Skills White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 22nd March 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills 12:33 pm, 22nd March 2005

I find it extraordinary that, commenting on a statement on adult skills, the Conservatives made no reference to any policy on adult skills. Clearly, they have nothing to say.

We know certain things about the Conservatives' policies. We know that they are committed to abolishing the Learning and Skills Council, the union learning fund and the new deal for skills. We also know that they would cut the adult learning inspectorate. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now tell us whether they also plan to cut Labour's education maintenance allowance, the young apprenticeship scheme and free tuition for adults.

We also know that the hon. Gentleman said both last week and this week that he would match us on education. Perhaps he will also say whether he would match our policy on skills. Since the Government came to power in 1997, some 839,000 adults have gained basic skills qualifications. Since 1997, the number of adults with level 2 qualifications has gone up from 65 to 72 per cent., and the number of adults with NVQ level 3 qualifications has gone up from 43 to 50.8 per cent.

Clearly, there is more to do. We have to tackle the backlog of adult skills, and we have set out our policy. We are investing in a national employer training programme, which will provide—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks whether that would be free. It will provide free tuition for every adult to reach level 2 standard either in or out of work. We will use a nationwide system of brokers to work with employers so that all adults can gain access to level 3. In two regions, we are piloting co-financed level 3 training for employees, and we are investing an extra £20 million in level 3 training. We will not transform our skills base without employers, unions, the Government and the Learning and Skills Council working together actively to make that a reality.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is committed to abolishing the Learning and Skills Council, because, he says, administrative costs have spiralled out of control. But if he compares the council with its predecessor bodies, he will find that administrative costs have fallen by about 20 per cent. I know that he says that we ought to do more for school leavers and that we have not done anything to tackle basic skills, but perhaps he will reread the "14–19 Education and Skills" White Paper and see that we are toughening GCSEs in English and maths and ensuring that every child at school gains functional English and maths at level 2.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have to take this a whole step further with regard to adult skills, but he has nothing to say on that. Is it any wonder that when my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson left the Conservative party, he stood up and said that it had no policy on adult skills?