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Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 6:13 pm on 12th March 2013.

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Photo of Michael Crockart Michael Crockart Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West 6:13 pm, 12th March 2013

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is entirely apt that you are in the Chair, given your interest in this issue.

In some sectors, apprenticeships are not a new development, but have been around for a long time. For many years plumbers, construction workers and electricians have undertaken apprenticeships, whether centrally led or employer-led. Their industries have long acknowledged that learning on the job, building up knowledge and skills, gaining qualifications and earning money, all at the same time, is valuable and appealing to many young people.

Other sectors have been much slower to cotton on. Some remain entirely in the dark. It has been argued that companies are not taking on trainees because of the difficulty of offering places when there is no set qualification to work towards, but that has not actually been the case. I checked the National Apprenticeship

Service website today. The “types of apprenticeships” are broken down into 10 categories covering everything from agriculture to the arts and from leisure to law. There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of different apprenticeships, which rather prompts the question to the companies “What is missing?”

I did find “Building Energy Management Systems”. Let me go off at a tangent for a moment in order to demonstrate that it is not just up to the Government to tackle this problem.

I recently met Scottish entrepreneur Sir William Haughey at an event in my constituency. He was wearing a gold “H” lapel pin, and I presumed, correctly, that that was not just because it was one of his initials, but because it related to his Youth with Hope scheme, which I am happy to support today by wearing a similar pin. Sir William is known for his straightforward ways; in his words, “2.9 million publicly listed companies. 1.3 million unemployed youths. You do the maths.” He seeks to motivate and inspire organisations of all capacities to play their part in addressing the needs and aspirations of the young. One flagship idea that he has launched is that of “green champions”, whereby young people are employed by large companies to promote sustainable building management, and energy and resource efficiency practices. Given that 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions are down to the way in which our buildings are lit, heated and run, it is easy to see how the green champions could soon pay their own way. In 2009, the audit of Government buildings—264 of them—found that they had an average F rating, with only two Departments managing a rating of D or above. So I hope I can tell the Youth with Hope team to expect a call from the Minister.

In a lot of industries, including competitive ones such as public relations, advertising, marketing and third sector fundraising, young people have been encouraged to work with companies to gain experience—it is just that they have expected the youngster to work for free. Indeed, many in this Chamber have been guilty of offering similar places—the opportunity to gain experience in a competitive field, with the incentive being a possible job at the end of it—and some possibly still do that. I am not claiming to be whiter than white; I offered a couple of short unpaid internships in my first year in the House. I was uneasy with that and I quickly moved to using the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme and the New Deal of the Mind’s parliamentary academy.

One of my apprentices, Alice Hannam, has given me a quote that states the benefits far better than I can:

“Being an apprentice has completely transformed me. It has given me a real boost in confidence. I have felt empowered to take on challenges which I would not have thought possible—such as a degree and securing a job in Parliament.

I really cannot stress enough how great it has been to receive on the job training whilst being paid to do a job I enjoy and receive a qualification at the end of it.”

May I finish by urging all hon. Members, both those in the Chamber, and those who are not here, to find out about these schemes, which give opportunities to people who, because of their background, would not normally be able to take up unpaid positions? I urge hon. Members to promote such schemes, not only in their own constituencies, but much closer to home. Until we put our own house in order, it is far more difficult to urge others to do the same.