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Industry as a whole is woefully undertrained and we are facing reductions rather than increases in government spending. That makes it all the more important that the training boards should continue and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said, that there should be confidence about their continuing into the future.
Throughout industry we are suffering from under-training. It is one of the most serious obstacles in the way of recovery. It is therefore extremely welcome that the boards will be able to raise the money in order to carry out the training needed. However, it raises the broader question of whether the Government were ever right to stop putting charges of this kind on industry as a whole. I dare say it is a forlorn hope, but I shall not lose the opportunity of saying that we would welcome the Government reconsidering the question of how the money for training, which is at present so woefully inadequate, should be raised. That money, if we are to have any future as an industrial country, needs to be greatly increased.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, in rising to support these measures perhaps I can ask the Government one question. One of the benefits of the industrial training levy is that it involves firms directly in the whole training regime. Having paid the levy they then have an incentive to get something out of it either through being involved in training or undertaking other activities which bring them into the system. One of the difficulties of not imposing a levy on small firms is that they are then not within that regime. Can the Minister say what efforts the Government are making to ensure that small firms are involved in training regimes, either as providers of training or in the use of trained personnel?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the proposals before the House relate to the construction and engineering construction industries. Both industries have specific training problems due to a largely mobile workforce, the prevalence of small firms and the use of labour-only sub-contractors. The employers believe they need collective funding with the statutory underpinning provided by the levy system. They feel strongly that any other solution would be unrealistic and lead to a shortage of skilled labour in those sectors.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, asked about the conclusion date for the boards of 1998. There is no magic in the date of 1998. It is merely that any such board should from time to time be reviewed. The noble Baroness may recall that last year the term of the Construction Industry Training Board had been agreed but not that for the Engineering Construction Industry
I hasten to add--without wishing to pay tribute to the work the boards are doing because it was after all the collective view of all those involved in the industries that the boards, in the specific circumstances, played a useful role--that it is accepted by the Government that, while we are not in favour of statutory boards in general, these specific boards should continue.
In relation to the small firms' exemption--as the noble Baroness said, it is a point she raised last year and I reiterate the remarks of my noble friend Lord Henley on that occasion--we are anxious to see small firms thrive in this country. We believed that on balance it was better not to impose this burden on small firms in this sector. But merely because small firms are not paying a levy does not mean that they are not thereby able to avail themselves of the services provided by the boards. When one looks at the range of courses provided by TECs throughout the country, a considerable amount of help is available to the construction industry, using the word in the widest sense. It is important that that continues for reasons, not least, of health and safety, as mentioned by the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, commented on the reduction in spending by the Government on training. In this case it is important to recognise that the Government are ever more carefully focusing the expenditure they devote to training. As a result we believe that we shall be able to provide at least as good a training as we have done in the past at less cost. That is extremely important. Again in that context it is worth recalling that while government provide of the order of £2 billion a year on training, that is matched by provision and funding from the private sector of a further £20 billion or so. It is a mistake to see that simply as an exercise in provision by the Government. It must be looked at in a much wider context.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, remarked on the involvement of small firms in the training process. That is a matter for the proprietors and managers of small firms, bearing in mind the circumstances of their businesses. A whole variety of initiatives, such as Investors in People, are available for small firms to use if they wish to go further in that direction.
The proposals have the support of the respective employers and have been approved by the boards. I believe that it is not in dispute that they should be approved by your Lordships, and I commend the order to the House.
Moved, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to allow that Her undoubted Prerogative may not stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament during the present Session of any measure providing for an amendment of the law relating to the succession of legitimated persons to dignities and titles of honour.--(Lord Kilmarnock.)
The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking as a member of the United Nations Security Council to resolve conflicts in the Western Sahara and other areas of tension in the African continent.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, since 1986 I have become closely associated with the last remaining colonial problem in Africa--that of the Western Sahara. I propose therefore to confine my remarks to that continuing, if unresolved, conflict.
Because I am the founder and trustee of a registered charity which exists solely to provide humanitarian aid to the 200,000 or so refugees who were forced to flee from that unfortunate country in 1975/76, due to the brutal invasion of it by Morocco in that year, I have always tried to confine my activities to the humanitarian aspect and steer clear of the political aspects.
I hope that the Charity Commission will note that I have tried to be a good boy. But when I was told that there may be a slot available for this Unstarred Question today and that the Minister was also available, the temptation was altogether too much to resist, even though I was thrown into an immediate panic by the shortness of time between last Wednesday, when I was told, and this afternoon to prepare a speech worthy of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity, not because I enjoy making speeches, which I do not, but because this problem has always been and remains largely ignored by the world and its media.
That attitude of total cynicism is something which we have created ourselves in our cosy world and I maintain it is because we feverishly seek excuses to hide behind in order safely to distance ourselves from any responsibility in disputes which are not of our making and where our wallets are unaffected. It would be a very different story if the Western Sahara was floating in oil, or had other commercially desirable minerals in abundant quantity. If that had been the case, no doubt the United Nations' response would have been vastly different, and the problem would have been swiftly solved within six months of the Moroccan invasion taking place, instead of the 20 years it has taken so far. By any yardstick, that length of time is obscene, but it becomes especially obscene if you are the unfortunate victim.
The Saharawis were forced out of their homes by bombs being dropped on them, bombs manufactured in the United States, the home of the free and the brave. The bombs were dropped by units of the Moroccan air force and consisted of napalm bombs, cluster bombs and phosphorous bombs. The planes pursued the civilian population into the open desert, where they had set up some temporary refugee camps, and bombed those camps as well. Thousands were killed, maimed, and injured. They had no option but to flee across 700 miles of open, hostile desert, to the sanctuary of neighbouring Algeria, where they arrived exhausted, dehydrated, starving, destitute and suffering from severe exposure. Many of them were carrying dead children in their arms.
They have since been forced to exist in exile, in terrible conditions, which they have tried largely by their own efforts to improve, and all of this without a mention, let alone a headline, and certainly never a murmur of condemnation of the aggressor, the Kingdom of Morocco, from any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, of which the UK is one. It is my own view that if a full member of the UN breaks the UN Charter which it has sworn to uphold, then that member should be expelled until he mends his ways. The threat of public humiliation of that kind could be more than enough to convince wrongdoers of their sins and crimes.
So why has Morocco been allowed to get away with this act of international terrorism? Well, my Lords, we are back to the price tag again, aren't we? Morocco had something we wanted; it was of great geographic and strategic importance to NATO; it has a king who is seen to be pro-Western; it has unlimited quantities of
So where are we now? What is the UN actually doing to try to bring an end to this illegal occupation by Morocco of the Western Sahara? Are we going to see another Israel and West Bank situation being repeated in the Western Sahara? Do the Saharawis have to remain in the wilderness for the obligatory 40 years, or will we graciously allow them to return to their country and homes after a mere 20 years of misery? The decision is ours in that we have a collective responsibility to humanity in our position as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Will we see the UN taking some firm, courageous and unbiased action to bring a just and fair referendum to the people of the Western Sahara, something that was originally promised to them by Spain, when she withdrew from her colonial territory back in 1975?
The way things are going, I doubt it. The UN has shown itself to be greatly lacking in resolve and impartiality in seeking an acceptable solution in the Western Sahara. The present Secretary-General is known to have Moroccan sympathies and leanings; so did his predecessor. There have been recent confirmed press reports of UN officials, tasked with organising the referendum by the UN, being arrested by the Spanish authorities for massive drug smuggling on their way from Morocco to New York, and being mysteriously reinstated by the UN after being in prison for five months.
A blind eye is turned to the 400 or so violations by Morocco of the cease-fire, currently shakily in place, which was initiated by the Saharawis three years ago in an effort to encourage the peace process, and there has been only a muted response from the UN to the outrageous demands from Morocco for an additional 120,000 names to be added to the list of those entitled to vote in the referendum, which is based on the last population census carried out by Spain in 1975.
On top of all this, as if the Saharawis have not enough to bear, their four refugee camps, each holding approximately 50,000 people, were very badly damaged, with one camp being totally destroyed, leaving about 55,000 people, mainly women, children and the elderly, without any form of shelter. In two days at the end of October, more than three feet of rain fell, and more was to come in a second wave of storms which hit the camps at the beginning of November.
All the infrastructure which they had so laboriously created through their own efforts at self-help was severely damaged or washed away. Gone are their schools, hospitals, clinics, kindergartens, day-care centres, and the protective walls around their horticultural establishments which had been growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables where nothing ever grew before. I have witnessed these achievements on
The noble Baroness the Minister knows that I have applied through her office on more than one occasion for a modest amount of ODA funding for humanitarian projects in the Saharawi refugee camps. She also knows that my applications have always been refused on the grounds that to grant them would be to violate Britain's position of neutrality. She attempts to justify British aid to Morocco, which last year amounted to just over £9 million, by saying that none of it reflects any opinion on Morocco's policy towards the disputed territory of the Western Sahara, and it is all of a developmental nature anyway.
I am sure that ways could be found of getting direct aid to the refugee camps--aid which is crucially and urgently needed after the recently disastrous flooding--without offending Morocco. Anyway, if Morocco did get upset with us for sending aid to the Saharawis, I am sure that we could weather that storm. But the Saharawis were not able to weather the storms that hit them and they need to know that there are people out there who do care about them. So I submit that direct aid needs to be sent from Britain, and it needs to have a symbolic Union Jack on it.
I also submit that the very least that this country must do as a founder member of the UN is to take a much more robust role in encouraging the peace process in the Western Sahara. It would only need a sharp word from Britain on the floor of the UN in New York to achieve a shift in Moroccan intransigence and evasiveness. We are still admired around the world as being the mother of parliaments and one of the founders of democracy and champions of liberty and freedom. Why do we not practise what we preach?
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