§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.8 pm
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I should like to pay tribute to my parliamentary colleagues who have preceded me with a Youth and Community Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), Sir Edward Brown, until recently Member of Parliament for Bath, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). Although little has been achieved on the legislative front after sections 41 and 53 of the Education Act 1944, several milestones have, nevertheless, been established along the road during the past 35 years. In 1958 there was the Countess of Albemarle report and in 1960 the setting up of the Youth Service Development Council, which was disbanded in 1971. In July 1968 the Seebohm report recommended a comprehensive inquiry into all services for young people. In December 1976 there was Professor Court's report into child health services. The Youth Service Forum had a short life between 16 December and July 1979. In 1978 the Wolfenden report recommended on page 74, inter alia, the expansion of the voluntary services.
Over the period, solid work has been achieved by the statutory and voluntary services. As the years have accumulated and the requirements of youth have changed, Governments in the post-war era have shown a marked disinclination 0either to identify the change or to accommodate it. According to the Commission for Racial Equality in its report "Youth in Multi-Racial Society" issued in October 1979,The general feeling amongst workers we have spoken to is that the present youth service in most areas is quite inadequate to meet the needs of most black (and also most white) youth in a changing society.In France there is a Minister for Youth, Sport and Leisure. In the Federal Republic of Germany there is a Minister for Youth, Family Affairs and Health. In the Netherlands there is a Minister for Cultural Affairs, Recreation and Social Work. In Belgium there is a Minister 791 for National Education and French culture. In Australia there is a Federal Minister of Youth and Employment. But in the United Kingdom British ingenuity has produced only a Minister responsible for sport, and the framework for the youth service remains nebulous and ill defined.
With the approach of an International Youth Year in 1985, under the auspices of the UNESCO, it is sincerely hoped that the Government will embrace this Bill, which at least gives the youth service statutory backing and makes it less vulnerable to the retrenchment which normally accompanies the turn of the economic cycle.
In my judgment there are three reasons why the youth and community service should be cherished. First, there arises an obligation to quarry the potential in our youth and extract the valuable qualities that lie within. The total size of the population is of little concern. It is the quality of the nation and the stature of the people that matter. National wealth is multiplied many fold through the added value of extracted skill, experience and talent.
Secondly, there is some correlation between the amount of juvenile crime and the attention paid by authority to youth. Accompanying under-provision is an understandable rise in vandalism, yet local authorities fail to take into account the cost and the natural causes of delinquency in their areas. They readily pay for the repairs, when they should be preventing the crimes that flow from their neglect. At the recent Conservative Party conference in Blackpool my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to the advent of discipline camps with a strict routine stretching from 5.30 in the morning until 10 at night. Attention paid to youth at an earlier and more appropriate time would, in my opinion, pay far greater dividends than attempts to correct youth later when, unprepared and misguided, young people have become corrupted by irresponsible elements in society.
Thirdly, youth is the occasion of important decisions—to enter employment, to marry, to enlist in the Services, to vote and to become liable in contract, to mention only a few instances. This is the time when the investment should be 792 made to ensure that youth is properly informed, motivated and equipped to face the years that lie ahead. The opportunity missed, and the character of the adolescent, may crystallise with harmful effects on his ability, prospects and human relationships. As H. G. Wells indicated in his book "The Outline of History",Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.The Secretary of State for Education and Science lavishes the fruits of education on the young up to the age of 16 and extends them to those going on to the colleges of higher education and the universities. For the greater part, however, youth passes into the post-education void and faces austere conditions in the outer world, with little enduring care. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science will appreciate that expenditure on youth and related services in 1977–78 worked out at only 1.2 per cent. of the total spent on education—that is, £95 million out of a total of £7,951 million, which is equivalent to barely 24 miles of a three-lane motorway, and only £30 million in excess of the cost of one project on the East Coast, the Humber Bridge.
Speaking at a seminar on youth and young people at the University of London union on 3 March 1979, the Secretary of State, then an Opposition spokesman, said:The youth service must surely be the Cinderella service of education. More than three decades after the 1944 Education Act it is still a malformed creature … and the response of local authorities to the need to provide services and recreational facilities for young people varies enormously.I should have thought that that was an outstanding indictment. While travelling round the country in recent months in a consultative process, I have been informed that the present cuts could lead to a decimation of the service. As one man in Bradford told me, "If you cut back in services to youth, you will pay for it 10 times over later on." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Retrenchment here is a false economy.
The voluntary services have been particularly resourceful. I quote one example, the Boys' Brigade, which covers 146,000 boys and 27,000 leaders. It costs the Government barely ½p a boy per 793 annum. On the other hand, the time and effort—unpaid services—granted by the 27,000 voluntary leaders and others must run into millions of pounds. Investment in youth is not without its significance, as the young are the tenants of tomorrow's estate. There are twin terminals in life—youth and age. Special provision is made for the latter, but scarcely for the former, yet the damage sustained in youth's formative years could be irreparable.
Most of the obligations contained in the Bill are, in fact, discharged by advanced local authorities. Is it unreasonable to suggest that all authorities should conform to acceptable standards laid down by Parliament? Is it extravagant to suggest that there should be a small shift in resources from formal education to the broader area of social education so that more could be achieved for young people than at present? I can tell the House that the Bedfordshire county council, which is located in my area, believes that the Bill could be accommodated.
There is no one Act of Parliament to cover all the requirements of youth. The lead Ministry is the Department of Education and Science, and its task is to co-ordinate the activities of other Ministries, including the Department of Health and Social Security, the Home Office, the Departments of Employment and Environment and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A variety of Acts appear on the statute book, but there is no law which says that common sense should prevail. Of course, the national position is reflected locally, and the Bill goes a long way towards meeting the plea of those who say "Let us ensure through co-ordinated activities that more is achieved with existing resources". Unfortunately, there are many small departments within local authorities, yet there seems to be no lead department among them.
This situation was epitomised by the Secretary of State himself, and I have already referred to that occasion, when he said:Many of the current problems with provision for young people stem from lack of co-ordination between one central Government Department and another, between central and local government and between statutory and voluntary bodies.794 My observation is that there is little expenditure in this essential work, but disintegrating the empires of the mighty to assist the particular lot that they are intended to serve requires both political will and a readiness to strip off the growing encrustrations of local bureaucracy.
I now turn to the clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 provides for the setting up of a joint committee comprising representation from local education authorities, voluntary organisations and young people. It is this body that will co-ordinate the services of local authorities and a variety of local agencies. The mechanism is provided by schedule 1.
It has been argued that local authorities have power under sections 101 and 102 of the Local Government Act 1972 to set up committees to discharge any of their functions, but they are not obliged to do that, and many have not done so during the past seven years. Clause 1 makes that mandatory in the context of the Bill. Further, they are not obliged to enter into partnership with voluntary agencies, but they are required to do that under this clause.
Under section 53(2) of the Education Act 1944, local authorities are simply enjoined tohave regard to the expediency of co-operating with voluntary societies".Further, local authorities have power to provide recreational facilities under section 19 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. However, since the submission of a comprehensive programme to the Secretary of State is no longer required under the 1979 Bill it becomes encumbent upon Parliament to lay down standards for the guidance of local authorities, thus providing broad parameters within which to exercise their discretion.
Under clause 2 the local education authority is requested to draw up a comprehensive range of services for the young, and, as I have mentioned, in accordance with Schedule VII to the Education (No. 2) Bill now before Parliament it will no longer be necessary to submit the scheme to the Secretary of State for his approval.
The range of services to be provided is broad and includes the provision of social education, which I am not attempting to define as it is readily understood 795 by most people who have concern for youth, the provision of facilities and equipment essential to the success of any operation, the training of youth and community workers, the provision of projects designed to assist those out of reach of clubs and societies and counselling services.
The clause is integrated with sections 41 and 53 of the 1944 Education Act, which make a general commitment but provide little clarification or embellishment for the guidance of local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) stated on 1 February 1974:Sections 41 and 53 of the Education Act 1944 … are drafted in very general terms and provide little detailed guidance on what authorities may do. Many authorities interpret the provisions of those sections very liberally … but there could well be a welcome for more specific guidance."—[Official Report, 1 February 1974; Vol. 868, c. 782.]Clause 3 is designed to indicate to local education authorities what Parliament has in mind when they consider drawing up schemes. They should take into account methods of enhancing youth participation, the acceptance of responsibility by youth, the promotion of leadership, and so forth, and include specifically services needed to help young people move from school to work. Nine criteria have been outlined, and each has been designed to provide the adolescent with balanced objectives or to ensure protection of disadvantaged young people, whether they be homeless, disabled, unemployed, anti-social, delinquents or, at an extreme range, members of an ethnic group.
The Bill places special emphasis on the partnership established between the voluntary and statutory services. Their work is often complementary. On the other hand, voluntary agencies, spurred on by a natural desire to serve the younger generation, may provide inexpensively what the statutory services could achieve only at considerable cost. At times of economic exigency, that may represent a significant benefit. On the other hand, the work of the statutory services is acknowledged in clause 3(viii), and additional provision is outlined in clause 2(2)(c)., (d and (e)—in fact, throughout the Bill.
Clause 3 is of particular interest, since it is calculated to raise the sights of local 796 authorities. Somebody must give them a guide. Some hon. Members may oppose it and contend that it covers a limited demand, but this is what was apparent in 1832 when the first Reform Bill came before the House. Parliament was right to take the initiative and provide the example, and the 1832 Bill was a progenitor of the other Bills that were to follow. The scheme may, of course, be scrutinised before acceptance, and indeed modified. Review would be mandatory every seven years to allow for the changes wrought by time.
Clauses 1 to 4 form a crucial part of the Bill. To acquaint youth with the merits of our democratic process, to urge them to become more articulate and build up self-reliance, participation has been introduced in clause 5 in the form of youth councils. There are well over 100 of these in existence and their performance has varied throughout the country. The clause has been drafted only to create an obligation on an LEA where there is a local requirement. In that case either LEAs or voluntary organisations may create them. The procedure and the composition of such forums is left to be established by the Secretary of State by regulation under clause 11. Youth today has a lot to say and should be encouraged to say it. Young people should realise that by discussion, argument and persuasion they can change the world. That is at least in line with British tradition.
Housing for homeless young people is referred to in clause 7. The adolescent seems to fall outside the usual rules formulated by housing departments, but there may be many instances, especially when the youth emerges from prison, when the provision of accommodation is essential for his rehabilitation in society. Further, to tackle employment on, say, Merseyside, the provision of housing elsewhere could contribute to permanent resettlement.
The young unemployed are referred to in clause 3(v). Unemployment tends to fall heavily on youth, despite the efforts of the youth opportunities programme, and has risen faster among girls than boys. Amongst young blacks it has trebled between 1973 and 1977, and is particularly high among the young disabled, ex-offenders and the educationally subnormal. Parliament should be called upon to take some action.
797 Community involvement is referred to in clause 8, and it should be noted that the intention is less for the benefit of the community than for the personal development of the participant.
The age range throughout the Bill has been set between 12 and 21, which is mentioned specifically in clause 12. A specific allowance, however, has been made in clause 5, which deals with youth councils, and in clause 8, which deals with community involvement, for the age of 26 years to be established as the upper limit. ILEA has a broad age range, I am informed, of upwards of five years, while in Europe it is even lower. It is apparent that the age of stress is dropping with the early maturity of the adolescent, and it is essential that the legislation that is before the House should take account of that change and the existence of pressures that were not formerly apparent.
Due to the nature of a Private Member's Bill, I was obliged to introduce clause 9 relating to the rate support grant. However, I have provided that where, but for the Bill, a local authority would qualify for the rate support grant for services, it would not be deprived of that right. I am hoping that as the economic position improves the Government will become more accommodating to the youth service. I fear that on this occasion I should take out my handkerchief.
I am conscious that, for very good reasons, my hon. Friend the Minister decided to dispense with the services of the youth service forum. Accordingly, I have provided that no further national organisation will be required unless specified by order. The House will probably regard that approach as good sense, since it is important, in my judgment, to consolidate activity in the first instance at the base of the pyramid before any attempt is made to provide a national structure at the apex. I sincerely hope that before any attempt is made to engraft a national body on to the youth service much thought will be given to the proposal.
The road of youth is not unlike an elevator. No sooner has a young person placed his foot on the lower step than he has reached the top and moved on to another phase of life. A national co- 798 ordinating body, if properly located and structured, could provide for a transient though vital stage in life.
To complete the Bill, I refer to clauses 12 and 13 which cover interpretation and apply the Bill to Scotland.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has received representations from the various bodies in Scotland connected with youth and community services, or, as we say, community education, leisure and recreation. I consulted all of them. They were unanimous that the Bill should not apply to Scotland, because of the different system not only of local government but of community education. Has the hon. Gentleman taken account of those representations, and will he reconsider clause 13?
§ Mr. Skeet
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have received representations from Scotland of different points of view. Some recommend that the Bill should apply while others recommend that it should not. There are advantages for Scotland in the Bill, and I shall consider the point carefully in Committee. I hope that with the support of the Minister we can consider these matters in Committee. However, it would be unwise for me to say now that it should not apply to Scotland.
Clauses 1 to 4 are fundamental to youth. They are as applicable to Scotland as they are to England and Wales. I regret that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. I have received representations from people in Northern Ireland that they wish to be associated with the subject but not to be included in the Bill.
Finally, there is the interpretation clause. If I am lucky enough to pilot the Bill through Committee and perform some service to the youth of this country, I hope that I shall be flexible and accommodate the Minister's point of view, and that he will accommodate youth.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Waltham Forest)
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) is to be congratulated on introducing the Bill. It is much needed and it provides the opportunity to debate an area of great concern. Such an opportunity is not normally provided. The Bill 799 is required not merely to give proper status to youth and community work in the country but to provide a policy on youth work to guide those who work long hours with little money—sometimes no money—in the statutory and voluntary organisations.
The Bill states the purpose of youth and community work. It goes some way towards defining the relationship between the youth and community service and the rest of the education services. Up to now, youth and community work has been the poor relation. The Bill sets out the concept of partnership between voluntary and statutory bodies. That partnership is unique in much of our public life in the youth and community service. Neither can effectively provide services without the help and co-operation of the other.
The concept of partnership is capable of extension. There are many other organisations and bodies which work with young people. There are commercial organisations, for example, local radio, and non-commercial organisations, such as the Manpower Services Commission, the youth opportunities programme and so on. Technically, they are now outside the scope of the Bill. Nevertheless, the Bill is drafted broadly enough that if co-operation and co-ordination are initiated with local youth opportunities schemes, or local commercial radio, there is nothing in the Bill to prohibit that. I am sure that the youth and community service would not wish to adopt an exclusive attitude towards work with young people.
Co-ordination of effort at local authority level is needed. The Bill will help to provide that. It provides an adequate framework—although, no doubt, there will be amendments in Committee—to ensure that the co-ordination takes place. We all think that our local authorities are the best run and that such co-ordination takes place already. However, we look over our shoulder at those where it does not exist.
The Bill also stresses the vital need for the participation of young people and for consultation with them. Clauses 2(3) and 3(1) and 5, on youth councils, make that point abundantly clear. It is delightful to realise that the Bill allows for a great deal of flexibility in the operation, setting up and running of youth councils. That 800 is essential. It is only by experimenting and taking account of local conditions that local authorities will be able to provide the best range of services for young people.
Clause 2(1)—the promotion and setting up of schemes—is the heart of the Bill. I know that my local authority looks forward to its passing and I hope that it becomes law in this Session.
The hon. Gentleman referred to age groups. Concern has been expressed about the matter because in one clause we appear to be going beyond the statutory range for the definition of youth service at the upper end. We should take account of work with young people below the statutory age. Clauses 3(8) and 12(2) relate to that point. The youth and community service is not just an extension of the education services but it runs parallel to them. It is nonsense for education services to start at the age of 12. Of course, they begin at the age of live and some of us would like them to start even earlier. The work done with people below the statutory age will be just as important in the long run as that done with those who have entered the youth service age.
The Bill is on strong ground when it emphasises the need to take account of young people who are not in statutory and voluntary organisations—"youth groups", to use the phraseology of the Bill. I served on a youth committee a long time ago and we referred to such people as "the unclubables". They were people who would not be seen dead near a youth club, the Boy Scouts or the Boys' Brigade. I suspect that such people make up about 80 per cent. of their age group. Any Bill that purports to deal with youth and community work and does not take account of that section of young people is deficient. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is taking that point on board. It will provide opportunities for the local youth schemes to reach into that area. Up to now, the youth and community service tended to steer clear of that group.
Reference has been made to clause 2(2)(a) on social education. The provision is capable of wide definition. Many of us feel that young people should have the opportunity—not compulsorily—of acquiring political education, however that is defined. Whether or not the Bill 801 requires amendment on that point is another matter. Social relationships are mentioned. I interpret those as being any relationships which are not individual. Interest in political affairs in the widest sense, and not merely in the party political sense, is a form of social relationship that is covered here. Instruction is referred to as a means of participating in the community. Surely one of the most important ways of participating in the community is by voting at elections, however that vote may be cast. Anything that stresses the importance of that wider area of concern is useful.
The Bill will be criticised because it does not provide the resources. The hon. Gentleman has attempted to allay that criticism. However, in the present circumstances, that is too much to hope for. I hope that the youth service will not follow the same pattern as the education service, even if resources were to be provided. There is a pyramid structure in education. At the ages of 16, 18, 19, 21 and 23 education finishes and young people get jobs or go on to further training. As one goes up the educational pyramid, the spending per head increases substantially—almost in geometric proportion—so that in postgraduate education the nation is spending thousands of pounds per head on perhaps 1 per cent. of that age group. However, the nation is spending almost nothing—in many cases nothing—on the other 99 per cent. of that age group.
The development of the State education service has always been a priority, particularly for the Labour Party, and therefore we should consider reordering our priorities. As the hon. Member for Bedford has rightly pointed out, investment in education does not merely benefit society in terms of reduced crime, vandalism and so on, but benefits the young people as individuals. The basic wealth of any country lies in its young people. If we can develop their aptitudes and abilities, and give them better means of self-expression, young people ultimately will make a greater contribution to society from which we shall all benefit.
The great Chinese sage, Lao-Tse, said that a journey of a thousands miles begins with the first step. There is a long way to go with youth and community services, but the Bill is a first step and 802 I welcome it unreservedly. I hope that it will receive an unopposed Second Reading and will become part of our law.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
We have reached the stage where a number of us will find that our carefully prepared words have already been uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) or by other hon. Members. I shall therefore elaborate on some of the points already made.
This is the fourth attempt to get such a Bill through the House. That surely underlines the need, perceived by many hon. Members over the years, for such changes to be made, together with the wish that this time we shall be successful. I strongly believe in the need for the greater involvement of young people in our affairs. There will be those outside who will always criticise and claim that young people are being brought in too soon and lack the necessary experience or knowledge. However, those young people will have to live longer with the effects of any decisions taken today. If there is any doubt about whether they should be involved, we should give them the benefit of that doubt.
I welcome those clauses in the Bill that link and formalise the relationships between voluntary bodies and statutory bodies. In many areas those links work admirably and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise. There are other areas that are not so fortunate, and in those areas the young people suffer and may find their opportunities restricted.
The ages mentioned in the Bill range from 12 to 25. The problem is how to define a young person. During the short time that I have been in the House, I have discovered that many hon. Members regard youth as being nothing more than two years below their own age. There is a tendency to extend the definition of youth a little far in each direction. I am sure that the sponsor of the Bill will look at that aspect in Committee.
I welcome the clause referring to the national body and the way that the clause is drafted. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford that it is better to start from the bottom. I am sure that within a short time we shall wish to benefit nationwide from the 803 examples of groups in various parts of the country. The best way to achieve that is to have a national structure able to feed back that experience and encourage others by exhortation and example.
It is obvious to me, from conversations with erstwhile colleagues in local authorities, that there is some reserve about the Bill at a time of cuts and retrenchments. It is impossible to deny that the Bill places responsibilities on local authorities that they do not possess at the moment in statutory form.
However, the requirements of the Bill are modest by any standards. We must come to grips with an earlier maturing population. Year after year, the youth services have faced more cutbacks than any other area of local authority spending. It is time to call a halt to that, and the best method is to lay out, within a formal structure such as that proposed in the Bill, a basic and sound skeleton that will enable the community to apply its ingenuity and build on it. We cannot continue to offer, in many areas, a declining service or, in some cases, a service that is almost non-existent.
I urge the House to support the Bill, not just today but in Committee and when it returns to the House. Let us show faith in the young people of today in the certain knowledge that they will rightly and properly inherit responsibility for the country tomorrow.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) on introducing a valuable piece of proposed legislation. I include myself among the hon. Members who sincerely hope that the Bill will complete all its stages. However, I have a couple of minor criticisms which I hope will not be taken as being carping, because they are intended to assist the passage of the Bill.
I hope that the hon. Member for Bedford will consider accepting an amendment to Clause 1 that the joint committees should include independent agencies, particularly those with a neighbourhood base. I have been involved in youth and community work for over 20 years, and the "unclubables" previously mentioned are the young people whom it is difficult to involve in youth and community work. 804 They react best to organisations that are close to home, if not on their own doorstep, run by people they know well and who know them. They do not react well, unfortunately, to the uniformed youth groups or to those based on churches—although that is not so in some areas.
I hope that the hon. Member for Bedford is prepared to build a neighbourhood bias into clause 1 that would give specific direction to local authorities in case they become a little frightened of the Bill. Some organisations are not good at dealing with their local authorities. If a local authority is sensitive to that fact, and realises the difficulties of those organisations, there is no problem. However, if a local authority is insensitive, it is the duty of the House to give some direction.
I hope that the committees will be required to co-ordinate and monitor the provision of services. If we do not have a monitoring requirement, we shall open up the possibility of serious arguments between local authorities and the committees. We ought to give the committees the duty to exercise the overseeing role which, by their nature, they will be best equipped to do in any case. It would not make things any more difficult and it would make the matter much clearer for local authorities.
I hope that we shall be able to include in the Bill a requirement that the committees should develop new services as required. The one thing that I have learnt in all my years in youth work is that times and situations are constantly changing. Unless we are sufficiently flexible to change with circumstances and with the nature of the young people with whom we are dealing, we shall fail yet again. There is provision for that in the Bill, but it ought to be spelt out as a clear duty.
As regards clause 2(2)(a), if we are mealy-mouthed we shall open up another area of controversy between local authorities and the committees. If we mean political education in its broadest sense we ought to say so and not try to get round it in the wording of the Bill. We should tighten up that part of the clause and say exactly what we mean.
As an ex-city treasurer, my problem with clause 9 is that it introduces a new 805 concept into local government accountancy. It provides that expenditure will be relevant if an authority has spent money in this area and has received a grant, but will not be relevant if the expenditure has never been undertaken before. Given the sums of money involved, that requirement will put the Minister and local authority finance departments in an impossible position.
I hope that the Minister will be magnanimous and will give us some assistance. The sums involved are so small as to be undetectable within the normal inaccuracies built into any accountancy system. The effect of granting assistance would be to alleviate the Image that the Government are creating for themselves, even though they seem hell-bent on creating such an image. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at the problem. If he does not help, clause 9 will create difficulties.
I am fairly confident that the nature of the times we live in, the problems faced by young people, the increasing amount of youth unemployment and the nature of the House will combine to give the Bill a better chance than any of its predecessors. I wish it every success.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
I should like to add my felicitations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), who is bringing the Bill before the House for the fourth time.
I remember that when the Bill was in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), he was the Member for Middleton and Prestwich. As a Young Conservative officer, I was running round various parts of London and the Home Counties trying to drum up support for the Bill among Young Conservative branches and, more important, among youth leaders and those involved in youth and community work. I found a most favourable response to the intentions behind the Bill, and I believe that the response to the present Bill will be even more favourable. It will be in the interests of everyone involved in youth and community work for the Bill to become an Act.
I had the dubious distinction for a while of being chairman of a borough youth council. As I was the youth 806 leader from a church at that time, any connotations drawn about my activities as chairman of the youth council should not be discussed at too great length today.
It is important to record that the pressure required from that youth council on the local authority and senior members of society was continuing and necessary. Without it, we would have got a pat on the head and been told "You will learn, you will find out what it's all about and we really are not all that interested in your views". The activities proposed and formalised in the Bill are to be strongly welcomed.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) said about aspects of political education, which is a development that I have believed in for many years. Indeed, I was one of those partly responsible for the bad publicity achieved by my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) in the sixth-form conferences which were thought to be merely political manoeuvres by the Conservative Party. I cannot comment on that, except to say that the theme behind the conferences was not just a party political involvement but a genuine inculcation of political experience among young people in the fifth and sixth forms, and even earlier if possible.
As a Hansard Society report in 1978 said so pertinently, a research project sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust and promoted by the Hansard Society showed thatthe majority of pupils leaving school at the age of 16 are ignorant of even the most basic political issues.In this context, political issues mean not just party politics but an understanding of the community and how young people have to go about buying a house, opening a bank account and being involved in such day-to-day matters. That has caused me considerable concern for many years and will continue to do so.
I am worried that the problem to which the Hansard Society drew attention has still not been solved. In various county councils and local education authorities, one still finds among older members the view that political education should not be allowed in schools because of the dodgy effects that might result if one 807 party or another were pushing its case. That is not what we are talking about when we refer to political education. We are talking about an understanding of the community and an involvment in it. The Bill draws attention to that. I believe that attention should be drawn to that aspect even more strongly, and I hope that we can discuss that in Committee.
Anything that encourages young people from all walks of life and from all backgrounds to be involved in the community is important. I am particularly interested in clause 8(1), but my experience leads me to suggest that we need to emphasise the problem among the second generations of our ethnic communities. I served on the London borough of Haringey for a while. Hon. Members will know that the borough has particular problems in community relations, in the sense of the wide variety and disparate backgrounds of its people, including those from Cyprus, the Caribbean, the Asian sub-continent and so on.
I have found in my political experience in Luton and in my constituency that the second-generation members of the ethnic communities tend to suffer, not because they are any less bright—in many cases they are a jolly sight brighter—but because of the conflict between their background culture, what their parents believe they ought to be doing, whether in learning a language or as regards values in relation to marriage among Asians, and what they have learnt in our education system, namely, that the standards that we, the indigenous population, adopt are entirely different.
Because of the pulls of the respective cultures and backgrounds, the second-generation young ethnic community representatives often find themselves in considerable difficulty. They need advice, and they need a channel for it, if they are not involved in a club, a church youth activity or whatever. The particular problems of unemployment among those youngsters give me great cause for concern.
I am also interested in the reference in clause 7 to the problems of homelessness. Advice is needed, for reasons similar to those relating to second-generation children.
All in all, the Bill is to be welcomed. I am glad to be here on the occasion of the fourth attempt to get it through Parliament. 808 I regret that I was not here for the previous three attempts. At least today I can support it and warmly welcome it. It is a start in codifying and enshrining in law help and advice for young people, of whatever age, and in providing a forum for their views.
It is in the interests of our parliamentary system and of democracy that young people should be encouraged to be involved and that they should be aware of the involvement that they must have as soon as they have the chance to vote or to participate in any way.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford on bringing the Bill before the House again. I wish it speedy progress through Parliament.
§ 1.2 pm
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
This will be my third speech on a Youth and Community Bill. While previous proponents and opponents have switched from side to side of the House and in and out of the House, I remain steadfast.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) on the sympathetic, compassionate and understanding way in which he moved the Second Reading. It is always strange to see liberalism flow from such a Right-wing frame. I compliment the hon. Gentleman.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) thought that because something had been said before it could not be said again in the House. That shows a simplistic approach, of which maturity will undoubtedly teach him the error.
It is essential to accept the importance of the Bill. It is one of the most important pieces of legislation. Seeing a junior Minister from the Department of Education and Science alone on the Front Bench, the House will hope that he was asked to deal with this matter on account of his youth and not on account of his lack of seniority. Matters affecting youth are currently the concern of five major Government Departments, and it would have been pleasant to see the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Education and Science or the Secretary of State for the Environment here. I warn the Minister now that if he intends to remain standing at four o'clock this afternoon he will do so at his peril.
809 The Bill is the result of a Young Conservative idea that dates from the beginning of this decade. It has been ably argued by the successors of the Young Conservatives who originated it. I had hoped that the Minister would intervene to say that the Government were in favour of it and would allow it a Second Reading.
At present, the only intimation of the Government's feeling and concern for youth is the cancellation of the youth opportunities programme, the cutback in expenditure on a vast range of educational concepts and a fair amount of money going to the construction of glasshouses in order to give what the Home Secretary calls a short, sharp reminder of discipline to people who, I think in the view of most hon. Members present, would be far better off without that sort of treatment.
I do not believe that there is anything in the Bill, which is handsomely flexible, that we cannot discuss in Committee, where I hope that we can make it become as many of us would like it to be. I am slightly disappointed about the lack of priority given to the housing of young people, but it will be a difficult matter, with the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. This is something that we must discuss and settle in Committee.
I should like to tell the House of an experiment in which I was deeply involved and which has great bearing on this matter. I was invited by the International Year of the Child organisation to be the chairman of the steering committee of the Young People's Parliament, and eventually to be its Speaker. That exercise should be a prototype for youth councils. Every local education authority, every member organisation of the British Youth Council and every political party's junior branch was asked to send representatives.
The parliament met in the Greater London Council hall, which was kindly provided by the council, and was opened by the Prime Minister. In the parliament, 220 people with no political experience had their first look at, and taste of, what it is like to be in a position of power. They discussed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, tabled amendments, formed 810 themselves into committees, gave reports at a plenary session, debated the amendments and voted.
I was impressed by the responsibility of those young people, aged from 12 to 18, and the way in which they grew in stature from the morning when they registered until the next afternoon, when they joined hands and sang "Auld Lang Syne", which many of us feel is a far better song than "The Red Flag".
§ Mr. Freud
Yes, or even "Land of Hope and Glory".
I know that many hon. Members wish to catch the eye of the Chair, so I simply reaffirm that it is a tragedy that this country has no Minister for youth. It is sad that here is another instance in which we have lagged behind our partners in the EEC. I hope that, if it becomes law, the Bill will provide a blueprint for youth activity.
I hope that the very sensible remark made by the hon. Member for Bedford, that it is shortsighted to deny money to a project when the denial will cost the country much more, will remain firmly in the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and whoever else gives his consent to the spending of money.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, and urge the House to facilitate the Bill's move to Committee.
§ 1.8 pm
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I join those hon. Members who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) so warmly on the way in which he has introduced the Bill. I doubt whether any hon. Member could have worked harder on its preparation. We know this from the correspondence that we have received. I know also that my hon. Friend has attended a considerable number of meetings around the country—meetings which I understand have all been extremely well attended. That emphasises the interest in, and importance of, the Bill. Its objectives and intentions have my full support.
In certain respects, it is a consolidating Bill. In other respects, it is an idealistic Bill. It is a consolidating measure in that it highlights and draws together 811 some of the provisions for youth which already exist in some parts of the country. However, it is idealistic in that it demonstrates a concern for youth which is all the more important at this juncture in our history. There may be some argument about this, but, in my view, collectively, we have the most educated, I suspect the healthiest, and certainly the most energetic generation of young people in our history. In view of the efforts of successive Governments since 1945, it would be strange if that were not so. However, the world in which these young people are growing up is not one in which large numbers of them find it easy to make sensible and constructive use of their qualities and energies. The instability of the modern world can so easily lead people down paths which are neither to their advantage nor to that of the rest of the community.
The social stability which used to come from a static population has largely disappeared. In the old days it was common practice—almost universal practice—that people were born, grew up, worked and eventually died in the same place. That is not so now. The mobility of the population is constant and increasing, and therefore the old disciplines of static communities have largely gone.
In another sphere, the problm which so many young people have in obtaining work—and this is well known to us all—creates for them worry and sometimes despair. In this connection my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) drew attention to the difficulties facing young members of the ethnic communities. Therefore it is highly important that the Government and the local authorities should take note of the position and react to it. If they do not, there is the constant danger of a growth in social instability and its consequences—delinquency, vandalism and so many other forms of the misuse of human qualities. Thus, the Bill is even more important and relevant today than it was back in the time when it was first introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). I seem to remember taking part in the debate on that occasion.
In practice, the Bill sets out not least to marry the statutory services provided by local authorities and the work and activities of the voluntary organisations. 812 The statutory and voluntary sides together may be better able to provide a co-ordinated service so that resources may be used to better advantage, and so that the best possible return may be obtained from the resources of manpower and money to the maximum possible advantage of young people. Therefore the Bill is timely, and I trust that it will be able to make progress.
I cannot believe that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State intends to put any obstacles in the way of the progress of this measure, despite the apparent presumption of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). However, we have to face regrettable reality. The Bill is timely in social terms, but it is untimely in economic terms. We are all aware of the pressure on public resources. We are all aware of the pressure on local authorities. We have all taken note of clause 9, which provides that any local authority expenditure resulting from this measure shall not attract rate support grant. The contents of that clause are causing serious concern to local authorities. Against the background of the cuts which they have to introduce, and the new responsibilities which they are being asked to take on in respect, for example, of school transport and school meals, it is no use anyone trying to pretend that the financial problems of local authorities are not serious.
§ Mr. Morrison
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. In fact, he is repeating what he said in his speech. He argued that, in the ultimate, at least the money spent on this Bill, if it became an Act, might be an investment that would save money. However, I am talking about the short term and the problems facing local authorities at present and in the coming year. Those problems are emphasised by the fact that inflation continues and that at the same time, naturally, local authorities have a desire to contain rate increases. As I say, that is a natural desire, but, in addition, there is considerable political pressure on them. Consequently, it is an understandable, albeit regrettable, fact that local authorities are loth to take on still more duties and responsibilities.
813 The Bill sets out to mandate local authorities to perform a series of very worthwhile but potentially quite costly duties. There is a genuine difficulty.
Clause 7 refers to housing for homeless young people. The objective is admirable, but it will not be regarded with favour by most local authorities. After all, it is not as though local authorities looked with much favour on the present Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. The position may change as time passes and more and more local authorities sell more and more council houses, as I hope they will. It seems to me that one subsidiary advantage of the sale of council houses is that it provides a recycling of the financial resources of the local authorities. As that occurs it will be easier for them to cope with existing responsibilities such as the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act and new ones such as this provision for homeless young people. Nevertheless, it is the constant grumble of local authorities that this House wills ends without willing means. Therefore I hope that it will be possible in Committee to build into the Bill a little more discretion for local authorities and to reduce the duties as opposed to the objectives which currently the Bill imposes.
The Bill sets out a blueprint. If that blueprint is to be turned into action, there must be adequate resources. If there are not, the Bill may be a source of friction rather than a source of progress in terms of youth provision. Therefore I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford will be able to build in more flexibility. When the Bill was first mooted, we did not know the seriousness of the reductions necessary to curb any increase in public expenditure. We do now. It is for that reason that more flexibility is necessary.
I welcome the Bill. On this, the fourth occasion, I hope that it will have a chance of becoming an Act of Parliament. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts so far. I wish him well in his continuing efforts towards enactment of the measure.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
As a new Member, I should like to compliment and lend my support to those hon. Members who have tried in the past to get a Bill of this sort on to the statute book. I hope that 814 Conservative hon. Members will be able to convince Members such as the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) to support the Bill so that it can be put on the statute book, in spite of the criticisms and qualifications that he made.
Like other hon. Members, I, too, have had experience in building youth organisations. I was involved in the foundation of an organisation called the Coventry young workers' social club, which had to be built by the young without support from any sort of authority. That is why I am interested in the principle contained in clause 3, which states thatthe acceptance of responsibility by young people by entrusting to them as much of the responsibility as practicable for making policy administration and the execution of the provisions of this Act.In establishing youth organisations it is vital and important that the young should feel that they are a part of the organisation, that it is theirs and that they are involved in its operations and decisions.
The young members of the Coventry young workers' social club provided their own chairman, committee and leaders. They even provided each other with instructions, each teaching the other what they knew best. In that way the club developed. I am pleased to say that a section of that club still exists some 20 years later.
There is a crying need for youth service as proposed within the Bill in areas such as Hackney. There are many thousands of immigrants from a multiplicity of different national backgrounds and cultures. Recently I visited a school in Hackney where the teacher told me that there were 18 different nationalities in one classroom. That area suffers from a lack of recreational and sports facilities that could be used to bring together the immigrants and the local youth.
There is little done for them except that being done by the local borough council. They set up a community building called Centreprize. It is a cafe and bookshop, with some meeting rooms used for a variety of different activities. The youngsters run their own newspaper called "Gasbag". They learn photography, how to write and how to express themselves. Unfortunately, even that venture suffers from a lack of finance, and more needs to be done.
815 Clause 2 refers to advice centres. Advice is always necessary and is needed by the young. However, advice is never an alternative to having a job. That is the primary problem for the young, and unemployment is driving them to crime. I recently visited Stoke Newington police station. I was told that the area has the highest crime rate in London. That is because of the lack of opportunities for the young to engage in useful and fruitful activity. The obnoxious practice of "sus" is a serious problem. It could be stopped if young immigrants were provided with work, recreation and decent housing or hostel accommodation as referred to in clause 7.
The Bill could help to solve many of Hackney's problems and those of other inner London areas. Yet the Bill's proposals are wishful thinking because, as the hon. Member for Devizes said, finance is not being made available by the Government. The Government's recent White Paper on expenditure sets out local authority cuts totalling more than £800 million for 1980–81. However, there is money available. I urge the Government to look at the colossal expenditure on arms. A little of the money being spent in that direction would serve a useful purpose in helping to put the Bill on the statute book. I will certainly give my support to the Bill.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
I warmly welcome and support the Bill. At this stage it seems somewhat far from the statute book but it has already achieved great things, not least in the generation of interest across the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) and others have been canvassing for a long time. I pay tribute to the Young Conservatives' campaign. They have worked extremely hard in co-ordinating thoughts on the Bill and bringing them to our attention. I declare a vested interest in so far as I am the only hon. Member who currently serves on the national advisory committee of the Young Conservatives. Notwithstanding the greying hairs, that says something about the state of my age.
Hon. Members have already adverted to previous attempts to introduce legislation. I do not wish to repeat what has already been said. If the Bill reaches 816 the statute book—and we all hope that it will—it will be the first piece of legislation dealing effectively with the young since the Education Act 1944. That Act imposed a duty to secure adequate facilities but failed to define what adequate facilities were for young people.
The Bill puts an obligation on local authorities to provide schemes and to submit those schemes to the arbitrament not of the Department of Education and Science, or some other statutory body, but of the people themselves for public consultation. That is an important aspect of the Bill. People will be brought in to make judgments on the local authority's proposals.
Some say that the Bill does not go far enough and that there is not a sufficient element of compulsion upon local authorities for the provision of mandatory services. I say to them that this is a beginning. As has already been pointed out it is flexible, as the youth service should be. We would like to see it as an incipience towards what we wish for, rather than being the final expression on youth services.
There is a great need for the co-ordination of services for the young. I hope that when we talk about the young we do not speak in a patronising way, as though they are some separate genus. They are not. They are developing adults and perhaps some of us are closer to them than others. There are various bodies concerned in co-ordinating facilities for voluntary organisations. I have in mind the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, which has a wide ambit. However, there is a great need to co-ordinate not only voluntary organisations but organisations that are provided by various parts of the Government as a whole, and to provide an emphasis where the need is greatest.
In Gwynedd, the council, in common with education authorities, maintains its own youth clubs and centres as part of further education provision. The county council assists voluntary bodies with current expenses and the capital cost of building projects. The Department of Education and Science makes contribution towards the capital costs of such projects in addition to the grant that it makes towards the headquarters administrative costs of a number of national 817 youth organisations. I hope that we shall see the co-ordination of all these bodies and facilities for young people.
Reference has already been made to the Manpower Services Commission. I suggest that the services provided by the Commission be brought into greater co-ordination. I welcome the involvement of young people in making decisions themselves about the facilities and activities that are best suited for them. I am firmly of the belief that a responsibility that is shouldered by young people leads to greater maturity. That can best be achieved by young people becoming involved in decision making.
Political education in schools has already been mentioned. It is an issue that we should consider carefully. I should like to see far more done in schools to train pupils in politics in the broadest sense of the term so that they may accommodate themselves far better when they achieve adulthood. A recent survey among sixth formers revealed that the majority of them thought that the Conservative Party stood for further nationalisation. Bearing that in mind, I for one think that something should be done quickly.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts), who has left the Chamber, mentioned defence expenditure. In many ways such expenditure can benefit young people. The Army cadet force provides responsibility for young people. It gives them the sense of adventure that so many of them seek. In that way young people learn not only to receive but to give orders and to accept responsibility and the discipline of life. The result is that the fulfilment they seek in their older years is greatly enhanced. Only a short while ago I visited the Gwynedd Army cadet force at camp at Swinnerton. I was much impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the young people who had gone there voluntarily to experience what life is like in uniform.
It is true that there are many courses available for young people outside the Army ambience in which they may exercise themselves in adventure training. I am deeply concerned that the cost of these courses often precludes those who are most in need of them. The cost of provision is great. That means that many 818 of those who join the courses are funded by employers. Employers send on the courses those who they know will be kept in employment and who will benefit especially. Those who are not receiving the benefit of such courses include those from inner urban areas, the deprived areas and deprived sections of society. Those are the young people who are most in need. I hope that something will be done to ensure that they benefit as well.
It is popular to entertain a somewhat cynical view of young people. Crime rates are increasing, especially rates of juvenile crime. If we concentrate less on trying to correct those who have gone wrong and concentrate more on ensuring that those who are coming up never go wrong, we shall be living in a much better society. I know so many young people who are well deserving of the assistance that the Bill will provide.
I like to think of myself as a young man—at least I did six months ago. It is not only the privilege of six months' service in this place that leads me to the conclusion that the future is not ours, not mine, but belongs to the young people who are coming forward. It is their future, and we should ensure that it is bright for them all. By means of the Bill, we shall ensure that we have the greatest investment in future that a country can ever make.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham West)
First, I apologise for not having heard the speech of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet): The Bill came before the House rather sooner than some of us expected. Secondly, I declare an interest, although not a financial one. I am the chaiman of the council of the National Youth Bureau. I was so appointed about three years ago by the previous Administration. The Government have to make a decision that will affect the bureau for the next three years.
The bureau is an interesting phenomenon. It is a macrocosm on the national scale of the set-up that the Bill seeks to produce on the local scale. It brings statutory and voluntary bodies together to review youth issues. It provides a vast range of services to youth organisations at a local level. Since the establishment of the bureau, the most encouraging change that has taken place is a new 819 respect for young people organising their own lives. There has been a complete change in the older and more traditional role of youth workers. They are no longer organising young people's lives but are helping young people to organise their own lives. That change, in the sense that it is looked forward to in the Bill, is one that should be developed. If the Bill is enacted, I hope that it will be developed.
My three years as chairman of the bureau has convinced me that whoever chairs the committees to be established by the Bill will not be faced with an easy task. Young people have strong views about how things should be organised. To hold them together and to try to promote common purposes is not as easy as it seems at first sight.
If the Government are to talk about the encouragement of the Bill, they should direct themselves to the co-ordination of provision for youth at Government level. I spent some time while the previous Administration were in office trying to get the Department of Employment, with its responsibility for the Manpower Services Commission, the Department of Education and Science and to some extent the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office to tell one another what they were doing and, at best, to co-ordinate their actions. Almost every other European country has a Minister for Youth whose specific job is to deal with this area of co-ordination. In my experience, that is not done in Britain. The youth service is not a statutory one in the sense of a compulsory education service. It tends to get squeezed out. It is subject to the chops and changes of public expenditure and suffers thereby.
The Minister takes a great interest in this matter. I congratulate him on the fact that his first action on taking office was to visit the National Youth Bureau in Leicester. I hope that he will say what the Government intend to do to bring together those Departments that have an interest in the matter. I make special mention of the new Minister with responsibility for the arts. Perhaps it is good that the arts are separated from the Department of Education and Science, but I have my doubts about that. However, some of the most exciting developments among young people are the com- 820 munity arts developments, which are flourishing in the Greater London area. If those developments are to flourish, those involved must know that they have not lost their sponsoring Minister in the sphere of education.
I hope that the Minister will refer to the Government's attitude to young people generally in all their other policies. It is no good the Government offering a fair wind to the Bill—I do not know whether they will—and at the same time cutting the youth areas of the education service. There is difficulty in providing a compulsory education service for children between the ages of 5 and 16. The education services available to youngsters over the age of 16 tend to be put at risk when the Government make a sudden level of cuts and when decisions must be taken far too quickly by local authorities without their having a good think about the effects of those decisions.
Cuts are being made in the youth opportunities programme, in the further education service and in colleges of further education all over Britain. Hours are being cut, part-time teachers are being dispensed with and the chances of going on an educational course are becoming fewer. We are doing a disservice to those who need education most by ensuring that they suffer the heaviest cuts because the local authorities receive no guidance on where to make reductions.
Youngsters view the cuts in education, associated as they are with increased expenditure on law and order—and especially the Home Secretary's short, sharp shocks, in which no one has any confidence—with misgivings. At the recent National Youth Bureau meeting it was impossible to find anyone who supported the new Home Office view of the right way to deal with young offenders. I do not think that young people, who see the Government making cuts and introducing a harsh regime, will think much of the few more additional committees that the Bill will produce. If the Government want a youth policy, it must be co-ordinated. One hopeful aspect is that young people, rather than youth workers, are making their voices heard. I hope that the Bill will succeed in bringing about its objects at a local level.
During my chairmanship of the National Youth Bureau over the past three years, one of the achievements of 821 which I am most proud is the evidence that it submitted to the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. That evidence was criticised by the police and by others at the time that it was put forward, but it was one of the few pieces of evidence put to the Royal Commission that contained verbatim statements from many youngsters, some of whom were black and many of whom were from Handsworth in Birmingham. It described how they saw our criminal justice system in Britain and how it impacted upon them. I heard from several members of the Royal Commission that it was evidence of a different order from that put forward by other bodies, which tended to contain generalities and proposals. I hope that if the committees are established they will engage in putting together réalités—the events and reactions to situations made known to the elders who are responsible for running the services.
When the Secretary of State visited the National Youth Bureau a month or so ago, he said he greatly hoped that private industry would put money into this area. We must be careful about this. I realise that it is the policy of the Government to attempt to persuade private industry to make up the shortfall created as a result of their cuts, but I am not sure that this is a sensible way of going about the matter. I prefer to tax private industry a little harder and put the money forward in a co-ordinated way. However, if the youth service is short of funds, the money is welcome from whatever source it comes. The brewers have sponsored a project with the National Youth Bureau, which I welcome. I hope that it will help young people. As people from the brewing industry are involved in it, I hope that it will bring home to them the appalling danger facing a generation of young people at risk of becoming teenage alcoholics.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) told me that he wrote to the Norwich Union Insurance Group asking what money it was willing to put into the youth service on an actuarial basis if it felt that it could save the community money by investing these funds. He asked it to do the actuarial calculation and invest some money on an experimental basis. I hope that that goes ahead, although it is no substitute for 822 the Government putting in their proper share.
I welcome the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bedford on bringing it forward. I hope that discussion of it will give the House an opportunity to consider the best way in which to provide for young people, and, even more important, give the Government an opportunity to think about their youth policy and state it clearly. This is not a party matter, as I was equally critical of the previous Administration. One day a decision must be taken in Whitehall to ensure proper co-ordination and a policy for youth that is worthy of its name.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
It is a pleasure to follow the well-informed and moderate speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). I do not claim to agree with all of his speech, but he gave the Bill helpful and constructive criticism.
I am well aware that at this stage the House does not want to hear long speeches welcoming the Bill. Instead, we want to hear of the Government's strong backing for it.
I want the Bill to go into Committee as soon as posible so that its detailed clauses can be examined and it can then be placed on the statute book.
It is four and a half years since I atetmpted to introduce a similar Bill. I was delighted when I listened to the rounded, robust phraseology of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) to find that the torch has been successfully passed to an older generation. He has admirably brought my Bill up to date and taken into account the most recent reports. Several hon. Members have rightly pointed out that the initial impetus for the Bill came from young people—from the youth clubs and in particular the Young Conservatives. It has never been a party political issue, although I remind new Members that the previous Bill was talked out by a Labour Minister. That gentleman fell by the wayside not long after. It was, of course, mentioned in the Conservative Party manifesto in October 1974.
The Bill encourages young people to work together with society and within society, rather than to feel alienated and possibly against society. I have no doubt 823 that there is much idealism among young people. The media describe their crazy escapades, their vandalism and their violence, but when, for instance, my local civic society wished to have the river cleaned, who did the work? Who is running the stalls at church bazaars? Countless causes and charities would wither away without the support of young people.
From time to time in my constituency I find a certain cynicism about young people. I remind such critics of my experience when I visit the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. Who is being sniped at in sangars in South Armagh? Who is standing guard at 3 o'clock in the morning in the rain in the streets of Belfast? Who is flying military helicopters at night?
The Bill gives enormous encouragement to those involved in youth work. All too often they are ill-paid and ill-supported by their local community. It has a direct message for young people—a group to whom we as a House seldom bother to speak. It offers them a degree of partnership within their communities—partnership, not patronisation. The country needs that partnership today. Young people need our immediate help. We must give a Second Reading to this idealistic but not unrealistic Bill.
So often our society tantalises young people with the gold, the glitter and the glamour, but at the same time it ignores them and shuts the doors to them, as if experienc was all and as if energy, enterprise and fresh minds were of no importance to the nation. Let us try to put that right this afternoon.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
As a sponsor of the Bill, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, which I consider to be very useful to young people. It is rightly called the Youth and Community Bill, because I do not believe that we can isolate young people from the community.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) eloquently pointed out, community work is carried out almost exclusively by young people, and we should give them full credit for that. For that reason, I am not only 824 a sponsor of the Bill but also a strong supporter of it.
I am aware that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science may express concern about the public expenditure that the Bill might incur. He may argue that at this time of economic difficulty it would be wrong for the House to place upon local authorities mandatory duties which would inevitably result in additional expenditure, particularly when the Government are asking local authorities to pull in their belts and reduce expenditure.
I am sure that in Committee my hon. Friend will be flexible in his approach to he matter and will be aware of the problems that could accrue to the Government and to local authorities by placing upon local authorities additional expenditure at this time. I am sure that these and other allied matters will be carefully debated. I am perhaps anticipating the Committee stage, but I hope that the Bill will go through today without a Division, with lukewarm, if not wholehearted, support from the Government.
I point out to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, whose interest in young people is well known, that the Government, in supporting this Bill and perhaps ensuring minor amendments in its subsequent stages, could ultimately save considerable sums of public money. I believe that the benefits that would accrue from the Bill could be beneficial to young people and give many young people a purpose in life. If young people are given a purpose in life, they will not go off the straight and narrow but will make a positive contribution to our country and to the running of its affairs. That is why it is important for young people to have a proper forum in which to express themselves and to feel that the views that they express will be heard and heeded by people in positions of responsibility. I hope that that message will be received by the Minister.
I am president of the Poynton Centre in Macclesfield, one of the largest youth and community centres in the country. As on previous occasions, I pay tribute to the leader of that club, Eric Brock, who has a dynamic personality. Perhaps in age he is running to the end of his particular line, and no doubt his retirement cannot be too long delayed, but 825 the guidance and leadership that he has provided for young and old is of great benefit to the community and is something we want to foster.
I am also president of the Macclesfield Fermain Club, which started as the Macclesfield boys' club. It is part of a federation with which my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) is involved. I have with me the annual report of the Cheshire Association of Boys' Clubs and the Cheshire and Wirral Association of Boys' Clubs. One hundred and twenty clubs make up this federation, with a membership of over 13,000 young people. The objective of the Bill, moved so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, will be of great benefit to young people.
I ask the Minister to ensure that there is closer liaison between his Department and local authorities in youth and community provision. There is a gap at present, and I believe that it can be filled by positive guidance and leadership from him and his Department. There should also be closer liaison and contact between various other Government Departments, such as the Department of Industry, and local authorities. We cannot divorce the commercial and industrial interests of this country from the aspirations and ambitions of the young people who will be the creators of the future.
I welcome the Bill warmly. I am honoured to be a sponsor. I hope that it will have a very swift passage in this House and in Committee.
§ 2 pm
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Bolton, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) and associate myself with the remarks already made about the Bill. The hon. Member was very fortunate, as I am sure he will admit, to have the opportunity to present it. He is also somewhat fortunate that we are able to debate it today, because there were several times yesterday when it seemed that today's business would be threatened.
Some of my hon. Friends were hoping that the debate might be delayed, because my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), who have a great interest in the subject and are sponsors of the Bill, would very much 826 have liked to be present. Unfortunately, it was not possible for them to be here.
It will come as no surprise to the hon. Member for Bedford to learn that the official Opposition will not be opposing the Second Reading. The Bill has been generally welcomed by my hon. Friends. It deals with an important subject and we welcome the chance to debate it. We do not consider that the Bill is correct in every detail, but we look forward to being able to discuss it in detail in Committee.
Although we are glad that the hon. Gentleman has introduced the Bill, we feel that to a certain extent it is a watered-down version of what is required. Perhaps it is a watered-down version because the hon. Gentleman feels that as such it will have a greater chance of success. Perhaps the Bill is watered down because of the Government's somewhat ambivalent attitude towards local authorities. We have heard recently a good deal of talk about the need to give as much freedom as possible to local authorities, yet at the same time the Government have been instructing them to reduce their expenditure. This makes nonsense of that freedom. If we are to do much in the area of youth and community, local authorities will be required to undertake more responsibilities and duties, and that will inevitably require more expenditure.
The Government are proposing to excuse local authorities from some of their duties and from some of the statutory obligations upon them. The Government are certainly trying to reduce the expenditure of local authorities. We shall be particularly interested to hear the Minister's approach to this question. Does he think that local authorities should have more statutory obligations placed upon them concerning youth and community services? If so, where is the money to come from?
With regard to clause 1, we feel that many of the requirements that the Bill places upon local authorities are already being undertaken by the good local authorities which have given a lead in this respect. There are, for example, many areas which have a type of joint committee with voluntary organisations. In those areas, the authorities have made a reality of the kind of co-operation of which the hon. Member for Bedford 827 spoke. I think that he acknowledged this fact. We hope that other authorities will follow the example of authorities such as Doncaster. We hope that their good practices will be adopted elsewhere and that local authorities will follow the spirit that is behind the Bill and not simply the detailed requirements.
I listened with interest to the suggestions on clause 1 made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), and in particular I noted his reference to the need for monitoring. I hope that the hon. Member for Bedford will consider this suggestion before the Bill goes into Committee, and perhaps consult my hon. Friend and others about the possibility of amendments there.
The Bill proposes an age limit of 26 for youth. We could have a long philosophical discussion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the meaning of "youth" and about who is youthful and who is not. I shall not be drawn into that discussion.
I heard the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) mention the interest of the Young Conservatives in the Bill. When I was in the Young Socialists in Bolton, we were always very improssed by the seniority of the local Young Conservatives. Perhaps that is why there is an age limit of 26 in the Bill, although it would seem to be a very junior age, bearing in mind the general age of Young Conservatives. We feel that there is a need to consider the age limit and perhaps to reduce it. I believe that the National Association of Boys' Clubs has made representations along similar lines. The hon. Member for Bedford might care to consider this aspect before we go into Committee.
With regard to clause 2, we have had several interesting contributions from each side of the House concerning social education. We have the problem of defining social education. It is difficult to understand exactly what is meant by it. Although we cannot define it, we generally know what we are talking about when we speak of social education. In general, we welcome the clause and hope that it will enable local education authorities to create a link between school and those vital years immediately after school, so that what we understand by social education can be continued and developed.
828 Clause 2 also deals with the use of available facilities. We think that a great deal could be done to enable much better use to be made of the existing facilities. There is obviously some prestige in having new buildings, new facilities, new sports halls and so on, but I know that a survey carried out by the Department of the Environment some time ago showed that new facilities are not always what are most required. Local communities and voluntary organisations could in many cases make better use of older buildings. Such buildings can sometimes prove more successful than newer ones, which require a great deal of planning and so on. There is a considerable scope in the Bill for making better use of older buildings, but, whether we are concerned with new buildings or with the better use of old buildings, we still come back to the important question of cash.
Conservative Members have mentioned that previous Governments have not introduced legislation to strengthen the youth and community services, but the last Labour Government gave specific forms of assistance to the development of youth and community programmes. I have in mind in particular the inner city programme and the urban aid programme, both of which have made important contributions to youth services. But again we come back to the question of money. If the Government are to make any cuts in programmes of that sort, obviously they will hit young people very considerably.
The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) mentioned the cuts in the youth opportunities programme. If the Government are to continue to make cuts in areas of this kind, it will be very difficult to do anything that will specifically help the hon. Member for Bedford with his Bill. The real question is: where will the money come from? Earlier the hon. Gentleman said that any money spent on young people is an investment. We agree completely. However, we want to know where the Government are to get the investment from.
Clause 9, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon, states that the Bill will not attract rate support grant. There are dangers in that. We fear that existing programmes may be threatened by some withdrawal of finance.
§ Mrs. Taylor
We accept that, but we think that the programmes need to be developed. If they are not to be funded, the Government may catch the hon. Gentleman. If he wants expansion and new money is not available, that clause may not give as much protection as he thinks. At a time of cuts in education generally, it is difficult to see where the extra funds will come from.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science said that he was in favour of developing services for young people. That is the kind of statement that we would expect from a Secretary of State. But at the National Youth Bureau annual conference on 17 October the right hon. and learned Gentleman made some interesting statements about the Government's expenditure plans. I presume that he was trying to reassure those involved in youth services. For example, he said that he did not assume that there would be any reduction in local authority expenditure on the youth service. He went on to say that he attached high priority to the needs of the 16 to 18 age group. I do not think that many people would dissent from those sentiments. Returning to the implications of expenditure reductions for the youth service, he said:You will understand that I cannot give any undertakings.That is the nub of the problem. It is all very well to attach high priority to the Bill and to services for young people, but, unless finance is to be found to back the programmes which we have talked about, the Bill will not achieve what is intended. We must look at the Bill in the whole context of the Government's current policies on expenditure.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend
Unfortunately, the hon. Lady seems to want to make a meal of public expenditure cuts. Surely she appreciates that the Labour Government cut expenditure by £4 billion. Unlike the Labour Government, we are cutting it by £3½ billion, with a mandate to do so.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am not sure about the mandate. We did not hear in detail a great deal about that during the general election. We made some unfortunate cuts 830 when in Government, and we acknowledge that; indeed, there is no alternative but to acknowledge that. However, after we had been forced to make public expenditure cuts, we made plans to expand public expenditure, and some of that expansion took place.
This is not only about cutting public expenditure but about priorities when cutting public expenditure. I remind the House of the debate earlier this week. We spent Monday discussing the Education (No. 2) Bill. That Bill deals with public expenditure cuts, because its basic aim is to facilitate further cuts in the provisions for the majority of schoolchildren—cuts in school meals, school milk and school transport on top of cuts in books, capitation, nursery classes and so on.
When talking about public expenditure, it is important to consider priorities. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman drew me on to this matter. Another provision in the Education (No. 2) Bill related to the assisted places scheme. That provides that, when educational provision is being reduced for the majority of children, that is where money has to be spent.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Lady will not follow the hon. Gentleman too far down that path. She must relate her remarks to this Bill.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman led me on to talking even more about public expenditure cuts.
I hope that the hon. Member for Bedford has discussed with Ministers in the Department of Education and Science possible alternative ways of using the money presently designated for the assisted places scheme. It would help a far greater number of young people if it were spent on youth and community services. It would not only help more young people, but it would be of far greater help to the community as a whole.
The Opposition welcome the Bill. Some hon. Members have reservations about it. There is a fear that the Government will encourage voluntary organisations to take on even more responsibilities and not want local authorities to take direct action in these areas because of the public expenditure implications. Some professional youth workers are also concerned about how they fit into these proposals.
831 Basically, we support the propositions put forward by the hon. Member for Bedford. We share the view expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that young people come in for a great deal of criticism today. We believe that young people have much to contribute to society and that society must do a great deal to encourage young people to make their contribution. In that context, we support the Bill. We shall look at it in detail in Committee. In the meantime, we shall want to discuss some of the ways in which we feel the Bill may be improved.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)
It might be for the benefit of the House if I intervene briefly at this stage.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) on introducing the Bill. The knowledge that he displayed and the compassion and sincerity with which he developed it in his speech will come as a source of revelation to many hon. Members. I congratulate him on his speech and on the work that he has done in drawing the Bill together.
I must acknowledge a degree of envy, because my hon. Friend has been consistent in drawing a high place in the Private Members' ballot in recent years—something which is denied to many Members of Parliament over a whole working life here.
On balance, it was a pity that the speech by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) should have somewhat soured what has been a constructive debate. I welcome the speeches which have been made on both sides of the House. I hoped that there would be non-contentious progress this afternoon. However, I noticed that the hon. Member for Bolton, West was anxious to repeat her Second Reading speech on Monday. No doubt we can dot the i's and cross the t's in Committee.
Before turning to some of the anxieties of many hon. Members about certain aspects of the Bill, I should like to try to deal in as constructive a way as possible with some of the points which have been made.
832My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and other hon. Members referred to the fact that we do not specifically have a Minister for youth. I am happy to point out that, even if my title is not exactly that specifically, the fact is that I am a junior Minister with responsibility for youth and as such act as the lead for co-ordination between other Government Departments. We intend to maintain tremendous momentum with our colleagues in other Departments because we acknowledge the vacuum which has existed for a number of years.
I welcome the remarks made and the support given by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). I should like to deal with one particular matter that he raised. The hon. Gentleman referred to a speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State at the annual general meeting of the National Youth Bureau—comments I echoed in a speech to the National Association of Youth Clubs in the City a week or so later—in which my right hon. and learned Friend referred to the involvement of private enterprise as a means of providing additional resources.
I hold the view that it is not right to expect the Government to be the great provider all the time. I am convinced that there is a greater role for private enterprise and nationalised industries to play in helping the community within their locations. To assume that central Government, by increasing taxation on private enterprise, is the best means of providing funds for youth programmes is, I believe, not necessarily right. There is a wealth of potential that we are currently exploring through a number of agencies. We are trying to achieve a greater input within the regions and communities, which I should have thought was a thoroughly sensible approach.
At present we are reviewing a number of issues, including the question of 16- to 19-year-olds. A number of initiatives were undertaken by the previous Administration for which I think there is all-party support, but it is important to involve the chambers of commerce and industry within the local community.
One thing that has impressed me during my brief six months' tenure at the Department of Education and Science is the tremendous dedication and devotion 833 of people from all the voluntary bodies. They do a tremendous amount of work in very difficult circumstances. From my conversations with representatives of the Confederation of British Industry and other bodies, I believe that it has at long last been acknowledged by many organisations that they have to do more to help young people.
There are potential areas for us to explore and I want to see local commerce involved, playing a part in the community to a greater extent than it has done so far. In many areas help from local commerce is extremely effective. I should like to see organisations release their personnel more often than they do at present, without penalising them in their salaries. These people could be released to work within the community to the benefit of young people. That is an area where we shall try to create some momentum.
There are many facilities available in towns and cities. Private enterprise has many extremely effective sports halls and other facilities which we ought to look at closely to see whether we can expand their use. The Government are devoted to the principle of the greater dual use of school facilities, but that must be encouraged by the local authorities. There can be no central edict from the Department of Education and Science.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not answer every point that has been raised. A great deal of interest and sincerity throughout the House has been shown. I would not want to incur the wrath of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) by still being on my feet at four o'clock, whether figuratively speaking or otherwise. It is certainly not the Government's intention to do that, even though on 21 February 1975 the Labour Administration talked out the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) introduced. That was done by the former hon. Member for Putney, Mr. Hugh Jenkins. I am sure that that had an unsettling effect on many Labour Members at the time, and I hope that they are not feeling guilty about what happened. We certainly would not want to do anything to impede the progress of the Bill through Committee.
834 There are certain points that I should like to highlight. I have listened with great interest to all speeches, many of which show a great depth of understanding and reflect the feeling that more should be done for young people. I fully appreciate that there is a genuine feeling that changes in society, changes in social values and specific problems such as youth unemployment call for greater effort to help young people. I believe that those feelings are what have led, naturally, to a series of Private Members' Bills on this subject over the years. I hope that we shall now have the opportunity of pursuing these matters in Committee.
The Bill is concerned with the needs of all young people. However, I was glad to see that it makes mention of groups with special needs—young people who are disadvantaged or at risk, young unemployed, and ethnic minorities. Many of these issues have already been discussed this afternoon. Much has already been done for these groups by local educational authorities and voluntary organisations and through programmes funded by bodies such as the Manpower Services Commission. The hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) touched upon that matter.
The Government do not oppose the Bill in principle. Indeed, we very much support its objectives, which, in general, offer an excellent model of good practice. It is nice to know that the hon. Member for Bolton, West endorses that view. No doubt we shall be seeing a lot of each other in Committee between now and next summer.
There are, however, a number of important aspects of the Bill which run counter to Government policy, notably over relationships with local authorities and over public expenditure, and amendments will be needed in Committee, as has been mentioned by many hon. Members, if it is the wish of the House that the Bill be accorded a Second Reading this afternoon.
Let me explain why some changes are needed. It goes without saying that the Bill is obviously in conflict with some of the basic elements of the Government's current policy. It is not consistent with the traditional relationships between central and local government on the running of the education service to provide, by 835 statute, for detailed and specific guidance relating to the way in which a local education authority should provide a particular service. In some respects that point goes wider. The recent White Paper entitled "Central Government Controls over Local Authorities" made clear that the Government's aim, for local government as elsewhere in the economy, is to place responsibility where it properly belongs—within the local authorities. I acknowledge that democratically elected local authorities are wholly responsible bodies which must be free, to get on with the tasks entrusted to them. The proposals in the White Paper for the removal of various controls represent a first step in giving authorities more choice and flexibility.
The view of the Government is that local authorities should exercise maximum autonomy within national resource constraints. The Bill would, by contrast, impose further duties and further guidance and would, as it stands, be quite inconsistent with the Government's general philosophy. However, a measure which permitted, rather than required, authorities to carry out the functions referred to in the Bill would not be subject to the same objection.
A measure of the type which I have just described, which permitted rather than required certain action by authorities, would also satisfy objections on grounds of public expenditure. A major concern has been that the Bill as drafted would involve increased public expenditure. That was referred to by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who has a special brand of experience, not only as a local councillor but also as the leader of my local council in the London borough of Sutton. He was quite right to highlight this problem and point to other problems that might exist.
The making of schemes and the consultative process involved, by setting up and servicing joint committees and youth councils, and by the general effect the Bill might have, could promote additional expenditure. I have no doubt that because of the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford has researched the programme with local authorities, including his own authority, he will be able to say a few words about this if he can 836 catch your eye once more, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Skeet
My hon. Friend has referred to Cmnd. Paper 7634, which returns considerable powers to local authorities. If that has been done, should not the House lay down certain guidelines for local authorities so that they can work inside that discretion, because these plans will no longer go to the Secretary of State for approval? Surely, by complying with the terms of the Command Paper, my hon. Friend should be doing precisely what I have been suggesting all afternoon.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
That is a point which will be well worth reading. It is an important point and I fully accept it.
§ Mr. Deakins
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill as drafted, with its mandatory provisions but with clause 9, goes a long way to meeting the Government's legitimate concerns about the relationship between central and local government? If the mandatory provisions were to be made permissive, there would no longer be any need for clause 9. I do not believe that the Government can have their cake and eat it.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
That is a point that was made by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), and we shall review it in Committee.
Central Government cannot place themselves in the position of saying to local authorities "There will be less money in future than planned. Nevertheless, we intend to impose further duties on you which are likely to cost more money." If, however, the functions in the Bill are to be provided at the discretion of local education authorities, local authorities would be able to decide whether they wished to undertake the additional expenditure involved as part of their normal process for the consideration of priorities.
Of course, the Government are certainly not opposed to expenditure on youth. Indeed, at a time of extreme constraint on public expenditure—the House is well aware of this—we have assumed, within our overall expenditure plans for 1980–81, that there will not be any reduction in local authority expenditure on youth services. But if administrative 837 expenses are increased, this could have the effect of diverting resources away from where they are most needed—directly helping young people.
With all this in mind, it is important for the consultation process to go on with local authorities so that we can fully understand their feelings. I was very encouraged to hear from hon. Members following their consultations with local authorities that local authorities were not over-anxious about what the Bill might impose upon them. That is encouraging.
Amendments could be needed where the Bill clearly covers ground which is already adequately covered by existing legislation. The area that I have in mind—there may well be others which we shall examine closely—is clause 7, which relates to housing for homeless young people. Local authorities are already under a duty, under the Housing Act 1957, to consider the housing needs of their areas in providing accommodation. This consideration must take account of needs of all groups, including the young and single, and the Housing Act 1974 makes it clear that such provision may include hostels. Moreover, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 has recently been enacted, giving statutory recognition to the principle that all homeless young people should receive help of some kind from local authorities in solving their housing problems. The 1977 Act has already gone most if not all of the way to giving statutory expression to the intention of clause 7 of the Bill. I mention that for my hon. Friend to consider and reflect upon.
Finally, there are some points relating to particular clauses, and these also give me a welcome opportunity to say what I support about the Bill. First, the Government strongly believe in the need for co-operation between local authorities and voluntary bodies in all fields, and I therefore endorse the systematic formullation of local policy for the youth service, in consultation with voluntary organisations and young people, which is referred to in the first clause of the Bill. One of the main purposes of the youth service is to foster responsible participation by young people and thus avoid the sense of alienation which seems to me to be only too common. Participation 838 by young people in the running of a service intended to help them therefore clearly has relevance. The crucial role of the voluntary organisations also clearly makes it appropriate to involve them in policy and planning.
Clause 1 does, however, envisage the joint committees as having the function of co-ordinating the services for young people provided by the authority with those provided by the voluntary organisations. It may be that it is already intended that such consideration should be accomplished by persuasion, but I am bound to say that this is not the way the clause reads to me. If more than persuasion is envisaged, I doubt whether either voluntary organisations or local education authorities would find this acceptable, and it is, of course, the local education authorities which have the statutory responsibility for providing facilities under the 1944 Act.
I am therefore all in favour of planning where this arises voluntarily from a local initiative which demonstrates the willingness of those concerned to co-operate, and I am certainly in favour of the participation of young people and of voluntary organisations. I am also equally in favour of standing consultative machinery to this end, but only where all this is acceptable to those at the local level; it should not be imposed on them.
On clause 5, I am in favour of the establishment of local forums to give expression to the aspirations of young people, and, indeed, my Department is giving financial support to projects by a number of youth organisations, including the British Youth Council and the National Youth Assembly, which will have the effect of encouraging the development of local youth councils. This is, however, in my view, the way to work—through youth organisations, rather than through requiring local education authorities to act as brokers—if the authenticity and spontaneity of the youth movement is to have proper scope.
I also strongly support the value of community service performed voluntarily by young people, and this is, of course, stressed in clause 8, although I am sure that local education authorities already recognise this.
Perhaps I may summarise briefly. I believe that the Bill has value, but I 839 am sure that some major amendments are needed if it is to be consistent in a number of ways. We certainly do not oppose the Second Reading. Furthermore, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and to the backers of the Bill that we shall do all that we can in the Department to facilitate the progress of the Bill. I look forward to joining my hon. Friends in the Committee stage as soon as possible.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
What will be the benefit of having this Bill if it is only a permissive measure? Surely all the provisions in the Bill are permitted at present. There are no legal restrictions on them. Therefore, what is the benefit of having the Bill without the mandatory elements?
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I find the hon. Lady's stance quite extraordinary. On the one hand, a few moments ago she was endorsing and supporting the Bill; on the other hand, she is now asking what its purpose is.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
What is the hon. Lady suggesting? What amazes me is the Labour Party's inconsistency on this matter.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
No, I shall not give way any more. I think that that is possibly to the hon. Lady's benefit.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
The Bill will receive the Government's support. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford on its introduction. I hope that it will receive all-party support, both here and in Committee.
§ Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)
I welcome the statements by my hon. Friend the Minister in support of most of the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), the presenter of the Bill, on such an excellent approach. There is no doubt that we need a new, excellent approach if we wish to achieve standards of excellence among the youth of Britain.
840 Mention has been made of the social changes that we are experiencing. There is no doubt that those who have old-fashioned attitudes, who believe that youth has always been able to develop in some way by a natural process, are really very much behind the times, bearing in mind the structured, organised and difficult life that we live today. We face not only the difficulties of discrimination and racial and ethnic difficulties but the differences and difficulties created by our present industrial and economic climate. One therefore welcomes the Bill as a means of providing for youth, by participation, their own development system, so that they can adjust by their own efforts to the difficulties of an organised and structured society.
The difficult transition from school to work is one which young Members of this House must remember as a painful period and which older Members probably find in the dim and distant recesses of their minds. But difficult it was and difficult it is. As society becomes more and more sophisticated, so also will the adjustment between the pleasant life at school and the more competitive life at work in industry or business become more difficult.
Therefore, one welcomes certain clauses to provide facilities, forums and a mechanism that will allow young people, by their own efforts, to make that adjustment. Just as the return for this process to youth is their participation, so the return to industry will be great in people with much more realistic expectations from the structured and mechanical processes of life.
In amplification of the Minister's comments on the cost of such a scheme it is my belief, after 20 years in industry, that industry could adopt a much more positive and practical role in aspects of the Bill which involve costs, a role which is possibly contrary to the Government's dilemma and their policies for resolving the economic situation. I would suggest the provision of facilities by industry, going so far as the provision of training rooms, which all large industries have in profusion and which are often used only between 8.30 am and 5 pm, not only in apprentice schools but in other establishments. This goes well beyond private industry. It encompasses most nationalised industries as well.
841 In addition to the provision of facilities or venues for meetings under the various ideas outlined in the Bill, could not industry also consider the free provision of such secretarial facilities as will be required, particularly in relation to the clauses referring to youth councils, for the necessary secretarial back-up? Because of present Government attitudes, and because of the way in which our party is reshaping economic thinking, this is the wrong time at which to employ extra clerical staff at Government expense, so why not ask business, commerce and industry to step into the gap? It would be to their advantage to do so. Young people coming through their office and factory doors would be able to contribute more. Industry would penetrate much more deeply into the roots of the community. Instead of employees occasionally bringing their children to see their place of work, a situation could arise where those children had been involved for years. Recruitment would benefit. A rich and interesting panorama of possibilities could develop in a new relationship between youth, Government and industry.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Is my hon. Friend saying that he supports clause 1 and the formation of joint committees with voluntary organisations and other bodies, including, perhaps, commerce and industry? He has recommended that industry should pay for the secretarial backup. Does he agree that a better use of physical, manpower and building facilities could save the Government and local government considerable sums of money? A local authority might be prepared to undertake some of the secretarial back-up to the committees recommended in the Bill, as well as the youth councils.
§ Mr. Mills
As always, the words of my hon. Friend are good and excellent. I agree with him. As my hon. Friend is not likely to offer me a job with excitement, I hope that my remark does not seem too sycophantic. On a more serious note, I accept and concede the point that he makes. In my enthusiasm for seeing industry, with which I have long been associated, play its role, I should not like hon. Members to feel that there is not an equally positive role for local authorities. In the development of a new partnerships some form of mandatory 842 or statutory involvement of local authorities will be necessary. One can only ask industry to provide, where possible, the necessary back-up facilities as a result of those initiatives.
I welcome clauses in the Bill as a means of providing what has been lacking in those areas that are experiencing difficulty with social changes caused mainly by housing projects but also by the entire structure of industrial society. I can give no better example than the Chelmsley Wood housing estate in my constituency, where a community is struggling hard and positively, with no political bias, to develop a strong community identity for a massive housing development that includes all the mistakes of the housing planners of a decade ago. Such areas have not been classified as new towns and lack the youth facilities that one would like to see develop a community identity. Young people have neither the facilities nor a forum with which they can associate themselves and feel pride in their areas.
I should like the Bill to permit large-scale aid to be given to the development of cohesion and a focus of identity in difficult communities. The efforts of a few people, like those at the Chapel-house boys' club in my constituency, could become concentrated, strengthened and distributed in larger areas under the provisions of the Bill. Any change in this direction would help in dealing with crime rates, vandalism and social problems in areas such as Chelmsley Wood. Even 1 per cent. would be better than nothing. It would mean 1 per cent. more cohesion, more responsibility and more involvement with the community. It would pay off many percentage times in less frequent vandalism, fewer social problems and much better community relationships.
These problems are encountered not only in high-density areas of new housing. They occur in the older towns, such as Coleshill in my constituency, where changing patterns of industry and travel to work have resulted to some extent in over-development of estates lacking town facilities. Cutbacks by successive Governments and local authorities, and the application of stringent measures to meet directives, have resulted in the provision of very few facilities. A young man aged 12 in Coleshill has spent his holidays 843 collecting a petition that was delivered to me asking for help in the provision of facilities for young people.
If this Bill allows these dynamic young people to be creative and to participate in decision-making in communities, I welcome it. My hope is that the Bill will provide a more structured framework in which people can concentrate their efforts. Those efforts should not simply become the contents of an MP's postbag. An MP does what he can, but action through the local authorities would be most welcome.
The whole effect of participation in these measures will be important. My only concern is that 26 years of age may be too old. My fear is that people over 20, perhaps more intellectually developed in communicating, may dominate events, to the detriment of younger people. I should like the age of 26 to be re-examined. I should assure the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor), if she were here, that many young Conservatives in my constituency below the age she seemed to indicate and many young but ageing Socialists could become involved in this work.
I hope that the slight exchange of views between the Front Benches will not stop any hon. Member from supporting the Bill. It is a totally non-political matter. In my constituency and, I know, in many others, Labour councils and Tory members, and vice versa, co-operate without bias to try to achieve some of this necessary identity. We wish to provide a self-sustaining and growing source of dynamic young people who have ideas, who are competitive and who will be able to take our country through the next few decades to a greater future. They will need our help. A Bill such as this can provide them with the mechanism and structure to achieve their aims.
§ Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)
I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) on briging forward this important Bill. I pay tribute to his brilliant and persuasive speech in introducing the measure. He has shown the House extensive courtesy by listening to every word of the debate and making careful note of all the points that have been raised. I should like to thank him also on behalf 844 of the many youth organisations with which I am connected for the extensive and exhaustive consultation that he has conducted with a large number of groups throughout the country. We thank him for the great deal of time and trouble that he has taken.
I was glad to hear the words of the Minister. I believe that he has already impressed the youth world with his commitment to youth issues. I pay tribute also to his ability to co-ordinate other Government Departments. In the past this has been a stumbling block to a coherent youth policy. We welcome his initiative in this regard, as well as his commitment to the Bill.
There are always pressures on the Government from the Establishment against a measure of this nature. That is why three previous attempts have failed. It is to the Minister's credit and to that of the sponsor of the Bill that they have managed to push aside those pressures and to see the Bill and its importance clearly. They have fought hard for it, and we now await its move into Committee. We particularly welcome what the Minister said about making representations so that the Bill can move into Committee swiftly. A number of people are rather concerned about the presence of other Bills of a highly controversial nature which must not be allowed to stop a Bill of this importance proceeding apace.
I welcome also the words of the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor). Leaving aside her party political points, she made a number of important Committee points which I hope will be considered. It is difficult to know whether the power should be discretionary or mandatory. We must try to resolve this issue as fairly as we can, while at the same time retaining the Bill's main thrust and purpose.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who welcomed the Bill on behalf of the Liberal Party. He made a rather witty speech which contained an unusual but nevertheless warm tribute to the Young Conservatives, which I am sure all Young Conservatives will read and welcome.
The Bill has received a considerable amount of support from the youth world. Along with other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the Young Conservatives and 845 the Conservative students for the fight that they have conducted, as well as to the much wider lobby that has come from all youth organisations. I have the honour to be president of the British Youth Council. Last Sunday I had the opportunity of chairing a day-long meeting of that council, and in the discussions about the Bill the council demonstrated that it was concerned to see that it meets with the approval of the House today.
I was a little worried initially when I thought the Minister was saying that some parts of the Bill seemed inconsistent with Government policy. In fact, I am sure that no part of it will be inconsistent. But it is necessary to have the fullest discussion in Committee, and I was delighted when my hon. Friend accepted word for word the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. I suppose that it is difficult to see exactly what the result of the Bill will be. If it is not possible to introduce all the mandatory elements, I hope that some other way will be found of ensuring that the sort of structure in the Bill, which is seen as so important, is acceptable to local authorities.
As has already been mentioned, sections 41 and 53 of the 1944 Act are now totally out of date. They are very vague indeed. I was just looking at section 41, which is concerned with provision forleisure-time occupation, in such organized cultural training and recreative activities as are suited to their requirements, for any persons over compulsory school age".Therefore, that section does not do the job that this Bill seeks to do. The fact that the Act is out of date, with such little detailed guidance, is ably demonstrated by the Albemarle report and the report entitled "Youth and Community Work in the 1970s".
There must be some worry about the Bill's provisions at a time of public expenditure cuts. But it appears, especially over the last five or 10 years, that cuts in public expenditure are always being made. The sad fact is that they always seem to fall heavily on the youth service. Indeed, during the debate on the previous Youth and Community Bill my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office said something that seems to ring just as true today as it did five years ago. He then said: 846The implementation of my hon. Friend's proposals, in so far as they involve local authorities in expenditure, must wait until the financial situation improves."—[Official Report, 1 February 1974; Vol. 868, c. 787.]
§ Mr. Hunt
As my hon. Friend says, they all say that. It is about time that we recognised the importance of youth provision, before it is too late. I believe that the Bill represents a vital legislative measure that underpins the youth service, which is so necessary at this difficult time. Of course the Bill does not answer all the problems of youth. It does not set out to do so. It is but a step in the right direction.
What are the needs of young people? I was helped in this by a recent report from the National Association of Youth and Community Education officers—NAYCEO—which is the professional association of local authority youth and community education officers. The worrying and serious state of youth provision today, particularly the youth service, is clearly shown in that organisation's representations and the point that it has recently made, particularly its call for a Royal Commission to inquire into the needs of the young. I do not support that call. I believe that it is far more urgent that we make adequate provision now. The setting up of a Royal Commission would, in my view, only put off the problem for too long.
However, there are six areas of serious concern which that organisation has voiced: first, the absence of any positive national, coherent youth policy giving enough dynamism to combat widespread support from the public and all the agencies most concerned; secondly, the lack of a co-ordinated approach to issues through the various Departments of national, and increasingly local, government; thirdly, the gross inadequacy of the apportionment of national, and hence local, resources either directly or through voluntary groups to those seeking to resolve issues of a local nature in a local way; fourthly, the disenchantment arising from the incidence of champions of one or more of the causes at issue and their rise to prominence, which is all too frequently based firmly upon non-consensus views and energies; fifthly, the lack of a nationally recognised vehicle through which the continuity of genuine 847 concern can be harnessed; and, sixthly, the extent to which almost all such action of evaluation as has been generated occurs with only limited debate or consultation.
Those summarise six of the major concerns of those working in the youth world at present. The Bill does not meet those concerns, but I believe that it is a valuable step in the right direction. I am pleased with the Bill's extensive long title, which I hope will permit us to raise a number of these vital issues in Committee and to discuss them at length in order to give them the relevance that they deserve.
I should like to refer to the question of departmental overlapping. This is now extremely serious. With the historic, deliberate separation for young workers and students of training from education, there has now arisen a serious difficulty between the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science. The problem is not limited to the competing careers service but includes many other areas. There is the commitment of the Department of Industry to the young worker, the responsibility of the Home Office to the young offender, of the Department of Health and Social Security for the young person at risk, of the Department of the Environment for urban aid, particularly sport and recreation, and of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for international youth work. We have too many Government Departments with too much responsibility doing too little for youth.
This Government have been in office for only five months, and my hon. Friend the Minister inherited this situation. He has taken important steps to overcome that damaging overlapping, and I wish him every possible strength in continuing that work. I hope that a coherent national youth policy can be introduced. There has been no policy in the past and certainly no forward thinking. We need an overall strategy for youth, and in that spirit we welcome the provisions of this vital Bill.
I hope that my hon. Friend the sponsor will contiue his widespread consultations with local authorities and representatives of youth organisations, because certain areas of concern still exist. Regarding 848 clause 1, I welcome the concept of the joint committee, but unless it has some responsibility for policy formulation over a wide field it will not have the relevance or the teeth to give a lead.
I welcome the suggestion of the hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) to include the words "political education" in clause 2. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said, it is vital that much more emphasis is placed on political education. I say that as president of the first body to receive funds for the promotion of political education.
I believe that we all noted with care what the Minister said about clause 7, which deals with housing for homeless young people. I hope that the serious problems suffered by large numbers of homeless young people can be overcome. The situation has reached crisis point in a number of city centres and crisis measures are needed to overcome the problems.
My hon. Friend appeared to be concerned that we should not move towards a national structure for the youth service forum but should be primarily concerned with local structures. The youth service forum received a great deal of criticism from the youth movement, and the Minister has adequately explained the reasons for its abolition. I hope that the talks that the Minister is undertaking can be brought to a speedy conclusion and that a proposal will result that can be introduced in Committee. The youth service forum failed, but that must not be taken as a precedent not to set up any national structure. We need a meaningful national structure, and we must get it right.
I speak for a number of members of the British Youth Council, and we welcome the inclusion in schedule 2 of representation from political youth movements. Many statutory youth officers who are used to working with nonpolitical bodies do not give as much prominence to political youth movements as they should, and political bodies have a great deal to contribute to the councils.
I hope that in Committee we can look in a broad way at what services are needed and that our consideration will range over the wide and varying quality 849 of services in a number of local authorities. I hope that we can consider carefully the difficulties of contacting and influencing unattached youth. Much more should be made of local media. There is a need for these young people to be involved more than they are now.
A large body of young persons are disaffected and disillusioned. If we allow that condition to ferment, we are asking for trouble. We have already made too many decisions, in particular in planning, which have not taken young people into account. There are barren housing estates with no provision for youth, such as those in my constituency, the Woodchurch, the Ford and the Noctorum estates. Large gangs of young people have nothing to do, and they are angry and frustrated. We have to find a way to meet their expectations. We shall have an opportunity to discuss that matter in Committee.
I have already welcomed the Bill. It is an important step forward. Sometimes the House does not think sufficiently far ahead. Ministers are adequate and expert at dealing with problems on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and, sometimes—rather impressively—year-to-year basis. In the Bill we must seek to create the right sort of environment on a long-term basis. Too little thought has been given to the sort of society that we wish to have, not just in the 1980s but in the 1990s, too. It is now just over 20 years to the year 2000. When we consider in Committee the sort of structures to be set up, I hope that we shall consider the sort of environment that will be created for those who are now being born and will have entered their teens at that time.
Young people are looking for opportunities to participate much more closely in the decisions that affect their daily lives. As politicians and parliamentarians, we should respond to that need with a much more rationalised approach to youth policy. If we do not so respond, we will face mass alienation of the young from society.
I pay great tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. His is a vital Bill, which receives support from all parts of the House. It is not the answer to all the problems, but it is a start that will be welcomed by the majority of the young.
§ 3.7 pm
§ Mr. Skeet
I should like to say a few words in conclusion. I am obliged for the Minister's indication that he will do all he can to facilitate the Bill. He has redeemed the election pledge made in the October 1974 manifesto:We will re-introduce the Youth and Community Bill, which, among other things, provides local reviews of existing arrangements in the field of housing, employment, leisure and advice services as they relate to young people.I am heartened by the honouring of that pledge. I hope that some of the difficulties that we may encounter will be resolved in Committee.
The Minister said he thought it only right to discover the great role of private enterprise in this area. That comment harks back to the words at page 74 of the Wolfenden report:What we are proposing is the development of a new long-term strategy, by a new examination of the potential contributions of the statutory, voluntary and informal sectors, and their interrelationship. In our view this examination is likely to point to the need for a substantial extension of the last two sectors.In other words, the chairman recommends that there should be an extension of voluntary services.
I appreciate that there are problems with clause 7 regarding housing. We shall have to examine that matter carefully. I appreciate the Minister's point that the Bills of 1975 and 1979 largely cover the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Squire) mentioned that many points had already been covered by earlier speakers, but he made one or two significant remarks. The fact that something has been stated does not mean that it should not be said again. The great poet Horace said "decies repetita placebit", which means, of course, "10 times repeated and it pleases." That is significant, for repetition is the only way to achieve services for the youth of Britain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) mentioned that this legislation was timely in social terms but untimely in economic terms. There is never an appropriate time for anything, and if there is no statutory youth and community service, and if local authorities may make cuts wherever they wish, services that have no statutory authority will be the first to be cut. If youth 851 services are cut back, our bills in later years will be that much higher. As the hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) mentioned, the Bill is an investment in the future of our country. The wealth of a nation can be magnified many fold by ensuring that its people reach their full stature and do not have their potential wasted by insufficient investment.
The subject of political education has been mentioned by many hon. Members. I was wary of introducing the words "political and social education" into the Bill as they might have proved obstacles during the Bill's initial stages. Kent county council education committee defines social education in "The Management of County Youth Clubs, Centres and Wings" as being able toparticipate actively in a democratic system and in small or large community groups.That should be our definition. The more that social education is covered by the Bill, the less will political education be necessary. I agree with all hon. Members who have put forward ideas on that aspect.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) asked that there should be a local neighbourhood bias on joint committees. That is already covered in clause 2(3). He wanted there to be provision for new services as required, but that is covered in clause 2(2)(g). He also wanted political education to be included, but that is covered in clause 2(2)(a).
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) raised an interesting point. There have been a number of reports on the black community within the United Kingdom. They are here for good, they have equality under the law, and we must ensure that their life in the community is shared by us and that ours is shared by them. However, they are at a disadvantage because they have their own culture and when they come to the United Kingdom they are told that they must accept our culture. That is difficult for them, and those difficulties are increased by unemployment. Between 1973 and 1977, the number of unemployed black people increased significantly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) raised the key question of co-ordination in Government 852 Departments and within local authorities. Without the political will and a determination to cut red tape, they will not give youth services a high priority. We must get across to them the importance of co-ordination, followed up by rationalisation of available services. My hon. Friend made that point well and it is right that we should bear it in mind.
The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) said that the Bill was a watered-down version of what is required. That is not the case. She cannot have read the Bill carefully. Provisions in clause 2 and other parts are mandatory and clause 4(2) demonstrates that the Bill is certainly not watered down. It says:The local education authority shall consider any objections and may after making in the scheme such modifications if any as after consultation with the joint committee it thinks expedient approve the scheme and thereupon it shall be the duty of the local education authority to take such measures for the purpose of giving effect to the scheme.I have laid down comprehensive rules governing the requirements of youth, making provisions for the future as well as for the past. I have given guidance to local authorities without infringing their autonomy, and I have laid down that when a scheme has been approved it must be carried to a final conclusion.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
If the Bill is as watertight as the hon. Gentleman claims, will he comment on the Minister's remark that it would be satisfactory to have only permissive provisions? Surely that would weaken all that the hon. Gentleman is proposing.
§ Mr. Skeet
If the Bill gets a Second Reading, it will have to go to Committee where such matters can be discussed in depth. The Government will have to put their case and hon. Members will have to argue their own views.
One of the great traditions of the House is that we search for consensus, and we are trying to reach agreement here. If I had my way, I would not have brought this Bill before the House. I should like something much more comprehensive, including a Minister for youth. I say that openly, but I know that it is impracticable.
The Bill is probably the first of a number of measures that will be brought before the House to deal with young 853 people aged between 12 and 21. They have been neglected in the past. Apart from earlier Bills that have been referred to, this is the first time since 1944 that they have received active consideration.
No doubt there will be other Bills in which modifications will be made. I hope that in future Ministers will not say that they cannot afford the expenditure because of an economic crisis, but perhaps we should leave that point for the Committee stage.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).