HC Deb 08 May 1934 vol 289 cc935-43

3.45 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 11, line 12, to leave out "take into consideration the number of," and to insert : submit to the Minister proposals for the provision of such courses of instruction as may be necessary for. We have made our position perfectly clear on the policy announced by the Government in relation to juveniles. We have said clearly and distinctly that we regard the policy of the Government in this Bill as third-rate, and that they should have come forward with proposals for raising the school age. It would have been a much more effective contribution to the problem of juvenile employment than that suggested in the Clause. We are profoundly dissatisfied with the policy of the Government, but events in the industrial world will compel them to change their policy because of the large number of children who will be coming out of school in the next few years. We agree that if there are to be juvenile instruction centres, they should be organised in the most effective manner.

The purpose of the Amendment, although it does not go as far as we would like, is to secure that every local education authority shall make proposals to the Government concerning juvenile instruction centres. As the Clause is drafted, we feel that there are a number of loopholes, and that there will be considerable delay which might result in large numbers of juveniles not being catered for in junior instruction centres. We want to impose the duty that education authorities shall submit schemes and proposals to the Government for erecting juvenile instruction centres in every educational area. We have seen the effect, in the figures published to-day, of the increased outpouring from the schools. The figures of unemployment show that there has been a substantial increase in the number of juveniles unemployed, partly due to the fact that the figures give the record to the end of the term, but they also reflect the beginnings of an upward rise in the number of children who will leave school in the next few years.

I must again remind hon. Members that in the next three or four years between 400,000 and 500,000 more juveniles will be leaving school than at present. This problem will grow in magnitude, and I cannot imagine any Government sitting down quietly under the menace which lies in front of these juveniles. Even with a considerable expansion of trade, there will be a large number of juveniles unemployed, simply because there is this tremendous increase in the numbers coming out of the schools. There is nothing more tragic or demoralising than unemployment among juveniles. I have in my division lads aged 15, 16 and even up to 18 who since leaving school have never done a day's work. A considerable number in the mining areas particularly have not yet succeeded in getting into any kind of occupation. It is a tragic thing to see them going about without any industrial skill, and without any hope of employment. Adequate provision is required for the care and training of those young people. The Minister in these discussions has often quoted the Report of the Royal Commission. I do not necessarily agree with all that the Commission has said, but on this point I think their view is thoroughly sound. They say, The problem of occupation is, we believe, the most difficult question raised by the contemporary employment situation. The solution of it, for the majority of older unemployed workers is especially hard to find. But for younger workers the importance of occupation and training is at its maximum and the practical difficulties are much less formidable. Neglect to do what is possible here would be the most short-sighted of policies and we desire most earnestly to press upon both central and local authorities the necessity that this should be regarded as one of the most significant elements in the national treatment of unemployment and that no effort should be spared to extend and to improve the present service. I agree with those words. When I said in Committee that the work in the junior instruction centres was often carried out "in dingy, cramped and ill-equipped buildings" some hon. Members seemed inclined to disbelieve me but that is the statement of the Royal Commission and they also say : It must be remembered that the work of the centres necessarily suffers from the discontinuity of the attendance of pupils as they come and go in the intervals of their industrial lives. This Amendment would aid in the better organisation of the centres. If each local authority is compelled to submit proposals the general effect will be good and it will result in a greater interest in the centres and eventually in a far better organisation of the work. The centres are now regarded in many instances as an imposition. There is not, in many cases, the keenness that we would desire but I imagine if the duty of making proposals were imposed on every local education authority, it would result in more concentrated interest in the work and more effective steps for carrying it out. I have criticised this proposal of the Government as inadequate and I maintain that that criticism is sound. I still believe that these centres are not the effective educational institutions that we would desire. I believe, further, that they will not make that contribution towards solving the problem of juvenile unemployment that we would desire. On the other hand, this Government with a large majority in the House supporting it, has decided against raising the school age with maintenance grants and in favour of the system of centres. In those circumstances I intensely believe that we ought to do all we can to make that system as effective as possible.

I shall be surprised if the Government refuse this Amendment. I am certain that if we had a free vote upon it, we would carry it in the Division Lobby. But I hope that the Government will regard it as a reasonable Amendment and will agree to it, particularly in view of the situation which lies ahead, with the prospect of unemployment on a gigantic scale among these youths. Now that these centres represent the declared policy of the Government in regard to this question, they would have wholehearted support of everybody interested in the welfare of children in accepting the Amendment. Everybody who has come in contact with the situation realises the terrible tragedy of having all these young people unemployed with no provision of any kind whatever for their training and I think everybody concerned will agree that, even though the Government have only provided us with a third- rate policy, we ought to make the best of a very bad job.

3.55 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR

I beg to second the Amendment.

I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment, because it is the first honest attempt that we have had from the Opposition to help us with one of the great Measures of the day, and the National Government ought to be only too delighted when they see honesty shown even by the Opposition. Many of us hoped that the Government, in view of the great number of unemployed juveniles and the number coming on to the labour market, would raise the school age. We had hoped before that it was going to be raised in two years' time and it is only through the blindness of past Governments and their refusal to face the facts, that we are in the position of having so many thousands of children unemployed to-day. I am grateful to the present Government for what they have done in relation to juvenile unemployment. They are making an attempt to deal with it by means of these centres. But we know what local authorities are and while some of them would prepare good schemes, others would simply wait to see what was going to happen. The time is past when you can hope to do anything by means of permissive legislation.

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) has referred to the plight of young people in Wales who have never done a day's work since leaving school, but it is even more tragic to reflect that there are young people in many districts who have never seen their fathers at work. No matter what our political views may be, I am sure we all desire that these young people should get work or go to these centres. I remember two years ago when we were fighting for the unemployment training centres a Socialist said to me, "I do not blame Socialists who want to make people Socialists and I do not blame Communists who want to make people Communists, but I cannot understand you Tories failing to see that you are making them by causing discontent among people who ought to be employed or occupied in some way." I agreed with him, and I think if we had taken a forward view years ago in regard to juveniles, we should have a much less tragic situation in this respect to-day. I have just come back from the North, and it is heart-breaking to see the number of young people there who have nothing to do. That is why I say that it is no good giving these permissive powers, because some local authorities will be lax, some will be blind and some will say that it is too expensive to do anything.

This is a useful Amendment, and one which the Government might easily accept. I hope the House will not think, however, that I want to criticise the Government. I have in my hand a paper which gives certain Opposition views about this Measure. There is an extract from the "Manchester Guardian" saying what a splendid Bill it is, and there is also an extract from a statement by Mr. W. A. Appleton, Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions, to the effect that the Bill, in the main, is one which definitely places Great Britain in the forefront of the nations which are seeking to deal scientifically with their social problems. I do not think half enough has been made in the House or in the country of the value of this Bill. I want the Government to make the Bill even greater yet. If a free vote of the House were allowed, I think that all who know anything about juvenile unemployment would vote for the Amendment.

4.1 p.m.


In spite of the somewhat ungracious way in which the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) moved the Amendment, considering that it has been a matter under discussion between him and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, and is the result of a promise made by my right hon. Friend, we propose to accept it. It would be out of order for me to reply at any length to the points made by the hon. Member. It will suffice to say that the proposals he put forward as an alternative would certainly not have dealt with the problem of the large number of persons who for the next four years will be leaving school. The provisions in the Bill do deal with the whole of the unemployed juveniles from 14 to 18 years of age who are unable to get work, and they go much further than the recommendation of the Royal Commission. It was very significant that the hon. Member in his quotation from the Report of the Royal Commission failed to carry the quotation to the end. The Royal Commission said, in paragraph 618: we consider that all possible steps should be taken to provide for and encourage the attendance of all unemployed juveniles. The Royal Commission recommended that steps should be taken to encourage attendance. This Bill compels attendance, and therefore goes much further.

4.4 p.m.


I would thank the Minister for a real concession. I call this one of the good parts of the Bill, because it is constructive. I remember the controversy that we had on this very same subject with Miss Margaret Bondfield when she was very reluctant to accept an Amendment aiming at the same purpose. We defeated the Government on that particular occasion, and Miss Bondfield, needless to say, was sweet reasonableness. She met me and we drafted words that appeared in due course on the Report stage—words that have helped to put these excellent institutions on their legs. The institutions have done good work, but in spite of the provisions of the Act of 1929 the work is still spasmodic and the system is not complete. We want to make it universal so that every child within reason who finds himself or herself out of work and compelled to go on the Insurance Fund, will have an opportunity, or will be required if you like, to receive training so as to be kept physically fit and maintained in efficiency while idle.

I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) might have quoted a few more words from the Report of the Royal Commission. They are no doubt a remarkable tribute to the work that is done by these institutions. I can speak from personal experience. There are first class men and women carrying on this work of salvage in many cases. The work calls for tact, wisdom and courage. Now that we are extending it and making it more complete, we are paying a tribute to these men and women. Of course some of the local authorities have not done the work adequately. The work ought to be made as permanent as possible. I took the trouble to get into contact with a London authority, and I understand that they are prepared to work this scheme with enthusiasm. They are making arrangements to recruit a new class of young men and women. The work calls for youth and enthusiasm. You do not want teachers who have already exhausted their enthusiasm for education. I am glad that the Minister has given way to the light of reason and is prepared to take advantage of the experience of my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment. I wish him luck in his new experiment.

4.7 p.m.


I wish to express my appreciation of the acceptance of the Amendment. I would say from my own personal experience that I have seen cities in the North of England where there is a large volume of employment waiting to absorb boys and girls, but the vacancies have not been filled because the people available have had no instructional training. During the last 12 months I have been engaged in an industry in which we required many hundreds of hands, but boys and girls who had had no training could not come along and be absorbed in the industry. In some cases we have had to send out men all over the country, even to the mining areas, to try to find boys and girls who would fill the vacancies. I have seen notices outside factories requiring hundreds of hands, and simultaneously I have seen men and women lined up in the same cities waiting to draw unemployment benefit. That shows how absolutely essential it is that everything possible should be done by the Government to give these courses of instruction. I would like to express my delight that the Government have accepted the Amendment.

4.9 p.m.


I ought to say from the Opposition Benches that we appreciate the Minister's acceptance of the Amendment. I never felt sure that the Government would achieve what was desired by the Clause as it stands. The Clause says : Every education authority shall…. take into consideration the number of persons in their area….and if, having regard to that number, they are of opinion…. There are rather too many qualifications in the Clause. The most significant statement of the Minister of Labour on unemployment figures is that while there has been a reduction in the total of the unemployed as a whole there hag been an increase in the number of juveniles unemployed. I think, therefore, that the Government have been wise in accepting the Amendment.

4.10 p.m.


I wish to enter my dissent from the general opinions expressed. I do not accept the Amendment as the best way to deal with juveniles. If the Government are going to insist on compulsory schooling they ought to do it by raising the school age, and the Employment Exchanges should not be used as a means of compelling juveniles to go to these centres. Once we agree to compulsion of those under 18 years of age it will be very difficult to differentiate and not to apply compulsion to those above 18 years of age. I cannot see the difference between not compelling a person of 19 to go and compelling those under 18 to go. The hon. Member for Ealing (Sir F. Sanderson) told the House that up in the North of England there were many jobs available but not the people available for them. I know of no place where he could not get plenty of people for all jobs. In every place that I know there are 10 people available for every job.


There were 400 vacancies and we were unable to fill them.


The hon. Member makes a responsible statement and we must accept what he says, but I would like to know something about the place and the conditions. If there were 400 wanted in the west of Scotland to-day there would be 4,000 people available for the vacancies 20 minutes after the unemployed had got to know.


I stated that there were hundreds of workers in the same town outside the exchange waiting to draw benefit. Our difficulty was that we were unable to secure trained workers.


The hon. Member has not told us the details, and we do not know what he means. I do not know the kind of work or the conditions attached to it. The hon. Member has made only a bald statement. In no part of the country to-day do I know of a firm which has failed to secure a supply of trained labour.


I must ask the hon. Gentleman to accept my word. I am quite willing to give him all the information he requires, but to explain the case further on the Floor of the House would take too much time.


I would like to know the particulars. On this Amendment I do not take the general view. I shall not divide the House, but I wish to record my dissent from the Amendment. I think that these training centres, if well run and designed to give good health to young people, could attract juveniles without any sort of compulsion. I resent very much the element of compulsion.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made : In page 11, line 16, leave out from "work," to "and," in line 20.—[Mr. Cove.]