asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take steps to improve the opportunities for apprenticeships for young persons leaving schools.
This year we are providing over £50 million to support training for first-year and redundant apprentices, and from next September young people taken on as apprentices can come within the scope of our £1 billion new youth training scheme.
Does the Minister accept that, compared with 10 years ago, the situation is now serious? There are many companies, in both the private and the public sector, which a decade ago had dozens of apprentices but who now have none. So far this year progress has been minimal. What gives the Minister any hope that the new package in September will bring about a drastic change?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the pattern of working life has changed radically over the past 10 years. I believe strongly, and I think it is agreed throughout the House, that the new youth training scheme is a basis on which we can build for the future.
Will the Minister confirm that the number of apprenticeships has declined to 60 per cent. of the 1979 figure? Does he agree that so far there is no sign that young men and women can reach craft status through any of the short-term schemes that the Government have introduced, and this at a time when skill shortages are likely to be one of the main blocks to recovery, should it ever come?
As the right hon. Lady is aware, we have increased the number of first-year apprentices whom we are supporting from 20,000 in 1979 to 35,000 now, so we are taking account of her point. With regard to the future, the right hon. Lady will also be aware that one of the three proposals in the new training initiative is that we should completely reform the apprenticeship system. Perhaps we should be looking forwards, not backwards as she is suggesting.
On what date will the youth training scheme come into operation? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the scheme's products will be fully accepted into industry as apprentices?
My hon. and learned Friend will probably be aware that the date for the introduction of the new training scheme is September 1983. We hope that there will be integration between the apprenticeship system and the new youth training scheme.