HC Deb 21 November 1980 vol 994 cc133-46
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Prior)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the programme of special employment measures to operate in 1981–82.

The present high level of unemployment affects young people fresh from school more than most. We have a special duty to ensure that in these difficult times their prospects are not permanently damaged. The Prime Minister made clear yesterday the Government's deep concern on this score. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend announced that it is our intention to expand the youth opportunities programme to provide 440,000 opportunities in 1981–82. That is 180,000 more than planned for the current year and more than double the number of opportunities that were available last year. There will also be 1,000 more places in the separate community industry scheme.

The youth opportunities programme has been very successful hitherto in meeting the undertakings to school leavers and the longer-term unemployed. The overwhelming majority of young people involved have been offered places. Nevertheless, those young people may have to wait as long as a year from the date they leave school before they get any chance to work—and this is a long period for young and active people. And sometimes the opportunity, when it comes, does too little to prepare them for proper work. I have therefore asked the Manpower Services Commission to make some important changes in the youth opportunities programme scheme, which are designed to improve substantially the position of those in the vital two years between leaving school and their eighteenth birthday. I am requesting the Manpower Services Commission to undertake next year to offer a suitable opportunity to all unemployed school leavers by Christmas rather than by the following Easter. I am also requesting the Manpower Services Commission to try next year to offer a suitable opportunity, within three months, to any 16 or 17-year-old who has been registered as unemployed for three months. Moreover, I intend there to be more emphasis on giving the young person who has completed a course or scheme within the programme and who still has no job a chance to progress to another course or scheme. Since the programme is now focused on 16 and 17-year-olds, the allowance for next year will remain at £23.50 per week.

The emphasis in the programme will increasingly be placed on good quality training for work, and two-thirds of the places will provide work experience on employers' premises. We are trying, as resources permit, to work towards the point where every 16 and 17-year-old not in education or a job will be assured of vocational preparation lasting as necessary up to his or her eighteenth birthday. This is an extremely ambitious programme. It is nothing less than a new deal for the young unemployed, and its success depends on full co-operation from all those concerned, particularly from employers, whose assistance in sponsoring projects is vital. To help the careers service make its essential contribution to the expanded programme, the Government will fund another 200 places for this work.

We see this development of the youth opportunities programme in the wider context of improving preparation for and training in work for all young people and not just the unemployed. The Manpower Services Commission and Education Departments will accordingly also accelerate the extension of vocational preparation schemes over the next three years for those who have jobs but who are given little or no systematic training or further education. What we are tying to build up in those ways is a system whereby 16 and 17-year-olds will be better equipped for working life, and that is being further considered within our review of industrial training.

I turn now to measures for the adult unemployed. It is unrealistic to suppose that special measures can do as much for them as for the young. For most of the unemployed the only solution is the creation of lasting and viable jobs, which will appear only as we establish a sound economy. Nevertheless, in so far as it is possible to ease the transition by special measures we have a duty to do so, and the Government are convinced that more opportunities for useful activity could be provided if greater emphasis were placed on work of environmental improvement and if much greater encouragement were given for projects arranged by voluntary agencies. Although many worthwhile projects were conducted under the special temporary employment programme, we feel that a new impetus is now needed. I am therefore asking the Manpower Services Commission to replace the special temporary employment programme with a new programme — the community enterprise programme — which will be subject to annual review, like the youth opportunities programme, but which it is our firm intention to continue for at least three years.

The community enterprise programme will aim to provide 25,000 filled places by March 1982, which will more than double the number under the special temporary employment programme at present. Priority will continue to be given to the long-term unemployed, and for the first time 18-year-olds will be admitted to the programme if they have been unemployed for more than six months. The community enterprise programme will be nationwide but with priority given to projects in areas of high unemployment. It will therefore be available in areas of high unemployment not covered at present by the special temporary employment programme. Under the new programme, we shall encourage private sector sponsorship of projects involving community benefit and provide funds for partnerships involving the private sector and public and community bodies in the creation of new enterprises.

As I made clear some months ago, we also want to see more opportunities for voluntary activity for those who find themselves out of work and yet wish to have a chance of some such activity. Under the community enterprise programme, therefore, there will be many more opportunities for voluntary organisations to sponsor projects, and they will be able to recruit full-time temporary employees to assist the unemployed in finding part-time voluntary work in the local community. We are anxious that there should be no unnecessary obstacles in the way of the unemployed taking up voluntary work that is useful to them and to the community. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will accordingly be putting proposals to the Social Security Advisory Committee for modifying the regulations to provide rather more scope for such work to be undertaken without loss of benefit.

We intend to continue the job release scheme for another year on the present basis. We also propose to continue the temporary short-time working compensation scheme for another year. There has been a considerable increase in assistance under this scheme so far this year, and there have been many demands that the period of support should be lengthened. Accordingly, we intend that all applications received after today should be eligible to receive the support for a period of nine rather than the existing six months and the level of assistance given will be 50 per cent. of normal earnings rather than 75 per cent. All those currently using the scheme will continue to receive the 75 per cent. rate until their six months end, when they will have the opportunity to apply for a three-month extension at the 50 per cent. rate.

The total cost of all these measures in 1981–82 will be some £570 million, an increase over existing provision of nearly £250 million. This is a massive practical demonstration of our concern for the unemployed. I have received a great deal of help from the Manpower Services Commission in framing these measures. I have also been greatly heartened in the course of this review by the widespread desire expressed by so many in the community to have the opportunity to help. I trust that these new programmes—the youth opportunities programme and the community enterprise programme— will receive the full co-operation of employers, unions, local authorities and voluntary bodies, on whom their implementation so largely depends, and that the House will also give its full support to all the measures that I have announced today.

Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)

We are grateful to the Secretary of State for taking the first available opportunity to announce these measures so that the House may take them into account in the amendment to the Loyal Address on unemployment that we are to debate next week.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he has announced will, at best, only partly alleviate the greatest unemployment crisis that this country has known for half a century? On what will become a desperately bleak situation, which has been deliberately engineered by the Cabinet, of which he has been an active participant, will the right hon. Gentleman answer some questions so that we may consider the matter further?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the 700,000 people who have lost their jobs in record time since this Government came to office are now costing the taxpayer an additional £2,000 million?

Whilst warmly welcoming the expansion of the youth opportunities programme, may I ask why the right hon. Gentleman has found it necessary to freeze the weekly allowance at the present rate when I understand that all the advice that he has received from the Manpower Services Commission and others is that the allowance should be improved?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, it was planned that there would be 25,000 filled places in the special temporary employment programme by April 1982, which, in view of everything that has happened, is totally inadequate. That scheme is now to be replaced by the new community enterprise programme. Why can we not, under the new programme, expand the number of places beyond the 25,000 envisaged, especially as the number of long-term unemployed will quickly top 500,000?

On the community industry scheme, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman plans to have an additional 1,000 places only. Will he confirm that those who thought of this scheme could administer many more places than those announced by him?

I should like to ask a couple of questions about the Department's own measures. Why cannot the temporary short-time working compensation scheme be expanded beyond the announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman today? For example, is there not an overwhelming argument for a scheme allowing firms to claim reimbursement for 12 months at the 75 per cent. rate?

Is it not time for the Government to reinstate at least the provisions of the job release scheme that was envisaged by the previous Labour Government, in view of the rapidly deteriorating situation? Should not eligibility go further, to allow men at the age of 60 and women at the age of 55 to qualify? Would not that prove extremely cost effective?

I welcome the improvements announced by the right hon. Gentleman, but the total package still falls far short of what is required. It must be understood that these measures will not solve the grave and growing unemployment crisis, which is doing so much social and psychological damage to the country?

Mr. Prior

No measures of this nature can in any way replace the need for full-time productive jobs in British industry. That is the first point that we must always remember. In so far as we try to help certain groups of people in the way that I have announced today, we deny resources to other jobs which otherwise might be created. One must always have a balance in these matters, and that balance has to take account of the availability of resources. It was one thing to have great extensions and expansions of scheme just before the general election, but it was another to pay for them afterwards.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we were discussing this matter against the background of a bleak situation, and I agree with him, but he also said that the unemployment created in the past 18 months had been deliberately engineered. Is he suggesting, in those circumstances, that the increase of between 700,000 and 800,000 unemployed during the Labour Government's period in office was deliberately engineered? I did not say that at that time. I think that he ought to repay the compliment by not saying that we have deliberately engineered it either. Unemployment went up under the Labour Government, and it is going up under this Government. We must do our best to deal with the situation as it is. The cost of unemployment is high, and we, as a country, must bear it. The Labour Government had to bear it when they were in office. We now have to bear it.

The purpose of the schemes that I have announced is to provide help and assistance to those groups that are least able to help themselves and at the same time to try to provide that additional basis of training, which has been long overdue, for 16 and 17-year-olds who leave school and have no other form of training during their working lives.

This year we have frozen the youth opportunities programme allowance. As I announced, we are restricting the youth opportunities programme more to 16 and 17-year-olds. We believe that that is reasonable. The allowance is still about £9 more than the supplementary benefit arrangements. In view of the enormous increase in the numbers of people being taken on, I believe that we should be prepared to make this one economy.

For the community enterprise programme we have set what we believe is a realistic target to reach by 1982. I do not believe that targets that were set at other times were realistic.

The community industry scheme could possibly have been expanded by another 1,000 or so. At the moment it is set at 6,000 and it will go up to 7,000. It is mostly for the very disadvantaged, for the ethnic minorities and for those who otherwise in ordinary circumstances would be unlikely to get jobs. Therefore, we are concentrating more on those groups.

The temporary short-time working compensation scheme is valuable but expensive. The costs of this scheme are rising rapidly. I tried to meet the point that it ought to last longer to try to tide companies over a longer period, but again I felt that we must make some contribution to the costs in view of the resources available to me.

The job release scheme has value, but again it is costly. To reduce the qualifying age for men from 64 to 62 would cost an additional £200 million over three years. We must balance what we are trying to do for special groups in our society with the overall effect on public expenditure. The previous Labour Government left any number of postdated cheques to be picked up, including an already very high level of unemployment.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the additional measures that he has announced will be very helpful to unemployed young people, especially as there is to be an increased training content in the work experience scheme? Does it mean that it will now be much easier for a young unemployed person to transfer from a basic scheme to a more specialist scheme so that he can learn additional skills?

On the question of the use of resources, is it intended that skillcentres should play an increasing role in offering training opportunities to young people?

Mr. Prior

What we hope is that a young person will do a YOP scheme for perhaps six months in one scheme and will then be eligible to transfer to another scheme for a further six months. In certain parts of the country—Merseyside, for example—it is already possible to stay in a scheme for up to about 15 months. There might be a gap of three months, during which we hope people will get a job, and then they would be eligible to come back into further schemes.

As to training, already, under the work experience on employers' premises scheme, about 38 per cent. are getting off-the-job training. We want to see that percentage improved and encouraged. The skillcentres will play their part in providing some of that off-the-job training.

Although it is not connected directly with this matter, we also want more and more people aged 16 and 17 to leave school with an ability to read and write and to do the many things that they ought to be taught at school but do not appear to be.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

My hon. Friends and I welcome the provisions outlined by the Secretary of State, particularly those for the creation of CEP. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider renewing the small business temporary employment subsidy? One cannot help remembering that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was very keen on that on 1 May 1979.

Does the Secretary of State accept the excellent work that is being done for the disabled by Pathway? Has it occurred to him that it would be right for the disabled and the handicapped groups also to have some encouragement from this package?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman look into the delays in awards under the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, such as are being encountered by David Johnson, in my constituency, who has had to wait many months for a payment decision?

Mr. Prior

If the hon. Gentleman will send me details concerning the last matter that he raises—if he has not already sent details—I shall look into it.

There have been some delays in paying out under this scheme and in approving schemes. We have had a flood of schemes over the last two or three months. We have had to take on more labour to deal with them. We have caught up with nearly all the delays, but if there are particular delays in hon. Members' constituencies and they let us know we shall try to deal with them.

The Pathway scheme is enormously valuable. I want, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend, to give it every possible support.

I am now looking at the question of the induction allowance, which can now be given for 13 weeks but which I think is, on the whole, probably given for only about six weeks. That might help enormously with the Pathway scheme. Brian Rix has put other proposals to me, which I am considering. I pay tribute to the work that he is doing in helping the disabled and mentally handicapped people to obtain proper jobs in society. I commend those people for the excellent work that they are able to do.

The small firms employment subsidy was one of the least cost-effective schemes because it was paid very largely to employed people who would have been employed in any case by those firms. It was a cash injection for those firms. I believe that there ought to be better ways of using the £15 million than doing it on a straight employment subsidy basis.

Sir Graham Page (Crosby)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this valuable scheme, but I should like to put to him a point on industrial training. There come before the House, almost weekly, long and complex levy orders for industrial training hoards. One can see that behind those there is a massive bureaucracy, resulting in triplication of effort between the Department, the Manpower Services Commission and industry. Is there any good reason why the MSC should have the responsibility for industrial training? Would it not be better to put a far more direct statutory responsibiliy on industry, direct to my right hon. Friend's Department?

Mr. Prior

As was announced in the Queen's Speech yesterday, we shall be producing a measure on training that will take into account what my right hon. Friend has said today. We shall discuss this next week, I believe, and I shall make a preliminary statement then. We have to get the money that we spend on training concentrated on training, and we have to reduce the amount of money that is spent on the bureaucracy of training.

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Is the Secretary of State aware that if a Labour Government had been elected in May 1979 they would have honoured their post-dated cheques, that there would have been a permanent short-time working compensation scheme, that they would have continued to pay the compensation for 12 months, and not nine months, and that the age for the job release scheme would be 62 for men and not 64?

Is the Secretary of State further aware that with one-third of a million long-term unemployed—estimated to increase to half a million by 1981–82—the figure of 25,000 places in the new community employment programme is totally inadequate?

Mr. Prior

A Labour Government would have honoured their commitments in the same way as the previous Labour Government honoured their election campaign slogan of 1974 on the basis of "Back to Work with Labour", which resulted in an increase in unemployment of about 700,000 in the next four years. I am not convinced by the argument that they would have honoured their post-dated cheques.

Although under the STEP there was a write-in figure of 25,000 for the programme, the fact was that a comparatively small percentage of those people were being drawn from what are known as the eligible categories—that is, those who had been unemployed for more than a year if they were over the age of 24, and for six months if they were between 19 and 24.

I believe that this new programme will relax the private gain criteria, which will enable far more voluntary organisations to play a part, and will reserve a certain sum for community enterprise projects, where we can get private capital, local capital and the community enterprise money in as well. It will do more than anything to generate more employment, so it is not just the effect of providing 25,000 jobs. What we are seeking to do is to use this money, as much as we can, as seed corn to generate other jobs.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members will welcome his statement, particularly the part in which he said that the greatest emphasis in the programme is to be on where the need is greatest? With that in mind, and as 1981 is the International Year of Disabled People, will my right hon. Friend invite the MSC to give particular emphasis in its YOP to the young disabled worker, who has an even harder time in getting a job than the normal person?

Mr. Prior

Yes. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. We shall certainly draw the MSC's attention to the serious problems that the young disabled are experiencing. I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). We shall give every assistance as well to the Pathway schemes, as we hope that they will develop throughout the whole country.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

What will be the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's announcement in Northern Ireland? Will he give a breakdown of the extra places that will appear there in the YOP and CEP as a result of this announcement, or will his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland make a separate and parallel statement in respect of Northern Ireland?

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, although he is extending the short-time working compensation scheme, he is really leaving only the same amount of money per employee? Will this help those firms that are on the verge of closure or are shedding jobs as a result of the cost of labour?

Mr. Prior

On the latter point, the cost of the scheme has been increasing considerably in recent months. Although I have not been able to consult widely on the question of changing the 75 to 50 per cent., I believe that many companies will welcome the extension to nine months. I think that it is an important change in the scheme.

As for Northern Ireland generally, as the hon. Gentleman will know, these schemes are not administered by the Department of Employment or the Manpower Services Commission. I have had consultations with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his hon. Friends, and they will be expanding their schemes pan passu with the schemes that I have announced today.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches believe it right to reduce the obstacles facing the unemployed to do voluntary work. However, two problems still remain. The first is that it is necessary to provide some incentive for young people to do voluntary work—perhaps some recognition other than a financial one. The second problem of the unemployed doing voluntary work is that of finding out where voluntary work is required. Perhaps each locality should have a focal point in its jobcentre so that the voluntary organisations can advertise the work that they require doing.

Mr. Prior

We have thought a lot about this, and we believe that the jobcentres can help. The community enterprise programme will also make it possible for voluntary organisations to take on people full-time to provide information and to co-ordinate the activities that might be performed by people in an entirely voluntary capacity.

We are also aware that we have to look at the problems of the availability for work rules, and also perhaps to consider out-of-pocket expenses for those who wish to partake in these schemes.

We are catering for that. It will take some time to work up these schemes, but I believe that many thousands of people wish to make a contribution to society on an entirely voluntary basis, and I hope that this scheme will be used very largely for that purpose.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that, when considering youth unemployment, the Manpower Services Commission will look especially hard at the problems of the inner parts of large cities with multiracial communities, such as St. Paul's. in Bristol? Will those areas have special attention?

Mr. Prior

Areas of high youth unemployment are already given special attention, and there is a good deal of flexibility in the operation of these schemes. For example, although we are concentrating on 16 and 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds can be in the schemes, and the length of the schemes under the youth opportunities programme can be extended flexibly where the resources are available.

I do not know whether St. Paul's has a community industry scheme, but schemes are focused particularly on difficult areas such as certain inner city areas and areas with large ethnic populations. I should like to see schemes of this sort running in areas of the type mentioned by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer).

Mr. William Waldegrave (Bristol, West)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that no policy of any kind, whether it be this Government's or any other Government's, can stop inflation without creating a transitional rise in the level of unemployment? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend accept that Government supporters welcome the Government's acceptance of their obligation to those who are unemployed for what will be a transitional period and congratulate him on his statement today?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There is no long-term answer to unemployment other than providing proper jobs. We intend to do that. I hope that today's announcement will kill the view that this Government do not care about the unemployed. We care deeply about the unemployed, especially those who are unemployed through no fault of their own. However, in a society such as ours, and given the experience of the past 20 years, we shall not cure this problem in old-fashioned ways. We have to seek new methods.

Mr. Giles Radice (Chester-le-Street)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, despite some improvements, his total package represents an inadequate response to a catastrophic level of unemployment, especially in the North? Is he aware also that there will be considerable disappointment that he has not immediately decided to extend the life of the youth opportunities programme beyond one year? This is very important in towns such as Sunderland and Gateshead, where young people will go from the youth opportunities programme straight back on to the dole queues.

Mr. Prior

We have made a very considerable improvement. First, we have brought forward the guarantee from Easter to Christmas. I have also made it plain that, with the likelihood of at least a break some time between 16 and 17 so as to give some people an incentive at least to find work, they will be able to come back into another scheme after three months. In many ways, I have dealt with problems of the sort mentioned by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice).

The hon. Gentleman referred to disappointment about our inability to provide more resources. Given the severe constraints at the moment on public expenditure, and considering all the assistance that we are giving to the nationalised industries, which otherwise would mean that employment would not be sustained at even the present levels in those industries, the Government are doing all they can to help.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. However, does he agree that, in the present economic circumstances, it is not possible to offer the number of places in these various schemes that we should all like to see? Might not we obtain a better return on the investment if more attention were paid to the employment of retired persons, perhaps on a part-time basis, to give the leadership that is so desperately important to the success of the schemes? I have in mind especially the community enterprise programme, where people with a lifetime of experience in work have a great deal to offer. Will my right hon. Friend consider the employment of such people, possibly part-time?

Mr. Prior

There is no reason why retired people with a particular vocation should not come forward and offer themselves for permanent employment in the voluntary organisations to help generate work for others, bearing in mind especially that the voluntary agencies have asked that the scheme should last a minimum of three years so that they may plan ahead for three years instead of the one year that is possible at the moment. We have given thorn that guarantee.

I hope that many more retired people will offer their services through the voluntary agencies so that we can provide jobs of a community enterprise nature or of an environmental nature which can do so much to help improve our environment at a time when we have large numbers of unemployed and when we ought to be making opportunities available to them to help.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that, when he speaks "in a wider context", his wider context is extremely narrow? He gave some indication of that with his trite remark about the educational qualifications of young people leaving school.

We have, especially among young people, the most highly qualified unemployed labour force in our history. Even though the Secretary of State is screwing up his courage to defy the Prime Minister, all that he is providing is a mere palliative. Will he consider what Gordon Richardson said last night, namely, that, if we go on the way we are going we shall have a lot of people in all these temporary schemes, but no manufacturing industry in which to employ them?

Mr. Prior

I did not hear Mr. Gordon Richardson last night, but, on listening on the radio this morning to an account of what he had said, my impression was that he was emphasising the importance of Britain's being competitive and getting down its rate of inflation. Unless we can compete with other countries, we shall not increase employment.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I am anxious about the education and training of girls. What resources will the Minister make available to deflect girls from shorthand and typing, which are rapidly becoming redundant, bearing in mind that training in new technologies is expensive?

Mr. Prior

The youth opportunities programme devotes 50 per cent. of its resources to girls. The more off-the-job training for girls that we can give, the better. The Government will make different proposals, not necessarily more expensive ones, and the House will have plenty of opportunity during the Session to discuss them.

Mr. John Watson (Skipton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed by the British Youth Council, by the National Youth Bureau and by others involved in tackling the problems of youth unemployment? Will he confirm not only that he is aware of the continuing need to increase the number of people who will benefit from the youth opportunities programme but that he will pay attention to the quality of training and the nature of the jobs?

Mr. Prior

It is important that we increase the quality of training and the quality of jobs provided. I emphasised that in my statement. We must move away from the simple proposition of trying to find anything for the 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to do. We must try to find jobs that involve some element of training and which, in time, as we bring down the numbers of unemployed young people, can be translated into a unified vocational programme to help the vast numbers of young people who at present leave school and go into jobs without any training. We have a bad record in Britain in that respect, and this is the best way to put it right.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his new deal for the young unemployed is further evidence to all fair-minded people that the creation of unemployment is no part of the Government's deliberate policy? Is he further aware that his proposals for co-operation with the private sector will be widely welcomed as one of the most cost-effective ways of bringing help to young people and others?

Mr. Prior

Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am also grateful to my colleagues who, when we are having to make considerable cuts in public expenditure, have thought it right that the programme should be increased in this way. It is therefore all the more important to make the best possible use of the extra resources being made available for the schemes.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the measures that he has announced, although welcome, are mere palliatives and only tinker with the problem? Is he further aware that the jobs that he is creating will not match the jobs that will be destroyed by the further package of public expenditure cuts and tax increases that we understand is to come? Will he examine further the job release scheme? Is that not the best means of creating real jobs for young people?

Mr. Prior

No. The job release scheme has many merits, but I do not believe that it creates more jobs for young people. It helps to remove numbers from the register. One cannot argue that the provision of 440,000 places for young people is a palliative or a cosmetic. We are taking enormous steps forward. They should be welcomed in al parts of the House. The hon. Gentleman should examine the proposals before making such a comment.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that everyone who is anxious about the terrible and tragic problem will warmly welcome what he has said? Does he accept that young people want permanent jobs and permanent work? Does he agree that there is a lack of craftsmen in Britain? Will he talk to the Crafts Advisory Committee and others to see what can be done to encourage young people to be properly trained in crafts so that they can make a real and lasting contribution to the country and to restoring our reputation for excellent craftsmanship? Will my right hon. Friend be careful about spending extra money on lavish High Street jobcentres when such money could be used in the way that I suggest?

Mr. Prior

I am prepared to talk to the crafts committee to see how we can help. Even more important is the need for a concerted effort by employers, trade unions and the Government, with the support of the House, to examine the whole basis of our apprenticeship system. I shall be asking the House to consider that. It is not right to continue to judge a person's ability to do a job on the basis of the time that he has spent training instead of on standards reached.

We must make our jobcentres attractive. We should continue with our jobcentre programme. However, I agree that when we are asking everyone in the country to be careful how he spends his money, we must expect the Manpower Services Commission to have regard to the importance of economy.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Will the Secretary of State reconsider the remarks that he made earlier, because they might be considered to be a slur on Britain's teachers and the education system? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on getting another £200 million for his Department, but is he aware that if that money is taken out of the education system to make teachers' jobs even more difficult that will be robbing Peter to pay Paul? Will he co-operate much more with the Department of Education and Science?

Mr. Prior

I am not casting any slur on the teaching profession. I am afraid that I am stating a fact which too often is related to me. Far too many 16-year-olds are leaving school with extraordinarily low standards. I attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee earlier this week, when the abysmal level of mathematics teaching was brought home to me in no uncertain manner. Let us not decry the efforts that are being made, but let us face the facts. We are spending vast sums on education, and have done for years. As a nation we must receive good value for money. That is the only point that I am trying to make. It needs to be made.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be widely welcomed as a major expansion of the special measures programme? Will he look again at the job release scheme to see whether additional steps can be taken next year if, unfortunately, unemployment is still rising? Does he agree that it would be helpful if hon. Members, with the local offices, could monitor the schemes in three, six and nine months' time as the programme develops? Is he further aware that even if, as we hope, the unemployment figures come down in 1982–83, there might still be a case for deploying additional resources over and above this increase to help the specially harsh problem of the young unemployed?

Mr. Prior

All the programmes must be kept under review. I hope that unemployment will improve. However, the forecasts are bleak and one must face that. It could cost between £180 million and £200 million extra over three years to reduce the age of those entitled to be involved in the job release scheme. Even next year we have to provide an additional £25 million for the 64-yearolds because the scheme is going faster than expected. The temporary short-time working scheme is costing a great deal. The increased allocation is considerably more than that for the present year.

We shall monitor the schemes. That will require an enormous effort, especially by British industry. I am grateful to industry for its co-operation, and also for the co-operation that was promised by the CBI at its conference. Unless we can find good sponsors, and many more sponsors, the Manpower Services Commission will not be able to meet its guarantees.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order. I propose to call the hon. Members who have been rising from the beginning.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

Will the Secretary of State say how soon the welcome increase of 150,000 youth opportunity places will take place? I am thinking of last year's school leavers, many of whom have been wandering about the streets for six months. Will something happen before next April? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the problems of inner London, where there are many unemployed youngsters? I hope that the schemes will not concentrate only on the North of England. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the extra cost of the schemes. Was he referring to the net increase, taking into account the offsetting savings through people on the YOP schemes not drawing supplementary benefit?

Mr. Prior

I was talking about gross cost. The net cost can be estimated at about 50 per cent. of the gross cost, taking into account supplementary benefit or unemployment benefit that will not be drawn. That has always been the case. As for building up the scheme, as the House knows, last year there were about 180,000 to 190,000 places in the youth opportunities programme. This year we expanded that to 250,000 places. The scheme is already running at an annual rate of about 300,000 places. We are already building up in excess of what we thought would happen this year because of the great pressure of school leavers. It is not a question of waiting until after April to start to build up the 440,000 places. They will be built up continuously the whole way through. One of the purposes of announcing the schemes so early, and not waiting until February or March, is that we can get on with the preparation and build-up of the schemes, especially the youth opportunities programme.

Mr. John Tilley (Lambeth, Central)

Is the Secretary of State aware that in constituencies such as Lambeth, where his Cabinet colleagues have carried out cuts that have destroyed hundreds, if not thousands, of job opportunities, this announcement, far from being regarded as a new deal for the young unemployed, will be regarded as a package of cynical gimmicks, because the provision is nowhere near enough to meet the problem? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that youth unemployment in that borough has trebled since May 1979? Young people are taken off the dole for a few months, their hopes are raised, and then they are back on the street corners, where they become even more bitter as they realise that the jobs for which they have allegedly been trained do not exist.

Mr. Prior

Lambeth could make a large contribution to helping itself. If it planned its resources properly so that it did not have to raise rates to the extent that it has, it would not drive industry out of the borough. As a result, more jobs would be available.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Will the Secretary of State turn to paragraph 10 of his original statement and put a cost tag on the phrase "work of environmental improvement"? What sense does it make to promote what, frankly, are often seen as fancy and peripheral jobs rather than allow local authorities to go ahead with central, nitty-gritty, vital jobs such as sewers and house maintenance? Can we be sure that paragraph 10, for all its wording, amounts to anything more than a suggestion that there should be a little more training of thatchers here and there?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman can be sure that the schemes under the community enterprise programme will be of a better nature than those under the special temporary employment programme, though they have been improving rapidly under that scheme also. They are not meant to be the cosmetic or synthetic schemes that were prevalent in anecdotal fashion to start with. By relaxing some of the private gain criteria, we are hoping to get industry to play a part in clearing up derelict sites. As a result of getting more voluntary effort on a longer-term basis, we hope that the voluntary organisations will carry out more schemes. We hope that the money that we are allocating out of the new community enterprise programme for community enterprise operations such as those carried out by Mr. Colin Ball under the community business ventures will begin to play a larger part. They are different in concept from the old STEP schemes.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Does the Secretary of State realise that the fact that the youth opportunities programme, established by the previous Labour Governent, is to continue will be welcomed? Does he agree that that is a recognition that there must be Government intervention and that we cannot leave the job position to the market forces of Milton Friedman? When he talks about two-thirds of the work experience on the youth opportunities programme being held in employment premises, does he realise that in South Wales, and in many other areas, employment premises are closing every day of the the week? Does he further realise that there will be difficulties in finding employment premises to supply the work experience unless there is a real change in the economic policies of the Government, with their artificially high interest rates, artificially high value of the pound and artificially high energy costs? Artificial jobs will not solve the problem. We need real jobs, with real economic policies.

Mr. Prior

I have made it clear that we have a mammoth task ahead to get the work on employers' premises schemes under way. Currently, comparatively few firms take part in the schemes. The CBI, at its conference, gave a strong indication that it wished to play a greater part. We had better wait and see how we get on. I have had no indication from the Manpower Services Commission that it does not believe that, in all parts of the country, it will still be possible to keep to the guarantees and provide additional places.

In the long run, we have to provide proper jobs, with an efficient economy. That applies as much to South Wales as to anywhere else. The hon. Gentleman knows of the vast a mount of money that we are putting into the steel industry and also into providing new factories and other facilities in parts of Wales, especially South Wales, to help a desperately serious position, which is recognised by the Government as being such.