I beg to move amendment 7, in schedule 1, page 46, line 15, at end insert—
‘(c) be no lower than National Vocational Qualification Level 3 by 2020.’.
Having discussed quality, we now have an opportunity to give the word some meaning. Our amendment would insert a requirement that standards must be no lower than NVQ level 3—not immediately, but by 2020—into schedule 1. It is a relatively modest expectation, but a significant one. It is an opportunity for all of us on this Committee to ensure that the commitment to quality that the Minister just spoke about—he is right that this debate has focused, sensibly, on that commitment to quality—actually has some meaning.
In the Minister’s most recent contribution, he said that there was a recognition of the importance of growth in the number of apprenticeships. That has been reflected by both sides of the Committee, but simply having a chart that shows the numbers, which Members could find if they so desired, is not in any way proof of a commitment to quality or a real investment in the next generation. To assure us about the quality, I think he said that employers have a stake in their members of staff, so they will want their staff to have decent skills and, by definition, it is not in their interests to provide poor-quality training.
Tom Brake indicated assent.
That is very wise—then we will have an opportunity to debate that concern. My concern is that a huge variety of people are doing apprenticeships on a huge variety of tasks. Some of those require substantial training, while others require very much less. There is a worry about us leaving it up to employers to invest.
The two previous Governments had the Investors in People programme, which said to employers, “Yes, we know that it is good practice to invest in your staff, but which of you can certify that employees who join your business will be invested in?” Simply to say that businesses are likely to want to train those staff they have taken on well does not do anything to ensure the quality of that apprenticeship. We recognise that that employer—[Interruption.]
Order. I draw attention to the Public Gallery. If the hon. Gentleman cannot sit down and listen to the proceedings, he can leave the Committee. He is not to go over to the Public Gallery to have conversations.
It seems remarkable that someone might not want to know what I am saying, Mr Hood. That is a commitment that employers, who have a stake in an employee, not only want to provide adequate training for that job, but recognise that, at a time when the majority of young people stay in a job for only 18 months, that young person can take that training to whatever future employer, which would know that that apprenticeship was of a standard in which it could have confidence.
I am saying that we have seen, from the previous two Governments, a real commitment to the numbers of apprenticeships. The important next stage is to ensure that every single one of the people coming off those apprenticeships has the skills and qualifications that we can all buy into. That is not just my concern. I will now reflect on the words of Richard Hamer from BAE Systems. The hon. Gentleman will want to hear this, because it amplifies my point. Last Tuesday, Mr Hamer told us:
“My only concern, as I said in a note, was that when you do deregulate and take responsibility away from the sector skills councils that control or manage the apprenticeships, they could proliferate and individual employers or associations could create apprenticeship programmes that are not necessarily the best for their industry. There need to be caretaker arrangements for employers to put things in place to ensure that the quality of apprenticeship design is appropriate. At the moment, as I understand it, Ministers are in charge of any such changes. I cannot see the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills being in control of all apprenticeships—there are hundreds of them—and having the time to manage that.”––[Official Report, Deregulation Public Bill Committee, Tuesday 25 February 2014; c. 28, Q67.]
It is not just me raising this issue. Industry is coming to our Committee and saying, “Be careful here. We like the fact that you are talking about simplification, but we are anxious about the quality. What can you do to reassure us?” The Minister is saying, “Don’t worry, employers wouldn’t do it badly.”
Obviously, there are proposals to have standards. The hon. Gentleman is proposing a requirement that all apprenticeships satisfy NVQ level 3 by 2020. Does the hon. Gentleman have any idea what proportion of apprenticeships currently do not satisfy that standard?
I do. I thank the hon. Gentleman for leading me neatly on to the next section of my speech. Some 57% of the increase in apprenticeships between 2009-10 and 2011-12 in England was in level 2 apprenticeships. In total, nearly two thirds of all apprenticeships were at level 2. That is a substantial amount.
It is important that we say that apprenticeships are a gold standard and that employers anywhere understand what they are taking on when someone has come out of an apprenticeship. That is not to say that there is no role in the economy for jobs that only require NVQ level 2 skills. But should those be called apprenticeships? Should the quality be preserved and increased, as would be the case under our amendment? There are traineeships and other training schemes. Under this Government—the exchange that we have just had amplifies it—we have seen various things being brought together and called apprenticeships.
The employers are saying to us, “We want to know, if someone’s come to us, having done an apprenticeship somewhere else, about the quality of their training.”
Effectively, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the 59% increase between 2010 and now would be called traineeships rather than apprenticeships—yes?
Perhaps it would be appropriate for some of them to be called traineeships, but the important thing is that the apprenticeship would be the gold standard, NVQ level 3 qualification. To reiterate, that is not to say that there is not value in lower qualifications, but let us not pretend that they are apprenticeships if they do not have a commitment to investment in people.
We support apprenticeships not only being for young people. The biggest increase in apprenticeships under this Government has not been, as people would immediately think, those at the start of a young person’s career; the big increase has been in the number of people returning to work, reskilling and upskilling on apprenticeships. We are all conscious that there is a commitment to a national minimum wage, introduced by the previous Government in the face of considerable opposition, and that because of the dual work-training element apprenticeships are paid at a lower rate than the national minimum wage. With awareness of a broad commitment to a national minimum wage and awareness that apprenticeships are paid below that wage, there is a duty on all of us to ensure that employees are not getting ripped off and are not only being taken on below the national minimum wage, but not getting that investment in them. That is why quality is important.
There can be real value for older workers who retrain and develop new skills. A future Labour Government will fit in with the ethos laid out by Richard Hamer of BAE Systems when he gave evidence to the Committee. We share his commitment to training and protecting the apprenticeship brand as the gold standard.
The Minister spoke about the trailblazer initiative, the value of which Richard Hamer recognised. However, we are all conscious of the impact on small businesses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) raised eyebrows in 2010 with his first speech to the Labour party conference, only a couple of days after becoming leader of the Labour party, when he said that Labour would become the party of small business. Since then, the impact on small businesses has been thought about at every level of Labour party policy. That is important in the context of apprenticeships. Many small businesses want to invest in the next generation, take on more apprentices and have young people come through their systems. However, for a variety of reasons, many find that they cannot.
BAE Systems is a major provider and has been successful in supporting the small firms in its supply chain to get involved in apprenticeships. Richard Hamer said that the foundation part of the apprenticeship, which has common elements with the engineering sector, is incredibly important. BAE Systems has ensured that those principles underpin its work across the engineering and manufacturing sectors. However, it is important that the small businesses that are not part of a major supply chain are also able to access apprenticeships and take them forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on the important point of how large companies can support the small businesses in their supply chains to take on apprentices. He mentioned BAE Systems, and I know that Fujitsu and Accenture also work with their supply chains to support apprenticeships. Does he agree that that shows that companies are looking to their wider responsibilities, improving skills and supporting high-quality gold standard apprentices?
I absolutely agree. It is incredibly important that we recognise that the reason why businesses invest in apprenticeships is not only that they are good employers with an eye on the next generation, which they see to be part of their commitment, but because they recognise that if all British employers work together to strengthen the level of skill in our economy, it is good for us all and benefits the broader UK economy.
My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. He is making a critical point. It is a race to the top, not a race to the bottom; large and small companies should be supporting quality apprenticeships.
It absolutely is, and that fits in with the themes on which the Labour party will fight the 2015 election. The commitment to having an economy that can compete with the best in the world, rather than trying to be the cheapest and undercut other countries, fits in not only with the Labour party’s values, but its specific policy proposals.
We are talking about quality. My hon. Friend is right to say that many employers are investing in skills and the next generation. Many employers are committed to ensuring that the apprenticeships they offer deliver not only value for the business right now, but investment in that young person, whoever they might work for in future. However, the fact that many employers, such as BAE, Accenture and the smaller businesses in their supply chains, are committed to and can deliver such quality does not mean that we should work on the basis that every employer will always be committed to the same sort of investment in young people.
We do not oppose the proposal, but we think it can be strengthened by our amendment, which would achieve the Government’s aim of simplifying the language while guarding the vital component of assuring quality.
The central theme of our debates on the Bill so far has been how it is perceived. We all recognise that this Government’s sense of dual purpose has ebbed away over the past months. As we look towards the general election, any collective idea of a coalition policy coming forward is disappearing into the mist. The two parties are pulling away from each other, with each saying that all the good things in the Government are down to them and all the bad things are down to the other party, and that they are sorry but they could not stop them. As both parties go through that process, they have run out of substantial, important things that they want to do.
We are therefore seeing things such as this Bill, which is a hotch-potch of minor measures entirely concerned with how the Government are perceived. That is what the Bill is about. We do not know what the response of the two governing parties will be. In the context of the schedule, they talk the language of quality, but my suspicion is that anything that will reduce the numbers—and, therefore, the perception of the success of this Government, even if it makes things better—will be declined because they are worried about the perception.
When we debate a Bill that is all about how things are perceived rather than solving real problems, we should not be surprised that an amendment that would guarantee and ensure quality but could lead to fewer roles being called apprenticeships is voted down by the Government parties. The Labour party will fight for real apprenticeships that are valued by employers such as BAE Systems and employees alike, and are recognised across the whole of industry as a guarantee of quality.
I have already referred to the fact that the majority of the increase in apprenticeships was at level 2. The National Audit Office found that the returns to level 2 apprenticeships have declined over time. Indeed, in most of our northern European competitors, apprenticeships are level 3 qualifications that predominantly last between two and five years and always include one day a week of off-the-job learning, as well as significant on-the-job training. Much of the growth of apprenticeships in England is at a level that would not be recognised among our competitor countries across northern Europe.
When the Labour party says it wants a race to the top, with a skilled work force ready to compete with the very best, the amendment shows a commitment to that. It will be revealing to discover the Government’s response to the amendment. We know that in the era of globalisation we cannot compete with countries around the world by being the cheapest. We can compete by being the best, and that is what we should all be attempting to do. That is why Labour’s skills taskforce recommended establishing apprenticeships as gold-standard qualifications. The low-quality provision that is of less value to employers or learners is still sometimes entirely legitimate, but let us not pretend that something is an apprenticeship if it is not. We will therefore ensure that apprenticeships are at level 3 or above.
Setting the timetable at 2020 gives plenty of time for employers to identify changes that they might have to make and to consider whether what they have is an apprenticeship or a traineeship, or whether it should carry an alternative title. Is it simply training? Obviously a huge amount of training goes on in businesses and public sector organisations up and down the country that is not part of an apprenticeship, and we should not say that if training is not an apprenticeship, it has no value. There is value in that training, but let us not call it an apprenticeship. Our proposed apprenticeships would include at least one day a week of off-the-job training and focus on new job entrants, rather than existing employees.
It is impossible to see why anyone who shared our commitment to the quality of apprenticeships would want to vote against our amendment, which would ensure that all apprenticeships achieved level 3 NVQ or equivalent. We heard from industry that it is calling out to Government to provide some certainty about quality. When we asked BAE Systems how important it was for employers to know that whoever was taken on at apprenticeship level would have a real base from which to start their career, Mr Hamer said:
“I think it is vital. That is why we are working through the trailblazer with a range of employers. They are the usual suspects and include the engineering sector and, in particular, aerospace. We are also working with smaller companies, most directly in our supply chain”.––[Official Report, Deregulation Public Bill Committee, 23 February 2014; c. 30, Q69.]
If someone, whoever they are, comes to a company having done an apprenticeship, that commitment is vital. [Interruption.]
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Hood. We are talking about standards today, and you have been absolutely diligent. If people investigated apprenticeships with the level of assiduousness that you maintain standards in the Committee, we would all sleep a lot easier in our beds.
The Chancellor is fond of saying that we are in a global race. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North has ruled out a Labour Government joining a race to the bottom. He has said that we want Britain to compete with the leading economies in the world, aiming for that highly-skilled, well-paid work force that can match the quality of work on offer anywhere in the world. That is what Britain’s proud heritage shows we are capable of and where the next Labour Government will take the British economy back to. For those reasons, quality is important. We heard the words of the people who spoke to the Committee and we had a promise from the Minister, but we have not yet seen whether the Government are willing to make that promise real in the apprenticeships undertaken by young people. I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say about ensuring that the commitment to quality is backed up.
I apologise, Mr Hood, for thinking that the clause 3 stand part debate earlier was the debate on amendment 6. References to standards and quality were made in the clause stand part debate, and I thought it was therefore in order to talk about those issues.
We have before us an amendment that proposes that of the three levels of apprenticeship—intermediate, advanced and higher—we should not be allowed to call intermediate-level apprenticeships “apprenticeships”. That would be the effect of the amendment. Whereas we now have three levels of apprenticeships and 59% of the increase has been in the lower level, we would not be allowed to call something an apprenticeship if it was an intermediate-level apprenticeship.
We have to ask what the effect of such a change would be. Would it have the effect of driving up the number of NVQ level 3 apprenticeships, which might happen to some extent, or would it simply mean that people were called trainees rather than apprentices? I have some difficulty with the approach of the amendment. It is a simplistic amendment, saying, “If we push this up and push this up at a national level, we improve the quality overall.” The difficulty is that what actually happens is that people are squeezed out—perhaps those who, when they apply to be apprentices, are deemed not to be capable of the advanced or higher apprenticeship. That would be sad.
As things stand, an employer knows what sort of apprenticeship someone has done. The fact that it is called an apprenticeship is not the whole story; there is also whether it was at NVQ level 2, 3 or 4. All that the amendment would do is undermine those who were perhaps not considered capable of doing NVQ level 3 when they first applied for an apprenticeship, thereby excluding a large number of people from the process.
Let us look at the numbers in practice. I am pleased that the number of apprenticeships rose in my constituency from 340 in 2005-06 to 1,310 in 2012-13. I would be sad if the Opposition got their way and created an environment in which a lot of those people—59% of the increase—were not allowed to call themselves apprentices merely because they did not tick a box.
I am anxious to ensure that the hon. Gentleman, in making his case, avoids saying something that comes out in a way that he does not intend. Is he really saying that the only difference between NVQ level 2 and level 3 is “ticking a box”?
No. I am saying that the Opposition amendment is such that people may describe themselves as apprentices only if their apprenticeship is an NVQ level 3 or 4—from 2010, admittedly. Intermediate-level apprenticeships are level 2 at the moment, advanced-level apprenticeships are level 3 and higher apprenticeships are level 4. I cannot see the advantage to anyone of chopping out that intermediate level. Obviously someone may progress from an intermediate to an advanced or higher level, but it is rather a sad thing to shut the door on people right at the start. I do not know what the Government position is until we have heard the Minister speak, but I am therefore inclined to vote against the Opposition amendment.
Listening to the interventions and speeches of Government Members, however, we seem to have the triumph of spin over substance. It is important to have quality apprenticeships, which are vital to the future health and well-being of our economy. However, if I were an alien from outer space who had just landed outside the House of Commons and sat in the Public Gallery to listen to our debate, I might be forgiven for thinking that since the Government Members’ parties came to power, they had cured youth unemployment. They were leaping up left, right and centre to say, “The number of apprenticeships in your constituency”—or my constituency, or this or that constituency—“is going through the roof,” but how many young people are still unemployed in this country today?
There is a long way to go and it is a national stain, it seems to me, on the character of this country that there are so many young people languishing on the dole. We can trace back much of this problem to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North was talking about: the de-industrialisation policy that Margaret Thatcher’s Government pursued all those years ago. It led to hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs in high-skilled manufacturing industries such as the car industry. It is a crying shame and a sad irony that just after the second world war the Japanese were building British cars under licence in Japan. Although it is not quite the same, I am delighted to say that just down the road from my constituency, thankfully, the Japanese car giant Toyota is now investing in Derbyshire and the people working in the car industry there, with many apprentices being employed as well.
There is a sad irony there, and it is an interesting tale about how the failure of British capitalism to invest in the future has led to the demise and the decline not just of the car industry, but of the shipbuilding industry, as there was a complete failure to invest in the future of that industry. Order books were bulging in the 1950s, but people did not bother to invest—they did not feel they needed to; they were complacent. The same is true when it comes to apprenticeships. We only have to look to the history books to see that unless employers are required to invest in apprenticeships, they will simply rely on importing the skilled labour they need from abroad or poaching it from other, good quality employers that do invest in training. I am not branding all employers in that way—far from it—but it seems to me that too many do not invest in that way.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the sad and much-lamented decline in manufacturing in the UK over many years. To put the record straight, is he aware that manufacturing as a percentage of the UK’s total GDP fell by 50% during the 13 years of the previous Labour Government? Does he agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley that this amendment, by taking the title of apprentice away from them, would run down young people trying to build their confidence and get into the job market, and not build them up?
The hon. Gentleman is being somewhat disingenuous—if that is not a disorderly thing to accuse him of—because the accusation that we are somehow trying to do down young people could not be further from the truth. What we are talking about was made abundantly clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central. This is about a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. We know just from looking at the history books that the present Government—or rather, the Conservatives—always indulge in a race to the bottom. It is their raison d’être; we see it time and time again.
I managed to find the figures for the financial year 2011-12, which show that 506,200 funded apprenticeships were intermediate level and 317,000 were advanced level, while 5,700 were higher apprenticeships. Does the hon. Gentleman believe there is any advantage in preventing those half a million people from calling themselves apprentices?
The important thing is that the apprenticeship brand is not devalued in any way, shape or form. I come back to the point that this is about a race to the top. We want to ensure that all young people have opportunities to get into the labour market and that all young people have—indeed, that everybody has—a decent quality job and can enjoy a decent standard of living. I come back to the point that this is a race to the bottom. That is why we now have a standard of living crisis.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for his passionate and well-informed speech on the importance of engineering and manufacturing. I could not let the accusation by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire that manufacturing was undermined by the previous Labour Government stand. Whereas the reduction in manufacturing as a proportion of GDP under the Conservative Government was a result of decimating our industrial heartland, such as Newcastle and the north-east, the reduction of manufacturing as a proportion of GDP under this Government—
Thank you, Mr Hood, although I have to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central made an extremely pertinent—it seemed to me, anyway—intervention on the background to the debate and the historical consequence of flawed decisions by previous Conservative Governments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield made the point about our European competitors and colleagues, and the fact that they invest considerably more in apprenticeships. They certainly ensure that apprentices on the continent of Europe are trained to a higher level—to be precise, the vast majority of apprenticeships are level 3, as I understand it, with an apprenticeship period lasting two to five years.
I remember when I was a young man, I left school at 15 with no qualifications at all. Other hon. Friends have made the point that at that time—I left school in the early 1970s—it was so much easier to find employment, and it was very easy to find apprenticeship employment. I went through quite a number of apprenticeships. I trained for a period of time as a mechanical engineer. I did not like that, so I went into the construction industry as a bricklayer. I did not like that as an apprentice, so I thought, “I’ll try my hand again in a factory at training as a mechanical engineer.” That confirmed that I did not like that, and I thought I would prefer to be outside. It probably turned out that I did not like hard work, but in the end I managed to secure an advanced City and Guilds qualification as a bricklayer. That took four years.
Apprenticeships in my day, when I were a lad, lasted that kind of time. Now we are getting jobs defined as apprenticeships that last for a few weeks. I am not trying to denigrate young people—this is not necessarily just about young people, because older people go into apprenticeships—but training in a job for six or seven weeks, or even a few months, ain’t an apprenticeship, not in my book anyway. It is damaging to devalue the apprenticeship brand in that way by saying, “Well, we are creating all these apprenticeships.” If I was an alien from outer space, I would be thinking, from listening to Government Members, that this Government were doing a far better job than they are in actuality.
I am really enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution and I encourage him to expand on it. It is not only about devaluing apprenticeships, but about where we are at this stage. We have seen the big increase in apprenticeships under the previous Government carried forward by this one, and it is about lifting the game now and saying “All right, we have started. Let’s go to the next stage”, and the next stage is to say, “Yes, there is a value for on-the-job training, but let’s not call it an apprenticeship if it is not.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I remember when the Prime Minister brought the Cabinet to Derby in, I think, 2011. That was to use Derby as the backdrop for this damascene conversion to the value of a manufacturing-based industry. The Government talked about how they wanted to reshape the economy in the image of Derby, essentially, which was great, although a few months later they gave the Thameslink contract to Siemens in Germany rather to Bombardier, which is based in Derby—perhaps they are keen to build the apprenticeship scheme in Germany rather than here in this country.
My hon. Friend is right that it is about raising the level, and there now seems to be cross-party consensus, to some extent at least, on the value of investing in manufacturing and growing the manufacturing sector, which as we know, was decimated by the Tory Government in the early 1980s, when nearly all our eggs were placed in the financial services basket as the engine for economic growth. We know where that ended up. Now there is consensus in the rhetoric that we hear from the Government, who agree with us on the importance of manufacturing. I hope they will see the error of their ways and accept that what we are saying about the importance of quality apprenticeships, which are absolutely vital. If we are going to deliver on rebalancing the economy in favour of manufacturing we have to have quality apprenticeships. We cannot have one without the other.
I do not want to indulge too much in the history of manufacturing, but what happened to the car industry, the coal industry and shipbuilding? What happened to those areas of really important, high-value manufacturing such as steel? It is very difficult to look at any area of manufacturing or heavy industry in the 1980s that was not absolutely decimated by the policies pursued by the Margaret Thatcher Government.
Well, I will see what I can get away with. I was going to point out briefly that in the early 1980s, a third of manufacturing capacity was lost in about four years.
I have with me a document on the City & Guilds website about a course in bricklaying which covers the following skills: interpreting working drawings to set out masonry structures; producing thin joint masonry and masonry cladding; building solid wall in isolated and attached piers; constructing cavity wall in forming masonry structures. What is wrong with somebody who is studying that calling themselves an apprentice?
That is the level 2 bricklaying course at City & Guilds. If there is nothing wrong with that, why do we need an amendment to statute that would prevent somebody studying those things calling themselves an apprentice?
I went on and secured an advanced City & Guilds apprenticeship qualification. As I have said, it took me four years to reach that level. If we are going to drive up the quality of traineeships, apprenticeships and skills of our work force, and if we are serious about competing with our colleagues in Europe and with competitors in the far east and across the Atlantic in north America, we need a highly skilled work force. We are not going to get that unless we ensure investment, predominantly but not exclusively, in our young people. We have to specify the level that apprentices need to reach to satisfy the required skillet so that they have the skills that will be desperately needed as we move further into the 21st century. We have to make sure that employers invest properly in the apprenticeship scheme to get the required skills and that they do not simply rely on importing those skills from abroad. If we can do that, we have a fighting chance of seeing a renaissance in manufacturing, for which there seems to be cross-party support.
How would the hon. Gentleman’s redefinition help young people’s career development and tackle the challenge of youth unemployment, which we are taking significant strides to address?
No, it is not a small step. It is a significant step, but it is a part of the jigsaw.
We need huge investment in our economy. We need to move away from the policies that are being pursued by the present Administration. The austerity project has been a disaster for public services. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North made the point that in the past the public sector provided high-quality apprenticeships and traineeships, but now it is difficult to see the public sector making that level of investment in the future. Public services define a decent society, and it is important that we have highly skilled and qualified people in the public sector delivering those services.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the public and private sectors, although Government Members do not recognise it. A strong public sector sustains and grows the private sector because the money in public servants’ pockets is spent on goods and services that are provided by the private sector, and procurement, for which the public sector is exclusively responsible, goes to the private sector. We must ensure that quality employment practices are in place when we deploy public money, and part of that is to ensure that apprenticeships are involved when a contract is awarded. Our amendment seeks to ensure that there is an adequate and appropriate level of apprenticeships.
The hon. Gentleman rightly talks about the symbiotic relationship between the public and private sectors. Will he share his thoughts about what is a sustainable proportion of the public sector in the economy, given that the private sector must earn enough money to support itself and the public sector?
As I say, there is a symbiotic relationship. I will not give a specific figure, but it could certainly be higher than it is today. We need only look at the level of public sector involvement in the economies of our Scandinavian colleagues, which are doing a damn sight better than ours and provide a higher standard of living. The Prime Minister keeps going on about happiness, but people tend to be happier there because there is not the disparity of wealth that we have in this country.
Apprenticeships are a part of the jigsaw. We need to look at the distribution of wealth in our country, the role of the public sector and a host of other things. The Government are getting it wrong on many important areas that are essential to the well-being of our nation. They are getting it wrong on apprenticeships, to the extent that they are trying to overstate the growth in apprenticeships, which only devalues the brand. That is unfortunate.
With the amendment, we want to secure a race to the top, create good-quality apprenticeships and ensure that young people have a decent chance in life. It is not a one-size-fits-all policy or a magic bullet. It will not solve all the problems, but it will go a long way towards tackling the issues that my hon. Friends and I have outlined as the rationale behind the amendment.
Andrew Bridgen rose—
The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. He said that he thinks that the Government’s policies devalue the brand of apprenticeships. With all due respect, it does not matter what he or I think. It is about what young people and employers think, and they are voting with their feet; they like apprenticeships.
Of course they like apprenticeships, but we have got to ensure that they are proper apprenticeships. Let us call a spade a spade. As I said in my opening remarks, how can the hon. Gentleman in all conscience justify branding a training course that lasts a few months as an apprenticeships? That is not right or fair.
No, I am going to conclude. There have been lots of interventions. It would not be fair if I continued to contribute because other people want to speak in the debate. I will close by saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield was absolutely right in the case that he made to justify the amendment. Quality is important for the young people, the employers and the strength of our economy.
I strongly support the amendment. Going beyond the amendment, the measure is more about regulation. For that reason, I am even more enthusiastic because I would prefer a Bill about re-regulation than about deregulation. Being a traditional socialist of the left, I think that is a splendid idea.
I want to talk in particular about numeracy, because that is where we have a serious problem. That was identified some time ago by Lord Moser—Claus Moser—who studied numeracy and literacy. He is now in his nineties and is in the other place and, even now, he still despairs of the problems with numeracy in Britain. We have recently slipped further down the numeracy tables. A report by Professor Wolf suggests that maths education should continue throughout someone’s education to try to bring up standards.
The amendment is about raising standards, particularly in numeracy, because numeracy and maths form a high proportion of the content of an apprenticeship. I am one of those perverse people who love playing with numbers. I sometimes feel like an alien because I meet so many people who are almost proud of the fact that they cannot do maths. They would not say that they were illiterate but they easily say they cannot do maths. There are fewer who do so now but, to paraphrase, even some of my best friends say that they cannot do maths. I tell them they should not say that; they should be aware that it is a problem.
I am such an alien that I did two A-levels in maths and used to teach statistics. My favourite bedtime reading is Economic Trends—the Library note that I take to bed with me every night to read. Show me a table, a graph, a pie chart and I am in heaven, Mr Hood. I realise that I am very perverse.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the impact of negativity; that when people say they cannot do maths that is defeatism. How can he support an amendment that says someone cannot be called an apprentice?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I am glad we have at least one other enthusiast for maths. The point has been recognised by Lord Moser and more recently by Government in general. I give some credit to the Government because they are going to find out what other countries do about maths teaching to try to improve it. I know that includes visits to Shanghai because the Chinese are clearly doing something well that we are not.
I have always supported the view that rigour is important in maths teaching. That was certainly the case in old apprenticeships. Rigour was the rule of the day. Every student had to do things over and over until they got it right, whether in engineering or bricklaying.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North on his excellent and fascinating speech. I remember the comparisons between Germany and Britain undertaken by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in the 1980s led by Professor Sig Prais when he looked at bricklaying in Germany. People had to do a 30-hour practical bricklaying test without one mistake in order to get through their apprenticeship. They believed in rigour: we should introduce rigour, and that is what the amendment is about.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I would like to make a point before he moves on from the subject of numeracy and its importance in apprenticeships. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central spoke with passion about their excitement about figures. It is a tremendous shame that we did not have them with us, able to work out what 5% was in Wythenshawe. They could have got me to bed an hour earlier.
There is a lack of understanding about numeracy. Lord Moser illustrated that by saying that 50% of the population do not understand what 50% means. I regularly write articles for newspapers, and I used to put in percentages. Now, if it is 10%, I tend to say “one in 10”, or both together, so that people understand that 10% means one in 10, because not everybody understands what 10% means. We have a problem in Britain with mathematics, which have begun to recognise and address.
We were talking about introducing rigour. I heard yesterday from hon. Members on who went on a visit to New Zealand with the Education Committee. They found that New Zealand has rather better standards than we do. They went to a school where they had particularly good standards and the head teacher was a former All Black rugby player, who was about 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide. He had no problems with enforcing rigour in his school, I understand.
Looking at the figures for 2011-12, does the hon. Gentleman understand what it would mean to apprentices if 62.765% of them were no longer allowed to call themselves apprentices?
The point has been made more than once: we are talking about raising standards, not about cutting a lot of people out of what we call apprenticeships, and giving time to do this—2020 is another six years on. Six years is a reasonable time scale in which to achieve that. We have to address mathematics teaching in schools. To contrast British industry with German industry, we started to go wrong in the 1980s. Again, these comparisons were done by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. There was a programme on television that showed British and German manufacturers of bespoke kitchens.
In the British factory, the shop floor would cut standard doors and other people would have to do the assembling and calculations. All the calculations were done by more qualified people upstairs. In the German factory, German workers on the shop floor took the plans, which were written in English, from Britain. They did all the calculations for the bespoke kitchen, cut all the pieces and packed them themselves. They could do the whole skilled job from one end to the other because their language and numeracy skills were so much greater than those in Britain.
When this contrast was drawn to the attention of our national head of training and apprenticeships—I forget what his title was—he was interviewed on television and asked why we did not do what the Germans did. He said: “It would be inappropriate in the British context”. What a lot of nonsense. He was just saying: “We are not going to do what is sensible”. If we want to compete with the Germans, we have to become skilled, which means rigorous apprenticeships and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North said, raising the standards so that all apprentices have those necessary skills and our industry can once again be the best in the world.
There has been a lot of talk about bricklaying. It is worth remembering that Winston Churchill, in effect, did a bricklaying apprenticeship. Apparently, he joined what is now the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. That might cause a bit of worry for Government Members when they discover that Churchill was actually a wild-eyed threat from the far left. Having said that, I will do my best to follow your earlier instructions, Mr Hood, because my previous intervention was perhaps a little wide of the mark.
We are talking about a universal argument—at least a universal argument in the British context—which is the tension between interventionism and the belief that free market forces should be allowed to function completely free of any kind of constraint and intervention. Certainly, Labour Members—and perhaps some Government Members as well—tend to believe that intervention is important and that some kind of regulation and control on free market forces is important. I remember when the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 was passed. We were told that 1 million jobs would disappear overnight. Actually, unemployment plummeted by something like 1 million—exactly the opposite took place compared with what we were told. I can remember the then Opposition—