Our initiative for professional, industrial and commercial updating, known as PICKUP, reflects the considerable importance we attach to the provision of mid-career education and training opportunities.
I assure my hon. Friend that discussions have been continuous and fairly extensive. I can cite as an example the workshops that have been held throughout the country. Eight have already been held and a further seven are planned. They are meant to bring together the various bodies that my hon. Friend mentioned for discussions on how the scheme may best proceed.
Is the Minister aware that many people who have taken mid-career educational courses have subsequently found themselves unemployed? In those circumstances, is it not nonsensical for us to talk about mid-career education, when the Government are doing nothing about giving the type of boost to industry that is necessary to give people the opportunity to make use of whatever skills they acquire?
It seems that most of the people who are taking part in the PICKUP scheme are in employment and updating their skills for continuing employment. I accept that there may be some who find that they are unemployed. Nevertheless, in general, the scheme is for people in employment. By and large, the fees are paid for by the company for which those people work.
Although a great deal has been done in the past three years, does my hon. Friend agree that present circumstances highlight the weakness of the grant structure, especially for those who have taken a first degree and are not entitled to take a second? Does he agree that that brings the problem of discretionary grants into the discussion?
That is an interesting question, but it is different from the one that we are considering. Should the Government decide to introduce a loan scheme, it would be interesting to see whether that scheme could be extended to cover people in adult and continuing education.
Does the Minister agree that the PICKUP programme is utterly inadequate in view of the rapidly changing circumstances of automation in industry? Does he agree also that it is time that we took off the shelves the tremendous number of reports in the Minister's Department and tried to achieve a more active programme of work that will meet the changing conditions in which we now live?