§ 3.33 p.m
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I thought that for the first half of this afternoon we might enjoy a fairly quiet debate on the subject of the employment problems and prospects for school leavers. We have tabled this short debate on the Adjournment so that we can discuss these matters in perhaps a quieter and more conciliatory atmosphere than sometimes prevails. This is a particularly important subject at present when unemployment is rising.
The problems of school leavers are part of the wider unemployment problem. We all know from experience, certainly from evidence that has recently become available, that school leavers will bear the brunt as the unemployment situation worsens. I refer here to a recently published document from the working party set up under the National Youth Employment Council entitled "Unqualified, Untrained and Unemployed". The document says that all experience points to the fact that at each stage in the economic cycle since 1961 the recovery in youth employment has been less with each upturn and has been steeper with each downturn. The only slight improvement in the graph came as a result of the raising of the school leaving age in the summer of 1973.
Since 1961 levels of unemployment among school leavers have been considerably higher. When total unemployment increases, unemployment among young people rises more rapidly. When total unemployment falls, the recovery in respect of young people is slower. There are numerous reasons for that. I will pick out a few. When companies get into difficulty the first thing they do is to suspend recruitment. Young people 1018 by their nature are in and out of jobs more often and are perhaps more vulnerable during a time of recession. They are naturally restive, and this creates greater problems.
There is a new factor coming into the picture which has been particularly emphasised by American experience. It is that as the gap between wage rates paid to young people and those paid to the rest of the working force narrows, the advantages of employing young people diminish, with the result that they have more trouble in getting work. I do not say that this is a reason for paying young people less well, but it is another factor to be taken into consideration.
At present unemployment is rising rapidly, but, unlike some other periods of recession, we have so far avoided large-scale redundancies. This is partly because companies have not had the cash to meet redundancy payments and partly because they have decided to use natural wastage to reduce their labour force. Where there is great investment taking place, fewer jobs will be lost. That is bound to affect the recruitment of new labour.
It seems that July, August and September will see a serious situation for school leavers, far more serious than at any time since the war. The Inner London Education Authority and other bodies are worried about this. In addition, the bulge of school leavers is coming to the fore and the numbers in the 15 to 17 age range will increase from about 2 million last year to about 2,750,000 in five years' time.
Which school leavers suffer most? Generally speaking, it is those of lower educational attainment. Coloured children in particular may be especially vulnerable as a result of language difficulties, educational attainment, background and even prejudice. We are talking about the disadvantage, and undoubtedly these people are the last to gain employment and the first to be made unemployed when the going gets tough. In such cases we can and do create an embittered group, of limited value to society. This, again, was brought out forcibly in the document "Unqualified, Untrained and Unemployed".
A survey conducted under the auspices of the National Youth Employment Council showed that in 1972, 70 per cent, of 1019 unemployed young people were below CSE grade 3 level and were, therefore, unqualified and untrained and likely to obtain jobs below craft level. It is for them that the jobs dry up quickest. When an employer finds the going tough, he does not employ someone to make the tea or do the odd jobs. Those are the types of job that some of the unqualified would expect to get, but they dry up first.
For many young people there is a choice this year between staying on at school for a further year and taking a chance on the labour market. If they take a chance on the labour market, they may become unemployed or they may drift from job to job.
This is a social situation which should not be tolerated. It can lead to delinquency and moral degradation, and a legacy of a deep recession such as we are beginning to see can remain for ever.
Higher levels of unemployment are now probably inevitable. It is, therefore, even more important that we do everything we can to help the young. Those who speak about unemployment—I am talking now in general terms—should always recognise what unemployment can do to sap dignity and social wellbeing of individuals as well as of the nation as a whole. No one should regard unemployment as a proper or easy way out of a nation's problems. We shall admit defeat if we say that the only way in which we can deal with our problems as a nation is by causing and accepting high levels of unemployment.
Today, however, we are not discussing that problem. We are concentrating particularly on the problems of the young school leaver. I want to discuss what the Government should do. In other periods of the trade or economic cycle, reflation is one of the ways in which unemployment can be reduced. Obviously that is not an option which is open to the Government at present. It is a reflection of the seriousness of the situation that, even when unemployment is rising rapidly, we see the turn of interest rates as exemplified by the raising of the minimum lending rate on Friday. If the debate helps to awaken people to what is happening in the economy in a general way, as well as to what is happening to young school leavers. it will have served a purpose.
1020 The Manpower Services Commission, in its 1974–75 annual report, makes certain proposals to the Secretary of State for work creation. I hope that we shall hear today what has happened, and how the proposals in the Budget Statement impinge on work creation.
On 22nd April, in answer to a supplementary question on unemployed young persons by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Bulmer), the Under-Secretary said:A great deal is being done."—[Official Report, 22nd April 1975; Vol. 890, c. 1214.]I hope to show that much remains to be done.
It seems from the Manpower Services Commission outline strategy that large-scale training effort was to be directed not so much at school leavers, as at those between 24 and 55. That seems to be borne out by what the Chancellor said in his Budget speech. We should like to know whether the money which the Chancellor has rightly allocated for additional training in the coming year and in 1976–77 is to be allocated to help the youngsters as well as that age group which the Manpower Services Commission has selected as being in need of large-scale training.
What alternatives are available to youngsters? They can stay on at school. More will undoubtedly do so. It is very important, if they are to stay on at school, that the schools should make a proper job of looking after them for the extra year. This will mean, amongst other things, paying much greater attention to careers education and ensuring that the curricula are devised in the best fashion to equip young people for the world in which they will have to work.
There should perhaps be more courses, not necessarily in school, but linked courses, and further developments of the work experience scheme. There seem to be divided views on whether the last year at school, whether it is from 15 to 16 or, as it might be this year, from 16 to 17 for some youngsters, is a wasted year and whether the youngsters just become truants. The majority will obviously want to make the best use that they can of the extra year at school. It is surprising how many are still illiterate and innumerate. If they are to stay on 1021 for the extra year, perhaps more attention can be paid in school to literacy and numeracy.
As regards training for youngsters who leave school, the House should accept the recommendation from the National Youth Employment Council that training opportunities should be available for all young people who need them. A young person of low educational attainment may benefit most from a suitably designed training programme.
The pamphlet "Unqualified, Untrained and Unemployed" makes some useful suggestions and recommendations about training which should be carefully considered by the Government. For example, its recommendations include,improve the quality and quantity of training available to young people seeking jobs below craft level; make the Government's training contribution for young people more flexible so as to meet the needs of high unemployment areas and to be capable of extension in times of recession …ensure that craft apprenticeship training is not reduced because of short-term economic considerations.Have the Government reached any conclusions about these important matters?
There is the Trident scheme, combining work experience, community service and self-fulfilment. Community service can have a lasting benefit. I quote one paragraph from a letter I recently received on the subject of community service:Now what have we learned from this experiment? We find that much of the apparent truculence or apparent sullen apathy of these young people often arises from their inability to communicate, from having had a lack of concerned adults with whom they form normal social and working relationships. We find that the most cack-handed youngster can, with patience, surprise all of us with his developing ability. We find that once he feels he counts as a member of a production team his level of self-pride and his level of commitment to the job rises beyond all expectation.And perhaps therein lies the clue. It is when he feels he counts, when attitudes are displayed to him which demonstrate that he is not just the lowliest cog in the industrial machine—then he begins to believe in himself and becomes committed to what he is doing.That is of great importance. Community service can be of lasting benefit to those individuals who receive it.
What has happened to the consultative document that the TSA was due to publish, according to the Manpower Services Commission, some while ago? I have not seen it yet.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the TSA consultative document, but I think he may mean the TSA five-year plan. which has been published.
§ Mr. Prior
No. I am referring to a plan that the TSA put to the Government and on which so far the Government have not commented. I shall look up the reference for the hon. Gentleman.
I do not believe that Community Industry is a universal panacea for all our problems. On the other hand—[Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would sit quiet and listen, because I do not believe he has done much listening this afternoon. Some of us are trying to have a constructive discussion on these matters and if the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to listen, I do not know why he has bothered to come. Perhaps he will either listen or shut up.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
First, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of it, but very few hon. Members are listening to him; indeed, very few are even present.
Secondly, many of us are unable to follow what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. He has been meandering over a rather wide course. However, there is something that he has failed to tell us, and perhaps he will tell us now. As one of the chief protagonists of the great European or Common Market cause, perhaps he can explain why, although we were promised that entry into Europe or the Common Market would provide wonderful opportunities not for our generation, but for our children and our children's children, after only two years' membership we have among our youngsters the highest unemployment rate for many, many years and the prospects arc even more disastrous? Why does he not tell us what the European Community can do for the young people who are unemployed and who have no prospects of being employed for many years to come? That is what he should concentrate on.
§ Mr. Prior
I knew that it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will at least now listen to the debate, instead of carrying on a private conversation in which only he and his hon. Friend the Member for 1023 Keighley (Mr. Cryer) appear to be interested. I hope very much that he will now pay attention to the debate.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that withdrawing from the Community at this stage will do anything to help the unemployment problem, I should like to inform him that unemployment levels of school leavers and many other people will be considerably higher if we come out of the Community than they are at the moment.
§ Mr. Prior
In this debate we are concerned about trying to help and to discover what methods there are of helping school leavers this year to obtain jobs. If the hon. Gentleman wants to bring in political considerations and raise the temperature—and I have been trying so far to keep the temperature low—he is setting about it in the right way. We have at present a Government under which unemployment for school leavers this summer will be higher than at any time since the war. That is the sort of question that the hon. Gentleman should be asking his own party. Perhaps he will do the courtesy of either asking it in the parliamentary Labour Party meetings or at the right time in this Chamber, instead of talking the whole time from a seated position.
Community Industry is not a universal panacea for all problems, but it has done extremely good work. It has cost about £1.6 million a year, has trained 5,000 young people in the two years or more since it was set up. and is operating in 20 different areas. I hope that we shall hear something this afternoon about the scheme which the Community Industry committee presented to the Government last August and whether the Government will take action upon that scheme.
I believe that we could considerably increase the number of people being trained and helped through Community Industry. The Under-Secretary of State has mentioned a figure of 2.000 people for this year. I am told that this figure could be doubled in a month and could increase to 10,000 very quickly—certainly within three months if that was desired. I commend the work that Community Industry has done. It has performed an extremely useful function. I hope that the Government will announce today that they are 1024 increasing the number of young people who can take it up.
I should like to ask the Government whether they have thought about raising the age at which young people can take advantage of Community Industry. At present, the age is 18, but have they thought about putting up the age? Are they giving consideration to other points that have been put forward such as the organisation of work experience schemes and co-operation with colleges of further education in the mounting of low-skill training courses? Are these points, which are advocated in the report, being considered by the Government and can we hear more about them this afternoon? I hope that something quickly can be done and that we shall not have to wait for months before we get any help in this direction.
On the subject of work creation generally, I confess that I do not find particularly attractive schemes that just create work on a temporary or one-off basis, although the Government may have to consider them in the short term. They are, of course, palliatives rather than getting at the long-term solution "Operation Eyesore" was an example, and the creation of extra jobs during the winter is yet another. But these are short-term solutions. There should be a plan, and I hope that the Government have a plan, for additional jobs for school leavers from September onwards, if that is necessary and if my other suggestions do not add up to enough.
What about the cost of all this? There are always arguments that the money cannot be found and that we have to cut public expenditure. I accept that public expenditure is too high and must be reduced. Therefore, it becomes a matter of priorities and deciding where the greatest long-term benefit lies.
As I mentioned in a debate a week ago, the cost to industry of the Employment Protection Bill is estimated at £100 million a year. The cost of new investment in British Leyland is estimated at about £1 million a day. The proposals for the nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries will also cost a great deal of money. Surely we should not spend money on subsidising existing jobs where industry is declining and diminishing when there is an opportunity 1025 of helping and training people and providing new jobs.
If Socialism is the language of priorities, have the Government got their priorities right in the spending of cash? It is a curious language under which vast sums can be spent on food subsidies and propping up British Leyland indefinitely and yet money cannot be found to help school leavers in training or in finding jobs.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
During the 13 years of Tory rule, and then during a later four years, there was no investment in training young people in the higher skills. Can the right hon. Gentleman say why his party failed to invest in that direction?
§ Mr. Prior
Apart from the fact that we did invest, there is one great and overpowering reason for that, namely, that throughout our 13 years in office there was high unemployment among school leavers and there was investment in industry which enabled them to be employed. Since 1961 the problem of unemployment among school leavers has increased. Until that time, the position was extremely satisfactory.
§ Mr. Prior
Not until I have finished answering the hon. Gentleman's last question do I feel it necessary to answer the next.
In recent years, the Conservative Government vastly expanded the amount of cash spent on training. The Conservative Government started the Community Industry scheme which has enabled a number of young people to obtain a year's work doing community service. All these matters have helped. What I am suggesting is that, at a time when unemployment is rising rapidly and young people are most likely to suffer, more needs to be done. We need to spend money on helping young people rather than on some of the ridiculous. schemes which the hon. Gentleman is supporting.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. A most important consideration with which the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt is the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who go into dead-end jobs which do not call for the exercise of skill. Will the right hon. Gentleman apply his mind to that matter?
§ Mr. Prior
I have dealt with points such as that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not concentrating on what I was saying or perhaps his hon. Friends were talking so much that he could not hear. I said that in the last year at school much more needs to be done in providing industry induction schemes and the right type of training for young people. This would help enormously in solving our problems.
I hope that we shall not hear from the Government that they cannot extend the schemes this year because of the need to curtail public expenditure. I should have thought that it would be far better to lift some of the burdens which the Government intend to place. and already have placed, on industry—for example, under the Employment Protection Bill—and to seek the co-operation of employers in helping to implement the ideas for school leavers which I have put forward. The general impression one rains from reading the documents, of which there is any number, on the subject of the problems of school leavers is that there is a lack of an overall strategy and programme which spans education, careers, work experience and training. There is almost an embarrassment of ideas, but they lack decision and direction from the Government.
I hope that the Government will take this opportunity to explain their position and will give convincing reasons for what they are doing in the light of a situation which I think, and which many hon. Members on both sides of the House think, will be more serious than any we have experienced since the war. I hope that the House today will discuss these serious problems and will decide on what extra help can be given so that we do not reach July, August and September with an increasing number of unemployed school leavers and no plans to deal with what could then become a very serious social problem.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
I welcome this opportunity to debate the subject of employment problems and prospects for school leavers, which is of deep concern and interest to my Department. As the problems of school leavers seeking employment are, in certain important ways, almost indivisible from the general problem of maintaining employment in the country, I hope that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), in expressing his concern, will consider the extent to which the Opposition's lack of support for some of the measures which the Government are introducing to sustain employment in industry is compatible with the position he has taken.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the money spent on maintaining existing jobs. If we did not spend that money, the position of school leavers this summer might be considerably worse. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the question of propping up British Leyland. This is not merely a propping-up operation. It is also very much concerned with putting the firm on a viable basis to maintain not only the jobs of the extensive work force, numbering 170,000, but the jobs of many other people working in firms supplying it with components and distributing its products.
Therefore, although I echo the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the prospects of school leavers, 1 cannot agree with the contention that what the Government are doing to support existing employment is incompatible with proper concern for the interests of school leavers. There is strong evidence that the prospects for school leavers and young people generally are adversely affected by economic recession to a far greater extent than those of the majority of adults.
There are many reasons for that. As the right hon. Gentleman fairly pointed out, one of them is the decision of firms to cut recruitment in times of recession. But if such firms are not supported by the Government through difficult periods, the probability of their cutting recruitment must be even greater. Young people, particularly unskilled young people, tend to change jobs more frequently and to leave one job before obtaining another. When we are saying that we are talking in the main about the unskilled, about those 1028 without qualifications. The young man or woman who goes into a long-term apprenticeship for a period of training is likely to remain in his or her job. The sample survey undertaken by the National Youth Employment Council showed that 24 per cent. of those unemployed had had more than four jobs since leaving school. In the past and as of now the problem has tended to perpetuate itself for those most severely affected by it.
The policy of "last in, first out" in layoffs has been a problem that has affected more the young person in the unskilled category than those who are skilled. However, in our labour practice and in our labour market we have certain rigidities which particularly concern school leavers. Those organisations which take a high proportion of qualified school leavers naturally adjust their recruitment on the basis of a twice a year supply of school leavers. That is principally true of entry into the professions and entry into craft training. Therefore, the young person who changes his job a few times in the space of two years after leaving school and seeks a job at some other time of the year than the normal school leaving period is in a far worse position than the well-qualified leaver who leaves school at the end of the summer term.
In recent years it has become apparent to those closest to the problem that there is a great gulf between the aspiration of many school leavers and the number of training opportunities which exist for them. That is particularly true of those with few or no academic qualifications. In my experience it does not follow that because a girl or boy has not done particularly well at O-levels he or she will not have aspirations to be an engineer, for example. or to do some other kind of qualified job. What is certain is that their chances of obtaining that training will be very much less than those of their school-mates who qualified well. That points to one of the most worrying aspects of youth employment—namely, the extent of those who leave with no educational qualifications.
The right lion. Gentleman referred to the working party survey of November 1972 which showed that only 11 per cent. of young unemployed people had CSE grade 3s or better. To put the situation in another way, 89 per cent. had lower educational qualifications than CSE grade 3s 1029 or had none at all. The improvement in the general standard of those leaving school since November 1972 will help, to some extent, with the solution of the problem.
I shall examine briefly the present prospects. I do not think it helps to paint a blacker picture than is justified by the present situation. Over half a million people will leave school in Britain within a few months. We are understandably concerned about their prospects, but we must keep the problem in perspective. It will not help the problem if we make unrealistic, gloomy forecasts. There is a real likelihood that many of those who are unqualified will find it more difficult to find suitable jobs than in previous years. That is undeniable. However, we can examine the effectiveness of the services that help school leavers obtain jobs in terms of what happened to the school leavers of the summer of 1974. Most of those school leavers found jobs. Of the 526,000 who left at the end of the 1974 summer term only 8,000 were unemployed at the end of the year—namely, 1.5 per cent. As an employment Minister I wish that the percentage of adults unemployed was as low.
Until Easter of this year unemployment amongst school leavers was still falling. I am glad to say that it was falling particularly in some of the assisted areas The total number of young people unemployed in March, including school leavers, was 32,000. That compares very favourably with the peak of 105,000 that was reached in 1972. It is too early yet to know how this year's Easter school leavers will be absorbed into employment. Employers on being approached by careers officers, are generally cautious in saying how they will respond, and much more cautious than in more prosperous years.
We are dealing with a problem that is not peculiar to this country. In the United States, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Germany there is a considerable problem of unemployment among young people. In Germany in December last year there were 100,000 young people unemployed. There were about 240,000 young people unemployed in France. The Government are anxious that we should examine the special measures that we apply for young people.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
Does the Minister agree that the position of young people in Scotland is very grave when contrasted with the scarcity of skilled manpower, especially in the metalworking industries. Does he accept that there may well be some room for special Government assistance for training with private firms, perhaps apart from apprenticeships, within the metal-working industry so that the scarcity of skilled manpower may be reduced since it is holding back industry in general in Scotland?
§ Mr. Booth
First, I agree that there is a problem in Scotland, but, measured in terms of the drop in vacancies for young people, the position is not dissimilar from that in many other regions. One of the special factors in Scotland is that there is a serious shortage of skilled manpower. I agree that in the engineering industry, and in one or two other industires which in the main employ skilled people, there is a strong case for examining the effectiveness of the mechanisms which now exist to revive special training.
General economic conditions and industrial practices will have had an effect on young people's job prospects. Only through an attack on those general conditions and by regional and industrial schemes can we hope to deal with the maldistribution of job opportunities. Measures to save British Leyland are an outstanding example of Government actions which have wide implications for young people's jobs. In spite of that, the vulnerability of young people requires special action to be taken in the short and long terms.
The Manpower Services Commission has, from its first meeting last year, been involved in improving opportunities for young people, and especially in terms of training. I think that the report which the right lion. Gentleman referred to is a special report dealing with training for young people which is in the course of preparation by the Training Services Agency. It is in the nature of a consultative document. Training does not make jobs but it qualifies people to take jobs which exist. With vacancies for young people equivalent to twice the number of school leavers unemployed, that is a factor of the utmost importance. Technological change creates requirements for new skills, and the young person, who generally possesses the ability to learn 1031 more rapidly than others, can be at an advantage when given access to good training facilities. It is better to spend time training than to spend time unemployed. This is even truer of young people than of adults. Psychologically, nothing can be worse for young people than to leave a period of full-time education for a period of enforced idleness. It is better for them to feel that they are employed in another form of education or vocational training which will enhance their chances of obtaining worthwhile employment.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
In view of what my hon. Friend has said about the advantage of being able to take up training in an apprenticeship course, what incentive does the Department of Employment offer to young people to stay in jobs involving apprenticeships for a number of years at low rates of pay rather than to take labouring jobs at much higher rates of pay?
§ Mr. Booth
We are at present reviewing the whole area of training allowances. My personal opinion is that this is not necessarily an area to which we can give high priority compared with other forms of training expenditure. I see it mainly as the role of trade unions to negotiate a proper rate of pay for apprentices. We have moved on from the day when apprentices were underpaid, or even had to pay for their training. Although it is proper to review these allowances, I do not hold out hope that we shall give that matter great priority over certain other demands. The form of training to which I was referring must go much wider than apprenticeship and must give some young people who are now unemployed access to training in advance of job openings, be they apprenticeships or other forms of skilled work.
The initiatives taken by the Manpower Services Commission and the Training Services Agency are of special importance. The Training Opportunities Scheme has given a second chance to a great many young people who have taken a few years to find a particular area of work which is of interest to them. There has been a tendency in society to condemn young people who do not immediately settle down to a form of work which suits them. I remember well 1032 in my own apprenticeship days meeting fellow apprentices who, after about two years in that form of work, realised that they were very much square pegs in round holes, but knew it was impossible to give up that apprenticeship and find something more suitable. It is remarkable that many young men decide to take four-year apprenticeships in certain trades without having seen the inside of the places in which they have chosen to work for the rest of their lives. Therefore, it is of the utmost value that they should have the opportunity to reconsider their situation and to retrain.
The short industrial courses and wider opportunity courses are still in early stages of development, but they are proving to be most helpful to young people. They have the advantage of not being restricted to people who have left full-time education for three years. This restriction does not, of course, apply anyway to some specially handicapped groups, to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment will refer in greater detail in his reply.
This aspect of the subject is not only a responsibility for the Government, MSC, TSA and career officers. Their initiative needs to be supplemented by other efforts in terms of organisation facilities and courses to be made available in all the areas where they can be of most benefit to the young. I hope that local authority representatives, trade unionists and employers will be in close touch with the MSC and the TSA with a view to setting up more short industrial courses. The Government are providing an additional £50 million over the next two years for training developments. 1 hope that the scheme already mounted for apprentices made redundant to continue their training will be extended. The TSA plans to extend direct training facilities so that 4,000 young people will be able to undertake training courses in 1976 through the auspices of the scheme. The Community Industry scheme to help the seriously disadvantaged to bridge the gap between school and normal employment is to be continued.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Lowestoft that the scheme will not be an overall panacea but will assist in particular areas. Its success rate is a great compliment to those who have been 1033 responsible for running the scheme. The Government's main aim must be in the area of policies to safeguard employment generally. The recession which is now taking place, the drop in world commodity prices, the rise in oil prices and the international trade uncertainties make this a priority. To attempt to solve any of these problems by mass unemployment would be an economic and moral crime.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
I was interested to hear the Minister refer to the drop in commodity prices. I should have thought such a drop might be an incentive to employment rather than a disincentive —in other words, that a rise in commodity prices would make it difficult to compete elsewhere. Would the Minister care to comment?
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Does not the Minister agree that if the price of imported raw materials drops, it will help the situation of the manufacturing countries?
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
The Minister is referring to manufactured commodities. The point I was seeking to make was that the rise in oil prices is a disincentive to the manufacturing countries but that the importation of cheaper raw materials should help the manufacturing countries.
§ Mr. Skinner
When commodity prices fall, and since those goods derive in the main from the less-developed or underdeveloped countries, does it not mean that those nations receive less in real terms for the goods which they are selling to the developed countries? Does it not also mean that they are unable to pay as much for manufactured goods and con- 1034 sumer durables as they otherwise might pay? Is not the question of a fall in the price of oil a quite different matter because that money is recycled in a different fashion?
§ Mr. Booth
1 do not want to enter into a long-term analysis of commodity prices, but I agree in general with my hon. Friend. We cannot necessarily rejoice in a fall in the price of commodities exported to us by under-developed and developing countries since it might affect their ability to trade. The Government's prime objective is to make the fullest use of our economic resources.
We are using the Industry Act 1972 to assist firms in financial difficulties, particularly in areas of high unemployment. We are also in the process of creating the National Enterprise Board, which will lift the level of investment in certain areas and thereby create jobs. We are strengthening and accelerating the growth of the training programme. We are bringing in special measures to train the unemployed. The Government have given special assistance to the regions by doubling the regional employment premium, by the use of IDC controls, by advance factory programmes—and, in the case of Scotland and Wales, by the creation of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies.
§ Mr. Booth
They are not here yet, but we are preparing for them.
The temporary employment subsidy which is now being worked out, is intended to give the Government the power to make special payments for limited periods to prevent or defer redundancy. We hope to announce that to the House shortly.
There is one aspect of this problem of school leavers' unemployment which I feel has not received anything like the attention it deserves. I refer to the sudden change from full-time education to full-time work. This is especially a problem for those who enter unskilled employment. In the case of the young person taking up an apprenticeship or any form of detailed training there is a natural process of going from one form of learning to another. But that does not occur in the case of young boys or 1035 girls who have been learning in school until Friday afternoon and on Monday enter a deadly dull, monotonous jobs, which makes very little demand on their ability, intellect and capacity to learn.
I believe that there must be a more gradual transition from full-time education to full-time work, that we need many more day release courses and sandwich courses, and that they need to be extended into the areas of unskilled work. We need to give to the unskilled youngster, who realises quickly after leaving full-time school the importance of taking academic qualifications, an opportunity to do so while earning a living, thus availing himself or herself of the opportunity to obtain a job which is far more satisfying.
That process will in any case be necessary with the increasing rate of technological change, since more people will in the course of their normal working life have to be retrained for another job. Therefore, I am interested in the proposition that schools should become more vocationally oriented earlier in a pupil's school life.
There is a case that full-time schooling for younger people should give a broad-based education and should enable them to train and learn, after leaving school, to cope with the many changes that they wil face—and certainly greater changes than their fathers and mothers faced—during their normal working lives. If that attitude is to gain greater currency we must think in better terms about the requirement of mobility of labour.
As a man who has had to shift his wife and youngsters from one part of the country to another because of my job, and as the son of a man who worked from one end of the country to the other during the course of the slump of the 1920s and 1930s, it may be that I am unduly sensitive to people who talk about mobility of labour and job mobility, thinking that it is an easy matter for people to move around, especially married people with families. However, there is a strong case for saying that one form of job mobility is the ability of people, when one industry or trade in their area closes down, to train to do another job in their own area, and to maintain the social capital and all the assets of the community in which many of them have worked for 1036 a long time. That has implications for education especially. In a job-oriented society such as ours there is still a tendency for people to think of themselves first in terms of the way in which they earn their bread and butter rather than to think of themselves first as mothers, fathers, Catholics, Protestants, Fulham supporters, or jazz fans. They think of themselves as fitters, as turners, or as Members of Parliament, and so on. Therefore our society tends to put a premium on success in employment. The young people who see no prospect of success in the first few years of employment after leaving full-time education begin to regard themselves as failures when in many cases they have great potential, given the right opportunities.
For all those reasons I believe that those involved in education, careers advice, vocational training and the placement of young people in jobs must do their utmost to ensure that the special needs of the immediate future are met and that we work to secure that, in the longer term, a wider range of opportunities for the young and not-so-young is created in the best interests of the manning of industries and services, and by so doing give a greater opportunity for satisfaction and fuller development of potential to the many workers who would otherwise have that potential stifled.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I am glad that the Opposition have chosen this subject for debate. I am especially grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) for the constructive way in which he introduced the debate.
There are clearly no easy answers to the problems which were discussed in the two Front Bench speeches. There is no doubt that this is a problem of growing magnitude. The omens are none too happy. As we look ahead to the later summer months, the prospects for school leavers are looking fairly grim. That does not apply only to those areas traditionally of high unemployment. It seems to apply to all parts of the country. Certainly that is the experience in my constituency.
Recently I attended a meeting of the Northern Area Liaison Committee in 1037 Bournemouth. That committee represents youth leaders, social workers, education, youth employment, welfare, amenities and the police authority. It has been meeting every two months to review trends for leisure time provision and employment for young people. There is growing concern at the prospect of increased unemployment amongst youth in my constituency, especially in the West Howe area.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft said, it is probably those who are of lowest educational ability who will most immediately and severely be affected by the general downturn in work opportunities.
Having listened to the deliberations of the members who make up the committee, I was immensely impressed by their eminently practical and realistic approach to the problem they foresee developing. The committee has been looking at a number of ways to help in the situation envisaged. It has considered, for example, what use could be made of the facilities available at schools and youth centres.
The Government will understand that to a considerable extent those facilities are already stretched and well used, but there may be a need to look afresh at the opportunities that the existence of these facilities provide, especially in the schools after school hours. I know that teachers carry a considerable burden already, but from what I have heard there seems to be a welcome readiness on their part to extend beyond normal school hours such assistance as they may be able to provide in the circumstances which we contemplate.
The Minister made a welcome reference to the need to encourage training and to the fact that that training should go wider than apprenticeship. I agree with that. I ask the Under-Secretary to say what is now being done to follow up the recommendation of the National Youth Employment Council that the Training Service Agency should extend the scope of the Government training available to all young people and that it should consider setting up a junior training opportunity school devised especially for young people. This seems to be a constructive suggestion which should have maximum encouragement.
1038 I was glad to hear the Minister support the positive work being done under the auspices of the Community Industry scheme. This is still in the comparatively early years of its development, though no doubt there are lessons to be learned from its immediate past experience. But, equally, this is a scheme which offers real hope for those able to benefit from it because it will undoubtedly open out the way to a positive rôle in employment when the opportunities become available.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to say a word or two about work creation schemes. We can all envisage desirable schemes which for one reason or another—mainly because effort is diverted elsewhere or because finance is not immediately available—are not being carried out at the moment. But work creation schemes organised on a community basis might well provide an opportunity for constructive work at a time when, without it, there might be merely a vista of unemployment and hopelessness. There are a number of community tasks which could be taken in hand, and I should like to know a little more about the Government's thinking, especially that of the Manpower Services Commission, in connection with schemes of this kind.
I believe that there are two ways in which the Government could give direct help in the situation described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft. The first is that they should review their policy towards housing, especially private housing. The energies of the private house building industry need to be released. There is still a considerable demand for housing, especially for what 1 might call the more factory-built type, for younger families. I hope that the Government will not rest content with concentrating on local authority housing and that they will do what they can to encourage the private house building industry, as this will at the same time provide a welcome opportunity for employment for many young people.
Ideally, the Government should scrap their Community Land Bill, which will only damage the whole of our housing and construction industry.
Secondly I ask the Government what consideration they have been giving to recruitment to the Services. I know that 1039 we are to have a two-day defence debate later this week, and for that reason, I shall not elaborate on these matters today. But it has been the experience in the past that at times when prospects for profitable and reasonable employment are dim, recruitment to the Services tends to increase. This is the very time that the Government have chosen to cut heavily into the spending on our defence forces. I hope that Ministers will give further thought to this aspect of a constructive and nationally helpful way in which employment could be provided for our young people.
Directly or indirectly, the Government have been responsible over recent months for stoking up rather than damping down the forces of inflation. In my judgment they have now a direct responsibility for coping with the consequences of their own recent policies. They have an urgent responsibility to help the victims of inflation. One constructive and urgent job which needs doing is to co-ordinate the efforts of all the various Departments and service commissions or other bodies concerned with employment for young people.
There is a great need for further guidance to be given to communities, especially to local authorities. I hope that Ministers will look at the existing guidance which has been made available to local authorities fairly recently on some aspects of the employment of youth. In my view it needs bringing up to date, and account must be taken of the obvious urgency of the current situation.
I hope, too, that the Government will give what encouragement and guidance they can to local authorities to show how various aspects of community and other employment and help can be brought together to bear upon this problem. They should also reflect this in their own actions at central Government level.
Following this debate, I should like to see a top-level Cabinet committee discussion take place at which the Department of the Environment, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Industry and of course the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of Employment are represented in order to get to grips with this problem and to alleviate the worst aspects of it.
1040 The situation outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft, which undoubtedly is very serious and which properly gives us all cause for concern, is one which should also be brought to the notice of those currently in employment and their employers. To employers in any community, I hope that an approach will be made asking for their tolerance and understanding, especially in respect of taking on young people for help with training even at this difficult time. To those in employment generally, especially to those who are members of the unions which recently have been demanding wholly inflationary wage increases, I hope that the Minister will make a plea that they should moderate their claims, that that they should show some restraint and that they should have some regard to the youth of our country for whose future they, too, have a responsibility.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
I represent a constituency in the Northern Region of England, an area of the country which, unfortunately, is all too familiar with the problems we are discussing today.
I remind the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that this problem of the lack of opportunities for school leavers is not a new or even a strange phenomenon. I can go back to my own youth in what has always been recognised as a depressed area—now more popularly described as a "development area"— when, like many of my contemporaries and many thousands of others who have followed me down through the years even to this day, I soon became aware that our biggest export was young people, who were our most vitally important and useful commodity. But it was not just a matter of young people leaving the area. In addition, there were those in their early twenties and thirties and even middle-aged people who had no possible chance of obtaining employment of any kind, much less the sort of vocations that they would have chosen if that kind of work had been available.
I should like to recall several years' experience as the chairman of a youth employment sub-committee, which ended when I became Member of Parliament for Houghton-le-Spring in 1964. How desperately and anxiously we seached, cajoled and invited employers to expand their 1041 efforts to provide apprenticeships and employment opportunities of any kind, not only for boys and girls in their late teens but for those who had just left school. Not unnaturally in a situation such as this, all too many of our young people were channelled into dead-end jobs where there was no possibility of being anything other than a square peg in a round hole for as far as they could see.
In a debate of this kind we cannot help but refer not only to personal experiences but to the nature of our constituency and the role it plays in such an important subject as this. My constituency is surrounded, north, south, east and west, by four towns comprising two new towns, Washington and Peterlee, to the north and south, the city of Durham to the south-west and the shipbuilding town of Sunderland to the north-east. I should have thought that in a constituency such as this, so almost admirably geographically located, there would scarcely by any employment problems at all. Unfortunately, traditionally we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the whole of the Northern Region. The Northern Region, as every hon. Member knows, has the unenviable record of having the highest unemployment rate throughout the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland. Small wonder that in this kind of situation employment opportunities for young people are at a premium.
I want to enter a special plea. If there is one thing that the Northern Region needs above everything else, it is an infusion of clerical and Civil Service jobs. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Northern Region have spared no effort to convince their colleagues, Ministers and hon. Gentlemen who were in the Conservative Government between 1970 and 1974 of the vital importance of bringing more work of this kind to the regions. We held out high hopes. Indeed, when we were in Government we had decided that a Pay As You Earn computer centre would be sited at the new town of Washington. That decision was upturned when the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends came into Government in 1970. There has been some small compensation, but nothing as big, measured in numerical terms, as the number of jobs that would have been provided in the PAYE centre.
1042 The National Shipbuilding Headquarters surely should be a red-hot favourite to be sited on the North-East Coast. I say that with obvious regard to the claims of the other shipbuilding areas in the United Kingdom. However, the Northern Region is second to none so far as shipbuilding is concerned. With the record that we have on the North-East Coast, clearly and surely there can be no other home for the National Shipbuilding Headquarters. This, in turn, would at least provide a few jobs for those youngsters leaving school with minimal academic qualifications, who would be able to take up their first post in this sort of Civil Service administration.
I implore my hon. Friends, as my colleagues in the Northern Region and I have implored Ministers in the more responsible Departments over some weeks and months now, and I exhort them, to ensure that at least this small plum should come to the North-East Coast. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) is trying desperately hard to encourage more Civil Service jobs into the new town of Peterlee, as indeed is my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) so far as Washington new town is concerned. If we are successful in these efforts, clearly there will be a spin-off for young people living in neighbouring constituencies. After all, this is a fairly densely populated area of the Northern Region.
However, there are other important requirements. For many years, against great odds, we have tried to present a case for a section of the motor car industry to be sited in the Northern Region. I know, like the rest of my right hon. and hon. Friends, just how many attendant problems there are in the car industry. However, we are willing to accept all the risks and problems which confront the car industry at present if, in turn, x numbers of youngsters would be able to take up apprenticeships in this vitally important section of British industry.
In my constituency, where there are seven coal mines, two of them mining well out under the North Sea, the major employer is still the National Coal Board. It is doing a good job training young people, but there are many youngsters leaving school who simply do not want—as I never wanted—to be a coal miner. Provided that there are sufficient jobs of 1043 a different kind available, those young people should not be compelled to be coal miners.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft spoke about the possibility of better utilisation of public money rather than pouring money into British Leyland. My hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt adequately with that point. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that many of the problems with which we are confronted are, first, the responsibility of his Government as late as December 1973 because of the colossal cuts made in public expenditure and, secondly, because of the Government's unfortunate decision a few weeks ago. The combination of these decisions means that the construction industry is in recession.
I want to reinforce the argument of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), who spoke about the construction industry. The construction industry is too heavily depressed at present. We have read—if we have to read to ascertain the facts of life—in the Press today, over the weekend and for some days past of the gloomy prognostications of people who are closely concerned with construction, none less than the national president of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers. I have a great deal of sympathy with the case that that federation presents. As a Member of Parliament I have participated at meetings with the federation recently as well as at meetings with representatives of the building trade unions.
Increasingly deep concern is being expressed about the present depressed state of the construction industry. Because of the cuts in public expenditure, Government and local authority contracts are being withheld and not being put out to tender. There is a decline in the number of orders. There is also a problem in the house building sector of the construction industry. I suggest that my right hon. and hon. Friends should combine to impress upon the building societies the real importance of considering at least a reduction of the mortgage interest rate. This would surely provide some impetus to the private sector of housing to get ahead and provide more housing.
There is also the necessity to cooperate with the local authorities in order 1044 to speed up the provision of council housing. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to advance factories. I applaud the decisions that have been taken by my Government since last February in regard to the allocation of advance factories, some of them in my constituency. However, as far as I am aware, there has not yet been a brick laid or a foundation dug. I should like to know when it is expected that work on these projects will begin, not only to provide jobs possibly for youngsters leaving school but also to provide the much required jobs for building trade workers. When will these things begin to materialise? The building industry urgently needs this stimulus not only to protect the employment of craftsmen already in the industry but because of the impact on recruitment of apprentices. I understand that in the Northern Region the potential annual intake is 3,000 apprentices, but on present forecasts that intake will be considerably reduced.
The right hon. Member for Bourne-mouth, West referred to recruitment to the Armed Forces and the circumstances of the increase in recruitment. I can tell him that the recruitment to the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines is higher in the Northern Region, according to the last report to the House, than it has been for many years, although we are by no means in as badly depressed a state as we were in the 1930s and again in the early 1960s.
Proud as I am to have been a member of the Royal Marines during the last war, I would much prefer to see my young constituents channelled into useful, meaningful employment which they enjoy rather than having to rely on seven, 12 or 15 years, or whatever it is, as a soldier or sailor, or even as a marine.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
A young person at school could be compared to a boat in a lock. He is waiting for the time when the gates will open and he will be ready to go out along the river. What a shock he gets, therefore, when, after all the years of build-up and expectations, the lock gates open and there he sees in front of him a dry, parched river bed and no hint of water.
1045 School students' thoughts are inevitably oriented towards the future, and students expect, quite rightly, that satisfying employment prospects will become available, and not only if they take a further period of full-time education and training. Although some young people land apprenticeships, for the majority of what would have been early school leavers there are few prospects and fewer satisfying jobs.
May I ask the Minister to have particular regard to the problems that early school leavers have—what were the early school leavers—in finding the right place to register for jobs and the right place to go to draw their unemployment benefit? There is in my experience on Merseyside a limited amount of available information which the school leaver can find easily. I would suggest that in all schools there should be far greater assistance from the school teaching staff to help a young person when he leaves school to find out how he can claim benefits and register for employment.
However, a job should be something far more than mere toil which a young person uses, in return for which he gets cash. It is something which he should have as of right. It is something which I believe should be contained in a young persons' charter, whether that person be black, white, boy or girl, which gives him or her the right to an opportunity, equal with all others, of a satisfying job.
If a young person be deprived of the opportunity to make a contribution to society, too often he turns on to society rather than into society. In human terms a young school leaver who can find no meaningful work feels rejected and disillusioned and may use his energies to disrupt society, which he feels has deserted him at the crucial hour when he most needs its help.
The previous Conservative Government made a useful but modest contribution to tackling the problem of the unemployed and the unemployable. In concept, it was to provide social and community work jobs for disadvantaged young people which would first be evaluated by young adults, who would, in turn, supervise the work carried out. In concept, Community Industry was to be a kind of halfway house, an introduction to employment, but only of a temporary 1046 nature. The community service jobs which Community Industry tackles are seen as jobs. That means that the young people turn up and clock in at 8 a.m. and they leave at 5 p.m. It is not seen as a community service. It is seen as a job.
This is an important concept, and we have such a scheme in Liverpool. It does good work. Some of the most encouraging and worthwhile projects involve developing sustained personal relationships. I stress that matter. It is not merely clearing canals and painting walls. It is the development of personal relationships. Many of these young people have not had the opportunity of close personal relationships. The importance of this work is that it opens up a new vista to such young people and helps them to understand the problems they themselves have in dealing with other people. For example, there is one scheme on Merseyside which helps brain-damaged children who have been kept out of institutional care, thus saving the taxpayer some £2,000 or £2,500 a year, by practising the Doman Delacato method, which helps parents by organising various exercises for 10 to 12 hours a day with brain-damaged children to assist the blood circulation and make them able to cope with some of the smaller chores of life. The parents cannot cope with this kind of intensive treatment, which takes 10 to 12 hours a day, without the help, for example, of Community Industry volunteers. This is of tremendous benefit to society, to the family with the brain-damaged child and to the volunteers—if one can call them that—and it is saving the taxpayer considerable sums of money.
Community Industry provides meaningful social work opportunities for less-well-equipped young people, but it is on a modest scale and there are difficulties of weaning young people away into full-time employment where they do not receive such close support, help and comradeship. It may also undermine volunteers. I should like to stress this point because in Newport in Monmouthshire—which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know so well—the Community Industry scheme was housed next door to the Young Volunteer Force project. In one house a person went in and did unpaid work of a very similar nature to Community Industry's work. If he went through the 1047 next door he clocked in and did very similar work on a paid basis. Therefore, the concept of voluntary work or volunteer work could be undermined by paying people for doing the same job. Although those who tend to do Community Industry work are different kinds of people from those who volunteer, nevertheless there is a question in the mind of a volunteer as to why the other person is getting paid and he is not.
Job creation, which is what Community Industry is about, is a new concept in Britain. It is the first along the path. What we must do is something far more creative, imaginative and widespread. We can learn much from the Opportunity for Youth Programme and the Local Initiative Programme in Canada, both of which I was involved in at their inception. I know that the Minister has sent some of his officials to look at these schemes and to bring back knowledge to this country.
I should like to comment on the Opportunity for Youth Programme because it is a creative and outstanding success. It was planned initially as a 36-million dollar summer employment programme aimed at carving out jobs for students. I should digress and say that in Canada students do not get the kind of grants given to students in this country. Their grants are far more modest. They are insufficient for the students to live on and insufficient for them to pay their fees. Therefore, they must supplement their grants by employment.
Initially, the jobs given were in the Civil Service—when the civil servants went on leave the students moved in—and in the Armed Forces. Two or three years ago employment problems became so severe in Canada that the Canadian Government had to think up new ways of creating jobs. Unlike Community Industry, instead of the Government or civil servants dreaming up jobs, even if they are imaginative civil servants down at the grass roots, the Canadian Government put the programme in a completely different way. They turned the tables. They told the students—tens of thousands of them—that they had to make their own jobs.
The Federal Government sent regional supervisors throughout Canada—the 1048 supervisors were young people—encouraging students to carve out and plan jobs for themselves and then write a contract or make an offer. The students had to draw up a couple of pages in the shape of an offer and the Government could then approve it or not as an acceptance act. The roving supervisors could approve the schemes or not or make amendments. Once a contract was approved, the Federal Government paid monthly, just like a salary cheque, through a banker's order for the work done by the young person.
The key feature was that the supervisors were young. the students involved in the projects were young, and the civil servants in Ottawa were young. The whole thing was a young demonstration of constructive thinking and action.
In that way housing aid centres were developed in Winnipeg. A great deal of conservation work was done, but I should not over stress the manual side. It was creative thinking and action work in terms of teaching immigrants English and helping some of them to fill in Government forms which were so complicated that they could not readily understand them.
I understand that 15,000 jobs were created in the earliest days. The number goes up and down according to the unemployment figures. The young themselves and society benefit. Such a scheme allows the community to take a different view of young people, and it allows young people to exercise their enthusiasm and confidence to learn by their mistakes. Mistakes are made and problems arise. For example, a recycling project in Vancouver—picking up waste paper—was given a great deal of Federal money through grants which competed with private enterprise. Enormous problems can be created when Government funds are given to projects which are in direct competition with private enterprise. No doubt the Minister will have regard to that matter when considering the employment service agencies being set up in our High Streets. There is one going up in my constituency virtually opposite a private employment office. That may create a problem which will need to be considered well in advance.
Those who are often the greatest critics of young people in this country were the 1049 greatest critics in Canada. The Opportunity for Youth project kept running into difficulties when the City Fathers criticised it for being too involved and taking too great an interest in community matters. I suggest that that is a price that we must pay. We have not yet adjusted well enough to that in this country. Wherever young people arc involved in community projects, they are regularly criticised by the City Fathers for showing too much interest and critising what is already going on. We want far more community involvement and jobs created wherever young people can show their interest and concern.
For that reason, I suggest that the Minister needs to do something more dramatic than he has considered doing so far. We must open up a completely new job potential. That can be done only if the Minister puts the onus not on civil servants but on those who are unemployed.
It is true that the Canadian scheme was primarily for university students. They could take the initiative and they had the training to develop their own jobs. But I believe that young people who have not been to university, if given the opportunity and support, can develop a similar kind of concept to what has been done in Canada with great success.
My final point concerns who runs the projects. Youth services in Britain have the distinction of being run by the middle-aged. If jobs are to be carved out, please let the young choose those jobs. Let the bureaucracy and controls be kept to the minimum. Let us say that we would like to see job creation in limited areas as pilot schemes, but that they must not be part of the bureaucracy. They must be independent, although under some Government control.
I suggest that there should be an entirely new appeal to the young unemployed and a new drive. The financial cost will be modest, because unemployment benefit has to be offset. We must also put into the melting pot the social cost factor. We must not forget the enormous damage done to young persons—their personalities, hopes and confidence for the future—if they are cast aside as unimportant individuals. Each young person matters. The Government must show that they care deeply by 1050 creating jobs which are highly sensitive to the needs, aspirations and abilities of each unemployed young person.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I always seem to be called when you are in the Chair. The rather remarkable thing about the debate—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not implying anything about anybody else who might be in the Chair, because that would be highly out of order.
§ Mr. Skinner
In fact, there are occasions when I run into difficulties. I was just commenting on the fact that I did not seem to be having one now. It was merely an aside. I did not want to affront anybody, and certainly not you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is the last thing that I would want to do.
It is remarkable that on a day when we are discussing employment, particularly youth employment, this Chamber should be so empty. It is a well-known fact that not every Member of the House of Commons can be in this Chamber at any given moment. There are many other jobs to do. There are no doubt Committees sitting and things of that nature. But the fact is that, even by House of Commons standards, the benches are remarkably vacant. I suggest that that is not because the matter under discussion is not important. I think that without doubt this subject is probably more important now than for the past couple of decades.
We are now beginning to witness what the breakdown of the system under which we operate really looks like. It has been in a crisis situation for 25 years or more. I tend to look at the question of young people's jobs in a different context from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Waver-tree (Mr. Steen), who, well-intentioned though he is, suggested scratching up a few jobs just as they have seemingly managed to do in Canada. The real question that we have to answer in this place or in any other forum is not merely how sufficient jobs can be created for the young, but how sufficient jobs can be created to go round out of which young people leaving school or those who have 1051 recently left school will be able to take their share.
We can invent 1,001 Alice-in-Wonderland training schemes, and I have no doubt that at the margins the new venture will provide a few jobs for young people, but we are faced with a chronic situation—so chronic that private manufacturing industry can no longer cope. There was a time when it was relatively easy for the large manufacturer to eat the small fish when they ran into trouble and catch the remaining part of the market, but now there are only big fish, and in recent years, culminating in the situation in the car industry in particular and in British Leyland specifically, we have seen the real giants being unable to cope with investment problems or to overcome cash flow difficulties.
That being the position, instead of asking for regional grants and all kinds of cosseting and pampering which is paid for by the taxpayer to the State and them on to the private company, we are seeing these giants being unable to provide the jobs that are necessary, and that is what this debate is about. It is true that this is only a small part of a much bigger problem, but we have to solve the bigger problem if we are to get over the difficulty of creating sufficient jobs for young people.
Some may take the view that as a result of the Budget and statements made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of. the Exchequer things will look up, that there is some sort of boom in the offing in the world scenario, starting in 1976. I do not believe it. I think that we have just been through one of the old-fashioned Keynesian booms. We have seen the minimum lending rate come down on about seven occasions in the last few months. Most of the economic experts would have us believe that this is part and parcel of increasing investment opportunities, and that by reducing interest rates generally we provide more jobs.
We have been through that one. We have arrived at the point of no return, and on Friday for the first time in many months we saw a change in the scene. The minimum lending rate is going up, and this will be followed by further increases. Although many people will not believe it, because we already have nearly 1 million unemployed, it is my 1052 opinion that we are coming out of a boom and going into a recession. Using the old-fashioned devices to measure our economic performance, that is the stage we have reached.
The prospects of jobs for young people are catastrophic, and they will be in an even worse position than they are now. My hon. Friend means business when he talks about what he is trying to do in his Department to deal with the problem, but unless there is a change in the macroeconomic outlook, as it is called, his attempts will not resolve the real problems with which we are faced.
I see not 1 million but 1½ million unemployed within a relatively short time. Some of the Budget announcements and measures will bring that about. The 25 per cent. VAT rate on a wide range of consumer durables will mean that young British workers in electrical and other factories will be thrown out of work.
The middle-aged will want to protect their employment. They will not want to give up their jobs to young people because those are the only jobs they have and they do not want to join the ever-growing dole queue further down the road.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
If the Government continue to make redundancy payments—as they are committed to do under legislation passed by Governments of both parties—this will increase the difficulty for young people trying to get jobs because firms faced with cash flow and profitability problems will not want to make redundancy payments. The middle-aged about whom the hon. Gentleman is talking will keep their jobs. Firms will not let them go. but will put them on part-time work. What is more, firms will not recruit young people at the lower levels, and this is the problem which the Government must consider.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That sounded not like an intervention in a speech but a rather long contribution.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) was 1053 a bit long-winded, but I shall answer the point. I have no real evidence for saying it, but I rather suspect that the next move on the board might come from the TUC's recommendation to the Government—and this was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer —that money should be provided to prop up private industry. I do not expect that my Government will fail or refuse to prop up the system that we have or to prop up the private sector of British industry. They do not have a total mandate to change that, although I do, but I am not on the Government Front Bench. '[lie Government will continue to cosset and pamper private industry, and it is my guess that to ameliorate the rather stark position that has been outlined during the debate they will provide money in a form roughly equal to the amount that would be paid by way of social security benefits in the event of unemployment It is my guess that that is another formula or apparatus which the Government will use to try to ameliorate the worst excesses of the increasing dole queue.
But that will not resolve the problem. We shall come back at a later date, when we reach a new plateau of unemployment, to the crucial and critical question whether it is time for a Socialist Government to resolve the problem in the only way that a Socialist Government can resolve it. and that is to take over the commanding heights of the economy. By that I do not mean moving into British Leyland because it is falling apart, but I do mean moving into manufacturing industry before the whole lot falls apart.
That is one of the crucial issues that we shall have to face shortly, and that is why Conservative Members who appeared to be quite pleased at what I was saying during the earlier part of my speech are not happy about the conclusion that I have drawn from the present state of affairs.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
If the hon. Gentleman would like to see the Government take over manufacturing industry, what does he think will happen about the payment of workers in these industries if the articles which they manufacture are no longer economically priced and cannot be sold in world markets? Will not the wages of these workers be dictated, as they are, by trade unions in 1054 Moscow where they are part of the Government machine?
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Member must appreciate that I am not the most fervent admirer of the way in which the Soviet system operates. I am a great libertarian. But I believe that the Socialist way of operating the economy is superior to the one that we have had since the industrial revolution. All that I suggest, not in a naïve, wide-eyed or innocent way, is that my hon. Friends will come to that conclusion later rather than sooner. I would urge them to get there a little sooner, but I do not believe they will. The hon. Gentleman need not imagine that I and that small number of my hon. Friends who hold similar views will take over control of the Government Front Bench. He need have no sleepless nights; it will not happen. But we shall continue to return to this matter.
There are only two ways of operating the system. One is usually spelt out in clear economic terms by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and the other is the one that I have been relating. But since the war, both Governments, by a series of similar measures which have been packaged differently and wrapped up in different coloured paper, have seen the propping up of the private sector as necessary and acceptable. Throughout, after all the pampering, the regional grants and other props to private industry, we have still reached our present situation, which will become even starker in the years ahead.
Most hon. Members believe that we should opt for the consensus approach towards the economy and carry on propping it up, but I do not get terribly excited about that. I accept it. But I know that in the end—God knows when that will be—another view will prevail, one which says that we cannot continue pumping £4 million of taxpayers' money each day and every day into the private sector without getting some return.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, who has changed his stance on economic matters, among others, and who is not present today, is beginning to appreciate these points. That is why the Press is a little frightened of the way in which he described how the system fails to provide the necessary jobs. That is the grim portrait that we 1055 have before us, and it will become even grimmer. If the consensus view prevails, there will be a rundown in steel to the extent of 30,000 jobs, perhaps even more, in areas which are largely, though not entirely, areas of high unemployment. The same is true of other manufacturing industries, such as textiles which is suffering not only from the effects of EEC entry but from dumping.
Even in mining the picture is not as rosy as some people believe. I am glad that the training schemes are full—even to the point that school leavers cannot get into them—but the picture is still not as good as it should be. We should be producing as much coal as is humanly possible, mainly for the power stations, where well over half our product goes. As we are told by the Midlands miners, instead of running down the costly oil-fired power stations in the face of the decrease in demand caused by the number of unemployed and the lack of growth in the economy, we are cutting out the coal-fired stations, although their thermal efficiency is greater. If we used coal-fired power stations to the maximum, we could employ even more young people in mining.
Another surprising thing about this debate is the way in which it was introduced by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft. The only time that he livened up was when I tried to install some enthusiasm into what—
§ Mr. Skinner
As my hon. Friend says, it was insipid. But one thing that the right hon. Gentleman said alerted me. He talked about Operation Eyesore, introduced by the last Tory Government as a marginal measure to soak up unemployment. In February 1972, a million men were on the dole. That is the biggest figure since the war. It was the last plateau that we reached, although the next is probably not far away.
To abate unemployment by a marginal device, as Governments do in preference to tackling the problem head-on, the Government introduced Operation Eyesore and urged local authorities to use it to mop up unemployment. It has gone now, but in Clay Cross, the town in which I live, the council carried out the 1056 instructions of the Secretary of State for the Environment of that time, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). Because those councillors had the audacity to employ people on Operation Eyesore cleaning up rivers and brooks, moving oil drums and cleaning up the hedgerows, they were surcharged £30,000 by the district auditor only a few weeks ago. I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Worcester has just come in.
Those Clay Cross councillors were doing something practical about unemployment, not just talking about it, as many hon. Members do. They were doing what they believed to be right, not because of Operation Eyesore but because they knew that it had to be done in an area where unemployment was 20 per cent. and seven pits had been closed in the previous three or four years in a radius of five miles. As a result of the action of a non-elected bureaucrat who received more in wages than any of the people employed by the Clay Cross councillors, they have been surcharged £30,000 for that item alone.
That is a disgrace and a scandal. About 100 of my colleagues have signed the recent motion that I and others put on the Order Paper, but if hon. Members are really concerned about unemployment they will all sign it and condemn the auditor for attacking those people for getting rid of unemployment in a practical way.
So that was Operation Eyesore. Those councillors got a black eye for their efforts. So when any other Government, including the present Government, send out circulars urging local authorities to mop up unemployment because they regard it as a social disease, I hope that they will send out a circular to all the district auditors telling them that councillors have not only the right but the duty to resolve some of the worst community problems, and that they have been elected to deal with just those problems.
The worst feature of this debate is the question of the Common Market. So many times in the years preceding that awful decision of 28th October 1971 and since have I heard the romantic stories about how wonderful our entry would be—not for us but for our children and our children's children. Two and a half 1057 years later more young people than ever are on the dole and the prospects are even worse.
That is an indication of the benefit to young people of our membership of the Common Market. I suppose that we shall now be told that it will be the next generation but one that will benefit. With a trade deficit of £2,000 million, as announced by my right hon. Friend, and with the trend rising to £2,400 million this year, I shall not be surprised to be told that. There are likely to be even more young people unemployed. With hundreds of thousands of people coming from Southern Europe, Turkey, and so on, to work in Central Europe, especially West Germany. producing at slave labour prices, it is likely to be our young people who will suffer. Yet hon. Members talk in riddles on the subject of the Common Market. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft was too ashamed even to mention the Common Market.
My message to young people compelled to be idle is simple. They might be idle now, but I hope that each of them will work full time on 5th June to say "No" to Europe and "No" to the dole queue.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
It is no easy job to follow the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and it is a task that has not previously befallen me. Had it been his maiden speech and I had been compelled to say that we looked forward to further contributions from the hon. Gentleman, I might have had myself to blame for future outbursts.
The subject that we are discussing today and from which I think we departed for the last 20-odd minutes is the employment problems—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) had strayed from the subject, I should have pulled him up. This is a very wide debate. If the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) had listened to the last 20 minutes as I have, he would have realised that it was a very wide debate.
§ Mr. Freud
As I was saying before the hon. Member, as ever, spoke, the subject of the debate is employment problems and prospects of school leavers. I appreciate that unemployment is a serious problem, but in the first instance our concern should be to ensure that this unemployment be spread reasonably evenly.
There are 2 million people who, to all intents and purposes, are illiterate, 2 million people with a reading age under nine. It is important when looking at the general picture that we do something to see that these people who leave school particularly disadvantaged have a chance of gaining employment. It is they who in periods of high unemployment are always the last to get any sort of job, and it is they who, by virtue of their limited education, have little job mobility and even less job security.
On a number of occasions I have tried to introduce a Private Member's Bill and a Ten-Minute Bill to amend the raising of the school leaving age. It is still my contention that leaving school at the age of 16 is very nearly too late to take up an apprenticeship. Leaving school at 15 gives three or four years without feeling, at the age of 19, that one is too poor to hold up one's head amongst others who work.
One of the subjects that has to be looked at in the context of this debate is that of careers officers. In the reorganisation mania of 1974, careers officers, who were previously under the Department of the Environment, were taken under the wing of local education authorities. The officers employed by the Department of the Environment remained in that Department doing other work, and the education authorities advertised for what were virtually non-existent people. However, they have come forward. Their work load is immense and their salary is pretty poor.
The careers officer in the Isle of Ely deals with between 1,000 and 1,500 school leavers every year and receives £3,000 per annum, a sum that some of the young people he puts into jobs achieve after two years of employment. Enormous tribute should go to these careers officers, who are doing valiant work. It is they who are particularly concerned about the 1059 prospects of those who leave secondary education with less than the requisite number of O-levels and CSEs.
As a nation we have tended to favour those who stay on at school with very much more generosity than those who leave. I do not want to say, because I think that it would be wrong to say, that anyone is getting too much money, but, to go back to the proverbial national cake, the slice that goes to those who go to universities, polytechnics and colleges of further education is out of all proportion to the puny amount spent on training youths who go straight into industry.
This is where the Government could make a major contribution. I realise that there are already training and retraining schemes. However, in France and Germany the average person who wants to retrain for other employment because the jobs in his area do not give sufficient scope may apply for a retraining scheme at any age, not 19 as is the limit here, and be accepted at almost any place unconditionally. During training he receives 80 per cent. of the salary that he received before deciding to go into another job. That is his retraining stipend. That is the sort of scheme that we need in this country.
In 1964 unemployment was 1.5 per cent. and was pretty evenly spread, school leavers providing 1.6 per cent. of those figures. In 1972, the last year when school leavers were taken as a separate entity, there was 7.6 per cent. unemployment among school leavers, compared with a national average of about 4½per cent. The ratio is rising. There are more and more school leavers who are unable to find employment.
What must be done—and there are obviously many things that must be done —is that the training service agencies must increase and encourage the development of employers' training schemes. The Government's training contribution should be very much more flexible in order to meet the needs of the high unemployment areas.
Local education authorities have to realise that education is part of preparation for life. They must link education with courses which will allow people to go into local employment.
1060 Employers should adopt a more realistic attitude towards entry qualifications which are based far too much on tradition. There is no reason why a school leaver should not be considered for a vacancy even if it means driving a tractor on the land, for which is needed intelligence but not a great deal of driving experience. There are so many jobs which traditionally are given only to certain people, in certain ages and of a certain sex. There is no good reason for that except tradition.
The Minister spoke with a good deal of sympathy and understanding about the plight of the young unemployed. I am sure he realises that what is going on at present is a considerable amount of buck-passing between Government Departments, between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Education and Science, and between the local education authorities, training boards and training centres. The Government have to be told in no uncertain fashion what so large a majority of these school leavers have had written on the piece of paper with which they left their last place of formal education—"Must try harder". I call on the Government to do so—now. They have already tried but they must try harder.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I was deeply surprised and very much concerned to hear the opening words of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). Too often we hear that children are leaving school too late. People want children to start work early. It used to be at the age of 12, then 13, then 14, 15 and now 16. I wonder what the hon. Gentleman thinks will happen to the training and education of such children who have to live in the society of the future and face competition for all kinds of jobs.
§ Mr. Freud
My attempt to amend the school leaving age was never meant to take people away from the umbrella of the local education authority. It was to allow young people greater flexibility so that they might enter an apprenticeship, undertake day-release courses or linked courses, thus continuing their education but not necessarily within the four walls of a secondary school.
§ Mr. Wainwright
The hon. Gentleman has not given much consideration to his 1061 suggestion. That is one of the difficulties. There are already too many dead-end jobs for our young people when they leave school at the age of 16. If we compelled employers to take more young people at the age of 15 there would have to be a subsidy to ensure that the jobs were there. There is a great deal of airy-fairy talking on this subject.
We ought to study the education system in the United States of America. There most boys and girls go to school until they are 21. In this country, the figure for young people remaining at school until 21 is 1 in 15. The United States produces two and a half times as much as we do. Education provides the wherewithal. The better the education system the more productive are the people. They utilise their ingenuity and compel employers to introduce more sophisticated methods, like automation.
I am not sure that we have the right departmental Ministers here to deal with this problem. The employment exchanges throughout the country do their best to find our young people employment but at times of recession they have great difficulty. There needs to be co-operation between various Departments to ensure that the jobs are there. It is hardly fair on my hon. Friends from the Department of Employment that they should have to answer this widespread debate.
Recently I tabled a Question about the number of youths who were unemployed 12 months ago. It was a Written Reply, and perhaps I should be a little embarrassed because the figure I was given was "one". That has grown since then. There is a special problem for the young people in my area. If they want good jobs they must travel to Sheffield or Doncaster or even further afield. There is only the mining industry and one or two large factories in the immediate vicinity.
Although it is only a temporary organisation, Community Industry has done a tremendous amount of good work in my district. Those in charge are doing magnificently. They do their best to ensure that a good proportion of the boys and girls employed are those who would have difficulty in obtaining work because of some impediment or lack of training. In one instance a deaf boy was employed and trained in a useful occupation. I 1062 understand that many of the people trained there had previously found it impossible to get a job.
There are three different training courses, lasting 13 weeks, 26 weeks and 39 weeks respectively. There has been a slight mistake at my local employment exchange, I have been told, and my hon. Friend will be receiving a letter from me on this issue. When some girls went to sec about the courses they were told about the 13-week course. They felt that the final pass standard was rather high for a 13-week course. Later when they questioned the employment exchange further they discovered that there were the two other courses of 26 weeks and 39 weeks. They had not been told of these courses earlier. They would have preferred to take one of these. Now they cannot take another course for at least five years because they have taken the 13-week course. I hope that my hon. Friend will ask his right hon. Friend to look into this.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Fraser)
I can understand my hon. Friend's concern. Perhaps he will excuse me if I do not deal with that point in my reply, but I will look into it most carefully.
§ Mr. Wainwright
I thank my hon. Friend.
I come now to the subject of office work in South Yorkshire. We have pressed on the Government that some of the Government Departments or offices dispersed from London should go to South Yorkshire, but our area has not been favourably considered. The relocated Government employment either falls well below South Yorkshire or flies above us into the clouds and drops down further north. Some of our young people should be able to obtain work in Government Departments. I hope that my hon. Friend will bring pressure to bear on the appropriate Government Department with this end in view. There are useful sites in the Rotherham. and Sheffield district on which offices needed for relocated Government Departments or offices could be erected.
There is limited employment in South Yorkshire for our young people. When the recession is over and the economy starts to thrive, I ask that consideration be 1063 given to building a large motor car factory in South Yorkshire. It is a disgrace that our young people have such difficulty in obtaining jobs and that unemployment is at its present level. The greater the level of general unemployment the more difficulties our young people have. Further, those who are in some way disadvantaged but could be employed in a thriving economy get pushed further and further into the background.
I hope that the Government will find a solution to the present economic situation. Jobs should be provided for all people. No youngster should leave school unless he enters an apprenticeship or embarks upon some training of a type to ensure that he has a secure future. It is estimated that before the end of their working lives those youngsters now entering employment will change their jobs at least three times. That is why basic training is so important.
It could be said that the problem is aggravated by factories closing. No one can find a solution to the problem. For at least two decades there has been insufficient investment; and both Governments are to blame for this. Private enterprise should not criticise nationalised industries on this account, because private industry, too, has failed to invest sufficiently.
We want industries that will produce goods which we can sell abroad to pay for our imports of raw materials and food. Unless we have an enlightened, well-trained work force who are aware of the responsibility which will be required of them in their jobs in the future, we shall fail. I hope that the Government will do more than they have done in the past, although I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends have it in their hearts to do their utmost to ensure that jobs are provided not just for the young but for the benefit of all who need them.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Esmond Bulmer (Kidderminster)
I agree with the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) about the overriding need to invest in the interests of the next generation.
On 22nd April I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Employment what evidence he had received 1064on the outlook for jobs for those who will leave school at the end of the school year. If it is the same as the evidence I am getting in my constituency, the outlook for those leaving schools is as bad as it has been at any time within the past 10 years.The Under-Secretary replied:When unemployment rises, young people tend to suffer disproportionately more than others."—[Official Report, 22nd April 1975; Vol. 890, c. 1214]The Under-Secretary went on to say something about what the Government intended to do, but he did not say that this was a situation he could not tolerate and the Government could not tolerate.
However, the Under-Secretary told the truth. It is true that young people suffer disproportionately. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said, this has recently been documented in the National Youth Employment Council's report "Unqualified, Untrained and Unemployed". The council found indications of a long-term trend for young people to be hardest hit at each downturn of the economy. We all know that the spiral is getting worse. As inflation goes from a two to four multiple to a four to eight multiple to an eight to 16 multiple, we can expect the unemployment spiral to follow in just such a disadvantageous way.
We in the House have a vested interest in the next generation. They are in many ways the most vulnerable and most impressionable. They are the people on whom we in our turn will come to depend. If a young person obtains employment and there is redundancy in his firm, on the basis of "last in, first out" he is the person who will suffer.
Consideration should be given by the trade unions to producing a code of practice which reflects a more mature outlook and which takes account of such considerations as bachelor versus married man and young versus old. The young certainly are impressionable. If they get into the wrong job straight away, or if they have the wrong supervision, they can be alienated for life. There is a growing contrast between what they are receiving and their aspirations.
The Minister rightly said that there is a need for constant reassessment. We know that the sum of knowledge is doubling perhaps every 10 years. We must all go back to school and re-educate ourselves continually. There is now some 1065 understanding of this in industry. Those of us who work in companies are tied, perhaps, to an out-of-date code of law which demands that we make a profit first and which says that that is our fundamental responsibility. As our thinking develops, and as there is clearly far less to be paid in wages, with the way things are going at present, we must all turn to meeting some of our other aspirations which are, not for higher wages, but for better jobs and jobs which provide greater fulfilment.
I hope that the steps management is taking will be recognised by all trade unions. Some trade unions already recognise these steps. It would be nice to think that there were more disciplines such as those that, perhaps, an IBM computer aptitude test provides in a company. It may well be discovered that if everybody in a company takes such a test there is numeracy to be found in people where it is quite unexpected. There is still the tendency to regard people as fixed for all time in a particular job. We clearly need a greater mobility in attitude, just as we need greater mobility in moving from company to company.
I have said that we shall depend in our turn upon the rising generation. We shall depend upon them for our pensions, for exports, and for our standard of living. If we ignore them and treat them worse than other sections of the community—as we admit is happening at the moment—we shall have only ourselves to blame if they are less sympathetic to our problems when those problems catch up with US.
How shall we reduce these risks? The Minister has said some sensible things about counselling. The Central Youth Employment report headed "Looking Forward to Work" put forward two horrifying statistics. Only four in 10 of those leaving secondary school received any formalised career advice. Only one parent in 10 actually went along to the headmaster of the school to talk about what career his son or daughter should follow. There is an enormous task to be dealt with in this area.
In my constituency, which has hitherto enjoyed very stable employment, the outlook is probably the worst for young people that it has been since the war. In engineering there has been a notable 1066 reduction in vacancies. In building and construction there has been a notable reduction, and in carpet manufacturing a slight reduction, in the number of vacancies for boys, with a large reduction in the number of vacancies for girls. In shops, there has been a substantial reduction; one large store has recruited nobody since January. Vacancies are two-thirds down on last year. If we look at the prospects for the 700 people who will be leaving school in July, whereas this time last year there were 400 vacancies there are at present only a handful.
When the Minister replied to my Question he went on to say that the Chancellor had announced an increased grant in aid to the Manpower Services Commission and that young people will benefit from the strengthening of the employment and training services. As yet there is no evidence of this in my constituency. We have an excellent college of further education, which has the facilities to produce courses, if it were given the go-ahead in June, for those who cannot find jobs in September. The courses could be open-ended, so that when a job has been found, by one of the people doing the course, the course could be contracted in line with the successful finding of the job. I emphasise that we would want a decision on that matter in June.
Coming closer to home—although this is not the Minister's responsibility—we hope to have a carpet design course. Kidderminster has increased its exports —as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will be delighted to learn—to the EEC from £5 million in 1972 to £27 million in 1974. Naturally, we want to take advantage of this and to expand our design centre. At present we are subject to substantial bureaucratic delays. I have a letter from the principal who says:It is very unfortunate that the procedural system is so lengthy that it will be very difficult, to start the course in September, although I am still hopeful that it may just prove possible.Therefore, any help that the Minister or his colleagues could give us would be much appreciated.
The way to turn round these prospects is clearly to give stimulus to industry. It is difficult not to be provoked by some of the things said by the hon. Member for Bolsover, but so many industries and so many companies in those industries have found themselves deprived 1067 of the cash they need by the operation 01 the Price Commission. I know of one company which got caught in the worst possible way. The price of raw materials doubled in a month and it discovered that it could not put up its prices just before the main selling season, so its short-term loans rose from £3 million to £9 million and it was in the position of being technically insolvent within three months. The Government must look at this situation. Something must be done to relax the rules.
There is no doubt that in my constituency a great many of the larger employers will turn round and say that they cannot recruit more people because they cannot be certain that they can run their own businesses. With the present rate of inflation, and with the Price Commission operating in the way that it is, if they are to preserve the jobs of the people whom they employ they cannot afford to take any risks at all and, therefore, quite naturally, they are cutting back.
There is clearly a lot that the Government can do in the nationalised industries to develop manpower strategies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) referred to the Armed Forces. Many of them provide a useful break for young people to see something of the world and to develop a trade at the same time. I hope that this will be further encouraged.
I hope that when the Minister winds up he will say something about the need to restore to private enterprise the ability to manage its own companies and to feel that, if it takes decisions to recruit people, it will not be prejudicing the jobs of those already employed. I hope that the Government will consider the development of manpower strategies of the nationalised industries, and say something of comfort to my constituents.
§ 6.15 p.m.
Mr. Leon Britton (Cleveland and Whitby)
This debate has shown hon. Members' appreciation of the gravity and the dimensions of the problems facing school leavers and their concern that practical steps should be taken to deal with those problems. There has been some divergency as to the magnitude of the problems. The Minister of State has told 1068 us not to exaggerate, but from such different points of the compass and different political viewpoints as those represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) a rather more gloomy picture has emerged.
There is a long-term problem and an especially acute problem this year. As has been shown from the recent report, vacancies for young people have tended to drop by 6 per cent. between boom and recession years, but the number of vacancies has failed to rise again to restore former levels. In addition, the situation becomes more serious when the working population between 15 years and 17 years is expected to increase again from 2 million to 2.75 million by 1980. Of course, young people are especially vulnerable to cyclical factors in the economy.
The situation is well illustrated by the figures on the register this year for Cleveland county—a typical northern industrial county—which show that there are 1,052 teenagers on the register compared with 446 last year, and 274 vacancies, compared with 972 last year. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has already said, 70 per cent. of the unemployed young are unqualified and untrained and are likely to get jobs below or at craft level. Indeed, the fact that such people are particularly disadvantaged, and that people such as the disabled and members of the black community are even more disadvantaged, was stressed by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud).
It is a tragedy if young people face life at the outset of their career as unemployed people. If one starts life without a job, it is likely to affect one's attitude towards life and work ever afterwards and to encourage anti-social tendencies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) said, the effect is to cause young people to turn on to society instead of to turn into society, and to feel rejected.
What do we do in a situation such as that? A number of suggestions have been put forward, many of which are constructive. I hope that I shall be forgiven for not regarding it as a practical suggestion that the motor industry, in its 1069 present difficulties, should be started up in a variety of favoured areas. As Frances Cairncross pointed out in The Guardian, the future of a modern economy would not be best served by the starting of new motor industries in places which do not already have them.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
To say "When the recession is over, will the Minister consider the matter?" is to put it very unfairly. I appreciate that it is not the right time to start such a project. In any case, it would take quite a few years to build up.
§ Mr. Brittan
I agree, but I am more sceptical about the prospect of that solution even when the recession is over.
If we are to solve the problem, we must first have the full facts. I ask the Minister to say whether the Government will do what the Institute of Careers Officers has asked and reintroduce the publication of separate monthly figures for unemployed teenagers. It is not sufficient to publish monthly the figures of school leavers and twice a year the figures for unemployed teenagers. On 22nd April the Minister said that consideration was being given to this matter. Is an answer available?
However, information is not sufficient. Urgent action is also required in the short term and in the long term. In the Budget, an announcement was made of an extra £20 million to be given to the Manpower Services Commission. I should like from the Minister an answer to the question posed by my right hon. Friend: on what will the money be spent, and, in particular, how much of it will be related to work specifically for young people?
A number of constructive possibilities have been highlighted in this debate. The contribution of Community Industry stood out. We heard how 5,000 young people have been working in Community Industry. Tribute to it was paid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West and by my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree. We were told that it provided real hope and that the work given was seen as a job and not just as a service and that it played an important part in developing personal relationships for the people involved.
Will the Minister give the green light for Community Industry to recruit above the 2,000-employee limit? The Minister 1070 of State said that Community Industry is to be continued. I hope that the Minister who concludes the debate will say whether it will be expanded. Will he agree to the proposal of the management board of Community Industry that the original experiment can be expanded to include a whole new range of approaches such as the organisation of work experience schemes? We shall want to know the answers to those questions because upon them depends the short-term policy on this grave problem. The scheme in Canada so vividly described by my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree plainly will require long-term examination, but I hope that the House will have at the earliest date the result of the foray into Canada of the members of the Department who went to see how that scheme was getting on.
The Manpower Services Commission referred in its report to the value of work creation. Although one must be careful of palliatives, and although the scope is not unlimited, surely there is scope at a time of rising unemployment for expansion of schemes such as Operation Eyesore, which was described in denigratory terms by the hon. Member for Bolsover.
§ Mr. Brittan
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman knows that if I do not give way he must sit down.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We must have one hon. Gentleman at a time. If the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) does not give way, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will have to restrain himself.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I referred to Operation Eyesore—and you were present at the time—I made it abundantly clear that I was not complaining about—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not a point of order."]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must not seek, by means of a point of order, to make the point which he would have made if the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby had given way.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that I had referred to Operation Eyesore in denigratory terms. I made no such charge. What I was suggesting was that—
§ Mr. Brittan
That is quite a lot on the hon. Gentleman's record, and hon. Members will be glad to hear what he has said.
§ Mr. Brittan
I wish to ask the Minister whether adequate use can be made of the spare capacity in apprenticeships which is likely to exist this year. What is the latest estimate of the vacancies likely to occur, and can there be sponsored apprenticeship on the lines of the training award schemes we have had in previous years?
I know that the disadvantage of that is thought to be that sponsored apprenticeships discourage employers from taking on apprentices, but many employers have already made it clear that they do not propose to take on as many apprentices as they have done in the past. In those circumstances, the disadvantages surely are outweighed by the advantages of using the facilities which are provided for apprenticeships, otherwise those who would take apprenticeships would take instead jobs which could go to people with lower attainment who suffer most from the problem of youth employment.
However, the Government should be addressing themselves to the long-term problem. I have a number of questions on the long-term problem which I should like the Minister to deal with. The clearest statement of conclusion reached by the working party of the National Youth Employment Council in its pamphlet entitled "Unqualified, Untrained, and Unemployed" was this:All young people should in the initial years of their working experience be regarded as trainees and they should have systematic further education.1072 Is that a long-term policy which the Government are prepared to regard as an official commitment? Many concerned in this area would like to know whether it is.
The problem of the young and their employment prospects must be considered from the time that they are at school. Reference was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West to the facilities in school being used after school hours for employment purposes. I hope that the Government will give that constructive suggestion careful attention when they consider their policy. I hope that they will also give attention to the proposal in the pamphlet to which I have just referred that more careers material should be provided in simple language backed up by audio and visual aids.
Another recommendation made in the pamphlet which I hope will be carefully considered is that there should be special courses in literacy and numeracy in colleges and elsewhere. The study found that employers were horrified at the inability of many young employees to read even such matters as safety instructions—a conclusion which the House may think supports the views expressed by my hon. Friends about the need for the reintroduction and maintenance of monitoring standards in education for the basic skills. I hope that the implication of the report will not fall on deaf ears on the employment side. Similarly, the proposal that there should be a junior training opportunities scheme—a proposal which was commended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West—needs to be answered at a fairly early stage.
A matter which is of great importance in long-term planning policy is the central constructive recommendation for a scheme for preparing young people for employment by means of residential courses, continuous assessment and carefully graded tasks. That would be a major commitment, but I hope that the Government can at least give their preliminary thoughts on whether they are prepared to back the scheme and to give it their support.
The Minister of State referred to linked courses between schools and colleges and 1073 help in the transition between schools and colleges. That is a matter to which it is easy to pay lip-service. I am sure that the Government are sincere in their belief in the importance of such help, but it would be easier to believe that the Government had a credible strategy in that area if they were able to give us rather more detail of what they have in mind for the future of such schemes.
I suggest that we can genuinely consider the cost of training and matters of that kind as an investment. It is an investment that is far more valuable than the attempt to protect existing jobs at all costs. The Minister sought to defend the Government's policy of protecting existing jobs at all costs and he referred with pride to the Government's activities as regards British Leyland. I suggest that that is a self-defeating policy. To maintain existing employment by throwing in more and more of the taxpayer's money may sound a charitable and merciful operation, but in the end there will be a limit to the amount of money that the taxpayer is either able or willing to spend.
I have a horrid vision of a weaker and weaker Exchequer making increasingly desperate attempts to prop up increasingly out-of-date industries in a vain attempt to freeze the existing pattern of employment. Surely there is a constructive alternative to that approach. I suggest that the alternative is to educate and train young people to engage in constructive and relevant work in modern and expanding industries. It is with that end in view that we have initiated this debate.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Fraser)
It would be remiss of me if I did not begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) on what I think was his maiden speech from the Front Bench. I say sincerely that we shall look forward very much to hearing him speak again from the Front Bench. He has spoken with knowledge and care and I am sure that the whole House appreciated the contribution which he made.
I have been asked a number of questions which are not directly the responsibility of my Department. If I do not answer all the detailed points I shall certainly study the matters which have been 1074 put forward in the debate. I start with the suggestion which was put forward on 22nd April at Question Time that we should have more regular publication of the teenager unemployment figures. I cannot add to the answer I gave on 22nd April. The idea of more regular publication has its attractions and I am studying the matter urgently. I shall make an announcement as soon as possible. Other detailed points concerned the siting of the National Shipping Corporation and the prospective Government offices in Dearne Valley. The advance building programme was also raised. I cannot give detailed answers to those matters but I shall bear them in mind and where appropriate I shall pass them on to another Government Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) raised a rather wide point and I do not feel that it would be fair to deal with the detailed matters involved. I feel that if my hon. Friend and I were to swop election addresses he might find that we were rather closer together than he imagines. I say that in view of some of the things my hon. Friend said about his own Front Bench.
A serious problem for all Socialists is that public ownership does not of itself mean that we have resolved all our problems. I am sure that my hon. Friend is keen, for example, on the nationalisation of the banks and insurance companies. I am sure that that is amongst his proposals, and it is an idea with which I have some sympathy. If we considered that proposal purely for the sake of argument, it might well be found that such a programme would lead to a contraction of job opportunities in the same way as nationalisation and public ownership in other areas can lead to contraction of job placement. I hope my hon. Friend will excuse me if I do not take the matter further than that. Public ownership should not be regarded as a panacea for all our problems.
§ Mr. Skinner
I agree with my hon. Friend's argument that public ownership does not necessarily provide more jobs I agree that in some instances it would not be efficient if that were the case. However, we are currently finding that the propping up of the capitalist system is becoming increasingly expensive. The system is not now providing jobs. If we had proper 1075 control and if we occupied the commanding heights of the economy, including some of the industries which my hon. Friend has mentioned, the State would be in charge and would be able to plan and control. It could then ensure that loss of jobs did not arise out of the pure exploitation of the working people.
§ Mr. Fraser
I hope that my hon. Friend will concede—I am sure that the Opposition will do so—that we are making reasonably good progress during this Session.
I return to the detailed subject of the debate—namely, unemployment. Whether unemployment is applied to the young or the old, it is a corrosive disease which robs people of pride, dignity and a sense of security. As most hon. Members have said, it is particularly disturbing when unemployment hits the school leaver. The burden of unemployment is not one which falls evenly. The prospects for the future are daunting in terms of vacancies for young people. The school leaver suffers disproportionately when we face a recession. Of course, there are other people who are hit in a similar way—for example, the disabled, ethnic minorities, people in the development regions and the older worker.
The tragedy for the school leaver is that his expectations and ideals are blunted at the very moment when he should be able to begin to realise his potential, at the time when he comes out of school with bright hopes and with the idea of applying what he has learnt at school. He can be disappointed by his first experience of the adult world.
It is even worse than that. The effects of unemployment are felt not only by school leavers but all the way down the line. They are felt even by those who are still at school. When they see the experience of their older school friends, they sometimes think that it is not worth while making the effort I must say to them that they are absolutely wrong in taking that attitude. One thing that becomes very clear is that lack of attainment at school means a greater chance of lack of attainment at work. To believe that it is not worth while making the effort is the wrong attitude to take, but we must not underestimate the effect of 1076 unemployment both inside and outside school. Anyone who represents an area with a large black population will understand exactly what I am saying. It is a problem that is very much a challenge to a caring society.
I do not think we need debate the reasons for rising unemployment. The reasons are not limited to this country and arc to be found in commodity prices. I do not think that it would be productive to debate that further.
The Govenment are prepared to take the necessary measures. We have been prepared to take them in the past. Certain measures have been taken by means of the Industry Act 1972 to deal with ailing firms, and notably with the British Leyland Motor Corporation. I emphasise that 800,000 jobs turn on the viability of that corporation. The setting up of the National Enterprise Board is an important contribution to providing investment and job opportunities. It will assist in providing jobs where they are most needed. One of the purposes of the NEB will be to exercise the functions of maintaining and safeguarding employment in any part of the country.
Conservative Members are today berating unemployment, but no doubt in Committee tomorrow morning their colleagues will be berating the very measures that we intend to put through to deal with the long-term causes of unemployment. In successive Budgets my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has resisted the proposition that unemployment should be an instrument of economic policy. My right hon. Friend in November took action, which was criticised in some quarters, to increase the cash position of companies. That action has saved jobs over the winter. We have doubled the regional employment premium and strengthened IDC control to assist the regions.
On top of programmes already planned, the Government are preparing measures to strengthen and accelerate the growth of the training programme, to introduce special measures of training for the unemployed, to improve the efficiency of the Employment Service Agency—any hon. Member who has a job centre in his constituency will welcome what is being done—and to provide additional incentives for job mobility. In case unemployment increases sharply, a contingency plan is 1077 being considered for special payments to firms in areas of high unemployment if they are prepared to defer planned redundancies.
I was asked about the job creation programme and whether the Manpower Services Commission and the Department, following their study in Canada, will be able to build on that experience. The MSC is undertaking more detailed contingency planning for schemes of job creation. This is part of its normal contingency planning against the possibility of high unemployment. The MSC initiative is being undertaken with the knowledge of the Government but at this stage without Government commitment, When the MSC's plans are completed, it will report to the Ministers concerned, who will then take a decision about the viability of the job creation proposals and about when it would be appropriate to put them into effect.
I have read that passage carefully because I hope that it will put on record where the Government stand. This is part of the continuing responsibility of the MSC which reports on these matters and advises the Government on employment and the labour market generally.
Some speakers in this debate have suggested that we are facing the gloomiest prospect for school leavers since the war. I shall not try to make forecasts. I know that the number of vacancies forecast for the future is down. Therefore, I shall not attempt to be prophetic about the situation because that would be extremely difficulty. People who make economic forecasts often go wrong. However, I hope that the House will not take too serious a view about opportunities for school leavers.
Let me give some figures of the situation from last summer. In 1974 526,000 school leavers entered the labour market and the number who immediately became registered as unemployed when they left school amounted to a little over 50,000. Of that figure, 20,000 entered employment in one month and a further 15,000 in two months, and by the end of the year the number still unemployed fell to less than 8,000about 1½per cent. of school leavers.
At Christmas 1974—I refer now to Scotland rather than England—14,000 young people left school for employment 1078 but only a small proportion—about 2,000 —found it necessary to register as unemployed. By March 1975 the number of unemployed school leavers had fallen to fewer than 7,000. In April, however, the figure was increased by 14,000 school leavers in Great Britain who became registered as unemployed out of the total leaving school at that time of 80,000.
Disregarding the Easter leavers, it is estimated that at present there are about 5,000 school leavers whose duration of unemployment has been six months or more and about 1,000 with a duration of unemployment of three months or more. Almost all those people affected by long-term unemployment left school without any recognised educational qualifications. I emphasise that they are at a disadvantage when competing for jobs against better qualified leavers. Their main hope of obtaining settled employment rests either with special help, through training or Community Industry, or in a general improvement in employment prospects.
It is interesting to contrast that figure against the forecast in the Department of Employment Gazette published this week which refers to prospects for graduates leaving university. That publication shows that employers forecast a 25 per cent. increase in job opportunities for graduates against a 10 per cent. increase in the number of graduates. The contrast between the chances for the qualified and the unqualified is so stark that I hope much more notice will be taken of this factor by parents, pupils and by the education system generally.
I now come to unemployment among young people generally, and here I refer to those between 16 and 18. In another context I shall refer to young people between 16 and 25 as opposed to school leavers who are registered unemployed and who have never had a job since they left school. As a result of the Employment and Training Act 1973, monthly statistics of unemployment no longer distinguish between those over and under the age of 18, and it is more difficult to compare trends of unemployment among the young with previous years.
If the number of people registered with careers offices is taken as being broadly equivalent to the number of under-18s unemployed, we see that the level of unemployment among young people has 1079 declined slightly in recent months. Between October 1974 and March 1975 the number of unemployed in Britain among the young fell from 34,000 to 32,000—6 per cent. of the total. That decline, which is encouraging, was most apparent in the regions where unemployment has been particularly severe—namely, Yorkshire, the Humber, the North West, the Northern Region and Wales. In Scotland, which shows a fairly bright prospect and where unemployment has dropped on several occasions recently, the level of unemployment among the young increased, but only because of the registration of Christmas school leavers.
§ Mr. Fraser
In Christmas 1974 about 14,000 young people in Scotland left school for employment, and 2,000 found it necessary to register at the time—I emphasise "at the time". I cannot give a figure for April analysed separately for school leavers. If I remember correctly from the latest Press release, I believe that, apart from the students who registered in Scotland, there was a drop in the number of unemployed, both young and adult, in that area of the country.
We have done quite well if we take international comparisons. Let me quote the 16-to-25 age group internationally. In Germany between 1973 and 1974 unemployment among the young rose by 210 per cent. In the same period in Denmark the figure rose by 405 per cent., in France by 77 per cent., in Ireland by 121 per cent. and in the United Kingdom by only 13 per cent. Therefore, I repeat that by international standards we have done reasonably well. The year 1974 was not a typical year compared with 1973 because of the raising of the school leaving age, but if we want to take an international comparison we see that although unemployment among the young in our competitor countries rose between 1972 and 1974, there was a drop of about 32 per cent. in unemployment among young people in the United Kingdom between the ages of 16 and 25. Reports from our labour attachés show 1080 that our competitors are faring rather worse than we are. For example, in Germany 100,000 young people are now reported to be out of work.
I return to those at risk and to the measures which the Government are hoping to take to assist. I emphasise that those who left school without any form of education or qualification are most at risk. I hope that the message will be heeded by school careers officers, teachers, parents and most of all by the pupils themselves. This is a most staggering indictment of our educational system and comprises one of the most serious handicaps facing a young person who seeks work. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) that it is wrong to demand unduly high academic qualifications for school leavers. I agree that young people's views about work must he prepared more readily at school.
Despite those facts, I come back to the proposition that obtaining at least some basic educational qualification at school is an important guarantee against unemployment. That is the largest group of people at risk.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
Will my hon. Friend say a few words about sandwich courses being encouraged more and starting earlier?
§ Mr. Fraser
Only if I make a sandwich speech. I shall try to deal with that matter if I can.
The second group which is vulnerable to rising unemployment is composed of girls, not because they suffer from more unemployment but because their opportunities are more restricted. Ethnic minorities are especially vulnerable. For instance, the unemployment rate for young West Indians, according to the 1971 census of population, showed that their unemployment rate was about twice that of young men in general. Then there are those who not only have no qualifications but have other disadvantages. I refer to the disabled, the illiterate, the educationally subnormal and the delinquent. The National Youth Employment Council working party document, which I think has been universally welcomed in the House, reported the finding that 16 per cent. of young people registered 1081 as unemployed in November to December 1972 fell into that category. I have no reason to believe that the position is any better today.
Besides those disadvantaged people, the NYEC also found another group within the unemployed who, while not disadvantaged, appeared to lack the characteristics of smart appearance, mental alertness and manual dexterity which careers officers felt were important in the eyes of employers assessing potential recruits. Some 41 per cent. of the young unemployed at the time of the working party survey were regarded as lacking in these attributes and, therefore, at greater risk of rejection in employment than their contemporaries. I am not sure what conclusion we can draw from that, or whether it applies to barbers and so on. I place it on the record that the young are at a disadvantage. The burden falls unevenly, and it is to these groups that we must pay special attention.
I turn to the particular areas where the Government are dealing with these matters, apart from the general measures about which I have already spoken. I start with Community Industry. We have given full support to ensuring the future of Community Industry, whose broad aim is to assist young people to cope more effectively with life in society, in terms both of overcoming personal problems and of making a positive contribution to their communities. I have taken the opportunity of going to many Community Industry schemes. I am enamoured and enthusiastic about what it is doing. I am studying the CI proposals, which were put forward in its annual report. I should like to see, if it is necessary, an increase in places. At present there are 2,000 allocated, of which 1,500 have been taken up. If it looks as though we shall need to go beyond that figure, I should support that in those time-honoured words "with the approval of the Treasury".
As to work experience, again I am enthusiastic about Community Industry experimenting—I must not tread on other departmental toes—in work experience schemes and in furthering work experience, because I think that far too many children leave school without any real idea of discipline and authority or of the 1082 challenge which they will find outside their schools. If a large number of people leave school ill-equipped to cope with the real world outside, in one way education will have failed us. That is why I am keen to teach by experience as well as by precept.
I pay tribute to the people involved in Community Industry. I know that they will appreciate the tributes and commendations made by hon. Members in the debate.
I turn to the rôle of the careers service. Its prime function is to help an individual young person to relate his qualities and preference to career or job choice, to provide information about the labour market and to place young people in employment. We have carried forward the changes in the Employment and Training Act 1973 by making a careers service compulsory and mandatory for all local education authorities.
As regards girls, as a cornerstone we have introduced the Sex Discrimination Bill. In that Bill we shall seek not only to eliminate discrimination on grounds of sex but to open the way for more occupations for girls, whose careers have often been inhibited by traditional attitudes about what is women's work. For those who have special difficulty in obtaining or holding down jobs we have wider opportunities courses, which were introduced in June 1974 on a small scale and, the first results of which are encouraging. Those courses are for people who have difficulty in obtaining or holding down jobs. They have been run so far in Glasgow, Gwent and Liverpool. We are studying the results and may well extend the provision for them.
We have acted on training allowances. Training allowances for young people were increased from 10th April 1975, and the age differentials under the age of 18 have now been abolished. A young person with dependants living at home now receives an allowance of £10.55 per week. I hope that that will provide encouragement for those who wish to take training.
In 1971 there were 15,000 people in TOPS courses. That figure had risen in 1974 to 45.000, of whom about 1,000 were aged 19 or under. I appreciate the comments and the suggestions which have been made about extending the TOPS courses. about whether there should be a 1083 junior TOPS and whether the TOPS age limit of 19 should be applied. I shall examine those suggestions very seriously, in conjunction with my hon. Friends, and I am sure that the proposals will also be examined seriously by the Training Service Agency. That agency and the Government believe that, at a time when employers may drop back on the recruitment of apprentices, schemes such as an apprentice award scheme might help employers to keep and maintain their training effort and are therefore vitally important.
There are difficulties about extending the TOPS scheme in terms of conflict about allowances which are paid to people at universities and other institutions of further education. I assure the House that this matter has been under consideration.
I mentioned the problems of West Indians in deprived areas. Not all West Indians find it difficult to obtain jobs. Many of them do extremely well. However, we are running preparatory courses for those who have had a year or more of full-time education outside the United Kingdom to assist them. The Government have made it clear that the promotion of equal opportunity, irrespective of race, is a vital cornerstone of their policy.
I mentioned the handicapped. The TOPS scheme is open to handicapped people irrespective of any age limit. We are espectially anxious to encourage forms of education and training for those who have physical handicaps as well as the other disadvantages which I have mentioned.
I have described some of the measures which the Government are taking to deal with the problems of school leavers. Perhaps I should finish by saying that the remedy does not lie entirely with the Government. There is a popular view that the Government can somehow do everything. Well, they cannot. The Government can influence affairs and use what power they have, but some of the responsibility for our social condition lies outside Parliament and outside the area of government. For instance, it lies in the motivation and achievement of children at school. That is why I should like to emblazon a message across every school and in at least half of our homes 1084 that the taking of qualifications at school is an important contribution to people's ability to work.
The remedy also lies with those who engage in collective bargaining. Resources which would otherwise be available for recruitment and training of the young must not be pre-empted by bargains outside the social contract. Employers and trade unions have a duty not merely to those in employment but to those who are recruits for employment. The view that other people have responsibilities applies to employers. They must realise that time and time again, in normal times and in boom times, this country has been held back by a lack or shortage of skilled manpower. They must, while looking at their training programmes, look beyond this year's profit and loss account and this year's balance sheet and realise how important training is for the future of industry. I believe that the construction industry and the building societies, as well as the Government, have a responsibility for ensuring a future for our people.
I conclude by saying that it is not that we owe the school leaver a living. We owe him the right to earn his own living. That right to work and to earn a living should be both a precious and an abundant right. Despite the daunting prospects, I am sure that the Government, private enterprise industries, local authorities and the nationalised industries, by getting together, can ensure that that right is given to all school leavers and the young.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.