I have been trying to bite my tongue, but it has proved completely impossible. The second sentence on the front page of “Towards a Gold Standard for Craft”, the document published today by the hon. Gentleman, says:
“Much training dubbed as an apprenticeship is not worthy of the name.”
That is an absolute disgrace. To respond to his specific point about programme-led pathways, programme-led apprentices begin their apprenticeship in a college and they complete those elements of the framework of an apprenticeship that do not require employer involvement, such as key skills. But—I want to put this clearly on the record and I should like the hon. Gentleman to retract what he has been saying repeatedly in the Chamber and now in Committee—they cannot complete their apprenticeship until they have demonstrated occupational competence. This can be achieved only in the workplace. The scenario he described is simply not possible.
Finally, it should be noted that these programme-led apprenticeships are not widely undertaken. In fact more than 90 per cent. of apprentices are in waged employment from the very start of their programme. I appreciate that Conservatives now, unlike when they were in government, have decided to take a positive interest in apprenticeships. However, it would be helpful if, instead of running down the apprenticeship system and over-exaggerating any flaws there may be, the hon. Gentleman could see his way to celebrating the tripling of apprenticeships in this country and their 60 per cent completion rate—not the 43 per cent. completion rate that his document describes—and for once stand up for apprentices rather than trying to run them down.