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Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 5:01 pm on 12th March 2013.

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Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 5:01 pm, 12th March 2013

I shall give way in a moment.

Apprenticeships deliver and we can now set out a more stretching goal, that is, the vision that on leaving school it will become the new norm to go either into an apprenticeship or to university. Gone are the days when a Prime Minister could set an arbitrary target for how many children should go to university, forcing some down a route that did not suit them and ignoring the rest. Gone are the days of Labour’s forgotten 50%. Gone are the days of youth unemployment rising even in the boom years. Gone are the days of uncontrolled immigration as the only answer to skill shortages, of dumbing down, of worklessness, of welfare and of the race to the bottom. Instead, the Government aspire that all the young people of this great nation should reach their personal best and that they should all succeed and fulfil their potential.

Of course, such a change is an economic imperative, as we cannot afford the drag anchor of the welfare bill in this global race, but there is also a moral imperative to support everyone in reaching their potential—for the many, not the few. How will we do that? Of course, the sharp increase in the quantity of apprentices is important, but alone it is not enough; despite unemployment falling, we still, shockingly, find both youth unemployment and skills shortages together in many towns in Britain. That points to a skills system that for too long has failed. For too long, the Government directed centrally the training that should be provided, at what level and where. The result was too much poor quality training in skills employers did not need, and not enough high quality training in skills employers do need.

The lodestars in reforming the apprenticeship system will be rigour and responsiveness: rigour to stretch, challenge and raise the expectations of apprentices and responsiveness to the needs of employers, public or private, large or small. The Richard review, which we published in the autumn, sets out a clear and specific guide to delivering those reforms, and we shall publish our formal response shortly.

What of Labour’s response today? I certainly welcome the Opposition’s general support for apprenticeships. I welcome their specific support for more employer ownership of skills, which has support across the spectrum, from trade unions, employers and the third sector alike. However, I am disappointed by the rather negative and carping tone that we heard from the hon. Member for Blackpool South. I turn to some of his specific points.