Skills Minister Matthew Hancock challenged Labour’s understanding of apprenticeship starts following a week in which the Opposition’s fact-checking has been called into question.

During an Opposition day debate on vocational education in the House of Commons yesterday (Wednesday, July 9), Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt and Mr Hancock clashed over whether the overall number of apprenticeship starts among under-25s had risen or fallen under the current government.

Mr Hunt said: “Let us be clear about the government’s record. The number of apprenticeship starts by under-25s has fallen by 11,324 since 2010.”

However, Mr Hancock disputed the figures.

He said: “The honourable member for Stoke-on-Trent central [Mr Hunt] stated that the number of apprenticeships for those under 25 has fallen by 11,000 since 2010… . Figures show that since 2010 the number of apprenticeships for those under 25 has risen by 49,000.”

The statistical first release published last month reveals that from 2009/10 to 2012/13, the overall number of apprenticeship starts among under 25s rose by 49,300, from 230,600 to 279,900.

However, it also showed that the 11,400 drop mentioned by Mr Hunt also took place — but between 2011/12 and 2012/13, where 291,300 apprenticeship starts among under 25s fell to 279,900.

It comes just days after Labour leader Ed Miliband’s proposal for technical degrees at university were labelled “confusing” by Professor Alison Wolfwhose government-commissioned review of vocational education for 14 to 19-year-olds was published in early 2011.

The Kings College London academic criticised the plan with Labour appearing to retain the aim of university education for all.

She said: “This is a surprisingly confusing speech. Apparently it is about the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ who don’t currently go to university. But it seems to imply that the Labour Party is as convinced as it ever was that higher education is what everybody needs — and that an apprenticeship is only going to be worthwhile if it leads to this new thing called a technical degree.”

But the apprenticeship figure gaffe was the latest in a string of fact-checking spats between the Labour Party and the Conservatives.

In draft of a speech launching Labour’s support for the Adonis Review, Mr Miliband claimed that “four fifths of net new jobs since 2010 have been in London”.

However, it emerged that the figures were two years old and contradicted by official government statistics.

The figures were removed from the final version of the speech, but not before they had been repeated in radio and television interviews by Lord Adonis and Shadow Business Secretary Chukka Umunna.

Mr Umunna was also referred to the UK statistics authority by George Osborne’s parliamentary aide after claiming in an article that the number of young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance had increased by 60 per cent nationally and by 263 per cent in the north east since May 2010.

The chancellor’s office said overall data showed youth unemployment had fallen by 38 per cent nationally and 27 per cent in the north east since 2010.

Mr Hancock took to Twitter saying: “Labour caught out AGAIN getting the stats wrong. They hate the fact Britain is recovering so keep trying to deny it.”

However, Mr Umunna defended the figures, saying they were official figures on the number of young people unemployed for more than a year, although this had not been mentioned in the original article.