HC Deb 11 July 1984 vol 63 cc1035-43 3.32 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

With permission Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the report of the review group on the youth service.

When this report—appropriately entitled "Experience and Participation"—was published, I described it as a timely and far-reaching study of the ways in which the youth service was helping young people, and I said that it offered some important recommendations for the development of the service. Decisions on certain of those recommendations have already been announced to the House. I turn now to decisions on the outstanding recommendations directed to central Government, to which I have given careful consideration in the light of the many comments received during consultation.

I accept the review group's recommendation that it would be helpful to the field for there to be a publicly known unit in the Department dealing with youth service matters, and I propose to identify such a unit.

In line with the review group's recommendations, grant aid is being made available to voluntary organisations for experimental projects in managerial innovation in the youth service and for the training of part-time and volunteer staff in particular. The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services will be consulted about the allocation of these resources. As far as the review group's recommendation on grant aid for regional and county voluntary organisations is concerned, the Department already grant aids national voluntary youth organisations and I consider that it is primarily for these national organisations to support their regional and county bodies, as a number do now. On financial grounds, it has not been possible at the present time to accept the review group's recommendation for mandatory grants for students on youth work courses. I shall, however, continue to keep the important area of youth work training under careful review.

The Government have considered with great care the review group's recommendations on legislation, but do not consider that it would be appropriate to introduce new legislation relating to the youth service unless legislation dealing with the whole statutory framework of post-school education were being proposed. This is not the case. As I told the House on 10 April, I take the view that existing legislation for post-school education remains broadly adequate for its purpose. I further consider that existing legislation provides a similarly adequate base for youth service provision. I do, however, recognise the need for additional guidance to the youth service, particularly as regards the important areas of co-operation between the voluntary and local authority sectors and the need for effective management of available resources. I am consequently issuing today for consultation the draft of a circular setting out the Government's views.

Finally, I have also given careful consideration to the recommendation for a national body to offer advice on questions arising on youth affairs. I have noted, particularly, the considerable support expressed in the report of the review of the National Youth Bureau. In view of the range of activities currently undertaken by the youth service, I am persuaded that a role exists for a small advisory body capable of offering informed advice to me, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, and to others with youth service responsibilities on the appropriate scale and direction of youth service activity, having regard to the available resources.

I accordingly propose to establish such a body within the next few months for an experimental period of three years in the first instance, subject to review at the end of that period. I shall appoint, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, individual members to this body in a personal capacity. In making choices for membership, I shall have regard to the broad range of interests in youth service and to advice I may receive on membership from those active within it. By these arrangements the Government intend to develop further the youth service partnership, both at national and local levels, for the benefit of all young people.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Is the Secretary of State aware that it is nearly two years since the Thompson committee report was published? Is he aware that that committee was set up to buy time and to divert the wrath of Conservative Back Benchers? Is he further aware that, after all this delay, most hon. Members, including all his hon. Friends, will feel that he has just produced a pathetic mouse of a statement?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the two central Thompson recommendations—that there should be statutory backing for local authority youth provision and that the youth service should be adequately funded — have both been decisively rejected by the Government? How can the House take seriously the Secretary of State's concern for youth when the latest public expenditure White Paper shows that he plans to cut youth spending on the service by 17 per cent. in real terms over the next three years, and when the Government are seeking to impose spending plans on LEAs by targets, penalties and, of course, by rate capping as well after next year? Above all, how can we take the Secretary of State seriously when well over a million young people under 25 do not have a job?

Coming to other Thompson proposals, what about political education, which Thompson believed to be essential? We have not heard about that. What about the need to combat racism and to take account of the requirements of ethnic communities? We have not heard anything about that. Where in the Secretary of State's statement is there any mention of Thompson's proposal to encourage participation by young people in decision making and community affairs? What about the idea of a Minister for youth? He did not mention that.

Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State pays lip service to the needs of young people and to ideas such as the International Year of Youth but has completely failed to apply his mind and his imagination to the problems facing youth today: lack of jobs, inadequate facilities and services, and their sense of having no control over their lives? As a result, he has missed a great opportunity for which many hon. Members, including Conservative Members, and people outside the House will not lightly forgive him.

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is indulging in rhetoric. It is true that it is nearly two years since this committee's report was published, and it is an excellent report. The consultation period ended 15 months ago. But evidently the hon. Gentleman has failed to know that three of the Thompson committee recommendations have already been answered.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

We all know that.

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) plainly did not know that the Government have already replied to the Thompson recommendation that there should be a Minister for youth. The Prime Minister turned that down because she said —in my view absolutely rightly—that it would make existing co-ordination worse.

There have been Government announcements in response to the Thompson recommendation on the setting up of a committee for the training of youth workers. That committee now exists, under the chairmanship of Professor James.

The Thompson committee's third recommendation, which has already been answered by the Government, was the inquiry into the National Youth Bureau on which the Government have already received a report which they are considering.

The period since the Thompson committee reported has already been put to good use. There is no recommendation in that report on what the hon. Gentleman referred to as adequate funding. As for political education, racism and ethnic minorities, these do not call for any particular Government action but are recommendations to the field.

Finance for the youth service is not being cut, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Radice

Yes it is.

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman has again demonstrated that he does not understand the public expenditure reports which he studies, because he has again ignored the unallocated margin, from which the youth service will presumably get its share.

The big difference between the Thompson report and the Government is that, although the Government value the report and regard it as excellent, they are not convinced that new legislation is necessary, because no evidence is adduced that anything which the youth service wants responsibly to carry out is frustrated through lack of legislation.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

As the Manpower Services Commission is now so involved in education and is currently underspending on some of its projects, will my right hon. Friend look to the commission to help with the extension of an improved youth service, including the valuable work done by the Open University in helping with the training of part-time and voluntary youth workers?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. A youth service representative sits on the Youth Training Board and there are youth service participations in various MSC activities. However, my hon. Friend's suggestion should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Stare for Employment.

As to the Open University, the Government are already funding some training for part-time voluntary workers in the youth service and are considering an extension of that training.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

How will the Secretary of State's reaction to the Thompson report help the young unemployed? Does he accept that, as he has ignored so many of the Thompson committee's recommendations, it will not be easy for him to get people of excellence to serve on other committees?

Sir Keith Joseph

I think that the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The Thompson committee does not make any recommendations to central Government about the work of the youth service in relation to the unemployed. It correctly praises the splendid work done by many parts of the youth service in connection with youth. The hon. Gentleman says that the Government have ignored youth service recommendations, but very few have been turned down. I repeat that there is a difference of opinion about the need for legislation, and that there is no evidence in the report that the youth service finds any difficulty in carrying out what it judges to be right because of a lack of legislation.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Doubtless my right hon. Friend will assess the Opposition's reaction in the light of five years of Labour Government, during which they twice managed to reject Bills that were the successors in title of the one that I originally introduced. However, will he bear in mind the fact that his understandable reluctance to legislate himself at present may encourage some local authorities to undervalue the role of the voluntary sector? Will he ensure that, as a result of his circular local authorities realise that the voluntay sector can contribute to the discharge of statutory functions, which those authorities need not necessarily discharge themselves?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend. Hon. Members should remember that, during the Labour party's aggregate of 17 years in office, no legislation for the youth service was suggested or carried through. However, I agree that some local authorities seem to undervalue the good work that can be done by the youth service. I hope that the circular will encourage them to take it more seriously.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his response to the Thompson report will be viewed with profound dismay by the whole youth service? Three years after the Thompson committee was set up in order to take the heat out of a Conservative Back-Bench revolt, the right hon. Gentleman has ignored most of the report's recommendations and has given us a wholly appointed advisory body. That will be viewed as totally inadequate. He is being contemptuous of the youth service and of young people.

Sir Keith Joseph

But the advisory body that we are setting up will be constituted on the very, basis that the voluntary sector asked for.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at least three of us on this side of the House introduced legislation because we thought that such legislation was vital, and that there has been no legislation on this subject for the past 40 years? When will he be prepared to consider realistically the need for legislation and to give the youth service the resources to which it is entitled?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's initiative in this area, but that admirable report was unable to produce evidence that the youth service found any difficulty in fulfilling its functions through lack of legislation. Therefore, the Government will legislate on this subject only when they think that it is really necessary to enact new legislation on further education, and they are not at present convinced of that need.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Although I applaud the report's authors for their comprehensive review of the youth service and for the fact that they have drawn attention to the gross under-funding that is apparent in the youth sector and to the very patchy provision for the young particularly in Conservative-controlled authorities, I am amazed at the Secretary of State's selective approach to its recommendations. I note with dismay that he is setting up yet more managers and advisory bodies—despite the fact that the National Youth Bureau and the Youth Service Forum are already available for advice—and that he still refuses to fund the training of youth workers, which is vital.

The right hon. Gentleman's approach is appalling. It is not good for the youth service. It would have been better if he had been able to tell the House today that he was prepared to accept the Thompson report as it is instead of being selective about it.

Sir Keith Joseph

It is very odd that I should be charged with ignoring the Thompson report and then be accused of setting up another advisory committee. The Thompson report particularly recommends the setting up of a national advisory committee.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's long-awaited statement. It may not satisfy all the requests that the Government have received from youth organisations, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it must be right to emphasise voluntary work and voluntary organisations as the Government are doing? Does he agree that, for every £100 voluntarily spent upon youth work, £1,000 in resources is generated to help young people between the ages of 11 and 21?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the report is excellent. Almost ten times as many resources come from the voluntary sector as from the public sector. The whole burden of the report is that good management is essential. The report comes back to that again and again. With better management we can make even better use of the splendid work of the youth service.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the current generation growing up in Britain is facing the hardest and most blighted future of any generation since the war? Does he agree that the major cause of the problem is the high unemployment level—one in two of under 18-year-olds and 1 million under 25-year-olds are unemployed, and many have been so for a year or more? Does he agree that this creates a crisis and a massive demand on the youth service which it has not faced before?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Thompson report identifies unemployment and its consequences, and racism and homelessness, as major problems and says that the service is patchy and disorganised and needs co-ordination at national and local level? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that nothing that he has said today will remedy the problems?

Sir Keith Joseph

The report explicitly dismisses any suggestion of a crisis among youth in this country —[Interruption.] I am quoting from the report. The report emphasises that resources could be better used with an improvement in management.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many of my hon. Friends will welcome the creation of a unit to deal with youth service matters. My right hon. Friend said that he intended to develop further the youth service partnership, both at national and local levels, for the benefit of all young people. Given the emphasis on funding for headquarters groups, can my right hon. Friend explain how his circular will encourage involvement, participation and consultation between voluntary bodies at local level?

Sir Keith Joseph

There are particular suggestions in the circular to encourage that crucial recognition by local education authorities of the need to involve voluntary bodies in the creation of plans rather than after the plans have been made.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

By giving the thumbs down to the youth service in his statement, has not the Secretary of State given a clear signal to local authorities throughout the country that they can cut back on this non-statutory service at a time of increasing financial stringency? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is wrong to under-value the potential of the youth service for achieving desirable social objectives for young people at a time of rising tension and rising unemployment among that generation?

Sir Keith Joseph

I seem to be one of the only people who have read the report—few Opposition Members seem to have done so. The report emphasises in chapter after chapter that there could be better management of the large resources with great benefit for the youth service. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mutters from a seated position. There is 10 times that, of which 90 per cent. comes from voluntary services.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing Common, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that from my long experience of running voluntary youth clubs—in east London with Peter Duke, who became the first principal of the college for training youth leaders, in King's Cross and west London — I found that voluntary activities and youth clubs were much more effective than those which were funded? Does he accept that the great problem is how to handle the unclubbable? Will his circular on youth services issue guidelines and help for dealing with that important but difficult element?

Sir Keith Joseph

The report pays tribute to the often very effective work of detached workers in reaching those who are not always accessible otherwise. The circular encourages all aspects of youth service.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

How will the Secretary of State respond to the recommendation in chapter 8 headed "Structures", which deals specifically with the structure at local level? How does he deal with the recommendation that at the centre of the local structure there should be a joint committee, to which specific functions and powers should be delegated by the local authority, and on which representatives of voluntary organisations of young people and of the local authority should work together to frame a review policy and to monitor performance? How does the Secretary of State square that with his statement that he will not produce legislation?

Sir Keith Joseph

Because in most cases local authorities conform with that practice and the circular, which is being issued for consultation today, will encourage those who do not, to do so.

Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)

In welcoming the long-awaited response from the Government on the Thompson report, does my right hon. Friend recognise that there will be great disappointment in the service that it will not be given a statutory base, which would have ensured that all local authorities at least provided a minimum standard for the service? Will he assure the House that the circular mentions and encourages the participation of young people at local level?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, Sir. I can give that assurance.

Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)

The Secretary of State, at least twice in answer to questions, said that he did not feel that it was right to introduce a statutory base for the youth service because it needed to be linked with fresh legislation on further education, to which he is also opposed. Will he please reconsider this, because it is a fundamental question which requires attention, and at least give authority within the remit to the proposed youth advisory committee for it to look wider than merely at the youth service itself? The committee should be able to look at other aspects of youth affairs, including the prospects for broader legislative reform in the provisions for 16- to 19-year-olds in the youth service and other areas.

Sir Keith Joseph

No, I am not convinced and do not expect soon to be convinced that there is a need for such legislation.

Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)

I am one of those who believe that on the whole we should avoid too much new legislation, and I welcome the restraint of the Secretary of State in that regard. I emphasise the point about the importance of voluntary organisations. Will the Secretary of State further clarify the amount of increase that may have been given to voluntary organisations recently?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, Sir. I cannot commend too highly the vitality of voluntary organisations. I only hope that the better management for which the report calls will make even better use of it.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when one runs a voluntary youth organisation as some hon. Members such as I did before coming to the House, good management is no substitute for adequate funding and that the poorer and more disadvantaged the area, the more difficult it is to supplement funding from public sources by private donation, whether from parents or anyone else? Does he realise that the failure of the Government to accept the Thompson recommendation that voluntary services should be adequately funded will destroy any good intentions that he might have in other respects?

Sir Keith. Joseph

Opposition Members never find difficulty in spending yet more money from the taxpayer, but the Government believe that we are already overspending. That is why we should emphasise the scope for a better youth service via better management; I say that even to someone with the hon. and learned Gentleman's experience.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Will my right hon. Friend fill a gap in an otherwise admirable statement and explain to the House the extent to which his statement will enable the youth service to have adequate clout, compared with statutorily funded parts of the education service, in obtaining its fair share of educational resources from financially pressed education authorities.

Sir Keith Joseph

There is no evidence that the youth service is being discriminated against by local authorities, despite their difficulties.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the central recommendation of the Thompson report was for a statutory youth service? Does he also accept that the present permissive nature of the youth service means that it is always the Cinderella of local government — cut and cut again — and that those pressures will increase as a result of the Government's restraints on local authority spending, at precisely the time when the youth service must increasingly carry the burden of youngsters' problems as a result of unemployment and social deprivation? Does he realise that his statement will be seen by many as a betrayal of the youth service, as ignorance of youngsters' problems and as an opportunity missed for the Government to redress some of the difficulties that their policies have created?

Sir Keith Joseph

Public spending on the youth service has been maintained during the past four years and it could be used better. That is the emphasis of the report.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I truly hope that my right hon. Friend will reject many of the social engineering suggestions from the Opposition and will instead concentrate on sound secondary education, support for voluntary organisations — it may be appropriate to mention the scouts today—and a sound family life.

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with every word that my hon. Friend uttered and accept the tribute paid in the report to the uniformed and church bodies.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Does the Secretary of State accept that his statement has ducked the issue of funding and failed to meet the expectations of thousands of youth workers? Is it not strange that, on the day when the Government come before the House and refer to public expenditure restraints on the youth service, within half an hour the House will be discussing an amendment to the Finance Bill to hand back hundreds of thousands of pounds in capital transfer tax concessions to people who own stud farms? The Government's priority is for stud farms, not for people who deal with the problems of an unemployed Britain.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am not the least impressed—nor will the youth service be—by Labour Members ignoring the main emphasis of the report, which is the need for better management of the considerable resources available to the youth service.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

As it has been pointed out, realistically, that his statement will not help youth, will the Secretary of State have regard to a statement made by Her Majesty's Inspectorate earlier this week on the role of college training in the youth training scheme? The Times yesterday stated: Poor links between further education colleges and employers managing the Youth Training Scheme have undermined the scheme's educational success in its first year, Her Majesty's Inspectorate reported yesterday. Will the Secretary of State take on board the criticisms in that report and introduce a scheme to improve the relationship between the colleges and YTS?

Sir Keith Joseph

I read most, and I welcome all, HMI reports. I read with special interest recently the report on three youth clubs in Lambeth. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also read it.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Does the Secretary of State accept that members of youth committees meeting week after week, such as the one that I attended in Southwark last night, with the best management skills and with officers working many hours of overtime, cannot produce facilities without resources? Unless the Secretary of State announces something this afternoon, he will have done nothing for the youth service and nothing to encourage youngsters to believe that Parliament cares for their future.

Sir Keith Joseph

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will devote some of his energy to reading the recently published report on three youth clubs in Lambeth, which showed that large resources are being greatly under-used.

Mr. Radice

Is it not true that the Secretary of State has ignored the two central Thompson recommendations —he must admit that, whatever else he says—which are statutory backing for local authority youth provision and adequate funding for the youth services? The paragraphs on funding are 10.24 and 10.25, in case he has not read them. Has he not also shown himself this afternoon to be completely insensitive to the problems of young people in Conservative Britain, especially the 1.2 million young people who are unemployed? As his statement had received so little support in the House, will he now withdraw it?

Sir Keith Joseph

Not at all, because the main finding of the report is that there could be better use of the substantial resources available. I echo the report's tribute to the work being done in the youth service, but I am not convinced that we need legislation.