The policy statement on lifelong learning in Northern Ireland was published in early 1999, and contains a 12-point action plan and related targets for the next three years. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House. In addition to the UK-wide initiatives of university for industry, new deal and individual learning accounts, a range of local initiatives is also being implemented.
Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the trade unions which have worked closely with employers to provide learning opportunities for working people of all ages and from all walks of life? How will the university for industry work and build upon such initiatives so that we can see further educational development in Northern Ireland for all?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the university for industry is taking shape in Northern Ireland and in the next month, we shall be announcing three or four learning projects. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Northern Ireland is bargaining with the Training and Employment Agency for a skills initiative which will promote learning in the work force. Northern Ireland suffers from a high level of adult basic literacy and numeracy problems, and the trade unions are playing a full part in ensuring that that is corrected.
Does the Minister agree that, in apprenticeship schemes and, therefore, in lifelong learning, priority should be given to those who take the practical rather than the academic route so that they obtain the skills and qualifications to enable them to succeed in their chosen field?
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned these issues to me before in the Chamber and outside. He will be pleased to know that yesterday, I was involved in the signing of a concordat on the plumbing industry, from which he comes, to ensure that those in that industry have great training and enterprise. The hon. Gentleman can relay that to his constituents and I shall be delighted to talk to him about it.