HC Deb 22 January 1980 vol 977 cc178-80
3. Mr. Hicks

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has any specific proposals to assist unemployed young people living in rural areas to obtain training opportunities; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jim Lester

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that every effort is made to provide a full range of training opportunities for unemployed young people in rural areas under the youth opportunities programme. As my hon. Friend knows, I recently visited the South-West and I was impressed by the quality of youth opportunities programme provision which I saw there.

Mr. Hicks

Does my hon. Friend realise that in rural areas transport to training centres may present genuine problems? Thus, the work experience and short-term employment schemes have been most valuable and should be retained. Will my hon. Friend be more experimental in his approach and consider the possibility of introducing mobile training centres in conjunction with existing school and similar facilities?

Mr. Lester

I thank my hon. Friend for his supplementary question. We shall always be prepared to consider suggestions for the better use of available resources. I accept that transport is always a difficulty in rural areas. My hon. Friend will know that the Manpower Services Commission has a flex-able range of methods to try to deal with difficulties, which vary from area to area, including the provision of minibuses and residential courses. Any suggestions for improving the service will be considered by the Government.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Minister aware that the removal of transfer of employment grants creates especial difficulties in areas such as the one represented by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) and in my constituency, where the provision of minibuses does not solve the problems? Difficulties arise when it is necessary to move entirely out of one's area to find employment.

Mr. Lester

I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's question and reply in due course.

Mr. Strang

Notwithstanding any statistics that the hon. Gentleman has quoted this afternoon or last night, does he accept that the cuts in the skillcentre programme that he has announced will disadvantage many young people who live in rural areas? Bearing in mind the Government acceptance of the continuing rise in unemployment, is not this the most lunatic cut of all?

Mr. Lester

As the hon. Gentleman knows, no decision has yet been made on the closure of skillcentres. Consideration will be given to that on 28 January by the Manpower Services Commission. The hon. Gentleman will also know that the basic design is to improve placings and to do away with the centres that are costing and not serving. The finished scheme will lead to an improvement in training and placing, and in more people passing through the skillcentre network.

Mr. Myles

Will my hon. Friend consider the employment potential of farms? Every farm could usefully employ at least one extra man if profitability were present.

Mr. Lester

Of course we shall consider employment prospects on farms. However, agriculture has been demanning over a considerable period. We hope that farms will provide a worthwhile form of employment for the younger generation that is coming along.

Mr. Wigley

In view of the increased cost of travel in rural areas, and the danger of rural bus services disappearing completely, will the hon. Gentleman be especially sympathetic to the maintenance of courses at skillcentres and technical colleges for training young people in rural areas? If skillcentres are closed and technical college courses stopped, it will be almost impossible in many areas for young people to travel outside their catchment areas to attend technical colleges.

Mr. Lester

We have considerable sympathy with those who have to experience the problems of travel in rural areas. However, grants are available to those attending skillcentres to help to overcome the problems.