HC Deb 08 November 1983 vol 48 cc129-32
1. Mr. Bruce

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of the youth training scheme.

9. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of the youth training scheme.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Tom King)

I am greatly encouraged by the progress of the scheme to date, and in particular by the co-operation shown by employers, local authorities, trade unions and others.

Over 250,000 young people have now taken up places within the scheme, and I am confident that the undertaking to offer a place to all unemployed 16-year-olds by Christmas will be met.

Mr. Bruce

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the problem of providing off-the-job training in rural areas is causing some difficulty? Will he undertake to look at ways to fund that, or find other ways in which it can be done, because there are a number of rural areas where off-the-job training is not readily available and the schemes are in danger of falling down because of that lack of support?

Mr. King

I take note of that serious point. Certainly part of our undertaking was that it is intended entirely as a national scheme, and we want to make sure that certain areas are not disadvantaged.

Mr. Adley

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box in his new job.

Mr. Skinner

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the new Secretary of State is better than the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)?

Mr. Adley

I am satisfied with both. If the hon. Gentleman wants to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, he can do so. Is it not true that although there has been some criticism of the scheme most people see it as new and exciting, and that the concentration on training is particularly important? Is there not now a slight upturn in youth employment figures, which itself is an encouraging sign?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind welcome. I can say more easily as one who was less involved with the start of the scheme that what has been achieved is remarkable. It is most encouraging to have reached a figure, after such a recent start, of 250,000 young people already in the scheme with more places available, and now with the faster take-up in the past month. With the training component, it is a substantial improvement on anything that has been done before.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister aware of the widespread resentment among young people towards a scheme that many of them regard as a device to reduce the unemployment figures? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that for the first time this autumn the majority of 16 and 17-year-olds who left school have not got real jobs? When will this sacrifice of a whole generation of young people end?

Mr. King

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman felt it necessary to approach in such a sour and ungracious way something that has the backing and support of trade unions and employers throughout the country. To add to the concern and misunderstanding about the scheme among young people, many of whom do not distinguish it from the previous schemes, on which this new scheme is a great improvement, in no way helps the cause of better training for young people. I hope that, on reflection, he will feel able to give it his backing.

Mr. Haselhurst

Have the well-publicised reservations of one or two trade unions in the public sector in any way impeded the realisation of the goal to which my right hon. Friend has referred of providing a training opportunity for everyone by Christmas?

Mr. King

There have been difficulties with one or two unions, but I do not want to dwell on that. I hope that the talks that are now taking place—I know that the MSC has had discussions with certain unions as well—will remove those obstacles. I pay tribute to the vast majority of the trade union movement, which has played a full part in the scheme.

Ms. Clare Short

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what proportion of young people on the scheme he expects to get jobs at the end of their 12 months? Will he confirm the estimates given by a previous Minister of State in his Department that at least one in two would be unemployed at the end?

Mr. King

I obviously hope that the maximum number will get jobs. The merits of the scheme are that people coming on to the job market at the end of the scheme will then have had training, which many of them previously did not have, and be that much better equipped for the jobs that are available. I remind the hon. Lady that, even with the present high level of unemployment, there is still a tragic number of skill shortages.

Mr. Latham

As there is a substantial number of unfilled vacancies on the scheme, and as no one wants to see the money returned to the Treasury, will my right hon. Friend consider widening the scheme to include those aged 17 or, indeed, over so that the vacancies can be filled?

Mr. King

I am certainly concerned that we should get the most benefit from the scheme. I do not wish to prejudge, at this stage, the numbers that will finally be involved in the scheme. Although the figures for earlier months were a little below forecasts, my information is that for the latest month, October, the figure is rather better than our forecast. Therefore, we may see a rather rapid change in the figures.

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Secretary of State ensure that this voluntary scheme is not converted into a compulsory scheme by the withdrawal of social security benefit from those who refuse to join it?

Mr. King

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities on the Opposition Front Bench. I think that a bit of double banking is in order, given that he has responsibility for both youth training and employment. However, the scheme provides that if adequate and reasonable proposals are made, there is a power to withhold benefit. I do not believe that that is offensive at a time when it is most important that young people should have an opportunity to train.

2. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of school leavers aged 16 years of age in Liverpool are taking part in the youth training scheme.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Peter Morrison)

By the end of October 43 per cent. of the 16-year-old school leavers had entered the youth training scheme in the city of Liverpool.

Mr. Alton

Is the Minister aware that in Liverpool alone more than 5,000 people under the age of 18 are currently registered unemployed and that many of them are cynical about the youth training scheme, which they see as coming from the same stable as YOPs, WEPS, TOPS and all the others. The only growth industry appears to be in acronyms. Does not the Minister accept that this generation of "The Boys from the Black Stuff' deserves more than the possibility of 50 years on the dole? Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that although some of the schemes can play a role in helping to alleviate unemployment, they are not long-term solutions?

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that for the first time in Liverpool — as in every other part of the country — the 16-year-old school leaver has an opportunity to train. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that the fact that 2,600 young people have already joined up means that they are voting with their feet, I do not know what he does think.

Mr. Hayes

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is still a worrying deficiency in the number of young people joining the scheme? One of the major reasons for that can be found in the Left-wing propaganda that is making the young cynical, and that is doing no service to those who wish to retain some form of training in Liverpool.

Mr. Morrison

I certainly agree that some very Left-wing members of the public give the scheme, quite unnecessarily, a bad name. However, more than 250,000 youngsters have joined up, and that demonstrates the way in which they have voted with their feet.

Mr. Nellist

Does the Minister realise that his ministerial team may well go down in history as having created the best trained dole queue in Europe? Can the hon. Gentleman explain how he intends to clear up the anomaly whereby 16 and 17-year-olds—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the question is about Liverpool.

Mr. Nellist

How does the Minister intend to clear up the anomaly whereby 16 and 17-year-olds in school, or in receipt of supplementary benefit — in Liverpool or elsewhere — qualify for free prescriptions, while those 16 and 17-year-olds on youth training schemes do not?

Mr. Morrison

I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue. Those 16 and 17-year-olds on the youth training scheme receive an allowance of £25. Therefore, there is no reason why they should receive supplementary benefit.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is it not a condemnation of the Government and their economic policies that they have nothing better to offer the thousands of school leavers on Merseyside and in my constituency than life on the dole or an inadequate youth training scheme?

Mr. Morrison

If the hon. Gentleman were to suggest to the parents of those on the scheme in his constituency that it should be withdrawn, I am sure that he would meet with a certain amount of resentment.