HC Deb 10 July 1962 vol 662 cc1306-16

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Finlay.]

11.22 p.m.

Mr. W. T. Rodgers (Stockton-on-Tees)

I am glad to have this opportunity of raising a local aspect of a national problem—largely the result of the passing of the bulge from the secondary schools—that must be very familiar to the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sure that in this case familiarity does not breed contempt, for it is hard to think of a more painful social situation than one in which young people leaving school find that they are not wanted or are wanted only for jobs much below the level of their ability and proper aspirations.

It is not easy to exaggerate the consequences of the demoralisation that results. This demoralisation is infectious and can have disastrous long-term consequences, both on individuals and for the local community. But if contempt is lacking, a certain acceptance, a taking-for-granted, seems to characterise the attitude of authority towards the problem in Stockton and on Tees-Side generally.

The good will is there, together with a sense that something ought to be done. Voluntary organisations are particularly concerned, and I should like to mention and commend especially the positive and praiseworthy interest and activity of the Churches. There is talk of opening the youth clubs by day and improving sports facilities, but official initiative at the right level and over the whole of Teesside is lacking. There seems to be no urgency and no leadership whatsoever.

Opportunities for school leavers and the problem of youth employment are inseparable from the overall employment situation. Here the significant fact is that the unemployment figure for June at the Stockton and Thornaby office was, at 1,563, the highest for many years. For the first time since 1958, total unemployment in the second quarter of 1962 has exceeded total unemployment in the first quarter.

It is not surprising that in these circumstances the figures for youth unemployment show a similar increase. The June, 1961, figure—this time it is for Stockton and south-west Durham, because the two offices do not cover the same areas—was 13 boys and girls. Last month the figure was 154 boys and girls —twelve times as many. I am glad to say that by yesterday the figure had fallen to 73 boys and 21 girls, but this remains very high. It is a serious matter that 94 young people are without jobs.

This is the background against which the task of providing jobs for those leaving school must be seen. In its letter dated 2nd July sent to employers' organisations and trades unions, the Industrial Training Council said that it was— concerned that the general employment situation for young persons is poorer than at this time last year and that the placing of the Easter school-leavers has been slower and more difficult. It is impossible to show statistically exactly how difficult this process has been. There are many at school, for example, who are only staying there because there are no jobs available for them to go to. How many left but did not register at the youth employment bureau? How many have merely displaced those in jobs already, shifting the burden of unemployment to those who left school a year ago? How many—and I think that this is a very important point—are doing jobs which make minimum demands on their talents and lead nowhere?

Of the 450 boys and girls who left school in Stockton at Easter—and I now mean Stockton alone and not the larger area covered by the bureau—very few remain registered as unemployed. This appears to be reassuring, but what does it conceal? Apart from the unknown number who never registered, it is agreed that it was difficult to find jobs for one-third of them, perhaps 60 or 70 who wanted an apprenticeship and were capable of it failed to get one, and many with a General Certificate of Education took jobs much below their ability. It is an unhappy situation, loaded with danger for the coming weeks when many more young people will be leaving school. The hon. Gentleman may have local figures not available to me of the number expected to leave school within a few weeks, but there is no evidence that the position in Stockton will be very different from the position in the country as a whole, for which a peak forecast has been made.

I said that demoralisation was the result of finding no job to go to. May I say in passing that this demoralisation must begin as soon as a boy or girl enters the premises of the Stockton youth employment bureau. This is a quite outrageous place. It is an abomination of dirty puce and yellow paint, a disgrace of which the service should be thoroughly ashamed. The bureau is above, of all places, an undertaker's, and it cries out to every boy or girl, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here". I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, if he cannot manage a visit himself, to encourage an immediate investigation and use his considerable influence to rehouse the bureau by the end of the year at the very latest. There is certainly no excuse whatever for leaving it in its present squalid surroundings.

The long-term solution is, of course, the expansion of industry and full employment generally throughout Tees-side, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) dealt with this very clearly in his Adjournment debate of 15th May. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will represent to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade the importance of quickly completing the contract for the sale of the former Metropolitan-Vickers factory which has stood empty for far too long; and through him to I.C.I., who are purchasing it, the desirability of resuming production as soon as possible and finding jobs amongst their new employees for young people.

Secondly, there is the possibility of increasing part-time education for young people in employment, thus somewhat increasing the total demand for young people to do the work available for them. I hope very much that some of those who have stayed at school will benefit by the decision and continue their full-time education for a longer period but to hang on and learn nothing serves no useful purpose and only postpones the moment at which the problem has to be faced. There should be no return to what, I believe, were called the "dole schools" of the nineteen-thirties. Day release extended to all young people and properly planned is very worth while, as I know as a governor of a large day-release college in central London, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say what steps are being taken to increase day release in Stockton and whether the facilities at present existing are adequate for expansion.

Thirdly and most important is the question of apprenticeships. A partial survey two and a half years ago showed that the number of apprentices actually employed was 7 per cent. below the quota. There was room for an additional 300, and a number of firms had facilities which were not being used. I should like to know what happened since. Have more apprentices become available? What is the anticipated increase in the number of them in the coming years?

I fully appreciate, of course, that there are difficulties in getting an increase in this number. A number of small firms lack proper facilities, and some would Perhaps be jealous of an offer from some of the larger ones willing to undertake training on their behalf. At a time when unemployment is high and the future insecure, the trade unions naturally have hesitations about accepting additional young people for training who may displace other skilled men. The whole matter requires patient and tactful handling. But what I should like to know is, who is doing anything at all about it? Have firms been approached at the highest level—and I do not just mean by circular letter—to get them to play their part in solving the problem of jobs for school leavers? Is there continuous and practical consultation with local trade unions so that they fully share in the problem? Who is responsible for taking the broad view over the whole of Tees-side, which is the natural employment area, making policy, co-ordinating activities, collecting figures of demand for and supply of young people, making visits, bringing the parties together, looking at both the educational and employment sides?

I understand that three years ago or more a representative meeting of employers and trade unionists was addressed by the then Parliamentary Secretary. Following this, a joint committee of local youth employment committees was set up—it was presumably a Carr Report continuation committee—which met on several occasions and organised the survey to which I have referred, but to the best of my knowledge it has not met for more than two years and has done nothing lately about the problem.

Since this debate was arranged, I have been told that the joint committee is being reconvened and will meet on 19th July. I hope very much that this is so. It would be a very great encouragement to know that a senior representative of the Ministry of Labour will be present and that the meeting has the full blessing of the Minister.

More important, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will ensure that the means and facilities, whether financial or in personnel, will be available for a very practical job of work to tackle the problem. What we need is not another talking shop but a co-ordinated plan of attack. I do not say that the solution of the problem of jobs for school leavers is easy. I do say, with regret, that there will be no solution at all without a far more determined effort than we have hitherto seen.

11.33 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. W. T. Rodgers) on raising this matter tonight. The two Members for Middlesbrough are here as well. A pressing point the hon. Member mentioned, and which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will raise with the President of the Board of Trade, is that we require other industries to be brought to Tees-side. It may be wondered why a Member for a rural constituency should be intervening in this debate, but I have a number of constituents who are employed on Tees-side. Our great difficulty is that, when the steel industry runs down, there is very little alternative employment on Tees-side. We are, dependent on the steel industry, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will bring to Tees-side other industry which is very much required there at the present time. I think this has been a splendid time to raise this matter tonight, because it is a very pressing problem very much in the minds of all of us in the North-East.

11.35 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Alan Green)

I add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) to the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. W. T. Rodgers) on raising this very important issue of employment opportunities not merely in his constituency but on Teesside as a whole. I also congratulate him, if it does not sound patronising, on the very able way in which he has put the case. I hope he accepts from me that I share his concern about the future of these young people, and I hope that at any rate some of the things I shall say will be a little reassuring to him even if I cannot satisfy all the points he raised.

I take some comfort from some of the things the hon. Gentleman said, in that he clearly indicated that this is not a problem that one can solve in five minutes with a few very simple words. I do not think it is either. The problem, as I know the hon. Gentleman appreciates, is not peculiar to Stockton. It is, indeed, found almost everywhere in the country. More boys and girls are leaving school. The hon. Member is right; this is basically a problem of the "bulge" which appliess to the whole country. The problem is made more difficult in the tighter employment situation which generally prevails this year.

The "bulge" in school leavers in Stockton itself is not quite as large as in the country as a whole. Compared with last year, there will be about 20 per cent. more school leavers this summer in Stockton, and in the country as a whole there will be about 40 per cent. more. In that sense—I agree that it is a limited sense—the problem is a little less in Stockton than in the rest of the country.

On the other hand, I could not agree with him more that the employment situation is more difficult in Stockton and on Tees-side generally than it is in many other parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks put his finger on the basic reason for that. If iron and steel goes down, then Stockton and Tees-side get into some trouble.

I should like to set the problem in its proper perspective, as the hon. Gentle- man also attempted to do. Employment opportunities for young people are very much bound up with employment prospects generally in the area as a whole. I agree with him about that. I am sure that we should not consider these young people in isolation. I am sure that from the word "go" we must get their problems in their right perspective, relating them to the problems of all people in the area.

Tees-side industries felt the 1958–59 recession acutely, and they have suffered recently in the tightened employment situation which applies throughout the whole economy. The area is very dependent on a small number of heavy industries, of which iron and steel and chemicals are the two largest, followed by engineering. Any change in the prospects of those industries has grave repercussions on employment prospects as a whole and, therefore, on the prospects for school leavers.

However, on the brighter side I think that those who live on Tees-side and who are concerned about it are right to be proud of the high level of efficiency in the iron and steel industry there and the expansionist spirit of the chemical industry. While accepting that the problem is a real one, I do not want to take too pessimistic a view of the prospects there, so that by creating gloom I make the present situation worse, which is very easy to do unless we are careful.

I turn now to the subject which the hon. Member particularly raised, and that is the prospects for young people in Stockton itself. It is quite right that the Stockton youth employment area includes Billingham, Sedgefield and Hartlepool. In this area, the number of boys and girls unemployed is substantially higher than in 1961. The problem, however, is largely confined to boys. There are no serious difficulties for the girls at present and, though factory work is scarcer, there is still a reasonable demand for girls in clerical work and distribution.

Just because of its distinctive industrial structure, Stockton is an area where a high percentage of boys can and do enter apprenticeship. In 1961 in Great Britainas a whole 38 per cent. of boys entering their first employment obtained apprenticeships. In Stockton, the proportion was 51 per cent., one of the best figures in the country. Those who live in and represent such an area should welcome this good record.

Therefore, we have two factors which are helpful in Stockton itself. Firstly, there is a smaller bulge to be expected this summer than applies generally over thee, country. Secondly, there is the record which I believe will be maintained, of a higher than average entry into apprenticeship. These will be two helpful factors in dealing with what I agree is a substantial problem in the district.

Even this year, with a much tighter employment situation to contend with, in the five months, January to May, 37 per cent. of the boys entering employment obtained apprenticeships compared with 34 per cent. in the rest of the country. Therefore, while I cannot expect that last year's very high percentage will be reached, because the actual numbers will he greater, I would expect that this summer boys in Stockton will do as well in getting apprenticeships as boys elsewhere, and I would hope that they might continue to do a little better so that the comparative record will be maintained.

I attach great importance to these apprenticeship opportunities, as the hon. Member clearly does, because the building up of a high degree of skill in an area is one of the best economic defences that the area can have. I realise that short-term difficulties can easily obscure this fact, but I hope that this debate, if it does nothing else, will encourage employers with apprenticeship openings to use them to the full, regardless of the immediate state of their order book. In the years ahead they will be very glad of that additional bank of skill in the area.

I would say to them what I have said elsewhere in the country. Whenever I have had the opportunity I have asked an employer to ask himself the simple question, in the period since the war of which has he been the shorter—skilled labour or orders? The answer in almost every case has been that he has been shorter of skilled labour than of orders over the post-war years. I hope, therefore, that this lesson will be learned and that no opportunity of training boys in Stockton will be missed by any employer. I hope, and indeed I am sure, that the unions locally will co-operate in securing this.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether any special steps are being taken by the Government or by the Industrial Training Council to stimulate apprenticeship in that area? In particular, is one of the Department's officers working in the area to try to increase apprenticeships this year?

Mr. Green

I think that I should answer that question more generally. The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend and I have been doing our level best in talking to industry—industry by industry—to secure not merely more apprentices in the industries concerned but better opportunities for training and shorter training periods where appropriate. This does run up against the difficulty, as the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said, of basic attitudes of mind, and we have to overcome this as best we may by persuasion rather than by compulsion. But we work jolly hard at it, and shall continue to do so. We recognise the importance of this subject. We discuss this also with the trades unions as well—which was another point raised by the hon. Member.

In addition, we have the Industrial Training Council, now growing in influence and force. It has not been in existence very long and, like most such new bodies, it has taken a little time to find its feet and get going, but I have been quite encouraged recently by what it has been able to do. Although I cannot give a particular answer about how well it is doing on Tees-side, I can say that it is an active body with a growing influence in industry.

I turn now from that general answer to a particular point made by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees. The number of Easter school leavers unemployed in his constituency yesterday was, I am glad to say, only four boys and five girls, and I think that there are special circumstances in some of those cases which make them difficult to cater for. This fact speaks well for the local youth employment service. But I do not want to conceal the fact that there is a substantially larger number of older young people unemployed in Stockton and the surrounding area than was the case last year. Nevertheless, the fact that there are only that number unemployed out of the Easter school leavers suggests that something is being done locally, and not being done too badly.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the actual appearance of the youth employment office and the way it is housed in Stockton. He will know that the Durham County Council, the local education authority, is directly responsible in the area for the youth employment service, having taken the option extended to it under the 1948 Act to be so responsible. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is in close liaison with the local authority which is responsible and will help it wherever he possibly can to do its duty, as indeed my own officers are ready to do. I can tell him that something has been done along the lines he suggests. Arrangements have already been made for co-operation between the various youth employment offices on Tees-side and, in particular, for the circulation of vacancies throughout the travel-to-work area. Recently, recognition of the need for further co-ordination of efforts led to the decision to revive the joint committee of the Stockton, South Cleveland and Middlesbrough youth employment committees, so that the problems of the area can be seen as a whole. As the hon. Gentleman said, the joint committee will be meeting again on 19th of this month.

As for the youth employment service in Stockton itself, although it is the responsibility of the local education authority, something further has been done by my Department. A recent inspection by officers of the Department has led to the making of certain recommendations to the local education authority for the improvement of the staffing and efficiency of the service. These recommendations are at present being considered locally. I hope that we shall not have to wait too long for some fruitful results from that consideration.

To sum up, I recognise to the full that the general employment position in the area is bound to affect the opportunities for these young people. I hope that locally, it will be recognised that the best thing that employers can do, with the active help of trade unions, is to fill with these youngsters every conceivable apprentice or other training job in the area and not to be too worried here and now about the immediate state of the order book. Unless this foresight is applied, when demand revives in the area—as, I am certain, it will in the fulness of time—there will simply not be the bank of skilled labour to take full advantage of it and further to multiply the employment opportunities that will, I am sure, later exist on Tees-side. Certainly, if the utmost use is not made of training for skill, it will be appreciably more difficult to induce diversified industries to move to Tees-side, because if there are no human resources of the kind that are needed, industries will be less inclined to go there.

I am, therefore, grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees for giving me the chance, through him and through his hon. Friends and mine, to make this plea to all employers in the area to do their proper duty by these young people, not only in the interests of the young people, but in the interests of those who can give them training and employment later. I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes to Twelve o'clock.