HC Deb 23 May 1973 vol 857 cc578-89
Mr. Dudley Smith

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 10, line 18, at end insert: 'and it shall also be the duty of each local education authority to arrange for officers of the authority to be appointed to administer the arrangements made by the atuhority in pursuance of this subsection'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

With this Government amendment we are discussing Amendment (a), in line 1, after 'for' insert 'appropriately qualified'.

Mr. Smith

The amendment fulfils an undertaking that I gave in Committee to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) who pointed out—he was supported in this by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) and others—that the Bill required local education authorities to make arrangements for the purpose of providing a careers service but did not actually make it mandatory for the local education authority to set up a careers service.

I hope that the amendment will stop up any possible loophole that existed, by imposing on local education authorities a duty to arrange for officers of the authority to be appointed to administer the arrangements made by the authority for the provision of a careers service.

Amendment (a) in the names of hon. Members opposite seeks to add a requirement that the officers appointed should be "appropriately qualified". I made it clear in Committee that the Government are wholly sympathetic to the principle that careers officers should have proper training and that a mandatory training requirement should be introduced when practicable. Therefore, we reexamined the possibility of introducing a reference to training in the Bill.

We have reached the concluson that it would be inappropriate to do so until we have received the advice of the Youth Employment Service Training Board on what the training requirement should be and how soon it would be practicable to impose it, together with an assurance that the necessary training facilities will be available. It is difficult to insert the words "appropriately qualified" if we do not know exactly what "appropriately qualified" means at this stage.

The board has all these matters under consideration. It is also examining the implications of advising staff already employed in the service, the majority of whom do not hold the board's diploma in vocational guidance, which may well become the minimum requirement. When we have received the board's advice, which I hope will include its views on the timing of any mandatory training requirement it may recommend, we shall need further discussions with local government about the recommendations.

I am sure that hon. Members who have studied the matter will agree that we need to keep three points firmly in mind. First we must be careful that by introducing any training requirement too early we do not pitch it at too low a level. Secondly, we must ensure that mature people with experience in education, industry and commerce should be able to come into the careers service. Thirdly, the advisory staff who are now working with young people and who have given excellent service over many years, as is generally recognised, but who lack formal qualifications should not be placed at a disadvantage.

Fortunately, I can assure the House that once we are ready to go ahead my right hon. Friend will be able to prescribe the qualifications which will be needed for a post in the careers service by a regulation under Section 4(2) of the Local Government Act 1966 which provides that The appropriate Minister may make regulations for prescribing standards and general requirements in relation to any function of a local authority. Section 40 of that Act provides that such regulations are subject to negative resolution only. There is a parallel provision in the corresponding legislation for Scotland.

I am advised that these provisions give us full power to lay down mandatory requirements for the training of careers officers. Therefore, I do not think that we should accept Amendment (a), knowing full well and appreciating what hon. Members opposite are trying to achieve.

We accept the principle that careers officers should be "appropriately qualified". When we are ready to introduce a mandatory requirement, we shall be able to do so under existing legislation. It would be a mistake and unnecessary to add a provision to this Bill repeating a power which exists already. I have given the assurance that as soon as we have the advice of the Youth Employment Service Training Board on a training requirement we shall discuss its recommendation with local government.

We have gone some way to meet the spirit which came out of the Committee. I hope the House will be prepared to accept this amendment, which is designed to meet the point raised in Committee. I hope, too, that the Opposition will be prepared to withdraw their amendment to it.

Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I confess to feeling some disappointment at the Minister's refusal to accept the Opposition's amendment. In many respects this clause is the nub of the Bill. I am sure that the Government do not want to see officers appointed as mere afterthoughts on the part of local education authorities. It is essential for the purpose of the legislation that the officers should be properly qualified, and if the Minister wants some definition of what proper qualifications they should have I suggest that if they were seized of the importance of this matter that would be enough.

My hon. Friends do not ask that any specific qualifications should be laid down. The Minister made some play with the fact that at this stage he was unable to spell out in detail what these qualifications might be. I appreciate that. It is for that reason that we have suggested inserting the words "appropriate qualifications". I do not see why there should be difficulty in this.

Although I am happy with the Government's amendment, it does indicate the timidity with which they approach the subject. We do not spend nearly enough money on training and retraining. We spend a pittance. At any one time Sweden, for example, has 3 per cent. of its labour force under retraining. That would be equivalent to 750,000 workers in this country. The Minister knows how far short we are of that total.

We should be adopting a much bolder attitude. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe), in an admirable and clear thinking speech, talked about the less academically gifted. This is an aspect of the problem of training for employment and retraining which has occupied my mind for a long time.

The waste of the potential of young people is criminal folly. When one recognises that 80 per cent. of the population leave school at 15 and have no form of education afterwards, one sees clearly that it is disastrous not only to the people involved but to the country's economy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) came near to the truth when he pointed to the problem as being one of the major causes of delinquency.

9.0 p.m.

It is a stupid policy to restrict spending to a great extent to the academically gifted so that they may have pieces of paper which are called qualifications. But I go further than this. Our relative failure—I put it no higher—as an industrial nation stems from our inability to grasp the necessity of a measure such as this. Commendable though this legislation is, I believe we should be geared to this whole policy as a matter of routine continuation, not as something we have thought about and brought forward as an adjunct. It is the most important part of our industrial potential as a major industrial nation.

We all need training and retraining. There is hardly a profession or industry in which both men and women, after a time, do not require retraining. This applies to doctors as well as to engineers. Most skills require updating.

I do not intend to make a long intervention in the debate. I did not serve on the Committee. However, I congratulate those hon. Members who hammered out the Bill, which has a considerable amount to commend it

Regarding these officers who are to he appointed by the local authorities, I believe we must bear in mind the necessity for a certain degree of boldness. This is not merely a matter of embarking upon an attempt to solve an immediate problem. As everyone knows, in industrial areas there is an immediate problem of the necessity to train young people for employment. This is a matter on which the future of the nation is at stake. I believe that the Government should think again and insist upon appropriate qualifications for the officers who are to be appointed by the local authorities. We should be thinking in terms not merely of what will happen tomorrow, but of the longer-term industrial requirements of this country as a whole.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I want, first, to comment on the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin-grove (Dr. Miller). I appreciate interventions by hon. Members who did not serve on the Committee. It is annoying how often the Report stage of a Bill seems to be a warming up of the arguments that have been deployed in Committee. It is most refreshing when hon. Members can give us new insights.

On the other hand, I have a feeling that because the hon. Gentleman was not on the Committee he missed the genuine enthusiasm of my hon. Friend and the Minister of State and the momentum of the Department behind them in this whole affair. Those who were on the Committee are probably more enthusiastic about the determination of the Government and the Department to make a success of this than are those who were not.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having carried out the undertaking that he gave to the Committee. It has gone all the way to satisfy me, bearing in mind that the clause comes under the part of the Bill that deals with careers services of education authorities. The amendment underlines the Government's intention to ensure that someone who is not the commissioner or the welfare officer or the deputy assistant park superintendent is available to do the job.

I wonder whether sub-amendment (a), which uses the phrase "appropriately qualified", means something or nothing. If it means something, it should mean "qualified to a certain degree". My hon. Friend said that he does not consider that it is up to us to say that only those with certain qualifications should be admitted as careers officers. One has to say either that they have to be qualified, or they do not have to be qualified. The phrase "appropriately qualified", though fairly inoffensive, does not add much to the strength of the argument.

The strength of the case lies in the fact that my hon. Friend has given an assurance that the Secretary of State has power to lay down what the standards shall be. The House will watch the position, and I believe that it will be watched carefully by the careers officers themselves, who have brought great pressure to bear on hon. Members to get them to appreciate their point of view and their interest in the Bill. The careers officers are able people and they will ensure that the standards which they wish to see introduced are maintained over the years.

Mr. Kinnock

My intervention will be brief. I recall that in a similar debate in Committee the Under-Secretary was good enough to congratulate me on a long but interesting speech. I hope that tonight he will congratulate me on a short but interesting one.

The Minister has been forthcoming. He has met the demand made in Committee by his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), who asked that there should be set up a careers advisory service which shall be supervised by a trained career officer". The Minister has gone as far as adopting the first part of that sentence, hence his hon. Friend's congratulations.

We are mollified by what the Minister said about the powers in the Local Government Act 1966 and the determination that he showed to use those powers to ensure that when the appropriate information was available to him following the investigations and deliberations of the Youth Employment Service Training Board he would as quickly as was practicable, and following reasonable consultations with local authorities, see to it that youth employment officers held appropriate qualifications, whatever they might be.

We recognise, as do the careers officers, that it is much more satisfactory that there should be deliberate and specific qualifications for such an important job. I am glad that the Minister, in accepting the principle that each local education authority should arrange for officers of that authority to be appointed to administer its arrangements in pursuance of the subsection, is also acknowledging that there is no definite commitment to introduce appropriate qualifications for careers officers.

In order to show that there is unanimity about this, the Minister gave an undertaking, bearing in mind the need to bring into the careers service people of maturity and experience outside formal education, that safeguards will be provided for those who continue in the youth service without formal qualifications to provide a useful service. We welcome the Minister's undertaking.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 10, line 19, after may', insert: ',and shall so far as the Secretary of State directs it to do so,'. This amendment fulfils another undertaking that I gave to the Committee. In our discussions, we were all agreed that the LEA careers service must be available to young people who had left education but wanted to go to the careers officer for further guidance and help. It is very important that those young people should have a choice between the LEA service and the general employment service provided by the new commission.

Some hon. Members would prefer that these youngsters should go to the LEA service and not have the option of using the commission's service. But whatever our views on that—I am prepared to accept that there is a big division on this point—it is accepted on both sides that the LEA careers service must be available for these young people if they want to use it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan), who is not with us tonight, among others, pointed out that, although the LEA had power under the Bill to provide a careers service for those who had left education, it was possible that some LEAs might choose not to exercise that power. In that case, the young person would not be able to go back to the careers service even if he or she wanted to.

This amendment seeks to overcome that problem by providing that the LEA will have not only a power to provide a service to those who have left education but a duty in so far as the Secretary of State directs it to do so. As I said in Committee, I have not the slightest doubt that in practice LEAs will make their services available to these young people. Indeed, I am sure that they will be eager to do so. The amendment ensures that, in the odd case—it would be a very odd case—in which the LEA opted not to provide this service to young people, the Secretary of State might direct that it did so.

Although the amendment may not go quite so far as some hon. Members opposite would have liked, I hope that all hon. Members will agree that it is a valuable strengthening of the Bill. It covers a problem which we all agreed existed as the Bill was previously drafted. The Bill will certainly be in much better shape as a result of the amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Harold Walker

I do not want to seem churlish or ungrateful, but the Under-Secretary is assuming that, by and large, local education authorities will do what is expected of them by the Government and the Bill. But he recognised the anxieties that we expressed in Committee and has responded to them by now putting in a power which will enable the Secretary of State to intervene if some local education authority does not do it, and to compel it to do so.

The same result could have been achieved by removing the word "may" from line 19 on page 10 and inserting the word "shall". That would have been much simpler and very straightforward. It would have put the matter beyond doubt.

However, at least we are grateful to have had a crumb from the hon. Gentleman for all the advice that we have given to him. I hope that the Secretaries of State, in the plural, will bear in mind, even if the hon. Gentleman cannot respond in terms of an amendment, the very strong arguments which we deployed—I shall not repeat the arguments; the Government are very familiar with them by now—for giving the sole responsibility for placing young persons up to the age of 18 in employment, or, as we would have had it, those who have not attained the age of 19, to the careers guidance people.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I thank my hon. Friend again for having bowed to the good sense of the Committee. This is more than a crumb. It is at least a bread roll, if not a loaf. I am half way through my dinner and my mind is on such matters. I always took the view that the White Paper gave an undertaking that this was a braces and belt matter and not "either/or". Local authorities have received a very clear direction from the Under-Secretary that they are expected, unless there are very special circumstances, to make the services of the careers advisory service available to all young people up to the age of 18.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was straightforward, as usual. He was very clear about this matter. I shall fold this page of HANSARD and put it away in the back of my wallet. I am sure that Harrow will never backslide in the manner of some local authorities which may try to renege on this. I shall be able to hand the page of HANSARD to any hon. Member who is dissatisfied with the services being offered to his constituents by his local authority. This strengthens the matter a good deal. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I beg to move, Amendment No. 13, in page 10, line 37, after first 'and', insert 'persons'.

This is a purely drafting amendment, to remove a possible ambiguity in the present text. Subsection (3)(a) provides that the arrangements that a local education authority makes in pursuance of subsections (1) and (2) shall be arrangements

for the giving of assistance by collecting and furnishing information about persons seeking and offering employment and providing facilities for training. The intention of the last few words is that the LEA should collect and furnish information about persons providing facilities for training. But as the words stand, they could be misread to mean that the LEA is to provide the facilities for training. The amendment makes the meaning perfectly clear, and it can be accepted without difficulty.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 11, line 16, leave out 'arrangements' and insert:

'temporary arrangements for such period as the Secretary of State may determine'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we shall also discuss Government Amendments Nos. 15 and 18.

Mr. Walker

I have to move Amendment No. 14 in order to speak on this subject but in view of Amendment No. 15 I intend to ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

My amendment was tabled as a "belt and braces" arrangement to ensure that the Under-Secretary carried out an undertaking that he gave in Standing Committee that the transitional arrangements under which the Commission would carry out temporarily the functions of the local education authorities would indeed be purely temporary. I do not mean to question the Under-Secretary's intentions or integrity in so doing. Of course, he has fulfilled his undertaking in the form of Amendment No. 15 and in the light of that I merely express my gratitude to him. It represents a bigger crumb than the last, and we appreciate it. As I have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I intend to ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I am happy that the amendments reflect a refreshing unanimity of view between both sides of the House. Perhaps I had better explain the provisions of the Government amendment. Clause 8(5) provides that LEAs may make arrangements with the commission for the commission to perform the LEAs careers services function on its behalf. Provisions of this sort were necessary for the transitional period with some LEAs which did not have a careers service but which would be setting one up.

It was strongly represented by a number of hon. Members on both sides that these provisions should be only temporary, to rule out the possibility that some LEAs might try to avoid their responsibilities by leaving the commission to provide the service on their behalf permanently. I said in Committee that we accepted the principle that this power should be transitional with certain special exceptions but after full consideration I have decided that the right course is to make the power transitional only. It is not practical to define any possible exception in a way which would be workable and in a way which would preserve the basic principle. The Government amendment simply gives the Secretary of State power to terminate this and associated provisions by order.

It is right to provide for termination by order rather than trying to set up a specific time limit and I am glad that the amendment to which the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) spoke so briefly took the same line. We cannot be sure at present how long this transitional period should be, and we do not want to stipulate one which is too long or too short. It is something which should be settled in consultation with local government after the new arrangements come into force.

The Government amendment also enables us to fix a terminal date in relation to Scotland, because the new arrangements will not begin in Scotland until more than a year after they start in England and Wales, because of the difference in the date of local government reorganisation. Furthermore, many education authorities in Scotland—more than in England and Wales—do not at present provide a careers service. It may be necessary to have a longer transitional period in Scotland, England and Wales. That does not mean that we have any intention of letting transitional periods drag on unnecessarily. This needs to be settled by consultation with local government.

I am grateful for the spirit with which our amendment has been received and I have no objection to the Opposition's having tabled one of such similarity, as there has been such unanimity of feeling on both sides.

Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 15, in page 11, line 33, at end insert: '(5A) The Secretary of State may by order provide that the preceding subsection, subsection (5) of the following section, this subsection and any arrangements in force by virtue of the preceding subsection or the said subsection (5) shall cease to have effect on a day specified in the order; and different days may be specified in pursuance of this subsection in relation to Scotland and the rest of Great Britain'.—[Mr. Dudley Smith]

Back to
Forward to