My right hon. and learned Friend announced in the House last week a major new initiative for re-skilling Britain. The job training scheme will help unemployed people gain the skills now needed by employers in our expanding economy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer, but may I point out that, over the past 10 years, in the engineering and construction industries training for apprentices has almost collapsed, that in two other major key industries the number of trainee schemes has fallen by half and that the Government's schemes, such as those operated by the MSC and YTS, cannot cope with this problem? What will the hon. Gentleman do in the immediate future to rectify this problem?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is guilty of massive exaggeration. No one would seek to deny at the Dispatch Box that there is a skill shortage. I would not even attempt to do so. But the figures show that fewer than 15 per cent. of firms currently expect output to be constrained by a shortage of skilled labour. That compares with 25 per cent. at a comparable point in the previous economic cycle in 1978–79 and with 50 per cent. during the last time the Labour party was in government.
I could not agree more. The Opposition are in a dilemma. They complain, as the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) has done, that we need skills training, yet when we introduce new programmes, as we did last week, they complain. They cannot have it both ways.
Has the Minister seen the interview with the Secretary of State in today's edition of the Yorkshire Post, in which he said that he would advise young unemployed persons to seek employment in the service sector or in tourism? If that is the case, is it any wonder that we have skill shortages in our manufacturing industry?
I have heard my right hon. Friend say similar things in the past, which I must agree, in the sense that although we all recognise—somebody must say it from the Despatch Box—that manufacturing industry Hs the most important sector of the British economy and it will be the wealth creator, we cannot see in Yorkshire, Lancashire or elsewhere in the United Kingdom that it will be a job creator in the future. Because of higher productivity per man and modern technology, manufacturing industry is more likely to shed labour, even though it is increasing its profitability.
Notwithstanding the £1·5 million that I think the Government have allocated on an annual basis to various relevant training programmes during their period in office, does my hon. Friend accept that there is room for improvement in private sector training? Will he consider recommending to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer either further tax relief for private sector training or, possibly, adult training allowances of some kind?
I am happy to draw what my hon. Friend has said to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the earlier point that he made. It is important for us to recognise what the private sector is doing in training. Recently, I was greatly impressed by the work that it has been doing, particularly in distance learning. We now see a new module coming off the stocks approximately on a weekly basis.
Will the Minister accept that the Opposition have never been against youth training and that we are not against but are in favour of quality training? We do not believe that a scheme such as the job training scheme, which offers three weeks' training in six months of experience, matches up to the desperate skill shortages that are reported in the engineering, construction, and information and technology industries. Is it not a fact that the Government have destabilised and destroyed skills training and put nothing in its place and that it is about time they started to train people to compete?
The hon. Gentleman must admit that if the JTS leads to a recognised qualification, or part thereof, that is respected by employers it is a move in the direction that he wishes to see. I am well aware of the first point that he made. Her Majesty's Opposition did not oppose the introduction of the MSC scheme or the youth training scheme. Nonetheless, they spend an inordinate length of time trying to rubbish it on every conceivable occasion.