Can my right hon. Friend tell the House a little more about the reactions of the industrial training boards to the document, and in particular how they regard the proposal to eliminate the levy grant system?
A good deal of different opinion has been expressed by various bodies, including the training boards, some of which are divided within themselves. The feeling that the levy grant system should perhaps be phased out over a slightly longer period has been expressed by some boards. Some boards have seen a possible continuation of a smaller levy without the grant element. It would be difficult to analyse the precise nature of the representations until we have had time to consider the very many papers that have been put before us.
The right hon. Gentleman is probably aware that a Committee of the House is investigating the employment services, which are the responsibility of his Department. Can he give an undertaking that he will at least wait until its report is presented before he makes any firm decision on the action he intends to take?
We have already given an undertaking not to make any decisions until there has been a period of full consultation. As the hon. Lady implied, it is important that the employment services should be considered in relation to training, but that is a separate side and a separate problem.
Will my right hon. Friend reinforce the view which he has just expressed, that he will not hurry the consultation over his new consultative document? Will it be full consultation, as has been carried out so successfully previously in his Department? There is a great deal of anxiety in industry as a whole about the status of the National Training Agency and its ability to dispense funds.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about reactions from the training boards. Does he agree that some of the largest and most important training boards have expressed grave doubts about the abolition of the industrial training levy? I refer in particular to the views of the largest training board in the country, the Engineering Industry Training Board, published yesterday, that if the levy were abolished it would lead to a serious reduction in training. Will the right hon. Gentleman take these views very seriously?
I have already assured the board concerned how seriously I take its views. I should point out that it was suggesting not a continuation of the levy grant system but its replacement by a more limited form of levy, which itself would be phased out over a period.
Boards are submitting to my right hon. Friend their considered views on the proposals. They have each been offered the opportunity of discussion with Ministers of my Department, and these meetings are proceeding. My right hon. Friend is also arranging to meet all the board chairmen together.
We are well aware of the natural anxiety of some members of the staff but we have been able to assure them that there are good career prospects for them if our proposals are implemented. There will be job opportunities with the boards and also with the training agency if one comes about. We shall certainly bear this very much in mind in our consultations.
My colleagues and I are seeing all of these boards individually and paying heed to what they say. I will make particular note of the motor industry training board when the time comes for us to see it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware—I am sure he must be after the exchanges this afternoon—that as a result of discussions held so far on the training organisations at board level and elsewhere there appears to be some agreement that there is insufficient time in the proposed time-scale for the changes to allow a full consideration of all the aspects raised between the boards and the industries and other interested parties? More importantly, is he aware that there does not seem to be enough time for the Government to consider all of the constructive alternatives which have been posed as a result of the discussions? Will he consider extending the time-scale, because it will affect proposed legislation, and many of us feel that there must be more time for adequate discussion of these alternatives?
It is always a question of judgment how long should be allowed for consultative periods. We think that this is about right. If we let it drag on too long, legislation is not implemented, and we should like to legislate in the next Session of Parliament. By and large, most people appreciate that they are having the opportunity to make their views known.