Mr. Speaker, I will certainly respond to your appeal for a brief speech. I merely wish to raise, for a few minutes at this early hour of the morning, the question of industrial training boards set up under the Industrial Training Act, 1964. This subject is worthy of the attention of Members of Parliament, because industrial training boards have flourished and proliferated in the four years since the Act was passed.
There are about 23 different industrial training boards covering a multitude of trades and activities, with many more planned and in the pipeline, such as those for the distribution of food and drink, and the tobacco trade. Another board is envisaged for the footwear, leather and fur skin industries with which, in Leicestershire, I am very much concerned.
These boards do a very good job indeed and are generally welcomed in industry, but so prolific is this Act in spawning these new boards that I think it is a useful subject for a debate of this nature. Some of these boards are definitely not fulfilling a need in the country and are not wanted. I can give one or two examples of boards which have been rejected by the industries for which they were originally set up.
One is the Agricultural, Horticultural and Forestry Industry Training Board. Not long ago we had a debate about this board, which met with a great deal of objection by hon. Members who quoted the views of some of their constituents. It was felt that there was a good deal of unfairness because, whilst everybody would have to pay the levy, there would be large numbers of isolated farmers and small farmers in certain parts of the country who would be unable to get full benefit from any training schemes which the board put forward. That board has met with a great deal of hostility. 1 think that probably in the years to come it will be a good thing if it is abolished. Perhaps a strengthened system of local training could be re-established in the counties through the agricultural institutes and local colleges which still serve that purpose.
There are one or two other points I wish to raise concerning industrial training boards. One is the line of demarcation between the boards which have been and are about to be set up. So prolific has this Act been in spawning 23 new industrial training boards that it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw a line of demarcation between the activities of one board and another.
I will give the House an example from an Order, published on 15th May this year, relating to the activities of the Paper and Paper Products Industrial Training Boad. There are so many industrial training boards that each new Order defining the responsibilities for which a new board has been set up it becoming more and more complex. In this Order there are pages of schedules describing the activities for which the Paper and Paper Products Industrial Training Board is responsible and those for which it is not, inferring that some of the other activities will be the responsibility of the Printing and Publishing Industrial Training Board.
In this Order it has been found necessary to lay down in the minutest detail the responsibilities of the Board. For instance, it says,
'Carnival novelties' means carnival hats or caps, carnival noise makers, crackers, folly sticks or favours, fancy paper costumes, confetti, paper garlands, masks, streamers or similar products.
It will be seen from that that the Board's responsibilities have been set out in great detail so that the various boards do not come into conflict with one another over
their differing responsibilities for different sections of industry.
As I interpret the 1964 Act, there is no limit to the number of boards which can be established. All that is necessary is for the Minister to consider that a certain industry should have an industrial training board, and after sounding out the employers and employees in the industry concerned, and other representatives, he can establish a board with or without the consent of those whom he has consulted.
I am certain that in most cases in which the Minister has had consultations he has enjoyed the support of responsible employers and employees, but it seems to me that some of the boards which have been set up deal with the most detailed matters which could just as well be dealt with by a more embracing board which could perhaps charge a smaller percentage rate of levy and cover more activities of an allied nature.
For instance, why has it been necessary to set up separate boards for the water supply industry, for the carpet industry, for cotton and allied textiles, for wool, jute and flax, and so on? Each of these new boards needs a new chairman, and new salaried staff. The wool, jute and flax industry training board has between 50 and 60 employees who must be paid out of the levy imposed on the industry. I think that more embracing boards could be set up to deal with a number of allied trades, and thus avoid this proliferation of boards which, as far as I can see, can be brought into being at will.
As the Minister knows, we have had a great deal of correspondence about the wool, jute and flax industrial training board, and I should like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for the courteous and detailed way in which he has answered the many questions which I have put to him about this board. He was good enough to try to settle for me some legitimate inquiries that I had relating to the activities of the Wool, Jute and Flax Industrial Training Board in Leicestershire. He was unable to help me with this problem and eventually my constituent said to me, "Look here, the Minister is obviously trying to help us with this problem, and so are you. The Minister has said that he is more or less powerless to do anything. We cannot wait any longer. This is costing us thousands of pounds annually in money we spend on the levy and do not receive back in training fees. Please send it to the Parliamentary Commissioner and give the file to him".
I did not want to do that without giving the Minister a further opportunity to consider the matter, but he eventually replied saying that he was powerless to do anything, so I sent the whole file to the Parliamentary Commissioner. Why is the Parliamentary Commissioner forbidden to investigate the activities of industrial training boards? About 23 have already been established, with half a dozen or a dozen more in the pipeline. Goodness knows how many more are coming. Yet the Parliamentary Commissioner returned the file to me a few days after I had sent it to him with a letter, written on 4th of this month, saying that
Under Section 5(1) of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act I may investigate action taken in the exercise of administrative functions of departments and authorities listed in Schedule 2 to the Act. The Industrial Training Board are not listed in that Schedule and their actions are not subject to my investigation.
At this early hour on a Thursday morning I ask why the industrial training boards are privileged in this manner. Is there something sacrosanct about them? Why should not they be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner? Will the hon. Member assure me that the relevant Schedule will be amended to give the Parliamentary Commissioner powers to investigate these difficulties which arise?
The hon. Member is speaking in very scathing terms of these industrial training boards. I can assure him that in my constituency those remarks would be absolutely undeserved, because many of my constituents who have been on the industrial scrapheap for years and years benefit from these boards being developed along the lines they are. There are imperfections, but by and large there will be great improvements as time goes by. Some of the hon. Member's criticisms are positively unfair.
I am interested to hear what the hon. Member has to say. I ask him to be as courteous to me as he normally is, and to listen to my complaint —because the Minister knows better than to interrupt me in that manner, as he knows that there are certain injustices in the operations of these boards. I have letters from him saying that there are inequalities of operation. There are cases where one firm is penalised to the benefit of another. He recognises that that is so. I am not going to produce my files for the benefit of the hon. Member, but I ask him to wait until I have concluded, when no doubt he will have an opportunity to join in the fun.
The Parliamentary Commissioner is not empowered to investigate the operations of industrial training boards. What worried me was the fact that he went on to say, in his letter of 4th July:
The Ministry of Labour (now the Department of Employment and Productivity) is listed in Schedule 2, but the only action open to the Minister is to make an Order implementing proposals, submitted by the Board, to amend the present levy arrangements. There is therefore no administrative action open to the Minister which I can investigate.
With that letter the Parliamentary Commissioner returned the file that I had forwarded with my letter to him concerning a firm in Leicestershire engaged in the woollen industry.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the centre of the wool, jute and flax industry is in Yorkshire, and that the centre in Yorkshire is Bradford As he may probably know, Bradford is a goodish step from Leicestershire and there are difficulties for isolated firms, like two in my constituency, which are engaged in activities under the auspices of the Wool, Jute and Flax Industry Training Board—firms that are hundreds of miles from the main centre of that industry's activities.
As the Minister has recognised, the firms face peculiar problems, and I had hoped that he would ask the Training Board to make amendments to help this particular firm I have in mind. This firm, and others like it, has a very stable labour force, as one would expect, because it is difficult for employees skilled in this trade to get another job in the locality—the jobs are not available. To change their jobs employees would have to go to Yorkshire, which is not very likely. Further, this firm—F. Forsell & Son Ltd., of South Wigston—is renowned as a good employer, with its own good training scheme which has been operating for many years. It has, as I say, enjoyed a stable labour force, with an annual turnover of considerably less than 20 per cent.
This case concerned me because, obviously, firms away from the main centre of activity of the particular trade have great difficulty in benefiting from any centrally run scheme of training. The hon. Gentleman will accept that in Bradford, the centre of the woollen industry, certain evening classes are arranged which it would be quite impracticable for employees in the industry in Leicestershire to attend.
My reason for raising this question now is to ask the Minister once again to accept that in Leicestershire this firm is paying a much higher rate of levy per capita because of the much higher rate of wages paid in the East Midlands and in Leicestershire generally, but that in return for that much higher rate of levy per capita it is unable to enjoy the equivalent training facilities available in the centre of the industry.
The Minister shook his head a moment ago when I said that the levy was costing this firm, which is engaged in the export trade, thousands of pounds a year, but the fact is that this year, out of a payment of £3,456 in levy the firm is receiving only £800 a year in training grant. One of the letters from the Minister which decided me to raise the point on this occasion contained the following passage:
The Board of course pays grant for training in a wide range of occupations, including management, supervisory, administrative, technician, commercial and clerical, and it may be that your constituents are overlooking possible claims for training in these areas that might help to correct the imbalance.
This firm does not want to find excuses for training. All it wants is the right assessment of levy and to be allowed to continue its present very efficient training system without this very heavy financial burden.
The hon. Member for Har-borough (Mr. Farr), naturally and perhaps inevitably, began by speaking about the gensral situation of industrial training boards. I shall spend at least two minutes making comments about that before I tarn to the specific case he raised. I am sure that the hon. Member will not want me to comment, nor expect me to comment, on the desirability and possi- bility of changing the laws which govern the conduct of the Ombudsman so that part of the responsibilities which I bear should come under his aegis. The hon. Member explained why industrial training boards are not properly the concern of the Ombudsman, and why he returned the papers to the hon. Member, so I need not do that again. The hon. Member will understand that the facts outlined to him are concerned with the nature of industrial training boards, their semi-autonomous condition, the way they were organised and intended to be organised as a result of the 1964 Act. His party was responsible for the Act and deserves credit rather than blame for it.
It is inevitable that the boards should be so organised that they are and are seen to be representative of their industries. They are not run from Whitehall or from Westminster. They are not organised by the Government or by the Civil Service. They are controlled and their decisions are taken by men and women who work in the individual industries, who can speak for the individual industries and have experience in those industries. In my view, it would not be conducive to good industrial training if those boards were subject to detailed control by the Government or were run by Whitehall. They are the industries' own boards representing individual industries, spending those industries' money and doing a job for the industries.
If one is to create that situation and to create the confidence which most industries have in each of the training boards, one needs to create boards which are representative of the industries for which by size and structure they can speak and represent. The hon. Member asked me why there should be a training board for water supply, for the manufacture of carpets and for the wool, jute and flax industry. Why should they not all be amalgamated so that they could have common administrative costs, offices and personnel?
The answer must surely be that training in water supply, the production of carpets and the manufacture of woollen products are not the same. Secondly, we could not convince the employers and employees in water supply or carpet manufacture that their industrial interests could be represented if they were part of one amorphous board the majority of whose members did not speak for their industry but for some other.
The hon. Gentleman has rather misquoted me. I suggested that perhaps allied or similar trades should be associated in one board. It is not fair to say that training for water supply and carpet manufacture is at all similar.
I am sorry, and I take the hon. Member's point that he meant areas of more common concern and more similar occupations.
The answer is the same, although, in the manufacture of carpets and in the wool, jute and flax industry, there are similar facilities and, as a result, the textile boards come together from time to time to take common decisions about training. I have said to the House, and on occasion to an industry, "This is your board, doing the job you want done. It is necessary to have boards representing individual industries and speaking for them."
It was the intention of the party which brought in the Act in May, 1964, and I know it is the intention of the Opposition as it is ours, that virtually all industry, with 16 million employees, should eventually be covered by industrial training boards. The boards have flourished and should continue to flourish and to extend until they cover all areas where training may be important and training quality may be increased and quantity extended, where training costs may be more fairly and equally shared. Those are the objectives of the Act which I believe, the Government believe, and our predecessors believed, should be extended to all industry, but they can be run successfully only if they are accepted by the industries. I have said in the almost continual debates we have had about the Agricultural Training Board that I share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member and his hon. Friends for that board working in harmony and in harness with the agricultural industry.
I reject the suggestion that the industry does not want the Board. The N.F.U. asked my right hon. Friend for it. In the last six months the union has worked closely with the Board to work out a scheme for training and payment for training which it believes is acceptable to the majority of people in the industry. I hope to see the N.F.U. this week. I understand that when the county branches of the union were polled recently, a substantial number of them were in favour of the Board and the proposals drawn up by the N.F.U.
The hon. Gentleman asked how, with so many boards, the line would be drawn between where the activities of one board ended and another began. There should be three considerations governing this matter. First, the board should cover an industry or industrial group—for example, engineering and iron and steel are not single industries—in which there are similar occupations or training needs. Secondly, the board should be large enough to enjoy economies of scale. I refer to the administrative economies to be derived from a large body. Thirdly, the board should be small enough not to become remote from the industry.
These are the sort of principles which we have tried to apply during the detailed negotiations leading up to the creation of every board. The discussions have been detailed and protracted so that all concerned, employees and employers, could go into every definition of the scope of the boards. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend or the then Minister of Labour had the most detailed discussions with industry to ensure that there are no anomalies.
But the real question which the hon. Gentleman has asked, directly or by implication, is whether some industries or firms, because of their size, geography or character, should not be obliged to pay the industrial training levy or should pay a smaller levy and, therefore, not have any provision made for them by the training boards. Of the many points that could be made in answer to this question, I will give four.
First, there are no occupations for which training is inappropriate. It is as important for labourers as it is for craftsmen. Secondly, we accept that some firms, by their size or remoteness, find training difficult to organise. That does not mean that they do not need it. Thirdly, it is wrong to say—as the hon. Gentleman said and the firm to which he referred has said—that because there is a stable labour force in a company, training is not required. One of the objects of the Act is to make people recognise that even a stable labour force needs training because techniques, technology and production methods change. A man who has been employed with the same company for 10 or 30 years may need to be retrained to meet a new task which his firm wishes to put on him.
Fourthly, I appreciate that even within these general principles there are individual difficulties. However, these difficulties will not be overcome by applying rules to a training board which might erode and disturb the general training in the industry concerned. The Wool, Jute and Flax Board knows that there are companies with specific difficulties which might claim that the Act operates inequitably on them.
No board has been more anxious to avoid that sort of thing than the Wool, Jute and Flax Board. It runs seven differential levies which are supposed to help, and do help, to mitigate the problem. But knowing the problems of static labour forces and the problems of the occasional remote firm, the Board is even now looking to see whether any further amelioration can be made. The decision must be the Board's, for it is the industry's board, not the Minister's creature But it is aware of the problem and is looking at it. It hopes that it can meet and do so in a way which is consistent with the standards and principles in the extension of industrial training now being undertaken by the 23 boards to which the hon. Gentleman referred.