HC Deb 19 March 1986 vol 94 cc302-4 3.57 pm
Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide employment and other opportunities for young people and for related purposes. Last year, 1985, was International Youth Year. It was hardly taken up with driving enthusiasm by this Government, who all too often seem to set their face against the principal aims of International Youth Year, which were peace, participation and development. During 1985 it can be argued that the problems which International Youth Year should have addressed grew worse.

The Bill which I am seeking leave to introduce today aims in some small measure to remedy this and to provide some solutions which the Government refuse even to recognise. The principle of the Bill is to extend the opportunities which young people have to allow them to become active members of society rather than passive recipients of pre-packaged solutions. My Bill will therefore seek to give young people wider choice: choice over how they live their lives, choice over how they are governed and choice over how they earn a living.

First, my Bill provides for a youth charter, giving young people the right to be co-opted on to certain statutory bodies, governmental bodies and local authority sub-committees which take vital decisions that affect their lives. The charter will also provide for the establishment of a nationwide network of youth councils, run by young people for young people, giving them another way of making their opinions and priorities known.

Many of the young people whom I meet feel that they are shut out of the process and thinking of Government and that their views and needs are ignored. This youth charter, which is similar to that which my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) introduced last year, would make sure that young people are fully represented. [Interruption.]

Conservative Members may have noticed—I gather that they have from some of their mutterings—that several hundred young people have been visiting both Houses of Parliament. I am proud to be the leader of a party which encourages young people to take an active interest in parliamentary democracy. By giving young people a legitimate way of expressing their views and concerns, we shall be reducing the power of those on both the extreme Right and extreme Left to preach violence and confrontation in our society. The best way to defend democracy is to extend democracy, and that is what the Bill seeks to do.

The second element of the Bill is a package of measures to tackle youth unemployment. It is an evil in itself, but it is made doubly evil by the way in which it fuels the feelings of hopelessness and despair that drive so many young people in our large cities to vandalism, crime and drugs.

The need for legislation arises because we need far better training for young men and women. We need training that teaches real skills and leads to real qualifications. I accept that the YTS is improving, but the process is painfully slow and it needs speeding up.

We need further legislation to eliminate some of the abuses which are occurring and to ensure that the YTS and other Manpower Services Commission schemes, such as the community programme, provide real training and do not degenerate into the creation of work for work's sake. Only yesterday, I received confidential information that the MSC in the Leicester area has been giving instructions to reduce the training element in the community programme by 75 per cent. My Bill aims to stop that sort of thing from happening. It will also ensure that young women receive as good a choice of training opportunities as young men. At present, young women tend to be channelled into administrative and clerical posts while men hog the placements in manufacturing and maintenance work. There must be genuine equality of opportunity.

My Bill seeks to establish all these changes. It will establish a clear framework of vocational qualifications, make better provisions for monitoring the quality of the training that is being provided and ensure that the Equal Opportunities Commission is represented on regional and national MSC boards.

I recognise that there is no point in having a training strategy without an employment strategy. What value there could be in today's YTS is often sapped by the knowledge that all too often there is no job on offer at the end of the scheme, and that the training is merely a rite of passage to the dole queue. That is why in our Budget proposals, and in the alliance's "Worksearch" project, we have shown the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he could, if he were determined to do so and had the necessary political will, be creating employment. I deeply regret that once again yesterday he rejected our advice.

A further problem which young people face is poverty, and the Government have chosen to celebrate the end of International Youth Year by taking steps to make the problem worse. The Social Security Bill, which is currently in Committee, aims deliberately to pay young people, be they unemployed or disabled, a lower rate of benefit than those over 25 years of age. The proposal lacks all merit and logic, so my Bill contains a provision that the same rates of benefit should continue to be paid to everyone over 18 years.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)


Mr. Steel

The final element in my Bill is a simple but important proposal to amend the Education Act 1981 by placing a statutory duty on authorities to provide adequate training facilities for handicapped young people. For far too many such people, education and training ends at 16 years. My Bill will stretch this to 19 years, giving hope and encouragement to a small section of the community which does not fit in with the Government's Devil-take-the-hindmost approach.

Over the last year the problems facing young people have grown worse. Youth unemployment has remained persistently and disgracefully high. Britain's young people deserve better than the Government's hard-hearted indifference and my Bill contains specific proposals that would reverse this drift. This legislative start would set us back on the road to reason and many young people back on the road to hope.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Steel, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. David Alton, Mr. John Cartwright, Mr. David Penhaligon, Mr. James Wallace, Mr. Clement Freud, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Paddy Ashdown, Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Charles Kennedy.