is the recognised brand of apprenticeships. A forthcoming Bill will include the Government’s provisions for dealing with apprenticeships, and I am sure that we will spend more time discussing them during its passage. In the present economic downturn, however, it is vital to support employers and help them to meet the training costs of those whom they take on as apprentices. That would be a better use of the growth in the Train to Gain budget over the next couple of years, which would release £500 million into meeting the training costs of new apprenticeships. That would not involve a cut; it would simply be a refocusing of the growth in the budget that will take place in any event.

There also needs to be greater certainty for young people—or, indeed, older people—who are thinking of entering an apprenticeship. It is not easy to find out who is offering apprenticeships, whether in someone’s own locality or further afield. We need an apprenticeship service that would, in some ways, replicate that available for those wishing to enter higher education—a UCAS-type system—so that people could find out what places and remuneration were available, and what opportunities were open to them.

The public sector should also set an example, certainly for Government construction contracts but in other Government services and procurement projects too. The Government could make a tangible difference in this area, in contrast to the rather meaningless announcements that they have made so far about interns.

The issue of capital expenditure in further education colleges was the subject of an earlier exchange. The information that I have is that more than 20 schemes were delayed for three months by the national Learning and Skills Council in December. That means a real cost to those colleges; it is not just a matter of uncertainty about whether they can proceed with their plans. Many colleges have already engaged architects, for example. In my constituency, a leading firm of architects has laid off a third of its work force; other architects have approached me and said that they were expecting to have the go-ahead to work on these projects, but because of the downturn across the entire construction area, many of those professional people are now fearful for their jobs. Of course, some FE colleges have sunk professional fees into working up proposals, so the delay, albeit of only three months, should not be so easily dismissed.

Have some of the colleges not also raised money? They have gained money from other sources, perhaps from private sources, so in those financial circumstances pulling the plug has very serious consequences.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The costs of the projects are often more than simply a central Government grant, vital though that is, as grants are often matched by sales of land, for instance, by the colleges. City of Bristol college, for example, has had a huge amount spent on it, including from Government resources, but its capital programme was made possible only because of a sale of part of the site for housing. Ironically, those houses are in the process of construction as well, so the college has got its money and had its improvements, but any college anticipating using a land sale as part of a capital project must now realise that land sales are plummeting and that their entire project might be in jeopardy on account of the delay.

I found it rather curious that the Secretary of State had to announce in Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills questions last week that he was inviting Sir Andrew Foster—whom I recall in 2006 calling further education the “unloved middle child” of the British education system—to review something that should be directly under the control of the right hon. Gentleman’s own Department.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is regrettable that colleges have to indulge in land deals to fund rebuilding? Should it not be more like the position with schools, where rebuilding is wholly funded by the public sector or the state? Does he agree that that is particularly important for sixth-form colleges, which in many ways are more comparable to schools than colleges?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I am not sure that I agree with him. Surely value for money for the taxpayer should be a consideration in any council programme. If any part of the public sector, whether it be a college or not, has surplus land that can be used and sold on the market in order to release its value to the public sector, it is surely right to embrace that rather than dismiss it. I am not an advocate of the state being solely responsible for funding everything.

As I was saying, it is rather curious that the Government felt the need to announce the Foster review of decisions that should have been under their control. At the very least, the Secretary of State should have been keeping an eye on what the Learning and Skills Council was doing, because in November the Chancellor pledged in his pre-Budget report that £400 million of capital expenditure in higher and further education was to be accelerated in this comprehensive spending review period rather than held over to a future budgetary period. Why did the Government not therefore keep an eye on things and ensure that that £400 million was released rather than delayed?

The hon. Gentleman may have missed the thrust of what I said earlier, which is that that money is being spent. That is not the problem. The problem relates to schemes outside the budget to which we have committed and are seeking approval. We are going to meet what was set out in the pre-Budget report. I will not repeat myself. I acknowledge the issue that is being raised, but the problem is not that we will not spend the money that we were given in the spending review period.

I was listening. I listened carefully to the pre-Budget report statement, to what the Secretary of State said during DIUS questions last week, and to what he said today. The fact remains that the review of capital expenditure should have been under the Government’s control, especially given that they made good-news announcements and attempted to secure publicity for them just a few months ago.

As I said earlier, three months make a difference.

The motion also covers higher education. As I observed at the outset, undergraduates who will leave university in June and July this year will face an uncertain period. It is important to remember that they will be the first university graduates to exit from the brave new world of top-up fees and £3,000-a-year tuition fees. They will be the most heavily debt-burdened generation of graduates that the country has ever produced. [Interruption.] I thought that I heard the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) say “Nonsense”, but surely he cannot have said that.

It is an empirical fact that graduates who have accumulated probably £10,000 of tuition fee debt and £4,500 of maintenance debt, as well as credit card bills and overdrafts, are likely to constitute the generation of young people with the highest level of debts as they leave our higher education system and enter a market in which they cannot be certain of securing jobs. I do not believe that they would think that that was nonsense.

The hon. Gentleman is certainly right in one respect—it is an empirical fact—but we may differ on another point. The real tragedy is that many of those graduates have been given degrees in subjects that will not lead to any sort of job, because there are no jobs available for people with degrees in film studies and the like.

The hon. Gentleman began by making a serious point about graduate unemployment. Certainly many people with degrees—including those who may expected to enter highly paid jobs in financial services—will face an uncertain future. However, I do not share his dismissive, Daily Mail-like attitude to certain degree programmes. The employment outcomes of many people who undertake new media courses—or study golf course management, or whatever other subject the hon. Gentleman may have wished to cite—show that such courses often result in high employment and good wages.

The hon. Gentleman has made a strong case for more investment in capital, reskilling and upskilling, and more investment for the over-50s, but how does he square all that demand for more investment with his party’s policy, which is to continue to subsidise free tuition for full-time undergraduates who come from the most privileged families and who are at the most prestigious universities?

I was expecting such an intervention from the Labour Benches, and I am surprised that it has taken so long.

All the expenditure commitments that I have made so far today have consisted of commentary on existing Government pledges. That, surely, is the point about the further education capital programme. As for funding our spending pledges at the next general election, this Opposition party—perhaps unlike the other Opposition party—always goes into a general election with a fully costed programme. The fine detail is combed over independently, usually by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The leader of my party is absolutely clear about the fact that our spending pledges on family care, schools and higher education, all of which will be debated at our spring conference in Harrogate, will have to be met—particularly in these difficult economic times—through a refocusing of other Government programmes to which we do not give priority. Obviously we shall announce what they are at the time of the next general election.

For the purpose of further clarification, will the hon. Gentleman give us a progress report on the specific issue of the review of the policy on university tuition fees?

I invite my friend the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) to be patient and wait until a week or two from now, when those conclusions will be published in advance of our conference.

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must not barrack from a sedentary position. However, it appears that on this occasion his barracking has succeeded.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for both giving way and observing the custom of the House that when a Member making a speech refers to an intervention, they then give way to the Member who made the intervention. I said “Nonsense” when the hon. Gentleman was repeating the claims about student debt that got him elected in a constituency with a high student population, because his argument falls apart when we accept that the most debt-challenged student is not as debt-challenged as the graduate who takes on a mortgage. We do not see that debt in the same way. It is not a debt that has to be repaid immediately, or a debt on which high interest rates are charged. It is a debt that will be repaid over 25 years and anything not paid will then be ignored. It is a good situation for someone—

Order. That is a very long intervention in what is a time-limited debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) will also, in his generosity, recall that many Members wish to speak.

I think I have been generous in allowing interventions. I say to the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) that if he represented a university city and tried that argument with tens of thousands of students, he would not get a very good reception.

If higher education is to expand in the future, it will need to be more flexible, particularly as we have a fast-changing economy. We need to have more people learning part-time, building up their degrees on a credit or modular basis. Therefore, we need to treat those who choose to study on a part-time basis more equitably than at present.

As the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) also said of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats take the position that the £100 million reallocation—or cut—from the equivalent or lower qualifications budget that was directed by the Secretary of State to the Higher Education Funding Council was a mistake. We said that at the time, and it is even more of a mistake now, when people would benefit from taking on new qualifications. It would be interesting to hear in the ministerial summing up what has actually happened to that £100 million that was supposedly refocused. The justification given for that cut in ELQs was that the £100 million was to be refocused on setting up new places in higher education, but all we have heard recently is either that applications have stalled or that the Government are warning the sector not to expect any growth in funded places in future.

The hon. Member for Havant referred to NEETs—those not in any formal mode of education, whether FE, higher education or apprenticeships. The Government’s big idea for dealing with them in the Education and Skills Bill of last year was to raise the education and training age to 18. My party resisted that position at the time. The Secretary of State has been rather cagey in some of his statements to the press about this, but I hope the Government will not be tempted to bring forward the raising of the leaving age in order to mask worsening youth unemployment.

My final substantial point is on the need for independent advice and guidance, not only for those not in education or training, but for 13 and 14-year-olds, who are entering a completely different landscape of educational provision, whether they go down the traditional academic path of GCSEs and what comes after that, or take up the new diplomas or young people’s apprenticeships. It is vital that that advice is independent of the educational setting in which they find themselves at 13 or 14. It should also be aspirational, particularly for children educated in poorer backgrounds, or those educated in more affluent backgrounds who come from a poorer family. They should challenge the stereotypes, whether based on gender or other grounds, that they might otherwise face, in order for them to be prepared for an increasingly uncertain future.

Such new skills and training should prepare young people for the emergent economy as well as for the current economic emergency. Whether the UK’s future lies in life sciences, digital media or, to use the jargon term, green-collar jobs, it is important that people are prepared for them, and have appropriate advice on the pathways open to them.

No, as I am reaching my conclusion, and I have been generous in allowing interventions.

It is to be hoped that we are facing a relatively short-term economic emergency, but it is creating uncertainty for young people and anxiety for those who have been in the workplace for rather longer. We need appropriately focused short-term interventions for them, but in the long term we need a cultural shift by both employers and the state, to make sure that all modes of study and training are valued equally, so that we can deliver lasting prosperity and real social mobility.

Order. I must remind the House that the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches begins now. I call Mr. Eric Illsley.

First, may I make a complaint that I have made many times in this House? In a three hour and twenty-minute debate in which Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit, it seems remiss that the three Front-Bench speakers have, between them, taken an hour and a half. I suggest that it would be incumbent on them to take a little less time in future, especially when the time available to Back Benchers is so limited.

We are debating further education, so I make no apologies for the fact that I wish to speak about Barnsley college, although I do apologise to hon. Members for the condition of my voice. I want to discuss the college, first, because it has been a success story over the past few years and, secondly, because it is caught up in the capital funding programme. The rebuilding colleges scheme is excellent, and I am delighted that my local college has been able to benefit from it thus far, although I shall discuss my concerns about its continuation.

Barnsley college has done very well over the past few years and, together with other institutions in Barnsley, it has, for example, managed to reduce the number of our NEETs—an awful acronym that means those not in education, employment or training—to 8 per cent. through a lot of hard work and effort. Barnsley college is also responsible for, among other things, the Arctic Monkeys, whoever they are—I am told they are pretty good. I am happy with the way the college has performed and with the funding up to this point.

The college has benefited from the capital programme thus far, and we are halfway through a capital refurbishment programme—we are halfway through phase 3 of it—which involves a large building in the middle of the town centre. Work has started on the demolition of that building, including the removal of asbestos and so on, but that work has basically been frozen. If the programme is suspended, we will not be able to re-use the building, and if we do not get the money, the programme cannot go ahead—that is a matter of concern.

I have listened to hon. Members talking about the situation of colleges prior to Labour’s coming into office. When the Secretary of State said that the budget for further education colleges in 1997 was about zero, it reminded me of the problems faced in the FE sector from 1993 and the incorporation of colleges—that was when they were freed from local authority control. I remember vividly the corruption and the problems in that sector, including at my college—it lost some £6 million at that time through criminal activity. At that time, the reputation of colleges was not very good and they were not well regarded. We have come a long way from that particular point.

To reassess capital spending in the face of an economic downturn such as this one seems an entirely reasonable thing to do—I could not argue against it. If a capital programme has not been “approved in detail” and if one faces an economic downturn such as we have and probably a shortfall in the amount of funding available, it is entirely sensible to reassess exactly what spending will go ahead. But, as I have said, Barnsley college is committed to a number of phases under its capital programme, two of which have already been completed. The third phase is under way and the fourth is yet to go ahead, but all four are linked. The problem is that we have completed two, the third is midway through and the fourth is yet to have plans submitted for it, yet they are all linked. As I have mentioned, building on phase 3 has been suspended pending what we assumed would be a decision later in March on whether the funding would go ahead. But there now appears to be some confusion over what the LSC is saying and what the Government are saying. The principal of the college has said that the LSC expected the college to demolish the buildings because it was necessary to carry out enabling works before the approval of the main build projects. The LSC national and regional offices agreed on 9 January that the college had acted within its powers. So the college had the approval of the LSC to go ahead with the preparatory works and the demolition within phase 3, but a moratorium now appears to have been placed on that phase.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said last Thursday that no college that had received final approval would lose out, but the college principal wrote to me and said that he had attended a meeting in Bradford on 9 January, called by Mr. Phil Head, the head of infrastructure and property strategy at the LSC national office. It was attended by national and regional officers. The principal wrote:

“At the meeting I was informed that the LSC was reviewing its priorities for all capital programmes and no assurance could be given that any individual project would be funded or, if funding is agreed, when it may be released.”

With the best will in the world, that tends to suggest that some programmes have been suspended indefinitely.

I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today, but I hope that we can look again at the situation of Barnsley college. The project has been approved at every stage as it has progressed through the system. The funding has been put in place by the college and there is no question of it not being able to raise its share of the money. The scheme does not rely on the sale of land or the use of other assets. The funding is in place, except for that coming from the grant. However, there is now confusion about whether phase 3 will continue, despite the fact that work has already started. The fourth and final phase, for which plans must be submitted in spring 2009, is also in doubt. I ask my right hon. Friend to look again at Barnsley college’s position and give me some reassurance that the last two phases—of a four-phase programme costing £55 million—are safe. With two phases completed, one half-way and another one remaining to be approved, it would be ridiculous to allow the scheme to falter at this stage.

I hope that the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) will forgive me if I do not follow his specific comments, but the whole House will understand his concerns.

Last Friday we saw in Banbury the launch of a job club, which involved pretty much every organisation locally—Jobcentre Plus, the LSC, Business Link, Oxfordshire county council, Oxfordshire Economic Partnership, Cherwell district council, the Shaw Trust, RESTORE and others. On the official statistics, the Banbury travel-to-work area has an unemployment rate of about 1 per cent., but nearly 300 jobseekers turned up on Friday to take part and get involved in that job club. That indicates the scale and the depth of the present recession. What is happening in the labour market is very serious indeed.

The people there had different needs. Some needed to maintain their skills, but one thing that struck me was that quite a lot of those people were the hidden unemployed. They are technically self-employed subcontractors, but they have been working for one or two contractors or companies. They have effectively lost their work but they do not get income-related jobseeker’s allowance and so maintaining their skills and qualifications is quite difficult. For example, HGV drivers need to do more than just maintain their HGV licence. How are they going to do that?

People need to adapt their skills, too. For example, Prodrive in Banbury will make just short of 200 people redundant this year, simply because Subaru has pulled out of world rallying. Prodrive is probably an excellent employer and those who it is reluctantly having to make redundant are highly skilled automotive engineers. How do they adapt their skills in a marketplace where other automotive engineering jobs are going, such as those at Aston Martin and along the whole corridor from Cowley to Longbridge? They need to be able to adapt those skills.

Lastly, there are people who need to acquire completely new skills. In an area such as mine, where do they go to do that? The answer is, surely, the local FE college. I am trying to understand how my constituents who turned up last week to the Banbury job club, which will run every Friday—in my patch, we are going to ensure that so far as is possible nobody gets left behind in this recession—can acquire those skills.

One difficulty at the local college, as I understand it, is that unless an adult signs up to a whole NVQ they cannot get funding. Many people do not necessarily need to sign up for a whole NVQ or cannot do a whole NVQ in one go. They just want to take a unit of the qualification. I do not see why the Learning and Skills Council funds adults only if they are going to do an NVQ level 2 or 3, because many of my constituents want to adapt and acquire skills on a piece by piece basis.

In a written answer last week, the Under-Secretary of State very kindly answered a question that I tabled, which asked

“what work his Department is undertaking with the further education sector to provide training or retraining for those who become unemployed.”

He said that the Department was providing

“£158 million to support those looking for work”.

Perhaps we could have a breakdown of how that £158 million will be used. To what extent will my constituents who have become unemployed be able to access it to acquire further skills at the local FE college? The Minister also said that there would be

“£350 million improved flexibilities in Train to Gain for bite-sized courses for SMEs”:—[Official Report, 29 January 2009; Vol. 487, c. 788W.]

That is absolutely fine, except for the fact that if small and medium-sized enterprises are laying people off, it does not necessarily help those who become unemployed to acquire new skills.

In my patch, and I am sure in other hon. Members’ constituencies, we experience a dysfunction in that quite a number of people are being made redundant in retail, yet in every single nursing home I am told that it is very difficult to recruit nursing staff. The homes have been relying for a very long time on nursing staff from countries outside the European Union area, such as the Philippines. How will we ensure that we can train people to work in those areas of the economy where there are vacancies as speedily as possible? How do we share information about skills needs? I am told that my local regional development agency, the South East England Development Agency—SEEDA—is doing research on skills needs in the area. However, it seems to be very patchy and to be quite slow in coming through.

We need a speedier analysis of where the skilled vacancies are arising in the local economy and of how we match job vacancies much more quickly to those who become unemployed. For a long time, JobCentre Plus has been concerned primarily with getting people on to jobseeker’s allowance. It has rather relied on local recruitment agencies to get people into work, but they tend to know only about jobs that are immediately available in the local labour market. However, if 200 automotive engineers are made redundant in an area where lots of other automotive engineers are also being made redundant, the local recruitment agencies will not know about other vacancies in engineering elsewhere in the country. We are going to have to get a lot smarter about how we ensure that the vacancies that exist in the economy get promoted, promulgated and filled much more quickly.

I have been in this House for 26 years and I still think that I am pretty much of a novice in these matters. I find it pretty difficult to get to grips with the Learning and Skills Council. I think that I have a pretty good grip of my constituency, but tracking down who is running the local LSC is pretty tough. Moreover, as soon as I get to understand a body—the Manpower Services Commission, then the area manpower boards, then the training and enterprise councils and now the LSCs—it goes. I am at a complete loss to understand why that happens.

Moreover, I believe that the present arrangements will end in 2010 and that we will then have to get to grips with three new bodies. One, funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, will be for young people; another, funded by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, will be for adults; and the third will be a national apprenticeship body funded by a different group. How on earth are college and FE principals meant to get to grips with those three organisations? We are in an economic crisis and loads of people right across the piece are losing their jobs and needing help, so why on earth are the LSCs being scrapped now? Let us at least have a degree of stability.

My hon. Friend has described the rigmarole that causes confusion for everyone, but does he agree that another factor is the sheer cost involved? The Government do not seem to be encouraging economy. I find it amazing that they should be relaunching their “Life is a Great Thing” initiative to expand access to university. It is yet another promotional and rebranding exercise that will incur lots of extra expense.

I entirely agree. I cannot see the rationale behind the Government’s approach. People are in desperate need of some understanding of how to get help, and rebranding the LSC will not help them—and particularly not adults who need to acquire new skills—in that regard.

I hope that I do not sound rather portentous, but I thought some of the Punch and Judy stuff earlier this afternoon about who would make the greatest cuts was pretty pathetic, given that most of us taking part in the debate are truly concerned about what is happening in our constituencies. All of us in this House are grown up enough to know that the general black hole in the public finances means that whoever forms the Government after the next general election will have to make some difficult decisions about public spending. Those of us who have been around for a while realise how difficult they will be.

In relation to FE colleges, we are asking only for some degree of certainty. We all recognise that it may not be possible to do everything immediately that we might hope for, but it would be really helpful to know about what programmes and capital projects are not going to go ahead, as people will not then waste time, energy and effort on planning for construction projects that will not happen. We would much rather that some effort were put into what is possible, and we would also like to have some flexibility and understanding with respect to the 16-hour rule.

That rule governs what unemployed people can do to acquire and update their training and skills without losing benefit. It is really frustrating for people if they feel that the only way to maintain their jobseeker’s allowance is to sit at home and not acquire new skills, for fear of losing their allowance.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) will be pleased to know that, in view of the number of people who wish to speak, I will not go through all my facts and figures refuting the Opposition’s motion. I want to highlight some positive examples; I have not sought them out—I have not had time to do lots of research—but came across them in the past few weeks. They are examples of the variety of circumstances in which people can gain skills, and of the opportunities available, all of which we should treasure and encourage. I also want to pay tribute to two friends who died recently, John Hett of the Midland Railway Centre and Paul Buckley, a Derbyshire county councillor. At their funerals, I discovered what they had done to enhance training.

I want to reiterate the point made about the National Skills Forum report on closing the gender gap, and I urge Ministers to look at its recommendations. It is vital that we do not leave out certain groups in the downturn just because it is easy to do so, and that we make sure that the skills of women and others are enhanced. I chaired a report for the Business and Enterprise Committee last year called “Jobs for the girls”. These reports cover issues such as flexible training opportunities, including the possibility of offering part-time apprenticeships to enable people to go back into training, and to retrain after taking time out of the workplace. Some of the recommendations in those two reports are important, and I urge Ministers to have a look at them.

In spite of the difficult times that we are experiencing, it is not all doom and gloom. In Derbyshire, we have doubled the number of apprenticeships. In a Westminster Hall debate last year, I gave a number of examples of cases in which employers were very positive about how Train to Gain had benefited their business. I am excited about going with Lord Puttnam—David Puttnam—to open a brand-new post-16 centre, the Phoenix centre, tomorrow. It is attached to the Aldercar community language college in my constituency. The centre is a £4.6 million facility funded by the Learning and Skills Council, and it certainly is not just about paper qualifications.

The college has taken a lead in developing vocational qualifications, and every key stage 4 student has to do a vocational programme. Similarly, those doing vocational programmes have to do academic work so that they have the skills that employers need. The NEET—not in education, employment or training—figures for those who went there have more than halved in recent years, and it has a very good track record. The centre will offer AS and A2 programmes, but it will also offer apprenticeships, at the request of local industry. There will be post-16 industrial apprenticeships for local engineering and electrical companies. The centre is working with Caunton Engineering, structural steel engineers; with JTL, which is sending apprentices from local electrical companies; with Balfour Beatty Derby; and with the Advanced Composites Group. One cannot have a Formula 1 car without material from ACG in Heanor in my constituency.

The centre is working to provide industrial apprenticeships for post-16 students. It is offering diplomas in a whole range of subjects, and it has programmes for physically impaired and hearing impaired students. It is working with the Key Stage 4 Support Centre in Derbyshire, where permanently excluded students from about 19 local secondary schools are got back into a two-day-a-week programme, to engage with getting nationally accredited status. It can hopefully then go on to get those students into work. The Phoenix centre, opening tomorrow, is very much about vocational education, giving people skills and qualifications and apprenticeships, and getting the involvement of people with disabilities and young people who have been permanently excluded from school. So there are very positive examples of work that is going on, and I am excited about going to the centre tomorrow.

My second example is a local company, Manthorpe Engineering. I read an e-mail from it yesterday; it has asked me to support its application for planning permission so that it can extend its work. It says that despite the recession, it is still expanding, and expects to create an additional 75 high-performance jobs. It runs a successful apprenticeship programme with 21 young engineers, a high proportion of whom are educated at another local school, Mill Hill school. The company also offers work placements. Again, that is another positive example.

I come now to my tributes to my friends, who died tragically young. We do not necessarily realise some of the work that is being done, but both cases that I shall mention show another way in which voluntary organisations have a role to play in reskilling and reinforce the fact that we must take every single opportunity that is offered.

John Hett managed the midland railway museum amazingly and developed it over the past 30 years. A number of volunteers work at the museum—for example, a 24-year-old who had worked for a small engineering company that went bust. As a volunteer, he has been restoring steam and diesel locomotives. He has kept and developed his skills in a voluntary organisation because he is mad on railways. He now has a job with EWS freight hauliers, part of DB Schenker, based at Toten. Another volunteer had his own car maintenance company, which did not work out. He has been doing bodywork at the museum and now has a job with Bombardier train makers in Derby. In recent years, a number of people from the midland railway museum have got jobs with Bombardier that will end up being permanent.

The museum has always taken on people on programmes such as the new deal, which helps to upskill and maintain the skills of those who have them and train those who have not had the opportunity to gain skills. For those who work in construction, the museum makes sure that they get their CSCS—construction skills certification scheme—certificate. It is important that voluntary organisations such as the museum can provide and develop skills. It developed a railway carriage with local youngsters, which was donated to a youth club in a deprived village in my constituency.

I mentioned my county councillor, Paul Buckley. I knew of his commitment to the Derbyshire unemployed workers centre, but I did not realise until I was preparing to speak at his funeral—he died, tragically, at the age of just 43—that he had wanted to train as an advice worker at the unemployed workers centre. He was unable to do so because he was virtually blind from an earlier disability, so he went on to get involved in the workers centre and ended up as its chair. I did not know until his funeral that he had been encouraging a young man at the unemployed workers centre in Chesterfield to use the new IT now available to train as an advice worker, which Paul had not been able to do previously when the IT was not available. We should not think of training only in particular categories; it can happen in all kinds of circumstances.

Many positive things are happening, but Lord Puttnam asked me to raise some of the downsides. We must make sure that employers are on the ball. Skillset is one of the two most successful pathfinders, the old sector skills council, which provides technical training for film, television and digital. Apparently, Ofcom allowed ITV to pull out of some of its public service obligations. ITV subsequently announced that it was pulling out of Skillset. ITV should realise that it will need those skills in the future and that it is absurd for it to pull out of the organisation providing them. However, there are many positive examples, and I will be going to help open the wonderful new centre in my constituency tomorrow.

I shall try to reskill myself and be brief. Perhaps the House should take part in such a programme, as many of the arguments have been made in various ways from those on the Front Benches.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who has done an amazing amount of work on skills. I especially appreciate that because I chaired the Conservative party’s policy review on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and we have worked in harmony. I mention mathematics not least out of disappointment: I do not know what Carol Vorderman has that I have not got, but the party appears to have preferred her to be the mathematics tsar, rather than me. Nevertheless, I shall thoroughly enjoy working with her.

Too much of the debate, if I may say so, has been about infrastructure, buildings and the cost of buildings, rather than what goes on inside them, which is important to young people and to older people who wish to reskill themselves. As a sort of Foster review of expenditure on facilities is under way, I hope that it will take into account the opportunities that a recession gives for renegotiating construction contracts to get better value for money so that it can go further.

Secondly, and I feel passionate about this, I hope that in any re-evaluated scheme more effort can be put into providing laboratories for science experiments. Too often, schools do not have those facilities, and that is one of the reasons science is less exciting to young people in our schools than it should be.

That brings me to the key point. We are in a recession and it will last for time enough in any young person’s life. We need to make even more effort to ensure that young people get the opportunity to learn things that will be useful to them in the broadest sense and that they understand what skills they need if they are to be employable. For example, it is perverse that in this country the number of young people who have applied for university degrees in IT subjects has been declining just when demand for those skills has been rising. Indeed, if one listens to the experts, it seems that during this recession demand for IT skills will be at least stable if not increasing. Why is that happening?

Why do we still struggle to get enough young people to learn physics and chemistry, despite the wonderful efforts of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry to encourage the training of teachers or at least to provide the opportunities for their retraining? Our universities have had a real problem not only in getting people to study the sciences but in ensuring that people are retained in teaching. One of the big efforts that I hope the Government will make is to use the recession as an opportunity to capture at least those who are now studying sciences at university and get them to go into teaching.

Interestingly, the recession in the finance industry is at least an opportunity for the Government. In 2002, 6 per cent. of physics graduates entered the world of finance; by 2007, that had risen to 19 per cent. Efforts are already being made to encourage graduates to go into teaching, but if our schoolchildren are to get science opportunities at school, it is essential that they get them from people who have done the relevant science at university. In many schools, I am afraid, biology teachers, who are regarded as having done science, teach physics and chemistry as well; they often mug it up the night before. I am not being disrespectful to them—and the children are lucky to have biology teachers—but I have talked to such teachers in my constituency and I realise their struggle to keep up. It is therefore hardly surprising that young people are not as inspired as we try to get them to be by the wonders and problem solving that physics and chemistry can lead to.

This country has produced remarkable engineers, who should be an inspiration to young people. However, it is no good their being inspirational if there are no teachers to teach the subject. I ask the Secretary of State to make more effort, please, to make sure that young people are inspired to do those important things.

Finally, there is a lot of talk about big areas of effort that we should make in this country. Often, however, they are not related to jobs likely to be on offer—at least, not in the same numbers—to British people. For example, I hear an awful lot about green technologies. I am all in favour of them; they are one of the areas of science and engineering that we need to stimulate. However, in terms of our skills, they do not exist in this country. Many of the windmills and wind turbines that we might be able to bring forward from research into practical application are going to be made abroad.

Furthermore, the Government have rightly encouraged the nuclear industry to bring forward plans, and by 2020 I hope that the next generation of nuclear technology will come into application. However, the skill sets are just not there. In a recession, in particular, we need to do a series of things: first, train people with the basic skills that they require; and, secondly, ensure that there is a match between the skill sets that they might think they want and the demand the Government are producing. If we are saying that there will be a nuclear industry reborn by 2020, then let us ensure that we are encouraging schools and universities to run courses for nuclear physicists and engineers.

This is a very important debate that has been well stimulated by my Front-Bench colleagues on an Opposition day. I hope that the Government draw lessons from it instead of just getting into competitive debating about the amount of money that might be spent. Money is important, but what goes on in the institutions is even more important.

Much of what I have to say complements the remarks made by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) in his very constructive contribution.

If we were not in a recession, the message for British industry would be this: what we need is a high-skill, high-wage economy if Britain is to compete successfully on the global stage. That would mean investing in the skills of our work force—investing now for the skills that we will need in 20 years’ time. We must get those whose basic skills are not on the NVQ ladder up on to that ladder, and help those who are halfway up to reach the top. As we are in a recession, the message to business and industry must surely be exactly the same: if Britain is to compete successfully on the global stage, what we need is a high-skill, high-wage economy. We have to look now at where we want to be at the end of this recession; we have to look now at the skills that we need in a rapidly changing globalised economy; and we have to be aware of what our competitors are doing, not only in the UK market but abroad. The mantra of “education, education, education” has never been more important for the British economy or for the fulfilment of British people than it is today. We do not yet know how the measures that we have put in place in schools will have benefited the future skills of the work force and the future economy, but we know that they will have done.

In the late 1970s, when I started teaching science, the comprehensive school where I worked had courses in rural studies, car mechanics, home economics and many other subjects, all designed to engage the less academic pupil—to bring qualifications, where they were earned, in skills other than those demanded by universities, and to give a whole swathe of young people a purpose in education which otherwise they might have missed. However, such courses disappeared rapidly, and by the end of the recession of the early ’80s very few schools were still teaching them. The iron fist of the Conservatives’ national curriculum had come in. It had reduced diversity in schools, reduced opportunity for the many, and reduced the ability of young people of lower academic levels to gain qualifications and specialise in subjects of their choice. One day in 1983 or thereabouts, a young boy came to see me, just weeks before he was due to leave school at 16. This inoffensive youth with a shy smile had got an apprenticeship to go to. He was made up—over the moon. But the following week he was more withdrawn than ever, and would not even make eye contact with me or anyone else. I asked him what was wrong, and he showed me a letter. The apprenticeship had been cancelled: “Government cuts”, it said. That must not happen again.

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, as other people wish to speak.

The staying-on rate in our schools has improved, but it is not as good as it should be. However, the decision to raise from 16 to 18 the age at which one can leave formal education for good is a real investment in the future. It ensures that every 16-year-old who does not want to stay on at school will still have a place—full-time or part-time, in college or as a day-release student, or in some other combination of training and work—that ensures that the skills habit becomes part of their working lives. The first children to whom that will apply started their secondary school careers last September.

Good employers have always valued skills and training. Learndirect and union learning representatives contribute, too. I am delighted that as a result of these measures an increasing number of good employers are out there. How do I know that? I know it because of the genuine success that Train to Gain is having, even at this difficult time for industry and the economy. Tens of thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of employees have already been in touch with the Learning and Skills Council and met their skills brokers—people whose job it is to match the right employee with the right training.

I attended a conference in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire last Friday and the enthusiasm and interest that employers from throughout the east Midlands showed there was incredible—it was wonderful to behold. Employers know that “invest to save” makes sense, and that investing in skills now to get on in the future is a good way of investing their money.

At the same time, this Government have trebled the number of apprenticeships to nearly a quarter of a million, with more to come. Ten years ago, apprenticeships were regarded as a thing of the past, but I am delighted that Tarmac will create dozens of apprenticeships in my constituency this year through its cement-making operation, despite the problems that the construction industry currently has. There are still goods and materials that need to be created for others to use—recession or no recession. The manufacture of such materials will require different skills from those that their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago required.

Companies know that they can bring skills into their industry by looking to the international market and buying them in, but that is not the sustainable way of doing things. Tarmac has recognised something of the philosophy of the Jesuits—“Give me an apprentice when they are young and I will create the skilled craftsman and woman of the future.” This is an example of invest to save—investing to make profits in the future, and investing in the quality of the work force—and it is an example of why the current debate about foreign workers is so wrong. We have created 2 million British jobs, which were all available to British workers, and many of them have been taken up by British workers. We have never had more British people in work than we did in 2008, and there are hundreds of thousands of British workers working elsewhere in the European Union, with the same basic rights and protection as they would have here. There are 400,000 vacancies in the British economy, and we want to create more. Jobs need doing in the caring professions, as we have heard, in manufacturing for export and in green technology. If we are serious about giving British workers the skills to compete with the best in the world, British jobs for British workers is a legitimate aim. I stress, as my noble Friend Lord Campbell-Savours did in another place yesterday, that British jobs for British workers is not the same thing as British workers for British jobs.

In the east midlands, our economy has been hit by the downturn in the motor trade, and companies in my constituency that are involved in the supply of parts for the motor trade have been affected, such as Federal-Mogul, which makes brake linings, and Otter Controls, which makes thermostats. Just down the road, near Derby, we have the European training centre for Toyota, one of the world’s largest companies. It is the largest producer of cars in the world, and last week it announced record losses on its balance sheets, but it is not a company planning to economise on skills. It knows that to compete at the cutting edge of international trade, it needs an ever-changing mix of the right high-calibre skills. It is willing to invest when times are lean in order to make the good times happen sooner, and better, than they would otherwise.

As for further and higher education, the university of Derby has a campus in my constituency, and a couple of years before it moved to that campus, it merged with High Peak college in Buxton. The principal reason for that was that the high-quality vocational qualifications provided by the college in fields such as catering, tourism and hospitality could not attract an international market because the college did not have university status. Those institutions were put together and the merger worked. The university upholds the principle of excellence for all; I am proud that it is in High Peak, bringing young blood into our communities, and providing opportunities for people with learning disabilities and other disabilities.

One of the roles of jobcentres is to talk to workers facing redundancy not just about counselling and benefits, but about the training that might be available and job opportunities, too. Those workers need to ask themselves what skills they will need to get back into the work force as soon as possible if they are made redundant, bearing in mind that there are 400,000 vacancies in our economy. Where can they get the skills that they need, and who will pay for the courses? Jobcentres are on hand to provide that information, and to work with skills brokers to provide a comprehensive system of support.

A weakness in the system is that some employers are actually refusing the support and help that is available, and are not allowing jobcentre staff to come on to their premises to talk to workers who are facing redundancy. To get out of this recession with as few wounds as possible, we need to have all sides working together. I urge companies considering redundancies to make sure that their people have access to advice and the opportunity to gain the skills that they need at this difficult time. I ask my friends in the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that these partnerships happen. People facing redundancy have a right to support, and their soon-to-be-former employers have no right to deny it to them.

We are pulling together with schools, colleges, universities, trade unions and increasing numbers of employers, who all recognise the need for developing skills. Together with the Government, they are committed to making sure that skills are generated for the economy of the future and the fulfilment and happiness of our people.

Before I came to the House I spent 34 years in teaching, and most of that time was spent in depressed areas of Leeds, the north-east and Middlesbrough. For the last 20 years of that time, I was the head teacher of two very large comprehensives, and the great tragedy of my life in teaching is that when I finished, the same sort of students were failing in our school system as when I started. Successive Governments have failed to achieve the effective training of young people, not only for the economy of tomorrow but for the life of tomorrow.

Despite the depressing start to the debate made by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), I would like to put on record the fact that the Government have, during the past 10 years, placed a real emphasis on the skills agenda. They set up a national skills taskforce, and asked Lord Leitch to complete his seminal report, which analysed the skills of the nation. They brought all the major parties together to agree that skills are highly important. We might disagree about how we implement the policy, but that agreement has been achieved. It is rather sad to see that that consensus appears to be on the wane today.

The Leitch analysis is central to how we regard the problem. Leitch analysed the skills that we need not simply for today, but for the emerging economy of 2020. If all our concentration is on the huge problems of today’s recession, we will miss the opportunity to provide our work force with the skills that they need for tomorrow. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) put his finger on one of the key issues: it is not just a matter of providing skills—I shall return to the question of skills and qualifications—but of providing the right skills for the jobs of tomorrow. The STEM agenda—science, technology, engineering and mathematics —is absolutely fundamental to that. We have learned a significant lesson over the past six to nine months about depending heavily on the service sector, particularly the financial services sector, for our economy. It used to be the proud boast that we were the financial centre of the world, but once that imploded, we were left short in the area of actually making things. We need to build the skills of tomorrow such as our science base, which is second only to that of the United States, and our engineering prowess, which ranks alongside that of any nation in the world.

Does my hon. Friend not admit that a few years ago, financial skills were seen as the skills of tomorrow? We were wrong then, and we could quite easily be wrong now, too.

I readily accept that we do not live in a certain world, and we have never experienced anything like the current recession before. We have never seen the collapse of global capitalism in such a way, because nations such as China and India were never part of a global capitalist system before. My point is that being so heavily reliant on the service sector has caused major problems during this economic downturn. I am imploring the Minister, when looking at the skills agenda, to have 2020 constantly in sight, as Lord Leitch recommended, and not simply to concentrate on the here and now. That is a major issue.

One of the central planks of Lord Leitch’s report, which the Government readily accepted, was upskilling the nation to OECD standards. It is an attractive proposition to say that by growing the number of qualifications, we grow more skills and greater productivity and wealth creation—but in reality that is a flawed model, especially in the current situation. We need upskilling, as Lord Leitch and the Government have accepted, but we also need an emphasis on reskilling. That does not simply mean people who were in one area of employment reskilling for another. All of us, particularly in the House, are constantly looking to reskill. One sad characteristic of our nation is that the higher up the academic scale someone goes, or the higher up in a company, the more access they have to retraining at the expense of people lower down the food chain. In our report, the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills unashamedly stated that upskilling was central.

Hon. Members have referred to the complexity of the Government’s delivery system. I say to the Minister, in a spirit of comradeship, that the current system for delivering the skills agenda is not only complex but incoherent. Chris Humphries, who is the chief executive of the new UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said to our Committee that there was not an employer in the land who understood the current system. He said that when the chairman of the UKCES was appointed, 60 organisations contacted the chairman to say that they were essential in delivering the skills agenda. It is important that the Government keep an eye on that.

The Government have said that employers should lead the skills agenda both of today and of tomorrow. They were right to do that, as skills are central. I have commented before in the House that apprenticeships without the involvement of employers should not be called apprenticeships. I hope that in his closing remarks, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills will assure the House that in the drive to include further education colleges and other public sector organisations in ratcheting up the number of apprenticeships, we will not go down the road of programme-led apprenticeships with no employer involved. I earnestly hope that the Government will support that point of view.

Employer-led schemes using Train to Gain were a great idea when Lord Leitch delivered his report, but we must remember that he carried out his analysis when the economic cycle was on the up, employment was virtually full and we were looking forward to yet more quarters of unprecedented quarter-on-quarter growth. Employers are now shedding labour. They are not looking to take on apprentices, and in many cases, despite what the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) said about his constituency, they are not looking to provide skills for workers. They are trying to cut their costs. There is not a Member in the House who would not accept that it would be tragic if that were all that was going to happen. I am looking to the Government not simply to keep to their mantra because they have set policy objectives, but to be fleet of foot and recognise that we have to make employers an attractive offer to maintain their training, and in particular to retrain and upskill their workers.

I should like the Minister to respond to a point that I hoped the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) would make, if he had been in his place. A real problem is that this recession will hit 16 and 17-year-olds harder than any previous recession. Many skilled workers are coming on to the employment market. They are used to working, and employers are used to having them in their businesses, so they will become very attractive to employers when jobs are available. My concern is for 16-year-olds leaving school for whatever reason. I do not believe that the Government would be wise to raise the school leaving age this September. That would be a foolish mistake, as we would just have mass absenteeism. However, we must ensure that we make employers an attractive offer to employ 16-year-olds. If they are unemployed for three, six or nine months, in many cases that becomes a pattern for the rest of their lives.

Why can a 19-year-old carry a £1,000 recruitment and retention premium for their employer—a golden hello—whereas a 16-year-old cannot? Why does a 19-year-old attract a £1,000 training premium, but a 16-year-old does not? The answer may well be, “Well, we want those people to do apprenticeships.” However, at the top of the employment boom, only one in 10 employers took on an apprentice. If we want to engage employers to take on 16-year-olds and help with their training and employment, we must be flexible with our policies. To hell with saying that there is a divide because of the machinery of Government. We need a comprehensive policy on careers guidance, employment and training to ensure that from the age of 16 onwards, everyone is entitled to a training package that is world class and second to none. That is a policy that my party and I will earnestly support.

Swindon is in the national economic spotlight, but it is one of the most productive towns in the country, with arguably the best business location and most highly skilled and hard-working work force. Yet even we are not isolated from the global downturn that is affecting every community in the developed world. There have been job losses in Swindon across all sectors—manufacturing, distribution, finance and service. However, the Government are providing real help to give people skills to get back to work. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we are not going to turn our back on those who lose their jobs. I thank him for that commitment and add mine.

As the House will know, Swindon has a strong connection with transport manufacturing, from railways to cars. Hon. Members will be aware that Honda, one of the biggest employers in south-west England, has closed its factory for four months, but its commitment to Swindon is not in any doubt. About 1,200 people will continue to work full time at the plant during the shutdown, and the remaining 2,500 employees will receive their full basic pay, without shift bonuses, for the first two months. That will be reduced to 60 per cent. for the rest of the period. Honda has made that commitment to Swindon because it does not want to lose its skilled work force. Although it has not asked the Government for any financial help, it has asked for help with skills training. I am very pleased by how the Government have responded, through the regional development agency and the Government office for the south-west.

Businesses large and small across Swindon have been hit by the international financial storm. We hear about the Hondas, Tycos and Woolworths, but we do not hear about the one or two people made redundant by small businesses. My town has seen hard times before, such as the collapse of rail manufacturing 30 years ago, but due to the resilience of people in Swindon, it has recovered, attracted new businesses and emerged stronger. I have absolutely no doubt that, with the Government’s support, it will do the same in future. It has the location and the motivated work force, but we need to keep our work force at a skills level that will compete with anywhere in Europe and the world. That is why Government commitment and, better still, Government action on training have been so important to us in the past few months.

To that end, as a constituency MP I am working with the regional development agency to ensure that Honda, for example, gets the investment in skills that it needs to be sustainable in future. As deputy to the regional Minister, I have a responsibility for and interest in all businesses in the south-west. I was delighted by the RDA’s response and by the fact that it is leading the region’s response by helping businesses and their work force through the recession and by sustaining the economy in preparation for a return to growth. In Swindon, we have had a great deal of help from Steve Richards, the head of business development at the RDA, and Tony Bray, its area director. I pay tribute to them and their colleagues for their good work.

The RDA is working from the grass roots to the strategic level. I am sorry to say that Opposition Members have pledged to get rid of it, because they do not particularly want such regional support. Without it, there would be no co-ordination, no training packages and no one to work with Swindon’s businesses. The RDA ensures that information is shared between agencies on, for example, skills shortages. That means that action on the ground is informed by current developments. It avoids duplication and maximises the effective use of scarce resources. Direct support has been given by investing an additional £450,000 in “Learning Works for All”, which the south-west TUC runs. It promotes training in businesses.

Last year, I visited the trade union centre at New college in Swindon to talk to regional manager Helen Cole about unionlearn’s work. I was told about U-Net, the recently launched network of learning centres across the south-west, and I met people who have benefited from learning at work. It is a great example of what happens when unions, employers and further education work together. Representatives have worked hard to place learning on employers’ agendas and I applaud their work, which is even more important during a recession.

The RDA also provides direct support by extending the “graduates in business” scheme, which places graduates with local businesses beyond the original 2008 deadline, at a cost of £1.5 million.

We are getting support for the region’s strategic companies through a dedicated case officer, who can act as a broker for a company in dealing with the relevant public sector agencies, gathering information and championing issues that the business raises. That is important and our local businesses have asked for it. They do not have time to make all those contacts and it is vital that we have an organisation such as the RDA to do it for them.

Through management of the regional Business Link franchise, the RDA has supported a stronger focus on helping employers access a range of skills services and advice, including Train to Gain and the leadership and management training programme. In contrast, the Conservative party would abolish the Train to Gain workplace training programme. In tough economic times, people need more, not fewer opportunities to train. Why would Conservatives phase out the contribution to the apprenticeship programme?

In my office, I employ an apprentice, Jennylee, who is studying for an NVQ in administration. She does four days a week in my office and one day a week in college. It is a good thing for other hon. Members to get involved in. Jennylee is a great asset to our office, and would be to any apprenticeship scheme. Some members of my family who did not go on to higher education trained as apprentices. My cousin Barrie, who is still with the same company that he joined as an apprentice some 25 years ago, is a shining example of how someone can become an apprentice at an early age and work through the ranks to a responsible and highly paid job. I commend the Government for bringing back apprentices. During Barrie’s time as an apprentice in the 1980s, apprenticeships were cut by the Thatcher Government.

The Government are providing real help for people to get and keep jobs. No one who is worried about losing a job will be left without support. Such support will be available for everyone who is at risk or who has recently lost a job, not only the long-term unemployed. Colleges and other training providers are being asked to bid for funds and that means that people can get the help they need without having to go to the jobcentre.

My constituents have benefited enormously from the funding that the Labour Government have given to rebuild colleges locally. Recently, New college completed a £4.08 million project for classroom extensions and refurbishment, of which £1.02 million came from the Learning and Skills Council. Before that, the college had another project for classrooms and a sports hall. Projects are under way and being completed—I am sure that recent delays will soon be sorted out.

Swindon college is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) and I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is due to visit it next week. It has had a £15.5 million project to rebuild the college on the North Star site. I hope that my hon. Friend will see how successful it has been and the good work that the college does in the vocational sector.

Further education in Swindon has done well under Labour. By 1997, the Conservatives had let further education go to rack and ruin. I was in education for many years and I saw it happen. There was simply no capital spend on FE. Any complaints from the Tories—we heard some today—are therefore simply opportunistic.

The priority remains securing the survival of viable businesses and retaining jobs, but it is also important to plan for the upturn and help businesses such as Honda and its supply chain ensure that they are fit for the future. There are several challenges: ensuring that there is a viable supply chain; supporting the development of the next generation of products; and—most essentially—supporting the retention of a skilled and motivated work force who are well placed to respond to increased demand. The Government are up for that. They are providing the support, and I hope that hon. Members of all parties will back the Government’s work on such important matters.

I have been disappointed in the debate. It is important, but I have heard too much party political point scoring and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) said, too much about fabric and structure and too little about the quality of provision. The latter is what genuinely counts. I have heard little from a business perspective, or from the perspective of those who need retraining and reskilling—and a basic form of education to allow them to go on to be retrained and reskilled.

I want to present a point of view from the business sector. I tell Government Front Benchers that many people are deeply concerned about the quality of basic education in our schools. It is no good talking about reskilling and upskilling unless we also discuss basic primary and secondary education. We are not getting the quality of people that we need to compete in the modern world. Unless the Government recognise that, we could fail to meet the objectives that we all support. I want some answers, and I want the Government to express some concern about the matter.

Let me say a little about Leitch. He said that 5 million people in Britain have been classified as functionally illiterate and that 17 million are known to have problems with basic numeracy. More than one third of British adults do not have basic school-leaving qualifications—double the proportion in Germany and Canada. Twenty-eight per cent. of British workers are qualified to apprentice, skill, craft and technician level, compared with 51 per cent. in France and 65 per cent. in Germany. We have a genuine skills problem. To deny it would be foolish, but I am not sure that the genuine concern that I would expect to emanate from the Government, especially in a difficult time, exists.

The Confederation of British Industry said that more than half British firms are concerned that they cannot find enough skilled staff to meet their future recruitment needs. If that is the case, we will fail to meet the global challenge. We will get out of recession in three or four years, and we need to be ready so that we can benefit from the green shoots that will emerge. I am fearful—so is British industry—that we will not have the skills to do that.

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that British industry has not been an unparalleled success in training workers?

I was about to deal with that point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has prompted me. In a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce, more than 80 per cent. of British companies spend £100 or more per employee and 50 per cent. spend £250 or more per employee on training. More than 75 per cent. spend time identifying staff training needs, and more than 60 per cent. evaluate the effectiveness of the training for which they pay. Only 3.8 per cent. said that training was not a priority. British business and commerce are interested in training and they could not run their companies unless they were. It is foolish to claim otherwise, and it is about time that we knocked the myth on the head.

I would rather not, because time is limited and other hon. Members want to speak.

British business is ready, willing and able to receive help with training and it wants to be involved. The problem is that all too often we do not talk to British business about training. We do not do outreach work; nor do we take training packages into the workplace in anywhere near the numbers needed. We do not get British business men on our skills councils in the way that we need to. It is a difficult task, but we do not make the effort to get out there and talk to business—I can tell that to hon. Members as a business man myself. Indeed, I am told by businesses the length and breadth of the country that that is the fact of the matter.

The trouble is that skills training is seen as an extension of education. Education likes to keep its skills and expertise to itself, but it needs to get out there and invite business into areas of educational activity, so that its point of view and good ideas can be put forward and so that they can help in this particularly important project. We need to reach out to business and involve it. We need to take training packages into the workplace and make them bespoke.

Let me tell the Government Members here that of the 17 members of the skills council in my area, only four had a business background and—are Government Members listening?—that most of those were politicos. There was barely one business man on the skills council in his own right. That may be a fault of business. However, from the information that I have, I believe that the fault lies very much with those who run the skills councils, for not reaching out effectively—and by golly, if there was ever a need to do so, it is in this area.

My second point is about those areas where we have failed to achieve the levels of quality that we need in this country if business, commerce and technology are to thrive and meet the global challenge that we are all so concerned about. I talk, of course, of our failure in applied sciences and technology, and similar areas of training. I do not need to tell the Government that the proportion of first degrees taken in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—is 25 per cent. of the total. In China, the figure is 50 per cent. of the total. Indeed, many other advanced economies reach that sort of level. We have failed abysmally to ensure that we train the scientists, technicians and technologists whom we will need to face the global challenge that we keep talking about, and which I am particularly concerned about.

It is true that there has been some increase in STEM graduates over the past five years. However, among those taking STEM A-levels—the next generation of graduates—there has been a 15 per cent. decline in those taking mathematics, a 14 per cent. decline in physics and a 47 per cent. decline in computer science. Those figures come from a report by the Council for Industry and Higher Education, so it is not a political point that I am making. However, it is a point that the Government should be greatly concerned about and one that they should act upon. Unless we ensure that we have the skilled technologists and scientists, we will—I repeat—fail.

I want to conclude, because I know that others want to speak. First, we need to get out and involve business much more effectively in the training, skills and packages that we need to deliver to achieve a more trained and skilled work force. Unless we do so, we will—I repeat—miss a massive opportunity. I fear that I have not heard enough from the Government about that. Secondly, we must ensure that we have the trained scientists and technologists, who will be at the heart of the global challenge that I have mentioned three or four times already. I have not heard enough from the Government about how they are going to achieve that objective either.

Britain faces a particularly difficult recession and a particular challenge in competing in the world to earn our living. I have grandchildren. I want to see them living a life of well-being and being able to fulfil their ambitions. Unless we meet the challenges and overcome them, I fear that they will not be able to enjoy that well-being to the level that I would like. I urge the Government to give me some answers to the two major problems that I have raised.

This is an extremely important debate, but it has the capacity to lurch from the real to the surreal.

I doubt whether any Member of the House would disagree with that part of the Opposition motion which reads:

“providing improved opportunities to up-skill and re-skill is more important than ever given the challenges posed by the recession,”

or with that part which

“calls on the Government to boost the number of apprenticeships”.

Given that context, however, it would not be unreasonable to expect the Opposition to recognise that by the time Labour came to power, the Conservatives had reduced the number of apprenticeships to 75,000. Under this Labour Government, that number has been increased to almost 250,000. Nor would it have been unreasonable to expect some recognition of the fact that when the Opposition left office, the completion rate for apprenticeships was down to around 22 per cent. Not only has Labour increased the numbers going into apprenticeships; we have trebled the numbers successfully completing apprenticeships. It would be helpful to provide that recognition.

It would also appear reasonable to expect that anyone calling for a boost in the number of apprenticeships should also be saying that they would be able not only to match the current spending going into apprenticeships, but potentially to increase it. Instead, we are in the absurd position whereby the Opposition cannot even guarantee that their spending commitments will match Labour’s as we enter the next decade, let alone say that they will be sufficient to take us through the entirety of that decade. That is where we drift into the surreal.

I am reminded of the words of Aneurin Bevan, who cautioned politicians against the futility of willing the ends but not the means. That is what being in government involves—taking the responsibility. We have to will the means that take us to where we want to be at the end of the next decade.

No, I am not going to accept any more interventions, because that just takes someone else’s time.

I would argue in favour of an increase in Government spending and in favour of the Government accepting the fiscal responsibilities of raising the cash to fund that expenditure. However, this will not avoid difficult decisions that have to be made along the way. The only thing that we can say about a recession is that it always contains the silver lining of allowing the Government to choose to come out of it in a different place from where we into it: so it is with the decisions that this House will face over the coming years.

We have to be clear about the nature of the economic transformation that we face, which has to be rooted in our skills and apprenticeships programme. That is why, if we are to have an equivalent of Obama’s Apollo programme moment, the blueprint or starting point for me would be the Government’s “Building a low-carbon economy” document. We recognise that by 2010, there will be opportunities for so-called green-collar jobs in a global market that has the prospect of being worth $700 billion. Economic prospects, skills prospects and transformation prospects go hand in hand if we take them seriously.

One of the problems that we face in doing that is recognising that our skills agenda can no longer be detached from changing the demand side of our economy. Other parts of the EU have been much more proactive in doing so. Britain needs to show some humility and follow suit. We already know that in the energy sector, the electricity companies are saying that even in a recession they anticipate a shortage of 9,000 jobs by 2015. We have to plan and train to fill these known gaps in the market, as well as the gaps that we expect to face in a market that we are seeking to transform.

Obama has sought to do this with his own Apollo programme, making no apologies for the fact that it is rooted in a commitment to deliver 5 million jobs, on the basis of $150 billion of direct investment to transform the nature of the US economy into a more sustainable one. That, for me, is where Britain’s future will be found as well.

The House has made certain commitments in the Energy Act 2008. We have pledged to come back to the House and the country by 2010 with feed-in tariff schemes, along similar lines to those that already operate in Germany. Those schemes have delivered more than 250,000 new jobs in four years, and the domestic industry in Germany is now worth €30 billion.

The thing that scares me, having done some work on the transformation of housing stock myself, is that, at every point during the kitting out of my house, the architects and the builders told me that we would have to source the various elements from Germany, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden or France—anywhere, in fact, apart from the UK. We know that we are going to change the nature of our domestic energy market. We need to change the skill bases of the apprenticeships that are being offered now to do so. We cannot wait until we start to transform the market, and then realise that the jobs are going to non-British workers because we have not delivered the skill base that our workers are entitled to expect from us, in order to access the jobs that we are generating. This is not rocket science; it is simply a matter of market and economic transformation.

The same applies in relation to fuel poverty. The debate in the UK has been about the construction of up to 200,000 new houses a year, some of which might be eco-homes, after 2016. In reality, the challenge lies in the 25 million houses that people are living in today. The number of job and skill opportunities that exist for the refurbishment of that housing stock is vast. I have looked at some of the intervention schemes that are operating in other parts of Europe, and I want to convey to Members that the difficulties there are not about reaching out to young people who are not academic high-flyers and getting them into the schemes. The difficulty is in finding enough apprenticeships to cater for the demand. The young people there see the prospect of real jobs and real skills that will kit them out to deliver solutions in the 21st century, and they are queuing up to be part of that transformation process.

We will not be able to shop our way out of the recession, but we will be able to build and transform our way out of it. That also applies in the context of transportation. I have heard numerous Members talk about initiatives that are being taken in the vehicle sector to maintain jobs. However, the real question is whether we can transform that whole sector, over the next five years, into one that delivers vehicles, all of which have to operate within a carbon emissions standard of 100 g/km. Other countries are already doing this, and if we do not, we will find that our kids just do not have the skills to deliver for tomorrow’s sustainable market.

My plea to the Minister is simply to continue to invest, and to increase the volume of investment, but also to tie training into the direct intervention measures to which other parts of the Government are committed. We need an approach to training and apprenticeships that is about joined-up doing, not just about joined-up saying. If we can achieve that, the generation of young people who are hungry for skills for the 21st century will be there to thank us, as will the fuel poor and those who want to be part of our carbon reduction agenda. Whole societies and communities will see that this is the shape of a better future. It will be different from the one left for us as an inheritance when we came into power in 1997. I had hoped that we could expect more from the Opposition, who say that they want to be part of that future, but who are just not prepared to put the money up to deliver it.

The Government’s record on skills is one of failure, fallacy and falsehood. If we are to emerge stronger from the recession, to foster enterprise and innovation and to unlock individual potential, we must understand the true value of skills, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made clear at the outset of the debate. That sentiment was echoed in the typically thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley).

Although the Government inherited a strong, growing economy and benefited from 11 years of benign conditions, they are failing to skill the nation to meet economic need. It is not, as the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough suggested, that they have failed to grasp the central role that skills play in facilitating social mobility and the social justice that is at the heart of Conservatism; it is that the management and funding of skills are simply not fit for purpose.

Through the good times, Ministers actually restricted the opportunity for people to improve their knowledge and skills. I was disappointed that the Secretary of State’s speech, which was long on the avuncular style that he personifies but short on substance, failed to acknowledge that. He knows that, in colleges, workplaces and communities, there has been a shocking collapse in access to education and training.

I will in a moment, because the hon. Gentleman always makes valuable, interesting and measured contributions to our considerations—and now that I have said that, he will not be unkind to me. He knows, as does the Minister, that enrolments in further education colleges have plummeted. There are now almost 1 million fewer learners than there were when Labour came to power. Perhaps he would like to intervene on me to defend that.

I would like to invite the hon. Gentleman to have a word with his colleagues who are now running Wolverhampton city council in a rotten coalition with the Liberal Democrats. They are cutting £640,000 from the adult education budget. Now, I am not wild about what my Government have done about adult education, but these measures are really hitting home in Wolverhampton. Will he speak to his colleagues there, please?

I would be delighted to accept the hon. Gentleman’s invitation to go to Wolverhampton, and I would expect to benefit from his largesse and hospitality when I do so.

The figures published in December showed that enrolments in FE continue to fall. We also heard today about the awful situation in respect of capital spending. I acknowledge that the Secretary of State made it clear that he had launched an independent investigation into the problem. That itself is newsworthy, because he clearly does not want his own officials to investigate the matter. Instead, he has brought in a third party. I also acknowledge that he has said that it was “unacceptable” that ambitions were “encouraged” when they should not have been. However, that does not alter the fact that colleges up and down the country are facing an end to the capital ambitions that they put in place with the support—and often the encouragement, as the Secretary of State said—of those who should have known better. We look forward to debating that issue at greater length after 2 March, as the Secretary of State has promised.

I know that my hon. Friend has personally given a great deal of consideration to ways of widening participation. May I suggest that he looks at how community colleges in the USA have successfully integrated higher and further education, and done a great deal to widen participation there?

My hon. Friend also did a great deal of work on this, before his recent move. I share his view that one of the most effective ways of broadening participation is to allow more to be taught in FE. Sadly, there are many bureaucratic obstacles to that kind of expansion, but they are obstacles that a Conservative Administration would clear, allowing more people from under-represented groups to have a chance to go to college to study the courses that they wished to study and that would serve our society and the economy.

The Government promised to revive apprenticeships, but they have actually succeeded in restricting access to high-quality, employer-based schemes. The Minister might be surprised to hear me say that, but he knows that the Government’s record on apprenticeships is about as convincing as his colleague’s performance on “Mastermind”. There are fewer people in advanced apprenticeships—the equivalent of all apprenticeships in countries such as Germany—than there were in 1999. The figure is down from 130,000 to just under 100,000. The number of young people starting an apprenticeship continues to decline at all levels.

I agree with the hon. Members for High Peak (Tom Levitt) and for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson)—an old friend, who always makes useful contributions to these debates—that apprenticeships are a critical way of ensuring that we develop high-level skills for an advanced economy, but I have to tell both of them that the only way to revitalise the apprenticeship system is from the bottom up, by encouraging more small and medium-sized enterprises to get involved with apprenticeships, and the only party with a practical plan for doing so is the Conservative party, the official Opposition.

At a time of economic growth, perhaps most shocking of all is the number of young people not in any kind of education, employment or training: that number has actually grown since Labour came to power. In the past five years, nearly 100,000 have been added to their number and it has risen to almost 200,000 since the turn of the decade. I know that Members of good conscience cannot sit comfortably on the Government Benches when they know that an army of young people with unfulfilled potential and wasted talent has been raised on their watch—a generation of broken lives and shattered dreams. How did a Government who had so much opportunity fail to provide opportunity for so many?

Will the hon. Gentleman have a word with the Conservative-controlled Amber Valley borough council, because the budget cuts it has just made as a result of its financial incompetence has meant that programmes to help and encourage NEETs to get into education and training have had either to be put on hold or to be handed over to other organisations?

Let me say that, in my few moments of spare time, there is nothing I would like more than to visit Amber Valley, and I will certainly do so at the earliest opportunity.

It is not just failure that characterises this Government’s record on skills, as their attempt to perpetuate fallacies about what has been achieved is also characteristic. Ministers claim that they have built a demand-led system.

I will not give way, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will also come to High Peak, as I know that that is what he wants to intervene about.

We do not have a demand-led system; we have the same old centrally driven micro-managed supply-led system, but rebranded. Let us consider Train to Gain, about which we have heard so much: it is simply not fit for purpose. As John Stone of the Learning and Skills Network told the Education and Skills Select Committee,

“it is the sort of demand-led you get in a Russian supermarket”.

More recently, evidence was presented to the DIUS Select Committee, when one employer said:

“There is a clear mis-match here between some qualifications funded by… Train to Gain, and the skills required by industry”.

It was argued forcefully that Train to Gain, far from increasing skills, was

“having a serious negative impact on the UK skills base”.

Elsewhere still greater fallacies permeate the Government’s record. Money to support training by individuals is divided between what the Learning and Skills Council calls “adult learner responsive funding” and adult safeguarded funding. The former supports training towards qualifications, but it is available only if an individual undertakes a full qualification, even though it is difficult for many people to study full time. We heard about that from the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). That entitlement is not available for those who now need to reskill in the recession. Adult safeguarded funding supports the kind of short adult and community courses that could play a central role in helping people to update their skills, but substantially more than 1 million adult and community learning places have been lost since 2005 and funding is set to continue to fall in real terms.

As if failure to provide opportunity and the fallacy of a demand-led system were not bad enough, Ministers have added falsehood to their list of indictments. In recent weeks, we have seen a cascade of false claims and fake promises from DIUS. We have had the promise of a national internship scheme with no new internships. We have had the promise of new apprenticeships, when apprenticeship starts for young people are actually declining. We have had the bogus promise of retraining at universities, when the Government’s decision to cut funding for second chance education has, in fact, cut access to university for those who want to study equivalent and lower qualifications. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who fought such a fierce campaign in defence of Birkbeck college, the Open university and other institutions most damaged by those cuts.

What we need is not fake announcements, but a response to the recession built on a demand-led training system. We need opportunities for people to reskill and upskill. That means freeing further education from the byzantine bureaucracy of the LSC and its successors and rebuilding the broken infrastructure of adult and community learning. Adult and community learning does not simply fulfil an economic purpose; it also changes lives by changing life chances, it feeds civic engagement and it builds democratic citizenship. We need to boost the number of apprenticeships and the teaching and testing of those practical competences that are needed.

That is why the Conservatives will create a self-regulated FE sector, funded by a single streamlined agency. That is why we will put 100,000 more apprenticeships in the system each year and give a £2,000 bonus for each apprentice employed at a small or medium-sized enterprise. It is why we will put in place an all-age independent careers service as advocated by the hon. Member for Bristol, West in his speech and by us in our Green Paper. In place of failure, fallacies and falsehood, we need a fitting response to the recession, a proper concentration on skills, a determination to allow people to fulfil their potential and to feed the economic good that we seek as a House and, I hope, as a nation.

There are many people who criticise the Minister. Some people say that he is not up to the job, many of those on his own Benches. I will not repeat the claims that have been made on websites and elsewhere not because they are simply rude and unparliamentary, but because I do not believe them. I think that the hon. Gentleman is going to stand up today and acknowledge much of what I said. I think that he is going to apologise to the adult learners who have lost their places. I think he is going to admit that apprenticeship numbers are declining. I think he is going to argue that the Conservatives are right about the need for a streamlined system for the funding and management of skills. I have faith in the Minister, even if others do not. In place of Labour’s fear and strife, we need a Government true to their principles, honest about their intentions and determined to succeed, not for themselves but for the people they serve. We need new hope, a new Britain, a new Conservative Government.

Many people have spoken this afternoon and several contributors have said that they found the debate rather disappointing. I think that, with the exception of that from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the contributions from Front Benchers have been very disappointing. [Interruption.] For those who have been here throughout the debate, however, the contributions from Back Benchers have been interesting, constructive and worthwhile—and that is almost as true of the Opposition Back Benchers as of the Government Back Benchers.

As for what we heard about apprenticeships from both Opposition Front-Bench teams, all I will say is that it was extraordinary nonsense. The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said that we needed more apprenticeships, especially for those aged 19 and above. In 1996, when the Conservatives were in charge, there were 67,000 apprenticeships; last year, there were 225,000—and next year there will be an additional 35,000 specifically in response to the recession. Yet Conservative Members tell us that we need more!

Does my hon. Friend, like me, find it shocking that the Conservative Front-Bench team, in the motion and the winding-up speech, today made seven large spending commitments? The Conservatives will not put a price on them, yet their leader is saying that they will cut funding by £610 million. Is that not shameless of them?

It is shameless, but it is not shocking. The hon. Member for Havant wants more apprenticeships for the over-19s, yet if he had his £610 million spending cuts, there would be no new apprenticeships for that age group and there would still be £427 million of cuts to find from the science budget, the rest of the skills budget and the universities budget.

I was very nice when I spoke about the hon. Gentleman. Will he make it clear whether the number of level 3 apprenticeships has risen or fallen on this Government’s watch?

The hon. Gentleman was not nice; he was just not quite as rude as he was previously. Let us be clear about that; let us also be clear that the total number of apprenticeships has gone up massively on this Government’s watch; and let us be clear that the difference between level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships is a matter for business, not the Government, which the hon. Gentleman would know if he were a bit more interested in government and a bit less interested in cheap point scoring.

Speaking for the Liberal Front-Bench team, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) said that for the last 15 or 20 years there has been no recession. I thought that an interesting choice of phrase. It made the position seem a bit random, as though it did not matter which party was in power. The truth is that for the last 12 to 15 years, since the end of the last Tory recession, there has been no recession.

The hon. Gentleman said that during his three and a half years as a Member of Parliament, he had observed that Members never mentioned the Leitch report in debates such as this. I was surprised when he said that, because in the mere four months for which I have held this position, I have found that people go on and on about the Leitch report. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we remain committed to the report’s underlying thrust and ambitions, such as the creation of 400,000 apprenticeships in England by 2020.

The hon. Gentleman also said that the thrust of the Leitch report was upskilling, whereas the current challenge related to reskilling. His hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), made the same point later in the debate. I do not see a contradiction between the two. I think that we need to reskill now, at the same time as upskilling for the future. It has to be the same job, and I think that we are doing that job.

I was not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) entirely understood what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about capital expenditure. I thought my right hon. Friend made it quite clear that there was no freeze in the capital programme, and that none of the money was not being spent. In fact, £110 million is being brought forward to this year and £100 million to the following year. The programme is being accelerated. What has happened is that expectations have not been managed as they should have been, and there is now more demand in the system than can be met in the current budgetary period. That is what the Secretary of State apologised for, and that is what the independent Foster review is examining.

The Minister says that the problem has been caused by too much in the way of expectations. Who built up those expectations?

That is what the independent review is about. That is what the Secretary of State has said. We think it unacceptable that some colleges were allowed to believe that their programmes would go ahead according to a timetable that it now seems may not go ahead. That is what we are looking into and trying to put right.

No, I will not. I have no time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central cited the specific case of a college in his constituency. I understand that problems of the same type have been experienced by other Members. A multi-phase project received approval in principle for all its phases, but detailed approval was needed for each phase. We are sensitive to that problem, and I am discussing ways of finding solutions to it with the Learning and Skills Council. My hon. Friend and I were due to meet and discuss the matter, but were not able to do so. I should be happy to rearrange the meeting.

The new Whitwood campus, in the neighbouring constituency of Pontefract and Castleford, will open in a couple of weeks. May I ask my hon. Friend to visit that brand-new vocational training campus, and to speed up approval for the city centre campus in Wakefield about which he and I have spoken in private?

I am very grateful for that kind invitation, but I suspect that my hon. Friend has so many Cabinet Ministers on her doorstep that she can do better than me. However, if she is still stuck, I should be more than happy to come.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made an insightful and thoughtful contribution. I do not think I disagreed with anything that he said. He made the case for bite-sized chunks of learning; he made the case for unitisation of the qualifications credit framework, which we are moving towards; he made the case for replacing the LSC with a slimmed-down, more demand-led, more responsive body, which is exactly what we are doing; and he made the case for strategic skills. In fact, he talked such good sense about those matters that I am beginning to wonder whether he really is a proper Tory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) is an extraordinary representative who speaks for the grass roots in her constituency. She showed us that further education really is at the heart of the community—across the country and in Amber Valley, where she is an outstanding Member of Parliament—and that further education colleges are for the whole community, from 16-year-olds to 106-year-olds, from the first steps towards literacy and numeracy to degrees, one in 10 of which are delivered in further education settings. She gave us concrete examples of the fact that the billions of pounds of investment in maintenance of people’s lives to which the Government are committed to makes a real difference on the ground.

The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) enlightened us all about how it feels not to be Carol Vorderman. He said that he wanted the capital programme “pause”, as it has been called, to be used for the purpose of renegotiation and seeking better value. I am not sure that that is what we want to do. I think that we want as little renegotiation as possible, and as much “business as usual” as possible.

No thanks.

Last year’s National Audit Office report was extraordinary. It was a report such as the NAO rarely produces, unreservedly praising the work of the Building Colleges for the Future programme. I think that the programme has delivered value for money so far. It has certainly delivered some outstanding buildings.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) spoke of his own experience of the disastrous effect of a Tory recession on skills, employees and employers, contrasting it with the resilience that he observes on the ground in his constituency and the Labour response to a global downturn. He spoke of Tarmac’s Jesuitical determination to invest in skills during a recession. He is right: business and Labour are in tune on skills. It is the Tories who are all over the place.

A member of the Select Committee who is no longer in the Chamber described what I consider to be a false dichotomy between investing in skills now and investing in future skills. I shall discuss the detail of what he said when he returns. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) spoke outstandingly on behalf of her constituents. Like me, she is a “car MP”. She told us of the difficulties experienced by Honda, and how the Government are working with Honda—just as they are with Nissan—to make skills part of the car industry’s response to recession.

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) told us that there was too much political point scoring in the debate. I can only suggest to him that if his taste for political point scoring is not great, rather than attending Tory Opposition day debates he should try to get on to the Committee that will consider the Children, Skills and Learning Bill, which I think is about to begin its work and will run until, I think, 2017.

I first met my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) before either of us entered the House. I have therefore waited almost 20 years to be able to say this. I agreed with every word that he said. I quaked a bit when he stood up, but I was grateful for his support.

As a Government, we are doing all that we can to help employers, workers and families through this difficult time. We are investing £4.5 billion a year in crafting the skills base that the economy needs. Since 2006, Train to Gain alone has supported the training of more than 780,000 people and 120,000 businesses, enabling 370,000 individuals to obtain formal qualifications. We have allocated £158 million to pay for 35,000 more apprenticeship places with major employers such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Superdrug and Phones4U. We have allocated an additional £350 million to Flexibilities and Train to Gain. We have trebled the number of personal and community development learning programmes.

We will not slash £610 million from our budgets as the Tories would, because we know that the answer to recession is investing in people. We will not leave generations on the scrap heap of unemployment as the Tories did, and we will not leave hard-working families to face the world recession alone as the Tories would.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

Question accordingly agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).


That this House commends the Government’s efforts to boost the number of apprenticeships, provide more support to young people not in employment, education or training, and improve opportunities for adult learners and introduce an adult advancement and careers service; welcomes the real help provided to those affected by the downturn, including increasing the support available through the further education and skills systems; further welcomes the £240 million allocated to help those facing redundancy or newly unemployed; welcomes the additional £140 million to boost apprenticeships, the trebling of Professional and Career Development Loans, and making the Train to Gain programme more responsive, including through £350 million support for small and medium-sized enterprises; notes the Government’s planned investment of £2.3 billion in renewing and modernising further education facilities over this spending review; commends its efforts to help colleges and universities become more responsive to the employer’s needs, including the £50 million Higher Education Funding Council for England economic challenges fund, and to ensure the £175 billion public procurement budget maintains and strengthens investment in skills; further welcomes the simplification of existing systems; further notes that three million people access the skills system every year, with more 18 to 24 year olds working or engaged in full-time education compared to 1997; further notes the number of students in higher education in England is rising, not falling; and further notes that the Government will resist calls to cut skills budgets, as this would undermine the steps being taken to provide real help to business and individuals now.’.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you give us some guidance as to what remedies are available to the House to establish an accurate version of events now that it is clear that the Select Committee on Home Affairs was misled earlier today over the extent of the collusion between the Mayor of London—

I would, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you give us guidance as to how the House can establish an accurate version of events now that it is clear that there was some discussion between the Mayor of London and the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green)?

That is not a point of order for the Chair, but the matter is now on the record and I hope, therefore, that the people responsible will respond to the hon. Member.