Industry (Redeployment)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1966.

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4.20 a.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Wainwright Mr Richard Wainwright , Colne Valley

It is against the background of the Government's recent economic measures that I wish to raise the question of the provision of training and retraining places in connection with the redeployment of industry. I take the Government at their word—that it will be a question of redeployment rather than dismal, purposeless unemployment; but whether or not it is a genuine and constructive redeployment depends almost entirely upon the extent of the facilities for training and retraining.

It is not my purpose to examine or criticise the general structure and pattern of the Government's industrial training schemes. I recognise that they inherited a pretty poor position. This country was late off the mark under the last Administration, compared with other industrial countries, and the Government have not had an easy job. But I am concerned with the new timing of their various measures, particularly in relation to the coming winter and the early months of 1967. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are desperately anxious to avoid the appalling situation which arose at the time of the last serious economic squeeze in 1962 when, in the middle of that year—just when there was scope for redeployment and there was time and people available for retraining—the number of Government training centres sank to its lowest figure of 13, compared with the 80 which there had been a few years before. In that case the timing was as wrong as it could have been, and this is an error which we must be sure is not repeated.

At a time when everybody concerned in the industrial affairs of this country has to change gear very rapidly we are entitled to know how fast the Ministry of Labour is changing gear with its training programme. In that connection I was somewhat concerned, listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the economic affairs debate on 26th July, to hear him say: By the end of 1967 the total number of training centres that will be in existence will be able to turn out 15,000 trained men a year, from some 8,000 places."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 1478.] Fifteen thousand trained men a year, by the end of 1967, will bring us into line with the figure that Sweden, with its much smaller population, reached in 1960–61.

What concerns me more than that comparison is the reference to the end of 1967, which is an almost irrelevant date having regard to the unemployment that we shall face this winter. I was glad and encouraged to see in the Press this morning the announcement that it is intended to expand the number of places at the two Government instructor training colleges at Glasgow and Letchworth, but to many of our industrial workers Glasgow and Letchworth are a long way away, and I should have thought that the urgent thing in the present circumstances was to seek out as many as possible of what we might call ready-made instructors—experienced men who, in their own words, have had an experience of training people. Some have experience of training going gack to the war. I hope that the Minister, with his regional and local officers will try to discover these invaluable people, on the "grapevine", if necessary, and tempt them into instruction. Many will require part-time training to bring their instructional skills up to date. It is not likely that many will drop their existing jobs immediately to make such a drastic change of career.

I hope that part-time facilities for training industrial workers as instructors will be announced soon and that they will be given special terms of secondment so that they may have security and know that, with reflation, they will be able to return to their existing shopfloor jobs.

As to the use of premises, the location of the 30 Government training centres is not very inspiring for some parts of the country. It does not give much hope to people thrown out of work in Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge and Glossop. South-East Lancashire, North Derbyshire and East Cheshire are not well provided for. Industrial premises in those areas might become free during the winter—I hope not to any great extent—because of the lack of orders. If so, I hope that the Ministry will take over some as Government training centres.

Thirty is not enough to meet the need. The Minister has not released figures comparing the number of applicants with the number of places at the centres, but, in the Observer on 31st July this year, David Howarth wrote that the centres have already become "dramatically over-subscribed" in the last two years. If that is so, it is not difficult to imagine how over-subscribed they will become in the months ahead.

The present plan is to try to cover all industry with the industrial training boards by some time in 1968. I hope that this policy can be accelerated, in view of the dramatic change on the economic front, and that, although their hands are full with training young people, the boards can also quickly turn their attention to adult retraining, which has always been part of their responsibility—admittedly, a very difficult one.

One hopes that these boards, to which many industrialists give a good deal of voluntary time, will develop the sort of approach which the Department of Education and Science has built up through its inspectors of schools, of knowing which are the good training centres and the good men in each field, knowing where good work is being done, and using those places as examples to others.

Above all, I hope that the Minister will leave the nation in no doubt that one of the ways in which this ill wind may blow some good is that this winter we can start a real surge forward with the provision of day and block release for people under the age of 18—the hope which was proclaimed in the 1944 Edu- cation Act which has been so long delayed. The last figures which I have been able to unearth are that in 1964 there were about 276,000 people under the age of 18 on day or block release, which was only 19 per cent. of the potential total. There may be later figures than that, but I have not been able to discover them. Even allowing for some increase since 1964, the time is surely ripe for an enormous advance on this front, and the time and manpower which is to be going spare this winter will at least give the nation an opportunity to do this.

I am obliged to the Minister for being here to deal with these matters, but he is well aware that it is not only a question of telling the House what his plans are; he must also tell the nation. There is no doubt that at the moment there is a good deal of scepticism about the use which can be made of this economic pause. In the economic affairs debate of 26th July from which I quoted, the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), speaking from the Government side of the House said, The notion that retraining facilities or even plans for them are available is also poppycock."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 1549.] I hope that what the Minister tells us this morning will give the lie to that statement and will let the nation know that this ill wind can at least afford some good for those in existing employment who are willing to learn new skills and for young people who are willing patiently to take a longer training than previous generations have taken.

4.37 a.m.

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

At this late hour, with many more matters to be discussed, I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Richard Wainwright) has raised an issue which is important, topical and urgent—important because the future industrial potential of the country and its capacity to earn its living in a highly Competitive world must depend basically on training in all its aspects; topical in the new situation created by the current shift in Government policy which demands the contraction of certain large industries and the expansion of others; and urgent because if the proposed Government measures are to work they will result in a marked increase in unemployment. According to some estimates this would be about 250,000 extra unemployed by Christmas.

If these people are not to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed, facilities for their retraining must be available in time. When I refer to long-term unemployed, I am referring to a period in excess of 12 weeks, because I understand that employment exchanges find it increasingly difficult to place people who have been out of work for 12 weeks or longer, because these people become accustomed to the lower standard of living and are less willing to take new jobs. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind as the sort of deadline which is an absolute maximum.

The problem of redeployment is twofold. Increased training facilities must be provided in those industries now scheduled for expansion for a larger intake of school leavers and other young entrants to the industry. The Industrial Training Act, 1964, is already beginning to be effective in those industries where industrial training boards have been set up and it is also having an effect in stimulating the provision of more advanced training courses. The other part of the problem, which is much more difficult, is to persuade people in established jobs to face up to the problems of change and to provide adequate retraining to fit them for the sort of new jobs for which they have the aptitude and the capacity.

Responsibility for much of this must fall on the Government, first to provide retraining centres in sufficient numbers and of sufficient capacity; secondly, to provide adequate incentives to people to accept retraining in new skills; and, thirdly, to provide a jobs advisory service that is both well informed and practical. People who have lived their working lives in one occupation need sympathetic and practical advice if they are expected to move in what must be to them something of the unknown. Not only is an expansion of retraining centres needed, but more efficient use of the existing facilities could be achieved.

So much development is taking place these days in educational and training techniques—such as the use of programmed instruction, visual aids, electronic devices and so on—that undoubtedly the time taken in training at Government centres and elsewhere could be condensed with the use of these aids without loss of efficiency. I hope that the Minister has an open mind to these possibilities and that he will adopt whatever aids are developed, so long as effective training is achieved.

On that basis, three fundamental questions face the Minister. First, is a review of teaching in Government establishments being carried out and, if not, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to set up an advisory body to keep training methods under review? Secondly, what provision is being made for the additional 250,000 people requiring training or retraining by the end of this year? Thirdly, what preparations have been made to ensure that the best advice is available to these people, based on the sort of training that will be available to them in the light of their circumstances and experience to date?

My hon. Friends and I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman fully recognises the importance of all these matters and is taking some steps to deal with them. But we do doubt, on the information we have so far, that the measures already taken or proposed by the Government will be adequate to the task by the end of this year.

4.38 a.m.

Photo of Mr Raymond Gunter Mr Raymond Gunter , Southwark

I thank the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Richard Wainwright) for raising this matter, although at this hour time is not available for the House to fully discuss a subject that is as important as anything facing this country. Perhaps on another occasion, when ample time is available, we will be able to go into all the facets of this issue.

The hon. Gentleman dealt with the history of this matter and recalled what happened in 1962. I never find it a joy to have inquests on this sort of topic. I will say only that it was a pity that so much went by the board in 1961 and 1962. There was, at that time, a somewhat small base, so to speak, and in 1963 the exercise of recovery had to take place; and the hon. Gentleman will recall that in April, 1963, the then Conservative Government announced plans for more than doubling the number of Government training centres. All the centres in that plan had started training by the end of last year, although three of them were not sufficiently activated until the early part of this year, when I formally opened them.

It is not as easy as the hon. Gentleman suggested to create, staff and set in motion a Government training centre. He seemed to suggest that it could be done overnight. With the best will in the world, if such a centre is to be really efficient, the procedures involved in buying the land, staffing and so on takes about two years to complete. However, I assure the House that we are trying as rapidly as we can to overcome this delay.

To turn to more recent events, in February, 1965, I announced plans for the establishment of two more centres. That created at Plymouth will start taking trainees this autumn, and that for the Medway towns, where there was great difficulty in finding a site, will start taking trainees early in 1967. In June, 1965, I announced plans for the further expansion of existing centres, and for new centres at Granton, Killingworth, Denton, Coventry, Norwich and Lancing. Of these, Denton took in its first trainees at the end of June, and most of the others should come into stream, as it were, in about a year's time, and all of them by the end of 1967.

I must repeat that there is a limit to the pace at which existing centres can be expanded or new ones opened. The first limitation—and I only mention it in passing in view of the comments made so often about the disastrous increase in the number of civil servants—is the planning capacity of my own technical staff and the appropriate staffs of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. We all know that these staffs have now been fully stretched in respect of the current expansion programme, and I must tell the hon. Member that I cannot see how, before another two or three months have passed, I can safely require my own people—who are up to their necks, as it were, at present—to undertake further detailed planning without risking dislocation of the current expansion programme.

A more intractable limitation is the provision of the additional staff at the centres. To conduct the concentrated and accelerated vocational training of adults so as to give them in six months the basic skills acquired by a full apprenticeship requires a very high degree of expertise. I pay my tribute to those who have left industry as they have known it in order to come to the training centres and perform something almost of the nature of a miracle, so that employers and trade unionists are beginning to appreciate what can be done in that six months. It is an awakening by the employers and the trade unionists, and length of apprenticeship training is being seen in a different light because of the efforts of those who are, in six months, doing this task.

Even longer than the time needed to train instructors is the time taken to train a competent centre manager. It is a very highly-skilled job to be a manager of a Government training centre, where one is gathering in men who, in many cases, did not want to be retrained in the sense that they did not want to leave behind them their original skills. There are all the inevitable human relationship problems. It is the task of an expert to be a good centre manager. The hon. Member referred to drawing men in from industry. It would be easy to revitalise them, as they were, and refurbish their knowledge, but one of our difficulties is to find the right men to do this work, because it is not just a question of knowing their skill but of how to handle men trained in other ways. That is one of our principal difficulties.

As I have said, the expansion started from a fairly narrow base in 1963. There were then 13 centres; there are now 31 and, by the end of 1967 there will be 38 centres. Our managerial resources, actual and potential, are already severely stretched, and it would be disastrous for us if we risked inefficiency in this training. If the standard of the end product—the trainee—were to go down we would forfeit the confidence which has been built up both of the employers and of the trade unions. Therefore, we have to be particularly delicate and careful about the selection of the men who come largely from industry to help us in this task.

As the hon. Member mentioned, the present 31 centres have a total of more than 6,000 training places. By the end of 1967 the 38 centres with 8,000 training places will have a capacity to produce 15,000 trained men a year. It has been said that there are long waiting lists. There are; pressure for training places is increasing. There are good prospects in some areas, but not in all. There is very little spare capacity in Government training centres at present. One of the things which bothers me a little, and I do not know how we can overcome it, is that our experience of run downs in individual industries has not in the past led to dramatic increases in the demand for G.T.C. training.

One would have thought that the mining industry would be in the forefront of industries wanting places, but in the last three-and-a-half years there have been fewer than 500 applications for training from coal miners, and by no means all were from miners who could strictly be considered redundant. Only half were qualified for training and only about 90 completed training. Over the same period there were only 250 applications from redundant railway-men, both operating and administrative grades, of whom 164 were accepted for training and 66 actually completed training. We have the problem that the run down of industry which we thought would provide the biggest reservoir is not proving that to be the case. We are already giving thought to plans for the further extension of G.T.C. facilities after the current expansion programme has been completed next year.

I turn to a point which the hon. Member made in the last part of his speech. While the Government make a contribution to the pool of skilled manpower by accelerated training of adults, it must be remembered that the great bulk of training in future must be done by the industrial training boards. The great bulk of the skill we shall require must come from the efforts of the industrial training boards. I repeat the hope that the experience we are having in the Government training centres will enable the industrial training boards to learn a lot more about what is required in the apprenticeship system. Both the quality and the quantity of apprentice training will be helped by the training boards. There are 14 already in being and a further three will be established in the early autumn.

Retraining of semi-skilled workers who change their jobs is undertaken in industry. In development areas my Ministry assists firms which are extending their labour forces by giving financial assistance to training new workers and offering to lend Ministry of Labour instructors to get training started in firms' own premises. We are fully aware of the great necessity for an expansion of this training in all areas. We are limited not only by the physical resources but by the personnel who must man these G.T.Cs.

One of the happiest experiences I have had at the Ministry of Labour has been in the development of the Government training centres, in appreciation of their standards of efficiency, by the co-operation of employers and the increasing cooperation of the trade unions in making use of them. This is an example of how in six months we may do what industry has found necessary in some cases to take three years to do. I appreciate to the full the point made by the hon. Member that there is need for a concentrated effort within the G.T.Cs. and throughout the industrial training boards—not only because we want to minimise the effects of any unemployment which may arise but because it is very necessary for the future that we have the skilled manpower properly trained in this country—to try to come to terms with the technical revolution that is upon us.