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Volume 754: debated on Thursday 26 June 2014

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to encourage craft apprenticeships.

My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity of asking Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to encourage craft apprenticeships. This is a cause very close to my heart. Perhaps I might begin with an illustration. When I sit at my study desk in Lincoln, I look across to the judgment porch of that great and glorious cathedral. It is currently encased in scaffolding, and there will not be any moment in my life when a portion of Lincoln Cathedral is not encased in scaffolding. That is a vivid reminder of the fact that we need and depend upon crafts men and women for the preservation of our great historic buildings and the building of new great buildings. Far too few of them would qualify for the adjective “great” but, nevertheless, there are some.

Occasionally, when I am looking across to the cathedral, I take out my pocket watch, which was bought by my great-grandfather in 1876 and recently repaired by a skilled watch repairer, and I am reminded that that continuing ticking is dependent upon a crafts man or woman. There is a very vivid reminder—my noble friend the Minister has just reminded me of it—in today’s Times, where there is a picture of the statute of St Peter just being completed. It will be dedicated this Sunday, St Peter’s day. In Lincoln, on 31 March, a wonderful new statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary by a very great modern sculptor, Aidan Hart, was dedicated by our bishop.

I say this by way of background. I should also declare an interest as the founder and chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowships and as patron of the more recently formed Heritage Crafts Association. I shall devote my remarks, first, to the craftsmanship that the William Morris Craft Fellowship is concerned with and, secondly, to the crafts that the Heritage Crafts Association is concerned with.

We formed the William Morris Craft Fellowships some 30 years ago under the patronage of the late Queen Mother and with people drawn from all the major amenity societies in the country. We did so because we were conscious of the fact that unless we could encourage young crafts men and women—I am delighted to say that many of the fellows have been women—to perfect their crafts and learn others, we would not have people capable of overseeing major restoration and conservation projects. We had in mind a wonderful man called John Baskerville who had just presided over the restoration of Calke Abbey, that great house in Derbyshire which is now owned by the National Trust. Indeed, the William Morris Craft Fellowship gave the Queen Mother Memorial Medal to John Baskerville a few years back for his wonderful work. I am reminded in a letter I received only today from City and Guilds that recently Len Conway, who is the principal of the Building Crafts College at Stratford here in London, has received the Prince Philip Medal.

I pay tribute to all those involved in the fostering and developing of crafts, such as the livery companies of the City of London and City and Guilds itself. However, I can illustrate the immensity of their task by saying that the livery companies have been involved with a wonderful new scheme, which provides 52 places and costs all of £2 million. When I consider that Lincoln Cathedral needs something like £10 million in the next few years for its regular maintenance and repair, it puts this very tiny figure in context.

I turn to the Heritage Crafts Association, which has a membership of some 300 individual crafts men and women, who are mostly working on their own. Some 80% of them are self-employed, their average salary is £19,000 a year and in most cases 100% of the cost of an apprentice has to be borne by a single person. The apprentice is not much use until the end of his or her period of apprenticeship, so a craftsman has to make a very real commitment to take on an apprentice. Although my noble friend who will reply to this debate has been immensely supportive and interested, and tried to be helpful, nevertheless we fall between two stools. On the one hand, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills tells us we are a creative organisation; on the other, DCMS tells us we are a trade association. We do not qualify for any of the funding that the Crafts Council gets because it is exclusively concerned with contemporary crafts.

Yet we are in danger of losing many of our crafts. In the 18th and 19th centuries there was hardly a small village, let alone a town, that did not have resident craftsmen. Whether we talk of clockmakers, watchmakers or silversmiths—remember, there were seven or eight assay officers in the 18th and 19th centuries—every town and city, and many villages, had wonderful craftsmen working very hard. Today in the Lake District, the last of the makers of those wonderful oak baskets that you see in your Beatrix Potter books is over the age of 50 and there is not another to follow him. There is only one maker of pocket knives in Sheffield left, and he is in his late 60s. There are only two or three silver spinners, who make the rims for silver vessels. They are all in their 60s. The three surviving scissor makers are, again, all in their 60s and 70s.

We have to do two things: first, we have to encourage our young people in schools to recognise that the crafts offer a challenging and truly rewarding career, in the broadest sense of that word. We should go out into our schools and colleges, encouraging young people to embrace a career in crafts. In Germany, anybody who wants to become an engineer or craftsman is lauded to the skies. Here there is still that slightly—dare I say it—toffee-nosed attitude towards those who are going to work with their hands. However, you cannot work with your hands unless you have an active and fertile mind. Some of the craftsmen working on Lincoln Cathedral are among the brightest, most intelligent and interesting people you could hope to meet. We need to get this message out into our schools and colleges in a way that we have singularly failed to do up to now.

The other thing is that government has to recognise the supreme importance of our crafts, not just as preservers of the past but as makers of the future. A nation that loses these crafts loses part of its soul. As I illustrated in that reference to the apprenticeship scheme, which I warmly approve of and applaud, the sums involved are not great. There has to be a bigger commitment on the part of Government. I am not talking in a party sense at all, because this has to be a continuing thing. The All-Party Group on Arts and Heritage has flourished over the 40 years since I founded it only because it has worked on an all-party basis. There has to be a commitment from all sides of both Houses to recognise the great importance of what I have sought to say this afternoon.

Therefore, knowing my noble friend’s commitment, appreciating the help he has already given and knowing his skills as an advocate within government circles, I hope that he will be able to give us an encouraging reply this afternoon to show that there is a commitment to the continuation of our crafts and an encouragement of young people to consider embracing them.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his fascinating contribution and for this opportunity to discuss the important role of craft apprenticeships in putting young people on what can be a productive and satisfying career path. It certainly was that for many of my generation, who served craft apprenticeships in the 1950s and 1960s as engineers, electricians, carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers, et cetera—all the traditional manual trades. It was a working-class rite of passage that helped turn raw apprentices into time-served tradesmen, and of course we were almost exclusively men in those days. Then came the 1970s and decades of decline in manual labour with the contraction of the old industries. However, new options opened up for school leavers with the expansion of our universities and the rapid growth of the service sector. Compared to the new jobs on offer, craft apprenticeships for 16 to 21 year-olds were often five years long and poorly paid. Sadly, the money problem persists. Today, an estimated 30% of apprentices are not paid the minimum wage to which they are entitled. In the Queen’s Speech the Government promised to ensure that all employers respect the national minimum wage levels, and it is particularly important that apprenticeships are made more rewarding.

The decline in the appeal of apprenticeships was evident in the figures that confronted the incoming Labour Government in 1997. After 18 years of Conservative government, the number of apprenticeship starts had fallen to just 65,000 a year. Noble Lords may recall that the Blair Government’s election slogan had been “Education, education, education”, with priority to be given to improving schools and increasing the number of young people going on to university. I offer no apologies for that, as around half of all our young people are now in higher education. However, the Labour Government, of whom I was part, also worked to boost vocational training, and by 2010 they had raised the number of new apprenticeships from that 65,000 to 280,000 a year. In addition, we also raised the school leaving age, which is now 17. That helps to explain why the percentage of young people in England not in education, employment or training—the so-called NEETs—is now at its lowest level for 20 years, down to 7.6% last year. Some 81% of 16 to 18 year-olds are now in education or work-based learning, and that figure should rise again next year, when the school leaving age rises to 18.

Labour now sees untapped potential for training in craft skills and our further education sector. The shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, cites Chichester College in West Sussex as a model that might be adopted nationally. Chichester College is turning out 100 skilled woodworkers a year. Ten of its students have now set up their own furniture-making businesses, while others have helped local craft businesses expand internationally. Given higher status accreditation as institutes of technical education, FE colleges, building on local tradition or identifying new market opportunities, could also be encouraged to produce craft clusters, such as those in Chichester, offering new skills to those of all ages who prefer to work with their hands.

Both Labour and coalition Governments have made welcome progress in vocational training in recent years, and I echo the eloquent appeal made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. The number of apprenticeship starts has risen to around half a million a year. There is now a cross-party consensus that employers must take a more active role, and then we can do even more.

However, in this debate about craft apprenticeships, we should note that the top sector for annual apprenticeship starts is now business administration and law. Next comes health, public services and the care sector, and then retail and commercial enterprise. I make it clear that I make no complaint about these rankings. New jobs in these sectors can be very worth while, and they certainly produce a much better gender balance than craft apprenticeships have ever achieved.

In this sectoral table, engineering and manufacturing together now rank fourth, with 66,000 new apprenticeships a year but, to bridge the existing skills gap across that industry, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers wants to see that number double. Perhaps the most alarming gap in the supply of craft skills is in the construction industry, which is responsible for 6% of our GDP and currently employs 2.65 million people, with the majority of those in south-east England coming from outside the UK to work.

The Construction Industry Training Board estimates that over the next five years 180,000 new construction jobs will be created and that 400,000 building workers will reach retirement age. To fill this alarming gap, the CITB reckons that, in total, 120,000 additional apprenticeships will be required by 2019, about 25,000 new starts a year. That is in contrast to the number of completed apprenticeships in UK construction last year—just 7,000. Back in 2010, a key government policy was to reduce our reliance on skilled migrants. Nowhere is that more evident than in construction. In the recent debate on the Queen’s Speech, I asked whether this issue is getting the urgent attention from government that it so obviously needs. I got no reply, but I hope that the Minister replying this evening can help with an answer.

At a national level, I recommend to noble Lords that the Government look again at another Labour Party proposal, which is to link public procurement to the provision of apprenticeships on larger contracts. Sadly, about half of the UK’s largest companies do not offer apprenticeships. The leverage of public procurement could surely change that. Large companies in regulated sectors could also be required to commit to apprenticeship training as appropriate as part of their contractual obligations.

To conclude, I have no doubt that any ambitious but practical policy which offers more young people a greater chance of a craft apprenticeship will have enthusiastic public support. I now look forward, in particular, to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who will surely create a new Lords record when he speaks in his fifth successive debate in a single afternoon.

My Lords, mention of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, makes me feel particularly ashamed of what I am about to say. When I saw the subject of this debate, I thought that I knew what I was looking at, but when I started looking at craft apprenticeships, I discovered that really I did not. It is a very complicated field with a variety of ways in. The apprentice or trainee is often much older; different and confusing levels of funding are available; and we do not really know how to advise people. I came to this debate with one idea—how to give advice to people on how to get into this field, but it is clear that we have a problem there. It is difficult to explain a way in, particularly as, as has been pointed out, craft apprentices tend to be older entrants.

We should give better careers guidance to people, but it is clear that careers guidance is particularly bad for those who are not coming out of schools or colleges. I think it is something that we all do. We say, “What I have done is what everybody else should do”, regardless of whether that is what we need. In academic institutions with a graduate-based teaching foundation, there tends to be a prejudice, with people saying that that is the way that others should go. All of us who have followed that route have that prejudice. We have to fight hard against that, and I do not think that anybody would disagree. I know many people who are involved in trades and crafts who say, “Wouldn’t it have been nice to go to university?”. It is particularly odd at the moment because I feel that crafts, trade, building and working with your hands is so popular. It is difficult to switch on our television sets without hearing the praises of good craftsmen in numerous property programmes—or is it just me who finds those programmes when I am trying to switch on the monitor early in the morning in your Lordships’ House, or indeed, in the evening?

Possibly we are missing the trick. We are not saying that it is rewarding—often financially rewarding as well as spiritually rewarding. If legislation is in place that we shall have listed buildings, there is almost a guaranteed market created for some of the work needed and the fact that we will provide funding for such work. There are jobs, careers and ways forward. As has already been stated, these are careers that are valuable in modern building. They augment and support. When it comes to the finer skills, possibly a few will die out in terms of certain types of trade and certain ways of doing the work. Knowledge of those will at least be valuable for museums. Surely there is an ongoing market, but finding your way through is incredibly difficult. Simplification is needed.

I may be the bearer of a comparatively small brain when it comes to dealing with facts, figures and interlocking things. I was totally lost half way through. I knew that it could be done somehow if you were lucky and the wind was with you, and that you smiled on, but after that I would give no advice whatever. I would not know where to go to get advice. I would not know whether it was a one-stop shop to get even the first comments on this. We must look at the way we have encouraged people to go into craft trades, working with their hands, and how we communicate the value of such work. It is quite clear that this answers many economic questions and issues of value both to ourselves and to society. It will be rewarding to the person and society as a whole.

Making this path clearer and more straightforward is a very important facet of how to get the best out of it. I promised myself that I would not talk exclusively about dyslexia and apprenticeships, but will my noble friend comment on how the new access arrangements are going? It is another cliché that dyslexics tended to find themselves in niches where they did not have to do too much writing. In the past they tended to work with their hands. Telling people how to get through to that point would be extremely helpful. With modern technology, the problems with dyslexia are not what they were if you get the right stuff in front of you and are trained how to use it.

My comments about the disabled students’ allowance should probably wait for next week. We shall, however, ask what the Government are doing to make it easier for those who have problems with literacy, due to dyslexia, to access something that they can do, given that they want a qualification. That is a reasonable question. The real point I am making is how we can disseminate the information and educate the population that these career options and paths are available to them, and how this group can be kept informed.

I could reiterate these points but I do not think that anything would be achieved by that. As for the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, making five speeches in one day, I am still betting that he will be more coherent on his fifth one than I have been on my first.

My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on obtaining this debate. I am extremely glad that he has given me the opportunity to raise this important issue. It has been an extraordinary afternoon. I am pleased that the time limits of these debates in Grand Committee mean that you do not bore too many people. We have debated subjects of extraordinary interest. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for picking up some of the points that were made, which have triggered further thoughts on my part.

My starting point is a speech by Winston Churchill on 20 July 1910 in a debate on the prison estimates, which are often cited in the House in connection with the criminal justice system. In the middle of his speech are the wonderful words that,

“there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/1910; col. 1354.]

Of course, the purpose of that is to say to those involved in the criminal justice system, “It’s your job to find it”. I have often said in the House that the only asset that every nation has in common is its people, and woe betide it if it does not do everything it can to identify, nurture and develop the talents of all its people, because, if it does not, it has only itself to blame if it goes up the spout.

I am extremely glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, focused on craft apprenticeships. He rightly referred to the phrase “Education, education, education” used by the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair. I have in my study a monograph written by Glubb Pasha, who noble Lords may remember commanded the Arab Legion. It is about empires. His theory is that empires last for 250 years or 10 generations and are driven initially by ambition but peak when higher education becomes available to virtually everyone, after which people become idle, the ambition goes and they focus on education and not on doing things. Glubb Pasha says that the British Empire lasted from 1700 to 1950, but that is a matter for debate.

The Secretary of State for Justice has just announced that he is going to form new secure colleges for young offenders which will focus on education. This morning I was speaking at a conference and there were a lot of questions about what education actually means. I submit that education does not mean just classroom work but rather identifying someone’s talent and developing it so that they can make use of it as a life skill.

I once spent a fascinating morning with the excellent clerk of works at Salisbury Cathedral when its spire was being repaired. He encouraged young people to learn from the older stonemasons, carpenters and window-makers so that the skills were passed on. A great friend of mine who inherited a house in Dorset had on his land an old building with a collapsed waterwheel which he wanted to repair. There was only one man in Dorset who could do it. He asked him to come and do it and the man wisely said, “I will only do it provided you allow me to bring a young person to learn how to do it because otherwise this craft will die”.

When the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned a college at Stratford, I was reminded of the occasion two years ago when, as a member of the strategy board of the City and Guilds, I had the great privilege of presenting the prizes to the stonemasons and carpenters. Their skill was incredible. I also presented master carpenter certificates, which go back to the 1480s, to people in their sixties who were being rewarded for bringing on apprentices, which takes me to my last reminiscence. On the wall of my study is a beautiful wall clock that was presented to me when I retired as Chief Inspector of Prisons. It was made in Acklington Prison in Northumberland. The work on it is quite beautiful, including the inlay, because in charge of the carpentry was a master craftsman who insisted that all work was done to the highest possible standard.

At the moment, my elder son is chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce. Of course, bringing an area like that out of the recession involves looking in particular for work to employ people. There is no shortage of initiative, no shortage of ideas and no shortage of will to do something. The big problem is skills shortage. The noble Lord mentioned engineers. They need 80,000 engineers, but only 40,000 are available and some of them are ageing. We have let those employers down over the years by not developing people. What we ought to do, as the noble Lord said, is raise the whole status of apprenticeships—craft, building and engineering apprenticeships—because of what they represent in terms of employability.

I come back to my main purpose in speaking in this debate, which is to ask whether this could not be passed on to the criminal justice system, because if you identify talents through aptitude tests, particularly of the young people coming into the criminal justice system, you can then harness those talents. Many of them include just the skills about which we have been talking. We have seen the enthusiasm with which people have suddenly realised that they can do something and the self-esteem that results from that. Taking that on would help not only with rehabilitation but solve the skills shortage problems of employers. It is a question of attitude here, and I think it must begin and end, again, with Winston Churchill saying,

“there is a treasure … in the heart of every man”.

It is our job to find it and then to make sure that it has maximum advantage and is exercised properly.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on ensuring that we debate this vital issue. I probably do not share the same political analysis as the noble Lord, but in a few issues we share an enthusiastic—dare I say passionate—interest that crosses the political boundaries. There are at least three such issues, one of which is apprenticeships. I, too, am a fan of William Morris, a fantastic polymath of crafts and art. Another interest is parish churches, which may seem surprising because I have declared that I am a non-practising Jewish atheist. I have probably put a fair share of my money into parish churches that I have visited around the country. They are, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us, a wonderful repository of so many craft skills, including stonemasonry, woodcarving, stained glass, silversmith, goldsmith, tapestries—the list is numerous.

Of course, we are surrounded by the enthusiastic genius of Pugin, who ensured that thousands of craftsmen, and probably a few women at the time, contributed to this amazing Gothic temple. You need only to look at the doors. Anybody who has tried to hang a door will know how difficult that is—never mind the carving that goes with it. I have failed in that particular DIY task and given it to others. Sometimes we do not recognise what is around us. Recently they have been repairing the floor tiles—these wonderful medieval tiles, these encaustic tiles. They involve a craft skill in themselves, being remade and relaid in the House. So I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, because it is vital that we ensure that these skills continue.

The numerous funding arrangements available are confusing, and tend to be a deterrent for employers, especially the small, perhaps single, employers who are working in the crafts that I have described. There is probably not one single solution. Many different paths are being created. I congratulate the National Trust whose apprenticeship scheme is growing in this area. Getting craftsmen and women together in something like a group training association would be one of the possible solutions because what often deters people is the administration and, perhaps, some basic training. I would welcome the Minister’s response to that idea. It merits serious consideration, if we want to take away some of that burden.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that he would not know where to go. There is a one-stop shop. We created the National Apprenticeship Service. It may not be a perfect organisation but it is the place to go. I certainly point potential employers in that direction. It has a website and is easy to find.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on his pentathlon of speeches. He said that this was all about skill shortages. There I must part company with him. It is partly about that, but it is also about the lack of employers who are willing to take on apprentices. We still have only about 8% of employers in this country who employ apprentices. We have a long way to go. As I have said before, I welcome the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships. I do not criticise that. There is some innovative work going on with the trailblazers scheme—but we still have not cracked that problem. I would like the Minister to address that. My noble friend Lord Macdonald gave the figures on the construction and manufacturing industries. They are worrying figures. Again, that is partly about skills, but we need more employers in those industries willing to take on apprenticeships. The issue is two-fold.

Then there is the question of the status of apprenticeships. I make no apologies for raising this point again. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made this point about encouraging people to go to university. He is quite right. We still have a situation in which if you go into schools and ask those aged between about 14 and 18 where they are going, mostly they will talk about university. If you ask them if they are aware of apprenticeships, it is very rare that they are—though that awareness is beginning to increase. Smart parents and smart younger students are beginning to realise that the university debt burden of somewhere between £40,000 and £50,000, without a guaranteed job at the end, is a bit of a deterrent. Finding a way to earn while they learn is a pretty smart solution. The status of vocational training and apprenticeships is something we need to work at.

We also need to get schools and colleges to fulfil their obligation under the Education Act to give a wide range of career advice that includes vocational training, as well as the academic pathways. I hope the Minister will tell me that the Government are going to make strenuous efforts to ensure that there is not just lip-service being paid to that idea. It is not about a separate advice service. It is the advice that young people listen to most, from teachers and parents. I have said this before. Getting young people—apprentices and skilled craftsmen—back into schools to tell people about it is valuable. It is that peer-group advice that is so valuable. That is one of the things to which I hope the Minister will respond.

The Minister ought to look at where best practice is—what is going on around the country, where there must be a drive to create more apprentices in crafts and more generally. One should look at those local authorities that are working in partnership with the local employment partnerships and surrounding industry. That ought to be taking place everywhere around the country. My noble friend Lord Macdonald quoted the Chichester experience; there are plenty of others, but it is all about creating a greater volume of apprenticeships.

I have previously mentioned the Government’s desire to talk about the success of apprenticeships, and that is okay, but that will not be the case if we bulk up the figures by including adult apprenticeships. The Richards review asked the Government to consider whether they are, in reality, apprenticeships or are re-skilling and retraining. That is not to say we should not retrain people, but the real challenge for us are those not in education, employment or training. The figures may have reduced but are still alarmingly large.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Macdonald will not mind if I correct him: we did not actually raise the school leaving age but raised the participation age, which is slightly different—that is important. He mentioned that people should be in education, employment or training, and that is what we were aiming at. I thought that that was a smart bit of legislation. I would therefore welcome some comment on that.

I have mentioned group training associations because they are important and could help a problem in relation to heritage and craft skills. But more generally they could help in involving small and medium-sized employers. It would be welcome if the Minister had any evidence on whether the number of group training associations is increasing, which was part of the strategy.

This has been a helpful and valuable debate on one of the most important challenges we face, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to set out what the Government are doing for apprenticeships and to ensure that our craft industries remain an important part of our national fabric. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cormack for tabling this debate, and to noble Lords who have made contributions. I applaud my noble friend’s commitment and passion as patron of the Heritage Crafts Association and as chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowship.

Before I continue, I should like to express my great admiration for the energy and stamina of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, this afternoon—or it may have been all day. “Five in a row” has a certain ring to it.

Britain leads the world in many creative industries and key skills. The crafts are something that we can be proud of, and I agree that it is important to keep these skills alive, generating employment and contributing to the economy. My noble friend Lord Cormack, in highlighting certain endangered skills, makes a pertinent point about skills developed and honed over many years that need to be passed down to the next generation. This is because we need to safeguard our national heritage. This country’s many castles, churches, cathedrals and museums—not to mention listed buildings—form an integral part of the fabric of Britain. For example, so many gargoyles and friezes eroded by pollution need to be repaired and maintained. Noble Lords will be aware that stonemason apprentices have been working here in this magnificent building doing stone and encaustic tile conservation work.

It is important that young people are inspired in the heritage crafts. It should be an easy sell to persuade people to want to work on maintaining historic and beautiful buildings. We need to promote such careers—and they are careers—as valuable, honourable and rewarding, as my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Addington, and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, correctly mentioned. We strongly believe that craft-sector employers have a responsibility to inspire and engage with young people by getting involved with schools and local training providers. The noble Lord, Lord Young, mentioned the importance of collaboration in this respect.

The National Careers Service provides information and advice on careers in arts, crafts and design. This includes details of jobs, careers, the skills and qualifications needed and a link to representative bodies. It is important that we continue to expand engagement between employers and the National Careers Service to ensure that our young people get the information they need on academic and vocational paths. My noble friend Lord Addington emphasised the importance of this in his passionate speech.

We know that apprenticeships are important: they give people of all ages the chance to develop the practical skills and experience that employers want. Under this Government there are more people in apprenticeships in this country, working for more employers and in more sectors than ever before and covering the whole economy. In fact, as the Committee may be aware, the number of apprenticeships started each year has doubled since 2009-10. A record 1.8 million people started an apprenticeship during this Parliament, as published today. We are on track to meet our ambition of 2 million new apprenticeships by the end of this Parliament, including more young women than ever before.

Reforms are being taken forward by trailblazers, led by employers of all sizes and professional bodies, who are leading the way in developing the new standards for apprenticeships, giving employers more control. We have had a continued focus on apprenticeship quality, insisting that all such jobs are paid, have a minimum duration of a year, including off-the-job training, and meet the needs of employers. The reforms are designed to address exactly the barriers that employers have identified to taking on apprentices. By putting employers in the driving seat on designing the new apprenticeships, skills needs will be addressed. This will make it easier for them to offer more apprenticeships in the future, including through the university technical colleges, thus raising opportunities for, and encouraging greater numbers of, young people to study engineering and science with a practical application. These important points were highlighted by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Young and Lord Macdonald.

I am pleased to tell the Committee that representatives from across the craft sector, including the Heritage Crafts Association, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Cormack, are fully engaged with the apprenticeship reforms. Significant progress has already been made by the craft trailblazers, with their standard being submitted for consideration this week. More than 350 craftspeople and stakeholders have provided overwhelming levels of support for the trailblazers, and they have taken an innovative approach when designing their standard. They are developing one overarching standard which, I am pleased to say, is accessible to a variety of different craft disciplines. By taking this approach, it will open up apprenticeship possibilities to non-specified craft disciplines which have previously been excluded from apprenticeships.

A wide range of job roles are covered in the draft standard, including—this is interesting—wood turner, organ builder, thatcher, calligrapher, furniture maker, stonemason, cordwainer, milliner, wheelwright and more. They are such wonderful Hardy-esque descriptions.

We are indebted to Jason Holt, who is chairing the craft trailblazer project and championing the needs of small businesses and their engagement with apprenticeships. My noble friend Lord Cormack emphasised correctly that the craft industry is unique in that the majority of those involved are self-employed or work for micro-businesses. He is of course right that this provides particular challenges. We also know that across the sectors there are too many small businesses not engaged with apprenticeships, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young.

That is why we are working diligently with the Federation of Small Businesses and other stakeholders such as the Heritage Crafts Association to ensure that our reforms are small and micro-business friendly. Apprenticeship training agencies and group training agencies can also help small and micro-businesses employ apprentices which, for whatever reason, are unable to commit to employing an apprentice directly.

Putting employers in the driving seat means exactly that. We need more employers to take the lead. I noted the widening of the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, to the construction and engineering sectors in which certain craft skills are essential. He made some very good points on that front.

We also know that the national skills academy is working with the sector to extend its projects to embrace cultural heritage skills. The Government have also introduced the apprenticeship grant for employers, providing £1,500 payments to encourage and support our smaller employers to take on a young apprentice. The Budget made £170,000 of additional funding available over two years from this year, 2014, in order to extend the grant, which will provide more than 100,000 additional incentive payments that can help exactly the small businesses that are working to keep our heritage craft skills alive. Furthermore, a two-year grant scheme will provide £20 million toward repairs for churches and cathedrals, which have been mentioned today.

I turn to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Addington. Apprenticeships are an excellent opportunity for young people, including those with dyslexia or other disabilities, to demonstrate what they are capable of. In 2012-13, more than 18,630 of those who successfully completed an apprenticeship declared a disability or learning difficulty. I am sure that my noble friend will say that the Government should be doing more, and indeed he makes a good point. The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has recently launched a toolkit to help more disabled people gain access to apprenticeships.

Noble Lords asked a number of questions, and I will address as many as I can. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, raised the issue of public procurement. The Government support the appropriate use of apprenticeships in procurement. The process can sometimes deter small businesses and voluntary and charitable organisations, which is why each contract should be considered on an individual basis. Many public bodies in local government already build skills into their procurement process. For example, HS2 will create up to 2,000 apprenticeships over the lifetime of its construction.

The noble Lord raised the issue of apprentices not being paid the national minimum wage. He will know that I have been up at the Dispatch Box on several occasions to address this important point. To reassure him, HMRC investigates all the complaints that it receives through the pay and work rights helpline, and we have a commitment to ensure that all people, not just apprentices, are paid the minimum wage. Our regular announcements naming and shaming those who are not complying with national minimum wage regulations are proof of that. Sadly, I suspect that there will be more of those to come.

My noble friend Lord Addington asked how we better educate the population, both young and old, about the opportunities available through apprenticeships. The National Careers Service provides advice and guidance to young people and adults online, by telephone helpline and face to face in the community. It can handle 1 million helpline calls from adults and 370,000 from young people, and there are 20 million hits on its website each year. In fact, it gives 700,000 people face-to-face advice each year, which I hope will be some answer to his question.

I want to pick up a point that my noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made about the City livery companies. It is excellent that they have taken such a lead in promoting apprenticeships. In terms of the buying-in of apprenticeships, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who made the point that the more that they can do to help, the better, because they are the guardians of some of the best traditional skills that we have in this particular country.

I might need to address separately by letter the question from the noble Lord, Lord Young, about administration and the lack of employers willing to take on apprenticeships. His question, “How do we encourage smaller employers to do so?”, is a very pertinent point. The Government have made it clear that we want good quality apprenticeship training agencies to be able to continue to operate once the apprenticeship funding reforms have been introduced. We are also encouraging more and better quality group training agencies.

This welcome debate has allowed me to set out the Government’s continued commitment to apprenticeships and the whole range of activity that is supporting our craft industries.

Could my noble friend, for whose reply I am grateful, clarify one point for me? Will those individual crafts men and women, such as those who belong to the Heritage Crafts Association, be able to benefit from funds from an apprentice agency or some other source so that they can afford to take on apprentices, and therefore their crafts will continue into the future? My noble friend referred to this in a way that seemed to give me that assurance, but I would be most grateful if he would clarify that.

My noble friend makes a good point. As it is a very specific question, I will write to him with the particular openings and opportunities for funding in that area.

My Lords, I will keep an eye on the clock and be brief. I have one comment and a couple of questions. On the subject of public procurement contracts, I refer the Minister to the Crossrail experience, where every subcontractor is employing apprentices. There is no deterrent there and no need for one. We are not talking about every public procurement contract, just those over £1 million.

Secondly, the Minister still talks about the total number of apprenticeships. I know that the actual number is true, but it is time we started to disaggregate them so that we deal with adult apprenticeships and then find the total number in the 16 to 24 age range. There has been a decline in these in the past year—certainly for those under 19—and that is worrying, given the number of NEETS.

Lastly, I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how many more Group Training Associations have been created.

We have run out of time, so I will write to the noble Lord to address his issues.

To complete my speech, we owe it to future generations and to the tourism industry to ensure that the physical fabric of our great country is maintained.

Committee adjourned at 5.56 pm.