Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Feb 1994

Vol. 438 No. 8

Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Bill, 1993: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1
In page 2, line 12, after "saothair" to insert "and to provide for the making of regulations relating to the manner of recruitment of apprentices".

The Minister has gone a long way towards meeting the intent of my amendment No. 6. She has done this in two ways; by extending the title of the Bill and by way of her amendment No. 4. As a result the Bill is greatly improved. However, I am disappointed the Minister has not given a clear indication as to how she intends to respond to the need spelt out by all Deputies to put in place a fair and transparent system of recruitment to apprenticeships. On amendment No. 4, the Minister said she intends to make regulations and lay them before the House for approval. The issue which initiated the Bill was the proposal to introduce a levy. I understand that measure is to be introduced on 1 April. The Minister should have ensured that the entry regulations were in place before the levy is introduced and employers are required to pay it.

Public representatives should know the context of those regulations. We should be satisfied that they will meet the requirements highlighted during the debate on Second and Committee Stages. We are asked to take that matter on trust. Considering how full the agenda is with legislation it is unlikely that the Minister will have the regulations prepared and laid before the House for approval by 1 April. That is unsatisfactory. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke. There is no justification for having to come back on another occasion to deal with the regulations.

This is a small Bill and the Minister has had a number of weeks to respond to the amendments put down by Deputy Bruton and myself in respect of this issue. It is not unreasonable of us, or of Deputy Rabbitte who is also present, to expect that whatever the Minister intends to do by way of regulation would be clearly explained to us so that we can give our view on it. She has failed to demonstrate that whatever mechanism she has in mind will meet the clear requirements we spelt out in previous debates on this issue. There is little point in having in place an approved scheme of apprenticeships if the system of entry to apprenticeships is not clear, fair and transparent. The system should be vastly different from the present one whereby in many cases a person's qualification, aptitude or wish to find a place in a course is not the determining factor when looking for an apprenticeship but rather it is a case of who you know or who your father knows. This is a very sore point with parents and young people in my constituency and I am not convinced that we have advanced a sufficient response to that issue.

It has taken us more than a decade to introduce this fairly simple, straightforward, modest reforming measure. It is regrettable the Minister did not seek to take on board the spirit of the amendments from Deputies Bruton and Quill. She seemed enthusiastically to agree on Committee Stage that the question of equality of access was central to this matter and indicated that she would be very forthcoming in that regard. She even pointed out that we are not talking about the number of places available but about equity of access on the basis of criteria which, as Deputy Bruton outlined in his amendment, are clearly set out and available for public inspection.

The Minister's amendment proposes that the Minister may introduce regulations, the purpose of which would be to ensure that such recruitment is carried out in an equitable and fair manner. I agree with that aspiration, but is it any more than an aspiration in that it does not say what the criteria will be? I acknowledge that the Minister has the same good intentions in the matter as the rest of us, but I do not believe this Bill will tackle the problem of discrimination in the present system.

There is abuse in this very important area. At the end of the day our health as an economic trading country, depends on the skills and competence of our workforce, and our ability to compete internationally is determined to a large extent by the skills and competence of these people. On Committee Stage I remarked as a trade unionist, that the trade unions cannot wash their hands of responsibility in this area because they were part of the old boys' network that——

——determined access in the past. That position has changed somewhat but not a great deal. As the Minister said, there were very few girls, and that is the subject of a separate amendment. No serious impact has been made by young women in this area and therefore it is even more important that the Minister take on board the arguments with which she agrees.

The Minister has promised to introduce regulations, but I do not know when that will take place. Having regard to the fact that it is a decade since we all agreed that such progress as is represented in this Bill was desirable, how long more will it take us to produce regulations? The Minister is asking us to take on faith what will be in the regulations. This is the Paul Daniels school of introducing amendments: now you see them, now you do not. I did not hear the Minister spell out what will be in the regulations or whether they will address what is a very important question.

The Deputy could not have heard me explaining that matter earlier because I did not have an opportunity to do so, I simply moved one amendment. I mistakenly believed that one addresses each amendment separately before addressing the group of amendments. Therefore, I spoke only on amendments No. 1, an amendment to the title which reads: "In page 2, line 12, after "SAOTHAIR" to insert "AND TO PROVIDE FOR THE MAKING OF REGULATIONS RELATING TO THE MATTER OF RECRUITMENT OF APPRENTICESHIPS" I was advised by the draftsperson that, since the whole thrust of the Bill had been altered from being a purely technical Bill of financial substance to a Bill of much wider scope, it was necessary to insert this wording.

I do not wish to be scurrilous, to sound like a school teacher or to in any way lay down the law; I wish to set out the facts. It would have been very easy for me, and I would have been entirely within my rights, to say that this is a technical Bill and therefore we can talk only about technical matters. The whole issue of apprentices is very much a Chinese box — when you open one box there is another inside. In my five years in the Department of Education, a time in which I encountered a myriad of challenges and difficulties, no issue took up as much of my time as the question of apprentices, and I am only a little way along that road. Deputy Bruton said that reform in this area started in 1975 while Deputy Rabbitte talked about a decade of such reforms.

Deputy Rabbitte is being conservative.

That is very unusual. Reference was made to a discussion document of 1988 in which many vistas of delight were held out to us along the primrose paths of apprenticeship. However, that was not the case when I took over responsibility for labour affairs in the Department of Enterprise and Employment where there was a lot of work to be done. I am not casting any aspirations on past or present officials and Ministers or on FAS. I am stating the facts. I was determined to use this Bill to make some progress along this road. I accept that the Bill may not be as comprehensive as we all would have wished — large bodies move slowly. My concerns about equity in the areas of apprenticeships are well founded and have been voiced also by other people. The Government and the Opposition may have the same point of view on the issue but, of necessity, we may have to approach it in a different way.

Apprenticeships are the Cinderella of the training-education system. They have not always been seen as all-embracing, as they should have been. When I discuss the issue of apprenticeships with the trade unions, IBEC, the CIF, and the TUI it is like opening Pandora's box. Too much emphasis was placed in earlier agreements under the Central Review Committee on increasing the number of apprentices. Unlike me, nobody has looked at the number of apprentices who have completed their apprenticeships, the number who have their papers, the number who sat their final examination, the number who are now redundant and the number who did not complete their examinations are now quasi-apprentices, so to speak, who may be employable in Ireland but not in other countries. The subject of apprenticeships is very vast and even if we were to discuss it from now until St. Patrick's Day we would not cover all aspects.

I presume there is no objection to amendment No. 1 which merely extends the long title of the Bill. Amendment No. 6 proposes to insert a new section 4 in page 4, between lines 9 and 10 as follows:

4.—(1) The Minister may by regulations provide for requirements to be complied with for the purpose of ensuring that in respect of the recruitment of apprentices in one or more than one designated sector of industry specified in the regulations, such recruitment is carried out in an equitable and fair manner.

(2) Where regulations under this section are proposed to be made, a draft of the proposed regulations shall, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.

I want to reply to the points which have been raised by the Deputies opposite. I appreciate that the Bill does not cover everything the Deputies would wish it to cover.

I have indicated on a number of occasions during the course of the debate on this Bill my concern about the need for greater equity in the recruitment of apprentices. I have noted also that this concern was shared by a number of Deputies in their contribution to the debate. I have had discussions with FÁS as to how best this problem might be addressed and I have met also with representatives of IBEC, the CIF and ICTU on several occasions. All are agreed that the current inequities need to be removed from the system but there are different views on how this might be done.

Naturally one needs to be sensitive when dealing with complex issues such as contracts of employment between private individuals, the employer and apprentice. Many of the employers involved run small operations and, therefore, it is important that any solution we come up with would not alienate potential employments, particularly during the transition period from the old to the new system. Nevertheless, I felt strongly enough about the matter to contemplate the possibility of bringing in a legislative provision which would give compulsory backing to an equitable recruitment regime. I believe the State would have the right to do this given the investment it is making in the traning of apprentices.

On balance, and in the light of my discussions with the social partners who feel that the compulsory road would be premature at this time. I propose to hold off on such an approach for the moment. However, I am proposing to introduce a new section 4 to the Bill which will enable the Minister to make regulations to provide for conditions of recruitment of apprentices to provide for conditions of recruitment of apprentices. I will come back to the details of my amendment later.

At this stage, it is proposed to develop and operate over a trial period a code of practice to be followed by employers in the recruitment of apprentices. The code has been developed by FÁS and has already come before the board of FÁS.

I should also mention that the new Programme for Competitiveness and Work commits the social partners to the adoption of this code of practice. The objectives of the code will be to achieve equity through recruitment by open and fair competition; to ensure equal opportunity through filling apprenticeship vacancies on the basis of individual merit and to promote the use of sound recruitment procedure. The code will also endorse a degree of positive discrimination aimed at getting under-represented categories of society into traditional apprenticeship vacancies.

Under the code, the recruitment practice would be that a person specification should be developed at the outset for any apprenticeship vacancy that arises. The specification would set out the educational, knowledge and aptitude requirements of the job as well as the minimum statutory entry requirements. The code would require that a number of applicants should be sought for any vacancy, that this should be done on the basis of public advertisement and that such advertisements should contain the clear message that canvassing will disqualify.

It is recognised, of course, that public advertising may not always be the most efficient or effective means of recruitment for all employers. Accordingly, the FÁS employment services will be proposed as an alternative option, in which FÁS will either supply a list of persons who have expressed interest in obtaining an apprenticeship or, indeed, will undertake the recruitment process for the employer.

The code will also provide for the use of application forms, give guidance on selection methods, selection should and on aptitude testing and ultimately will provide that the final selection should be based solely on the extent to which candidates meet the requirements of the job as determined by the selection process.

As I mentioned, FÁS will be a proactive participant in selling this new code and would envisage being in a position to offer, for example, model packs of appropriate advertisement samples, proforma application forms, etc. FÁS will also be a monitor in relation to the active adoption of the code by employers.

At the end of the day the success or otherwise of the voluntary code of practice will very much depend on its adoption and implementation by the social partners, particularly by those on the employer side. I readily admit — this has been alluded to by Deputy Rabbitte — that the responsibilities in this respect are joint ones and that there have often been lacunae on both sides. I appreciate that there can be a degree of scepticism about the effectiveness of codes of practice generally but, in deference to the concerns expressed by the social partners about the too early advancement of the compulsory route, I am prepared to operate the code for a trial period. I have to say I am heartened by the positive reaction I have received from the social partners to the concept of the code. When I first proposed a code of practice I was told by many seasoned observers in the apprenticeship field that I would find it hard to make any inroads in this area, that it was, in effect, a closed shop.

Without wishing to be seen as wielding the big stick, the prospect of a compulsory approach remains open if after the trial period the code is not seen to be effective.

My proposed amendment which introduces a new section 4 to the Bill will enable the Minister to make regulations governing the recruitment of apprentices to ensure that such recruitment is undertaken in a fair and equitable manner. I am also proposing in subsection (2) of the amendment that a resolution, approved by both Houses, will be necessary before the regulations can be introduced. Accordingly, Deputies would have the opportunity to discuss any such proposed regulations. I put forward my amendment to the House but of course I understand the democratic process.

Is amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister agreed?

On a point of order, I must protest in the strongest possible way at the manner in which this debate is being conducted. The Minister has announced her plans and under the rules of the House she has given us no opportunity to respond to what she has said. That is wholly unsatisfactory and undemocratic. I know it is not within your power, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, to deal with this issue but all of us on this side of the House feel extremely frustrated that it is being handled in this way, particularly in view of the fact that on Committee Stage we warned about the frustration of having to deal with an issue at a very late stage. We now find we are being given no opportunity——

That is not a point of order, as the Deputy knows. I must now ask whether——

Deputy Rabbitte rose.

I am sorry Deputy, this is Report Stage of a Bill. If the Deputy has a genuine point of order to raise I will allow it but we all know the format for Report Stage of a Bill. The Minister has concluded the debate and I must now put the question.

I would submit it is a point of order in as much as the procedures governing the House at this time do not permit a second intervention by Deputies. This is the first that we have heard what is in the Minister's mind in regard to this matter. I am a little disturbed by what is emerging in that if an amendment to an important Bill is agreed with the social partners outside of this House, it is presented to the House as if it was automatically——

The Deputy can recommit the Bill if he so wishes but the way we are proceeding at the moment is out of order. We are on Report Stage of a Bill.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, do you mean seek to move an order in the House to go back to Second Stage? We would need a majority in the House to do that. In my lifetime in the Dáil I have only seen that happen on one occasion and that was with Government agreement.

It is not the case that because the Minister agrees outside the House with the social partners on an amendment to a particular Bill it should be accepted automatically by this House.

I agree with the Deputy.

With all due respect to my colleagues in the trade union movement — according to recent reports I would be better off if I had stayed there — and to others, they were never elected by the people to make law in this House. That is our task.

I will endeavour to clarify the position for Deputies. Deputy Bruton could propose to recommit the Bill and have a Committee Stage discussion on it. That may or may not be acceptable to the Minister; it is a matter for her.

I suggest we have a Committee Stage debate now on this issue if the Government is agreeable to allow time to debate the merit of what the Minister has put forward.

The Deputy is suggesting that the Bill be recommitted for a Committee Stage discussion.

Do you mean now, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

That is acceptable to me.

A Committee Stage discussion at this point would only be practical if the text of the Minister's——

We cannot have discussion on this now. Is the motion to recommit the Bill to Committee Stage agreed by the Minister?

The only problem is that my documentation has not yet arrived. Unfortunately, I cannot leave the House to inquire as to the delay.

That suggestion is not practical unless the Minister is prepared to circulate the text of her amendment.

Perhaps this will have to be referred back to Committee Stage at the appropriate time.

We could move on to the other amendments and return to this when my documentation arrives.

The Minister cannot defer the amendment. The suggestion from Deputy Bruton is that we have a Committee Stage discussion on the amendment now. I believe the Minister has agreed to that.

I have. It seems a sensible approach.

The Bill, then, will be recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 1, 5, 6 and 7.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 1.

What the Minister has outlined to us is not satisfactory. At this late stage we are being offered a voluntary code which, we are told, goes against the Minister's own instincts and on which it appears she has been unable to get agreement from the social partners. It is quite clear that she has the agreement of the House to proceed on the basis of something other than a voluntary code. If she produced her amendment in a way that gave legislative force to this measure, she would have the support of the House as far as I can ascertain. It is a sad reflection on the concept of social partnership if we are required to make do with second best. What has dogged the apprenticeship system is that everyone has had to be satisfied in respect of every change and as a result, an extremely conservative attitude has been taken to the development of the apprenticeship system in general.

While I understand the Minister is telling us we will have a trial period and we will come back to the issue again, she is telling us also that we will have no control over that. It is only if the Government decides at some date in the future that the voluntary code has not worked satisfactorily that she will come back to the House with regulations to implement, in some satisfactory form, what we all require to be done now.

I am sceptical about the procedure the Minister has outlined. Specifying the requirements for a vacancy, placing public advertisements in regard to how canvassing will disqualify and FÁS having the opportunity to provide lists of available applicants are all inoffensive measures but they will not guarantee equality of access. They give an appearance of fairness but they do not provide any guarantee and, as the Minister knows, we as taxpayers are paying 80 to 90 per cent of the cost of the training involved. It will be easy to give the appearance that the code is being complied with when in fact what will happen is that the person to be selected for the apprenticeship will be known in advance, a certain procedure will be followed to give the appearance of fairness but in fact it will not be under the control of FÁS. The procedure will be entirely left to the discretion of the employer; one would hope the employer would offer some evidence that he or she has tried to secure equity but that is all that will be offered. I cannot see this as a major reform of a system which we know has been working unsatisfactorily. If we were trying this ab initio and did not know the extent of inequality in the system, perhaps we could accept the notion of a trial period and see if this voluntary code works. However, during the 50 year period of the scheme we have always had the problem of inequity and I do not believe we are facing up squarely to the issue.

Let us be very clear on the value of apprenticeship to young people. Nowhere is that better illustrated than by the figures in the case of State agencies that have a clear, equitable and fair way of competing for apprenticeships. I refer to Dublin Corporation, the ESB, CIE and the Army in which case Deputy Jim Higgins illustrated, on Second Stage, there were 16,500 applicants for a mere 170 places. That demonstrates the level of demand there is for these opportunities and how important it is that, if we are to have 3,500 places, as the Minister promises on the programme those places be allocated in some manner seen to be clear, fair and above board.

Deputy Rabbitte identified a feeling that partnership Government amounts to talking to the social partners and, if it all squares up with them, that is fine. It should be remembered that we are the people's elected representatives and proposals have to square up with our desires and hopes. So far as I can detect, from both the Government and Opposition sides of the House, this is not what we want. We are having to tack to winds that are not of our choosing.

The Minister's voluntary code, with its accompanying trial period, would be all right if we were initiating a new scheme. However, we know that there have been many warts in this scheme over the years and what we are really doing now is endeavouring to deal with them. It is not good enough to say we will let them continue for another while, hoping there will be sufficient paper work produced to give the appearance of fairness. We will not be convinced and I do not think things will change on the ground.

The Government is proceeding with change on a piecemeal basis whereas we were promised there would be a proper White Paper to assess the method by which manpower training should evolve. Had we had that White Paper in advance and teased out the policy issues we would not be in the predicament in which we now find ourselves. To be fair to the Minister, she is trying to unpick something she inherited from her predecessors which is wholly unsatisfactory. Had the Government proceeded by way of White Paper and not come into the House until this issue had been properly teased out in a policy fashion, we would not be in the present mess.

I am not moved to accept this. I should prefer to proceed with a more clearcut amendment, giving clear instructions to the Minister as to what this Chamber wishes her to do in relation to reform of the apprenticeship programme.

I too am disappointed with the Minister's response to the very strong case made by all Opposition spokespersons on this issue on perhaps three separate occasions in the course of our discussion on this Bill. I find her response weak and predict it will be ineffective. It is a poor prescription to deal with a very serious position. It is like offering a blood transfusion to a man in need of a heart transplant. The Minister should have followed her own good instinct, expressed clearly and repeatedly in this House, and gone for some kind of compulsory scheme. It would appear she was overinfluenced by people with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

I accept that the situation is delicate, that a number of employers think that the taking on of apprentices is something of a nuisance. That is wrong for a number of reasons. This year alone more than £30 million of taxpayers' money is invested in the scheme and taxpayers have a right to expect a better return. It is time that firm and clear measures were taken to change the attitude and approach of employers.

There was a good deal of reference to the German system on Second Stage when it was pointed out quite clearly that in Germany, where there is a very highly skilled workforce—I might add one with which our young people must compete in the open market conditions now prevailing — there is also a very strong commitment among employers to take on and fully train apprentices. That appears to be endemic in work practices in Germany. We do not appear to have anything approaching that level of commitment on the part of Irish employers. It is about time we began the long haul, putting in place here the kind of culture that would emulate the German system. It will take time but the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step. We have been afforded an opportunity here to take a step in that direction. I am sorry that opportunity has not been grasped. Employers will have to be reasoned with and reckoned with. It will have to be pointed out to them that no one generation eats the seed corn of the next, that every generation has a right and responsibility that must be discharged in relation to the upcoming generation of young people who have a right to a proper system of training within the apprenticeship scheme so that they will have the skills to build the Ireland of tomorrow.

That is a philosophic argument but it has to be made. Every opportunity that presents itself to advance that argument to the people who are resisting it must be grasped. This was one such opportunity. Had the Minister given us more time to study this amendment she would have received a much more coherent response than she will receive from me. I have been given this amendment only now. That is not the best way to do business at any time but particularly when we are discussing an issue as serious as the skill base of the Irish workforce. It was a huge issue in the Culliton and a number of other reports. There is a remarkable resistance on the part of employers to take on apprentices in any large measure. This occasion ought to have been used to convince employers that the obligation is theirs and that that obligation must be met.

The Minister told us, in the course of her introductory remarks, that the social partners feel the compulsory road would be premature at this time. Therefore, they are acknowledging that the compulsory road may be inevitable at some time. What are we to do? Are we to wait until the position becomes infinitely worse? Is that what we are waiting for?

We must remember that a difficult pay deal has recently been settled, that we will not have comprehensive discussions with the social partners, for some time. I should have thought that the discussion just brought to an end was the proper context within which to advance this argument more fully. Could it be, perhaps, that there was nobody at those discussions speaking for the vast army of young people who want to find places on apprenticeship schemes, who have the will and skill to work for the future of this country but who cannot find places? Can it be that there was nobody participating in those recent discussions directly representing them? Is that the weakness in the whole process? It would appear that it is. Therefore, the social partners have decided that we should hold off, that it would be premature to introduce a compulsory element now, that we could do it at another time, like Mr. Micawber, waiting for something to turn up. I wonder when that other time will arise. This is the time.

Deputy Rabbitte raised the fundamental question as to who is taking these decisions. I would have thought the Minister would have taken on board the points made by us public representatives, representing impartially, without a vested interest of any kind. I should have thought that the Minister would have stood her ground and emerged from the social partners with a system that would remedy the problems outlined so clearly and categorically. This is wimpish. It is similar to using a bandage when what is needed is a new limb. It is weak and is unacceptable and I am very disappointed. It is supposed to develop and operate the voluntary code over two years. I predict that nothing substantial will happen.

The Deputy is entitled to her opinion and her vote. Democracy rules.

It rules by right and not by concession. I am here by virtue of the fact that democracy rules.

We all came that route.

This code will not achieve the objectives I had in mind when I made the case for the vast army of young people trying to find places. They fail to understand the basis on which places are allocated. For all its perceived cruelty the CAO system has the overwhelming merit of being fair, open and transparent and gives equal right of access to every young person who fulfils the necessary requirements. That cannot be said of entry into an apprentice scheme. It is about time it was remedied and not addressed in this weak, half-hearted way. I am disappointed and I do not think this amendment will make any difference at the end of the day.

I am grateful to the Minister for circulating the documents. What has happened is worthy of note because I suspect it has not dawned on the Minister that what was done, far from offering an insult to the Opposition, is becoming the norm. The Minister made a strong statement in her opening remarks when she said she felt so strongly about the issue of equity that she favoured a legislative provision which would give compulsory backing to an equitable recruitment regime. To sustain her argument she said the reason was that the State was paying the piper.

Not all of it.

The taxpayer is paying £30 million of it. That is a good philosophical base for the Minister's case that a legislative provision may be desirable. She then said that on balance and in light of her discussions with the social partners she decided to go the voluntary road. It is interesting that the Minister found time in her busy schedule to discuss this issue with the social partners but not with the Opposition spokespersons. They were rather hastily summoned when the previous business finished earlier than anticipated. We did not have the Minister's text, yet the issue could be discussed with the social partners. I do not say that in a confrontational way. We do not object to the Minister discussing it with the social partners and I know that irrespective of whether we did, the Minister would do so anyway. It is probably a good idea but at the end of the day laws are enacted by the House. I am not all that interested in whether the social partners think it a good idea. I will weigh that up for what it is worth in each individual case. As Deputies Bruton and Quill said, we are entitled to advance notice of what is happening.

The Minister referred to the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. The name is a mouthful but I am not sure if PCW denotes anything that would give a great boost to the economy. This Bill is really about competitiveness and, as it has taken us more than a decade to get this far, there is a strong argument to be made for tackling the apprenticeship question in a comprehensive fashion rather than merely dealing with the levy system and so on.

A lecturer in the economics department in UCD, the economist Dr. Kevin O'Rourke, has written an interesting and relevant article on the GATT Agreement. It states that training and educational policies are exceptionally difficult to implement in Ireland. We do not have a tradition of well-organised apprenticeship schemes operated by unions and firms like Denmark and Germany. Government programmes can only be a partial substitute. In a small country like ours, without a large employment base, there is no guarantee that someone entering a training scheme will find a job on leaving it and when Government does pump money into education or training, as often as not, the newly acquired human capital emigrates to benefit other economics rather than our own. Solving these problems will require patience and imagination. He goes on to develop the point and the importance of the apprenticeship system in terms of competitiveness. That is what the programme is supposed to be about. Equity is important in that context.

I am prepared to see how the voluntary code of practice works. I do not know how quickly it will be put in place. I think it will be in operation for longer than two years before it will come back to the House for us to address the matter legislatively, if that is the conclusion we reach at the end of the day. I do not think there is much point in pursuing the matter further.

I gave a comprehensive reply on Report Stage. I do not wish to reiterate everything I said then. This area is a Pandora's box but the Bill is an honest attempt to come to grips with what I have found to be a very complex, multi-layered situation within the appenticeship arena. I commend amendments Nos. 1 and 7 to the House.

We are dealing with the amendments seriatim.

I am not satisfied with the reply. We have well rehearsed the arguments. I am glad the House was able to facilitate some discussion of the matter. Having a voluntary code is trying to catch water with a sieve. The Minister will be able to give a parliamentary reply in six months time showing that advertisements were placed or whatever. As I believe we should deal with this in a statutory manner and proceed with regulations which would be watertight, I will press my amendment. It is important that I do so because it is proposed to expand apprenticeships from their traditional areas and into all types of new areas. In the future we will impose the apprenticeship model on areas of training not currently dealt with in this fashion. It is explicitly stated in all brochures that the employer is solely responsible for sponsorship and that FÁS will be at a distance. The addition of the voluntary code is not sufficient to convince me that we have a satisfactory solution to the problem. I will be pressing the amendment because if the House were to decide that my amendment was the right one we would give the Minister and the social partners the correct signal as to how this should be dealt with.

The Deputy appreciates that this question will be in relation to amendment No. 1. We shall come to the Deputy's amendments later.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Amendment reported.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(b) In the making of such an order, the Minister shall at all times take full cognisance of—

(i) the emerging needs of young women,

(ii) new and emerging areas of industrial activity,

(iii) the potential for multi skilling."

This is a multiple amendment which seeks to improve the position of women in the context of the legislation we are about to adopt. The low paid position of women in the workforce is widely acknowledged. A recent statistic shows that on average women earn 68 per cent of the hourly male industrial wage. That is a grim statistic and is totally unacceptable. We ought to use every available opportunity to remedy the situation. I would argue that the introduction of this Bill is one such opportunity. Because of a direct connection between low pay and low level of skill, I ask the Minister in any order she seeks to make, arising from this Bill, that an attempt be made to remedy the situation. Under the provisions of the Bill as drafted the position of women stands to worsen because FÁS will no longer be sponsors. Henceforth, in the new apprenticeship scheme, employers will be the sole sponsors of apprentices. In that case women stand to fare badly.

A survey carried out in 1991 confirms that two-thirds of all women in apprenticeship schemes in that year were sponsored by FÁS, only one-third were sponsored by employers. Clearly, there is either a difficulty or a reluctance on the part of women in getting employers to sponsor their apprenticeships. I am concerned that the position of women, as a result of the change from FÁS sponsorship to 100 per cent sponsorship on the part of employers, will worsen. I ask the Minister to bear that in mind when she is making the orders. It is important, in any change, that we anticipate that problems will arise for women and that the situation will worsen. We should seek to use every available opportunity to compensate. I ask the Minister in the context of this amendment to seek actively to do that in any order she makes.

I should like to draw attention to new and emerging areas of industrial activity that will be designated for apprenticeships as the scheme is extended. It is important to bear that in mind, not alone as it applies to women but as it applies to the workforce in general. There is little point in training the workforce of tomorrow for the jobs of yesterday. Whole areas of work are beginning to emerge now for which young people here have little formal training. Within education and within the regional colleges there is a much greater awareness in anticipating openings and opportunities, new areas of work and new potential areas of employment. I do not think there is the same level of awareness within our apprenticeship scheme. Young people who choose, for one reason or another, to take the route of training and apprenticeship as opposed to the route of a formal education in college, have the same right to be trained in the skills that are likely to be the jobs of tomorrow. For example, in Germany there are now more jobs in the media, art and entertainment areas than in the manufacturing of motor cars. That is a whole sea change for a country like Germany that patented the Mercedes Benz and made the Volks-wagen such a popular car.

They also are in trouble now.

Yes, but the Germans are anticipating that and are diversifying and changing their training. They are preparing their young people for the opportunities of tomorrow and we must prepare likewise. I will not labour this point because I know from previous statements by the Minister of State and from her experience and commitment to education that she is aware of the need to designate new areas of training for jobs as they emerge. That is very important. In that new process I anticipate greater opportunities for everybody and especially a greater number of opportunities for women. In many traditional areas, especially the old crafts and trades, it was difficult to find suitable opportunities for women. Many of the new crafts, skills and trades are much more suitable for women. I ask the Minister to designate these areas within formal structures of apprenticeship training.

The third part of my amendment deals with the potential in all training for multi-skilling. It is difficult to accept that in any legislation we would ignore the need in all training for multi-skilling. This was mentioned in great detail in the Culliton and other reports where it was pointed out that there is a deficit in training here, and that in the kind of training we have, there is a deficit in terms of the kind of flexibility that comes from the concept of multi-skilling.

In the rapidly changing world in which we live, with the emergence of new technology and when the advances of the day before yesterday are almost out of date, it is important to train a workforce whose initial training is such that they can be trained and retrained. The days of starting off work in one position and ending up doing the same kind of work are almost behind us. We must ensure that young people have the training that will give them the flexibility to become competent in a certain skill and be in a position to take on different areas of activity. That is to take on board the principle and the concept of multi-skilling which is very important. One of the oldest principles in learning is to learn the skills of learning. That is the basis of the whole idea of multi-skilling.

Multi-skilling is important if we are to have a workforce with the flexibility of skills and mind to compete with other countries with whom we are in intense competition. There is little point in spending a great deal of money in bringing our roads up to the standard that applies elsewhere and in bringing our physical infrastructure up to standard if we do not being our skills base up to the level that pertains in other countries with whom we have to compete in a cruel open market.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, but I am concerned that she is drifting into what could be regarded as a Second Stage speech.

The Ceann Comhairle's timing is excellent, as I was about to sit down. I will be pressing this amendment.

I broadly support this amendment. On the emerging needs of young women, evidence shows that efforts made by FÁS to attract young women into apprenticeships have failed. Perhaps a score of young women were brought into apprenticeships but the dropout rate has been virtually 100 per cent. Serious problems were emerging, even when there was the possibility of FÁS sponsorship for women. If the Minister is determined to achieve the 10 per cent quota for women in apprenticeships set out in the report of the Commission on the Status of Women she would need to produce significant proposals. I did not detect those proposals either in her Second Stage speech or in her Committee Stage contributions. It is important to address this issue in legislation so that we can question the Minister at a future date as to what has been achieved under this heading.

In relation to emerging areas of activity, we run a real danger in proposing the extension of apprenticeships into new areas, of trying to pour new wine into old casks. The record of the apprenticeship scheme for flexibility and responsiveness to changing training needs is dismal. The Minister's proposal to expand the apprenticeship system into new areas gives me a chilling feeling that we will find ourselves encrusting these new emerging areas in a system that has proved highly resistant to change in the past. That was illustrated a short time ago when the Minister told us that what she saw as a desirable change in training in relation to equity of access was effectively blocked by the social partners. The whole system of apprenticeship is steeped in the concept of having huge committees, representing a variety of views, deliberating on any change in the apprenticeship programme. The Minister will not have the ability to press through a modern training framework in that sort of committee atmosphere where everyone has to be carried along together.

Multi-skilling is an important issue. The future undoubtedly requires multi-skilling. In every other country in Europe multi-skilling is the order of the day, but we stick with the traditional demarcation into single skill designated trades. I admit that the Minister is proposing that the modules for the future can be flexible and that the system admits of flexibility and multi-skilling, but is the will there among those with whom the Minister will be dealing with trying to press for such flexibility and adaptability? That is where the question mark lies. It is not in the desire of the Minister or the Department to see multi-skilling developed here, but will the system with a representative from every quarter respond to the need or will it be considered that traditional areas are being encroached upon? These are important issues. We have not had a serious policy paper on these issues to enable us see where the Minister's proposals fit into the wider evolution of our training needs. That lack is handicapping us in dealing with this Bill and that is why we are putting forward somewhat unsatisfactory amendments in our desire to see a modern training system evolve in Ireland.

The debate is developing interestingly. The amendment reads:

In making such an order, the Minister shall at all times take full cognisance of—

(i) the emerging needs of young women,

(ii) new and emerging areas of industrial activity,

(iii) the potential for multi-skilling.

My first instinct on reading that was to say that those points are embodied in the new standards based system. However, when we are talking about women I hope that apart from young women we are also talking about mature people who wish to come back into the system and be trained. We are all committed to antiageism. We do not want to suggest that because one is young, one is fit for some things, because one is middle aged one is fit for others and because one is old one is not fit for anything. I would have some inhibition about referring just to young women because we encourage women to come back into the workforce and to be retrained.

Great efforts have been made by FÁS to try to bring this unwieldy ship around and move it in certain directions. When one starts to categorise what one wants to emphasise in legislation, one may leave out many areas which should be addressed. This is a preamble to my main points. People, including State bodies, take greater cognisance when a matter is part of legislation. I have often heard staff in FÁS refer to the legislative provisions governing them. There is a weight attaching to legislation as distinct from advice.

I have consulted with my officials briefly and I am disposed to accept Deputy Quill's amendment, subject to a slight caveat. This amendment has not been submitted to the parliamentary draftsman for his scrutiny but certainly in paragraph (i) I would not like “young” to be retained. I do not think we should make a distinction between “women” and “young women” and I say that in the knowledge that many women wish to enter training or retraining. I think the word “young” is pejorative in itself and we do not use the term “young men” and so on. The parliamentary draftsman might have to change the wording slightly. Is Deputy Quill prepared to delete the word “young”?

I have no difficulty with having that word deleted.

I would have an aversion to the word "young" in the sense of being fair to people.

Paragraph (ii) refers to new and emerging areas of industrial activity. This is already included but perhaps we should give it emphasis. In the open spirit in which we have addressed the debate I would be prepared to accept the amendment subject to the caveat that should the parliamentary draftsman need to make textual adjustments I would have to amend it in the Seanad. Does the Deputy accept that?

I thank the Minister for accepting my amendment. It is crucially important that the issues I have raised find a place in legislation. It is for that reason I pressed the amendment fully. I accept the point the Minister has made on the needs of all women, irrespective of age. I am very pleased with her attitude and approach. I do not anticipate that the parliamentary draftsman will have major difficulties as the ideas are very simple and straightforward. Should it be necessary, I appreciate the Minister's offer to come back to the Seanad where elected representatives will have another opportunity to deal with the issue. It is very important that the elected representatives have the last word.

I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 3:

In paragraph (i) after "of" to delete "young".

Amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 3 agreed to.

There is a further amendment relating to another matter and I want to take the opportunity to give credit to Deputy Bruton who spoke strongly on it. Deputy Rabbitte's amendment is slightly different in that he asks that the levy be for the purpose of recruitment of women, which we cannot accept because it is laid down in legislation how the levy may be disbursed. The thrust of his amendment relates to women.

Amendment No. 3, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 5.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 3, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:

"(d) ensure that under the proposed apprenticeship arrangements for the designated trade, all suitably qualified applicants will have an equal chance of obtaining a place on an apprenticeship, decided against criteria which are clearly set out and available for public inspection."

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 42; Níl, 71.

  • Ahearn, Theresa.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael. Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dukes, Alan M.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Yates, Ivan.


  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhamjee, Moosajee.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Broughan, Tommy.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hilliard, Colm M.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Eamon.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies E. Kenny and Boylan; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and Ferris.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 7.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

4.—(1) The Minister may by regulations provide for requirements to be complied with for the purpose of ensuring that, in respect of the recruitment of apprentices in one or more, than one designated sector of industry specified in the regulations, such recruitment is carried out in an equitable and fair manner.

(2) Where regulations under this section are proposed to be made, a draft of the proposed regulations shall, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each House.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.

I move Amendment No. 8:

In page 4, line 18, after "An Foras" to insert "or by a suitable education body designated for this purpose by order of the Minister".

I do not propose to say much about this amendment. In the context of the apprenticeship scheme it is not of great relevance. I would like to see apprenticeship schemes and the system of training evolve. I am conscious that we ought not create divisions between education and training. We should strive to keep open the possibility that certification will be carried out by an educational body as opposed to Forfás. I hope the Minister will accept my amendment.

I am broadly supportive of this amendment. We are providing money for a system of certification and the Bill is unduly constraining certification to FÁS. I see no reason to constrain the system of certification in that way. It might well be better to have independent invigilation of standards. The amendment sponsored by Deputy Quill gives greater flexibility and is likely to be more enduring and respond to changing training needs.

Deputy Quill's amendment is not unduly prescriptive. The funding arrangement provided that the levy proceeds could be used to cover a portion of the administration costs of FÁS. With the levy set at 0.25 per cent the proceeds will not be sufficient to cover even the training allowances and wages of apprentices and the State would have to cover the other costs. Deputy Quill's aim is to head off a conflict between the training authorities and the educational authorities in relation to aspects of the apprenticeship scheme. Under the original Act FÁS is the statutory body with responsibility for the operation of the apprenticeship system but it is clearly provided that there must be consultation with the Department of Education. This consultation has somtimes been very spirited, to put it in code; on other occasions they have been fairly placid. I would have no difficulty with FÁS and the education authorities consulting with each other about the apprenticeships scheme. The officials in my Department have a joint liaison committee with officials in the Department of Education which meets frequently at assistant secretary level and downwards. Sometimes relationships are a little brittle and sometimes they are good but each set of officials seeks to do the best for the apprentices in their care. If that is the thrust of Deputy Quill's amendment I accept that, but technically I cannot accept the amendment because the money available is in no way adequate. I certainly accept the need for goodwill and constraint liaison between the two Departments on how best to deliver the system and certify it, bearing in mind that FÁS has the original remit in regard to apprenticeships under the 1969 Act but in consultation with the Department of Education.

I appreciate the Minister's response to my amendment and her acceptance of its spirit. I would like to see the existing relationship between education and training reinforced. It is true that such relationships have been brittle at times, and that is a very charitable way of putting it. I would never wish to see a clear cleavage between education and training. This would benefit nobody. I hope the Minister will use every occasion to encourage good relationships between the two Departments and keep open the possibility and the certifying body would be drawn from an educational body rather than from FÁS.

Sin ceist eile.

Nevertheless it is a principle that I would like kept in mind. However, I accept that in the context of this Bill the Minister is precluded from accepting my amendment.

Lest default to answer would lead to an erroneous assumption, I am strongly of the view that the certification board should be within the Department of Enterprise and Employment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

We now come to amendment No. 9 in the name of Deputy Rabbitte. I do not see the Deputy in the House.

That amendment bears out the previously accepted amendment.

The amendment has not been moved. It is not before the House and there is nothing the Chair can do about it.

Amendment No. 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:

"(3) (a) A procedure of evaluation of the operation of the apprenticeship programme shall be established and carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute, which shall, inter alia, report on—

(i) the equity of entry to apprenticeships,

(ii) the balance between numbers of new apprentices taken on and employment opportunities for which there are not already trained workers,

(iii) the responsiveness of the programme to changing training needs, such as the need for multi-skilling,

(iv) the effectiveness and of the methods of certification of standards achieved,

(v) the success of training when measured against the best international standards.

(b) Each year the ESRI shall report progress made against the annual performance targets set by An Foras."

Tentative changes are being advanced by the Minister to improve the operation of the apprenticeship scheme. A satisfactory evaluation of the apprenticeship programme has never been carried out. I propose that we should include in the legislation the principle that an evaluation of the apprenticeship programme should be made by the ESRI, who have carried out a great deal of evaluation work for FÁS on different aspects of its programme. The Minister will be aware that it is frustrating for Opposition Deputies to know that such work is being done but not made available to either the Opposition or the public in general.

To what work is the Deputy referring?

The evaluation of existing programmes. It has been a major blot on the Government's approach to the spending of the Structural Funds that the public at large is not privy to the apparent evaluation which is taking place. While we are assured that money spent in our name is well spent we do not see any evidence that that is the case, other than Ministers saying they have seen material which gives them a warm glow.

The apprenticeship programme needs some evaluation. It is extremely resistant to change and has moved with the times. We are proposing to give it a greater financial base and to expand it into new areas. However, that should not be done unless we have proven evidence that it is working well. In my amendment I have set out the issues that would be inherent in any evaluation. For example, there should be independent evaluation in respect of the equity of entry to apprenticeships. That is crucial since we have had to make do with the Minister's voluntary code. If we do not have a statutory code that ensures equity we must appoint a person to evaluate independently whether equity is secured by that code. The necessity for the Minister to accept my amendment in some shape or form is more urgent in the light of her decision to adopt a voluntary code of practice.

The balance between the numbers of new apprentices taken on and the employment opportunities for which there are not already trained workers should also be examined. I am disturbed at the widespread evidence that many apprentices only go to a certain distance and fall through the net. We must know exactly what is happening. Is it because there are not sufficient places available? Are too many apprentices taken on to make the figures look good with no positions available at the end of their training, resulting in wasted investment in their future? We must achieve the correct balance. Ministers will always want to say they have made a commitment to, say 3,500, 4,500 or 5,500 apprenticeship places, but that is pointless if we pour them in at the front end and they fall through before completing their training.

The responsiveness of the apprenticeship scheme to changing training needs, such as the need for multi-skilling, has already been discussed. It is important that we know the apprenticeship programme is responding to such changes. The programme is bound in by representative committees which have made it resistant to change. If the programme is not capable of responding to change an independent evaluation of that fact is necessary so that the evidence is available to us.

Questions were raised about the certification of standards achieved, particularly in relation to off-the-job modules where, perhaps, employers are under pressure and their system of certification may not stand up. FÁS will endeavour to ensure that the certification process is carried out in a proper manner but, in voting money for this purpose we have a right to know that it is done properly. Our training should measure up to the best international standards. That means we must be competitive. The Government has recognised the importance of competitiveness.

I have set out what I believe is a reasonable format for an evaluation. The ESRI should conduct the evaluation and report on an annual basis on the progress of the programme against the targets that FÁS set for itself in judging the apprenticeship programme. It is important that FÁS specify its targets. If the apprenticeship scheme is working well we must know against what standards it is based and if an independent evaluation is being carried out.

I was heartened on Committee Stage when the Minister said she would make available to the Opposition and the public in general any evaluations available to her. That has not been the practice up to now. She should go further and insert in the Bill a clear commitment to an evaluation such as that proposed in my amendment. I am not wedded to the full details of my amendment. If the Minister believes that some of the detail is unreasonable or unacceptable, I am open to changing the wording or the frequency with which reports should be made. However, the principle is sound and I hope the Minister can accept it.

This is a worthwhile and thoughtful amendment and if its principle was taken on board and applied we would have in place an apprenticeship scheme that was good value for money and would provide the country with a well trained and motivated workforce. As policy-makers and planners we would be more assured that we have the skills base necessary if this country is to perform well in the future. I support the amendment.

We should use every available opportunity to raise the status of training, particularly training in apprenticeships. The independent evaluation process in place in relation to education works to the benefit of all education and as a result parents have great faith in our system. If young people attain a certain standard, parents know that it will be recognised in other countries as well as at home. Those young people obtain certificates which carry a status when they present themselves for a job. In most cases their qualifications are acceptable abroad. That is due in part to the operation of an independent evaluation in our education system.

I favour putting in place an independent system of evaluation in relation to apprenticeship training. It represents the same principle, but applied to apprenticeships. I do not know how the detail would be worked out, but it would be a good measure. If this scheme were introduced it would greatly improve the status of apprenticeships which would gain esteem and, accordingly, benefit financially. In addition public representatives would be more conversant with the success of the scheme. It would be possible to directly identify shortfalls in the scheme and to make improvements as shortfalls emerged. Apprenticeships are under scrutiny at present and the proposed scheme is a sensible approach. I recognise a number of people, including the Minister, are concerned that we put in place here a system that adequately serves the needs of young people. Adopting this measure would be a step in the right direction. I support the amendment.

I accept the principle behind the amendment is a good one. While the thrust of it is good I cannot accept its wording. Perhaps we can reach a compromise and, if not, there is the democratic system. I am sure no one would disagree with the principle of continuous monitoring and evaluation during the period of training or education and in respect of certification. We wish to provide adequately for people entering apprenticeships. Deputy Bruton's amendment sets out a procedure of evaluation. Subsection 3 (a) states that, a procedure of evaluation of the operation of the apprenticeship programme shall be established and carried out. Paragraph (i) refers to the equity of entry to apprenticeships. The issue of equity has been overtaken by an earlier amendment which was defeated. When the issue was keenly debated here earlier I stated our proposals.

Paragraph (ii) refers to the balance between the number of new apprentices taken on and the employment opportunities for which there are not trained workers. There has been much talk of the German system. I paid a brief visit to Cologne recently and having attended meetings with members the chambers of commerce and others, I came to the conclusion that we have a different system. Despite Germany's depressed economic position, due mainly to the unification of the east and west which is a fine democratic principle, there are more apprenticeship vacancies in that country than there are applicants. In Ireland there are approximately 20 applicants for every apprenticeship vacancy. Many questions would be raised if we were to report the balance between numbers of new apprentices taken on and the employment opportunities for which there are not trained workers. For example, why are we allowing so many people to obtain medical degrees, arts degrees and H. Dips? I remember endeavouring to tackle that question when I was Minister for Education. I did a hasty U-turn. One cannot dictate that only the number for which there will be a vacancy at some predetermined date will be allowed into the educational and training systems. That would be difficult to forecast and it would encroach on people's liberty.

The Minister is misinterpreting the paragraph which refers to balance rather than equity.

Paragraph (iii) refers to the responsiveness of the programme. The measure proposed in Deputy Quill's amendment has been enshrined in legislation as it includes the word "multi-skilling".

Paragraph (iv) refers to the effectiveness of the methods of certification of standards achieved. The principle in that measure is sound. I will outline what steps we have taken in that regard.

Paragraph (v) refers to the success of training when measured against the best international standards. I can report progress in that regard. Agreements on comparability of certification have been signed by FÁS with France, Germany and the UK. I signed the agreement with France. The German and UK agreements were signed before I took office. FÁS is exploring agreements with other countries. While those measures do not match what is outlined in paragraph (v) of Deputy Bruton's amendment they are in line with his proposal.

The agreements in respect of apprenticeships with France, Germany and the UK recognise our certification process and certified apprentices here are accepted in those countries as bona fide. We have a reciprocal arrangement with those countries. Those agreements did not result simply from meetings with our French, German and UK counterparts. Experts from all countries examined the curricula, training, monitoring and evaluation processes and were satisfied that letters of credence as it were, could be exchanged in respect of apprenticeship systems.

FÁS is promoting our apprenticeship scheme with other countries and it is hoped that in a short time there will be a reciprocal arrangement in respect of apprenticeship training and certification among all EU countries. That is in line with the 1990 EC directive. Its goal was to achieve acceptance and comparability of qualifications. I was Minister for Education and Ireland held the EC Presidency when that directive was introduced. I referred to European standards and paragraph (v) of the Deputy's amendment refers to international standards which has a wider connotation.

Subsection (3) (b) states that each year the ESRI shall report progress made against the annual performance targets set by An Foras. On evaluation all FÁS activities are subject to evaluation by the Department of Enterprise and Employment. That represents self-regulation. There has been much criticism here of such a measure in respect of credit institutions. It is as if one group within an organisation is reporting on another. An evaluation unit has been established in the Department of Enterprise and Employment located in the former Department of Labour building. That unit has been recognised by Europe as the evaluation office for ESF funding arrangements as they appertain to education, agriculture and so on. The reports are submitted to the EU Commission which makes decisions based on them.

FÁS has commissioned a study jointly by Professor Edward Kelly of UCG and Mr. Jerome Casey, independent experts to advise on the standards based system in relation to apprenticeship duration, modules, experience and so on. There is no big secret about that study. I informed a recent meeting of the TUI that this is being carried out and we will furnish it with the findings.

As I indicated on Committee Stage, I see the need to make such evaluation reports available to Opposition Deputies — they will be publicly reported on, as is the case in all these matters — so that they can be debated, if necessary, on the Floor of the House. I accept that Deputy Bruton may wish to push his amendment to a vote, as is his right, but I have dealt already with these matters. I have agreed to make such studies public — all studies should be publicly debated. We have made progress on the spirit of Deputy Bruton's amendment while not accepting its precise wording.

I am disappointed with the Minister's response. She has advanced all the arguments in favour of accepting my proposals but at the end of the day she says it cannot be accepted.

I have accepted amendment No. 3.

On the question of equity of access to apprenticeships, the Minister has forced the House, against its wishes, to accept that a voluntary code of practice will be established.

On a point of information, a democratic decision was made by the House and nobody was forced to do anything.

The Minister will recall that she expressed the view that it would be better to handle the matter otherwise. When she discussed it with the social partners she found she could not get agreement and, as a result, she was forced to back down on what were her correct instincts to have a proper code of practice.

I did not force anybody to do anything.

Instead we have a voluntary code of practice. I will continue to make the argument that if we are to have a voluntary code of practice it is very important that an evaluation of the kind I have sought be carried out. People will question the voluntary code and will want to know whether it is working and I see no way of answering that question satisfactorily unless an independent evaluation is carried out. The Minister or her successor may come into the House and say they are satisfied with the voluntary code, but because there is so much taxpayers' money involved, it is necessary that an independent evaluation be carried out.

The Minister suggested that because more people seek apprenticeships than the number of apprenticeship places available, we do not need to evaluate this issue, but that is incorrect. I think the Minister will accept that thousands of people who have been introduced to the apprenticeship scheme have fallen through the system. Something is seriously wrong when the Irish Independent reports that there are more than 1,000 redundant apprentices. There is clear evidence that there is a serious imbalance between the amount of money we are pouring into the system and the number of people who are successfully coming out of it. We need to know what is happening in that regard. The fact that thousands of people would like to get apprenticeships does not indicate that we have the balance right.

The Minister referred to Deputy Quill's amendment, which has been accepted. I would ask the Minister to look back and see what she accepted. She accepted that in deciding to introduce a trade as one in which apprenticeships could operate the Minister would consider the issue of multi-skilling. She did not accept that the Minister would retrospectively evaluate whether that trade had succeeded through the apprenticeship programme in dealing with the issue of multi-skilling and responsiveness to changing training needs. To say that the Minister will consider this issue before she introduces an apprenticeship programme is not answering the question I raise. I want to ensure that the Minister succeeds in achieving what she set out to do. The Minister's response, therefore, misses the point.

I accept that the signing of agreements with other countries that recognise the value of our system of certification and our curriculum is a good indication that our schemes are up to scratch. However, I would point out that in other cases — for example, in regard to training standards in our hospitals — agreements are reached only on the basis that every year or two an independent team would carry out an evaluation to ensure that standards are up to the required level. I am open to persuasion as to whether a French or German team would come in to evaluate our system from year to year or whether a native Irish team should do so.

The Minister accepts that the carrying out of an evaluation in the Department is self-assessment. My information about evaluation in Ireland of Structural Funds is that it tends to reinforce what has been already decided, what people believe is the right thing to do, rather than being an independent examination of the alternatives, which is what it should be. I think the Minister recognise that self-assessment in areas such as this is unsatisfactory. The Minister said that FÁS will commission independent experts——

It has done so.

——to consider this matter, but again that is missing the point. If one wished to evaluate whether, for example, a school was succeeding, one would not allow the school to choose its own evaluators. It would be preferable that independent evaluators do the work. The notion that the training body would choose the people who would carry out an evaluation of it is unacceptable. We all know that people in this position — I do not wish to cast aspersions on the people who are carrying out the consultancy work in this case, both of whom I know to be excellent people — come under pressure from those who design the research work to ask certain questions, and that is not wholly satisfactory.

The Minister must take on board that it is wrong to presume that FÁS will be the sole provider of training under apprenticeships. We should be moving towards a position where many of the modules are flexibly provided. Other training agencies or educational institutions who could do the work just as well should be allowed do so. There is need for flexibility in this area and evaluation should be carried out independently of the agency providing the training. The balance of argument favours my amendment. From listening to the Minister, she accepts, to some extent, the arguments I put forward and I hope that even at this late hour she will accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 4, line 42, after "earnings" to insert "in excess of the personal tax free allowance, prevailing in the year in question under the Income Tax Acts, of the said contributor".

I put down this amendment on Committee Stage in the hope that, having seen the merit of my proposal, the Minister would prevail upon the Minister for Finance to ensure that this was the direction taken in the reform of social insurance levies. I am disappointed that despite her best efforts the Minister of State did not succeed in persuading the Minister for Finance to do this. That being the case, I do not believe my amendment will be accepted and I therefore withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 6, to delete lines 25 to 50, and in page 7, to delete lines 1 to 4.

I know the Minister will say that she cannot accept my amendment. Nevertheless, I do not think we should give the Revenue Commissioners preference in terms of sums owing by companies which become bankrupt. This preferential treatment will leave unsecured creditors in great difficulties when such problems arise. It will also result in the Revenue Commissioners being less than vigilant in the pursuit of their debts and leave many unsecured creditors, usually the small person who has no comeback, swinging in the breeze.

I realise that a similar section — which presumably is on a word processor in the Department of Finance — is included in every Bill. I do not think the principle behind it is correct and I should like to hear the Minister's views on it. I am not convinced that she will accept my amendment but I hope she will at least take note of the points made.

We had a fairly straightforward debate on this amendment on Committee Stage. This is a matter over which neither the Minister nor I has any say. This section fits neatly into every Bill.

This section is designed to protect any outstanding levy owed by employers who become bankrupt or are in the process of winding-up their business. It is a standard provision under which unpaid levies, taxes and PRSI are accorded preferential debtor status, thereby attempting to protect the State against financial loss. As the apprenticeship levy will be collected through the PRSI system this provision in regard to unpaid levies simply treats the levy in the same way as any other levies collected through that system.

Cognisance has been taken in the drafting of the section of companies which are winding-up for the purposes of construction or amalgamation. This provision will give the State first call on any moneys owed to it by a company which is winding up. I know that Deputy Bruton was sincere in putting down this amendment but it is not an amendment I was not moved to accept from any intellectual, financial or social point of view. I can have no input into this matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Agreed to take Fifth Stage now.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass".

The Minister knows that I have some reservations about the Bill. Although we have not agreed on everything, I should like to thank the Minister for the courteous way in which she has conducted the debate. I also wish to thank her officials for the backup they have given and for the reasonable responses they have given to the issues raised.

I hope the Minister achieves her objectives in regard to the apprenticeship programme. However, I will be keeping an eagle eye on what goes on and will be interested in seeing what progress is achieved.

I, too, would like to congratulate the Minister on bringing this legislation before the House. I compliment her on the manner in which she has steered us through the debate in this House. It can truly be said that the Bill is better than the one brought before the House last December.

I wish the Minister good luck in her attempts at this difficult time to put in place a better scheme of training and apprenticeship for young people. There is a certain resistance and reluctance among employers to take on apprentices at present. While they can justify their reasons for this, nevertheless it is an issue that will have to be addressed head on. The Minister will have to continue the very earnest efforts she is making in this area. I am very much aware of her efforts and I have spoken to a number of groups who have met her.

In spite of this reforming legislation, a great deal more needs to be done. Even after the enactment of this legislation our apprenticeship schemes will still be far from ideal. I wish the Minister well in dealing with this difficult issue which is slow in yielding any kind of rewards — any rewards are long term. However, the end result will be worth the effort. I believe the Minister cares enough about the future of young people and the future of the country to make the effort demanded to reform the system.

I particularly want to thank the Minister for taking on board one of my key amendments, amendment No. 3, which deals with the important issue of improving the lot of women in training and apprenticeship schemes and will help in the movement towards the creation of a multi-skilled workforce. The day of the single skill workforce is over, and we must keep the apprenticeship schemes updated.

I have no doubt that the issue of apprenticeships and training will come back to this House many times before we are satisfied that we have a good and comprehensive scheme in place, which will give young people the level of skill and self-confidence required to enable them to cope with the intense competition they will meet in the Single Market and elsewhere. There is an obligation on all of us to ensure there are no shortfalls in the skills base of the Irish workforce. This legislation is one step in ensuring that this will not happen. Many more steps will have to be taken before we are satisfied that the skills level and skills base of the workforce is high enough to enable young people and the workforce in general attain their full potential and enable us to compete effectively in the very competitive world of trade and commerce.

In concluding the debate I would like to thank the members of the Opposition parties, Deputy Richard Bruton for Fine Gael, Deputy Quill for the Progressive Democrats and Deputy Rabbitte for Democratic Left, for the strong and robust way in which they put forward their points of view and contested mine on many occasions. The debate was a good one and this certainly is far better legislation leaving this House than when it was introduced. That is not to decry my efforts and those of the officials who compiled the Bill because, as I said, the Bill was originally a technical one dealing purely with the technical issue of a levy. However, I and my officials knew that it could not remain so and that it had the potential for a beneficial debate, which proved to be the case.

The committee system is very worthwhile. There used be a school of thought that when a Minister introduced a Bill, that Bill was perfect and should remain so. I never held that point of view before the committee system was established because there is little point in having Second Stage, Committee Stage and Report Stage of a Bill if there is no opportunity to hear other people's points of view. We must always have that but also there must be reflection on the various points of view. Many people — not elected Members—sometimes find issue with that and those who might ask why we bring forward amendments and deal with them in this way — a point which came up this morning in the House in regard to another Bill within our Department but not under my responsibility — should realise that it is because points of view are put forward.

We should continue with this type of debate, which I have always espoused along with the Members opposite, through Second, Committee and Report Stages because many worthwhile points will be made right throughout the debate. Some points can be accepted by way of amendment; others which might not be accepted — not through any lack of generosity of spirit — may bear fruit in other ways, namely, in directions which one can give within a Department or agency and in thoughts which lead to further debates internally and which may come to fruition perhaps at a later stage. The effect of legislation is that it makes one think, it poses questions within one's mind and it makes one reflect further on what one should or should not do. Therefore, the debate concerning apprenticeship and training, as both of the Deputies opposite said, is not at an end.

I said earlier when we began Report Stage that in the five years I dealt with education, there was no issue to which I gave more consideration or which I knew would require unremitting attention if we are to get it right. As Deputy Quill and Deputy Bruton said, we are at the beginning of a change over to a new system. We are taking a whole new look at how apprenticeships are run here and in other countries and lest the idea would go out to other fora that the new areas we are entering will be subject to the same arrangements as the present system, I wish to state that will not be the case. We want to have a more open — not simply open as in transparency, one would always wish for that — and flexible way of approaching the issue of training and enable modules to be put in place which will be sufficiently broadly based to be carried into other trades but which will also be responsive to the changing needs of people within the workforce.

The word "traineeship" would certainly be a better title than "apprenticeship", which in Ireland has come to mean a particular set of faculties which one has developed, whereas the real meaning of the word is learning one's trade as one goes along. Ideas will be coming forward on that and I look forward to debates not only in the form of question and answer, which can make it difficult to get to the heart of an issue but hopefully on occasions — not through bringing forward legislation — in debating reports or by some other mechanism whereby the views of the Opposition can be accepted. Training and education are issues on which no one Department has all of the wisdom; they affect everyone. Therefore, it is only proper that the views of elected representatives and of the wider public be discussed and accepted at the relevant times.

I wish to thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for your patience as we debated these matters. I would also like to thank the chairman of our committee, Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan, who executed his duty in an excellent manner and also the officials in the Department who had great patience with all of us, including myself.

Question put and agreed to.

We now move on to item No. 16, the Consumer Credit Bill, 1994, Second Stage, resumed.

May we have a short sos to allow the Minister to come to the House? It was expected that the previous Bill would not be completed until 7 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 6.30 p.m. and resumed at 6.45 p.m.