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Apprentice Training

Volume 414: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1980

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2.56 p.m.

My Lords, I beg I leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will encourage employers, trade unions and other interested parties to take joint action aimed at improving arrangements for the training of apprentices in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we do so already. These matters are a constant preoccupation of the Manpower Services Commission. Nevertheless, both the MSC and the Government believe that there is scope for improving our national training arrangements for apprentices and others. Though some progress has been achieved in bringing our approach to skill-training up to date, apprentice training retains many unsatisfactory features. These issues are currently being studied by the Government and the MSC.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, so far as it goes. Would he agree that our apprentice training arrangements compared with those in, say, Western Germany are antiquated, inflexible and place too much emphasis on the serving of time and not enough on the attainment of relevant standards? Would he further agree that, since the pay of our apprentices relative to that of adult craftsmen appears to be higher—particularly in the last year or two of their apprenticeship—than the Government and industry between them can now afford, there is a strong case for reducing their pay to the benefit of our competitiveness and to provide more employment for young people?

My Lords, I had hoped that I had pointed out in my original Answer that both the Government and the Manpower Services Commission were not totally satisfied with apprentice training. Indeed, all parties in industry, as well as the industry training boards, are seeking methods of improving apprentice as well as adult training for relevant skills. But I am sure that the noble Lord and the House will appreciate that apprentice training is very much the employers' responsibility. Therefore, standards which have to be attained are very much at the behest of employers and industry itself.

My Lords, in view of the fact that industry may be changing over to the silicon chip far more rapidly than was originally estimated, would the Minister therefore consider very considerably increasing the INMOS scheme for the training of young school-leavers in engineering and science, so that we are not left behind by the Japanese and the United States?

My Lords, I shall certainly bring that point to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. It is a rather detailed matter and therefore I shall bring it to his attention and, if necessary, I shall write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, will the Minister and the Government bear in mind that they have just heard the Liberal Party say that it wants to reduce people's wages?

My Lords, that was not the only suggestion. I believe that the main thrust is to improve the quality of apprentice training, and certainly this Government are looking to that as their main objective.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that was not the view expressed by a Liberal Peer just now and that my question related to the pay of apprentices relative to that of adult craftsmen?

My Lords, your Lordships always enjoy small and quiet verbal arguments, especially across the floor of the House, and especially when they do not come from this Dispatch Box.

My Lords, would the noble Lord think it fair to say that the responsibility for apprenticeship standards and everything connected with apprenticeships lies with the employer? Surely in matters like the period of time required to achieve a certain standard the trade unions have a very big responsibility in responding to the pressures that are already building up to reduce the period of apprenticeship training while still retaining the relevant standards.

My Lords, I would go very far in agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Byers. I think that he and the House would agree that it is not the exclusive responsibility of employers; indeed, other parties have a major part to play in apprentice training. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, is present today, but his views play a very important part in apprentice training for the Engineering Industry Training Board.

My Lords, will the Government not agree that one of the best forms of apprenticeship is compulsory apprenticeship in Her Majesty's Forces?—thereby alleviating the ever-increasing problem of unemployment, particularly as it relates to school-leavers.

My Lords, as one who has undergone this form of apprenticeship, I shall retain my own opinion on that matter; but I think that a very sound form of apprenticeship is to speak in your Lordships' House.