HC Deb 03 February 1960 vol 616 cc999-1004
The Minister of Education (Sir David Eccles)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement concerning the Youth Service.

In November, 1958, my predecessor appointed a Committee uder the chairmanship of Lady Albemarle to review the contribution which the Youth Service of England and Wales can make in assisting young people to play their part in the life of the community, in the light of changing social and industrial conditions and of current trends in other branches of the education service. The Committee's Report has been published as a Command Paper today, and was available to hon. Members in the Vote Office this morning. It makes valuable and timely proposals for dealing with the changing needs of young people about which Parliament has shown that it is greatly concerned. On behalf of the Government, I should like to thank Lady Albemarle and her colleagues for the speed and excellence of the work they have done.

We accept in principle all the main recommendations for Government action.

The Youth Service today is an alliance, without adequate resources, between the Ministry of Education, the local education authorities and the voluntary youth organisations. We have, therefore, much to discuss with our partners before deciding precisely how to act on the Albemarle recommendations. The necessary discussions will take place urgently.

The Youth Service requires more voluntary and paid workers, more buildings and facilities for sport, more money and more enthusiasm. The Government have decided that these deficiencies must be made good, though everything cannot be done at once, and the will to succeed must come from the local areas at least as much as from the centre.

The following are the important steps that we shall take.

The Committee recommended that the present strength of 700 full-time youth leaders should be increased to 1,300 by 1966. The Government will finance most of this expansion in training facilities by Exchequer grant, and I hope that an emergency training college will be open by 1st January, 1961.

The recruitment of leaders will turn on the salaries offered and the opportunities for transfer to other careers after a period in the Service. I shall ask the interested parties to examine with me how we can carry out the Committee's recommendation on this matter.

The need for new buildings is urgent and in the next two years "starts" will be authorised for building by the local authorities and voluntary organisations up to £3 million. Grants to voluntary projects will be increased. Much of the accommodation used by the Youth Service today is shared with other forms of educational activity; given proper design and planning this can be a considerable advantage and will be encouraged.

Turning to current finance, grants will be increased for the headquarters' expenditure of the voluntary organisations and also for approved experiments in attracting young people now not using the Youth Service. Some organisations will get larger grants, others will receive grants for the first time.

The Committee recommended that a Youth Service Development Council should be appointed of about twelve persons chosen for their special qualities and experience. A Council of this nature will have to work very closely with the Minister, if only because the job to be done is urgent and largely experimental. To begin with, the work will be most easily planned and executed if I take the chair of this Council myself.

The Government believe that as these proposals are translated into action enthusiasm for the Service will grow. We look forward to full co-operation with the local education authorities and believe that volunteers and voluntary funds will increase on a scale that will énsure the success of the drive for expansion.

Mr. Greenwood

I should like to join with the Minister in thanking Lady Albemarle and her colleagues for providing us with a most valuable document. May I add the regret which we on this side of the House feel that Mr. Denis Howell, who served on that Committee, is no longer a Member of the House.

The Report is welcome because it bears a marked resemblance to the proposals made in our own policy statements. I am glad that the Minister has accepted in principle the main recommendations. But does he seriously believe that we shall get the full effect of this Report if the Government persist in a high-interest-rate policy and with the block grant, or does he also accept the recommendation in paragraph 317 of the Albemarle Committee's Report that additional general grants or separate percentage grants should be made available to local education authorities?

When may we expect a detailed statement about the salaries and conditions of youth leaders, when is the Development Council to start work and what steps is the Minister taking to persuade local education authorities to review urgently their further education schemes? Will he consider the possibility of allotting a day, or perhaps two days, for a debate in which we could discuss this Report and the Crowther Report together?

Sir D. Eccles

The block grant is about to be considered for the next period, and what the local authorities are ready to spend for the Youth Service will be counted in the calculation. It is because I do not know precisely what local authorities will be ready to do that I cannot today give the House an estimate of the costs. We will get on with the question of salaries as quickly as we can, but we have to have a body with which to negotiate. I hope that it will not be long before such a body comes forward.

I have not yet been able to consult the local education authorities, because the Report was published only this morning, but I assure the hon. Member that we shall lose no time in talking to them about the expansion which they are willing to undertake.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we could have a debate on this and the Crowther Report together. I should like to consider that request. I will discuss it with the Leader of the House.

Mr. Greenwood

May we take it from what the Minister has said that he accepts the proposal for additional general grants, but rejects the proposal for special percentage grants?

Sir D. Eccles

Yes, Sir.

Sir J. Duncan

Does the Minister's statement apply only to England and Wales, or does it apply only to the United Kingdom? For instance, is the Youth Development Council to be a United Kingdom body, or purely a body for England and Wales? If a Scottish Minister is ready to make a statement, may we have one from him?

Sir D. Eccles

The Report applies only to England and Wales and my authority is confined to England and Wales.

The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) asked whether the Development Council would get going soon. The answer, "Yes," as soon as I can find the right people.

Sir J. Duncan

On a point of order. As the Minister is unable to make a statement on the Scottish aspect, and as he is a member of the Government, would it be in order to ask a Scottish Minister to make a similar statement with reference to Scotland?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mrs. White

The right hon. Gentleman is casting himself in the rôle of a youth leader. In view of comments in the Report on the acute depression in the Youth Service and the need for an urgent blood transfusion, will the Minister say what he and his predecessors have been doing for the last eight-and-a-half years? Does he accept the recommendation that the age range for the Youth Service should be 14 to 20 which, with other factors, will increase the number of young people to be taken into the service by no less than 46 per cent. in the next few years? Does he propose to raise the limits on capital expenditure, which, at present, are imposed by regulations under the Acts of 1937 and 1939?

Sir D. Eccles

We propose to accept the recommendation that the age range should be 14 to 20. The question of the capital limit is one of the things which we shall look at sympathetically directly we get the Council going. I can assure the hon. Lady that we intend to do better in the future than we have ever done before.

Mrs. Slater

We all welcome the Report, but does the Minister think that £3 million will be sufficient for the building programme, especially as many areas have done very little for the new service? Cannot places for the training of youth leaders be provided more quickly so that recruitment can take place much faster than is at present proposed?

There is also the relationship of building for the Youth Service and local authority building. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, in my own area we have added wings to many of our modern secondary schools, but if the school building programme is cut back it will also affect the youth programme. Can the Minister say to what extent he will give local authorities more power to add these buildings to their larger secondary moderns, and thereby speed up the programme?

Sir D. Eccles

The £3 million "starts" in the next two years is, of course, an estimate. It will not be very easy to get many of the projects started in, say, the next six months. It takes time to plan. We will just have to see how we go along. I agree with the hon. Lady for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) that playing fields, for instance, attached to a secondary school can be a great help. As to the training of leaders, I think that we have already found a suitable place where a new college can start, but, of course, there will be more places in our ordinary teacher-training colleges for those taking these courses.

Sir J. Duncan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to give notice that in view of the unsatisfactory Answer given by the Minister, in which he was unable to say in what way similar proposals will apply to Scotland, I shall raise the question of a Scottish statement on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may be able to do that, if opportunity arises, but not in respect of an unsatisfactory answer. This is all about the statement, and it is sufficiently irregular, anyhow.

Mr. M. Stewart

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that, important as the Youth Service is, it must not be regarded as a substitute for an adequate period of full-time education; and that, if we want the best results, anything done in the Youth Service must be complemented by an attempt to raise the school-leaving age as soon as possible?

Sir D. Eccles

We shall, of course, be considering the school-leaving age when we debate the Crowther Report, but whatever is done about that, I am quite certain that a new impetus to the Youth Service is required.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will the Minister tell us whether his enthusiasm for youth extends to giving our youth the rights of citizenship; and whether I can now expect him to support my Bill to give votes to young people at 18 years of age?

Sir D. Eccles

That is quite another question.

Mr. Short

In the opinion of many of us, a great factor in the improvement of the Youth Service is leaders of the right quality, and that it is much more a matter of quality than of quantity. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the best way to get leaders of the right quality is to Make their salaries equate more closely to the Burnham scale for teachers? Is he further aware that, if these were financed by way of general grant, the Youth Service in congested urban industrial areas will be penalised as against the service in more prosperous areas? Would he look again at the question of a percentage grant?

Sir D. Eccles

I feel confident that when the Committee considers salaries it will take into account the Burnham scale, but as we have not yet got a negotiating body we shall have to wait to see what is done. I am confident that the general grant system, provided that the local authorities are enthusiastic for the Youth Service, as I really believe they are, will prove quite all right.