§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
It is significantly coincidental that this debate on the proposed unified training for employment programme follows the debate on poverty and low pay.
Recently in Wales I went to the jobcentre in Neath, looking not for a job but to see what jobs were available in the Neath area. There was on the notice board an advertisement for a person to undertake general labouring duties. It stated that he must be fit and active as the job would involve very heavy lifting, and it said that the job might attract a job-start allowance. The wage on offer for that was £50 per week. So when I listened to the previous debate I well understood why it was necessary for my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) to ask for a debate on low pay and low income.
At 4.38 in the morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I only wish that I could come to the Chamber in as sprightly a fashion as you when you jumped into that Chair a few minutes ago. I do not know whether it is my age, but I am not as sprightly as you are at this unearthly hour in the morning.
I was very fortunate to draw a place in the ballot and I am pleased that this subject can receive the further consideration that is not only necessary but essential before the Government take steps on their proposals for a unified training for employment programme.
I wish at the outset to declare my interest, personal and otherwise, in this matter. I am chairman of CATO—Community Activities and Training in Ogwr. Ogwr is the borough which spreads across two constituencies, Ogmore and Bridgend, the two areas I represented until the boundary changes in 1983. CATO was formed jointly by the trade unions and other public bodies in 1981 to develop an acceptable scheme to combat extensive unemployment in the borough brought about by measures introduced by the Government in 1979.
In Wales in the last eight years the number of jobs in the steel industry has dropped from 52,000 to 18,000, and in the same period the number of miners has declined from 27,500 to 7,600. That means that we must create 54,000 jobs to put us back to the rate of employment opportunities that existed in Wales in 1979.
A group of people got together and established CATO in view of the unemployment situation and demanning in the steel industry at Port Talbot—which is only five miles from the Ogwr borough — where 7,000 of my constituents were made redundant. The closure of five pits in the valley areas in my constituency meant a further 3,500 being made redundant. Whereas the rate of unemployment at the time of the Tory Government being elected in 1979 was 3.7 per cent. in the Port Talbot travel-to-work area, within two and a half years that had escalated to 23 per cent.
We had to do something, faced with such a problem, so we started CATO under the MSC. I served as a member of the Select Committee on Employment at that time and persuaded a number of people in the constituency to establish the scheme. I was elected its chairman, a number of directors were appointed from the local community and we developed the scheme as a charity. No director is paid, all being volunteers. Gradually we built up the scheme to its present 525 places, with 425 now in employment. We 711 used to keep the number up to 500, but because of the Government's changed unemployment eligibility arrange-ments—from 12 months to six months—we cannot fill the 500 places that are available.
Despite all these problems, this week we had the 2,000th employee since the scheme began, and a plaque has been prepared to commemorate that achievement. The trouble is that the continual changes introduced by the Government make the planning of future programmes virtually impossible. When such new rules are introduced, it becomes extremely difficult to complete the object of the exercise, which is to get people into jobs.
The Government should listen to those with practical experience of running agencies such as ours, for the whole aim should be the provision of reasonable jobs, so helping the community and affording work experience for those who have been out of work for long periods or who have never worked at all. We also run a YTS scheme with 60 places and a staff of 10 and have been successful over the years, with a 95 per cent. placement rate into jobs for those completing their courses.
Over the years we have made a major capital investment to improve the quality of training. We have purchased an 80-acre farm to employ 40 people training in animal husbandry, forestry, horsemanship and agriculture generally. We have purchased large office accommodation and we have secretarial, computers, office management. architectural and many other skills working there, and people training alongside the skilled workers.
One of the dangers of the present proposals is that they put schemes such as the community programme scheme at great risk. Skilled workers will not be prepared to accept £10 on top of benefit to take up a job. Those whom we hope to train will achieve only a small measure of practical experience, whereas now we are able to provide both training and practical experience.
For the record I shall say something about CATO. We have a training centre, large lecture rooms and a printing and photographic department. We have a rehearsal studio for the leisure department and for actors and drama students. A recent presentation on crime prevention was highly proclaimed and recommended by the police authorities. The drama presented by the welfare section of CATO makes available to the elderly information about crime prevention in their homes. Another drama was produced for schools called "Don't talk to strangers" which received similar praise from the education authority.
We own the freehold of property and use it to the advantage of the scheme, the employees and the community in general. Recently, we acquired the lease of one of the hospitals that was closed by the area health authority and we are developing the grounds to provide a child clinic, a creche for working mothers—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) is pleased to hear about that—a respite scheme for the elderly, to allow carers to have holidays and a laundry for those who care for incontinent patients in their homes. There are also proposals for an international youth centre in the grounds. The hospital is situated in the most picturesque part of the Ogwr valley and is ideal for all those activities.
I have outlined these matters so that the Minister will understand the fears of those of us who during the past seven years have worked with the help of the Government and supported by the Manpower Services Commission. 712 The board members, the chief executive of the scheme, the 12 full-time employees and all those who work for the CATO organisation are afraid that these new proposals will eventually mean the end of a most proficient and successful employment agency that has always aimed for high standards, has provided jobs with a purposeful end product, and has had the will to find full long-term employment when the possibility of doing that seemed hopeless and indeed is still profoundly difficult.
The Government should not treat such schemes with contempt. I ask the Minister to visit the scheme and listen to the views of those with experience before proceeding with his proposals.
The preface to the White Paper "Training for Employment" mentioned:The most immediate is how to ensure that unemployed people, particularly the longer term unemployed, fill t he job vacanices which are now available.He talks further about providing training for some 600,000 people a year and he concludes:we need nothing less than a revolution in attitudes to training and retraining: a revolution which engages the commitment of employers and employees alike. As a nation we need to accept training through life and make it a reality.I share those opinions and I have tried to introduce them into the scheme. I warn the Government that their proposed scheme will not increase the number of people in employment; but it will substantially decrease the number of people who are now working.
I read the Secretary of State's statement on 16 February and the questions that he was asked and found that the questions of both Opposition and Conservative Members expressed the same alarm that I feel. If the Secretary of State is not prepared to listen to what Opposition Members say, he should read what was said by some of his hon. Friends, who declared an interest in the employment training schemes in their areas, and consider the matter further.
I know of your deep interest in the subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because of your past experience of such schemes. You have seen what has happened since you left office. You witnessed the development of MSC programmes. When I was a member of the Select Committee on Employment we visited the MSC frequently to discuss projects. During the debate on the White Paper the Secretary of State said that all the MSC members approved of the proposals, and that three members of the TUC shared his view. After my talks with members of the TUC it does not appear to me that the members of the general council of the TUC agree with the Secretary of State's proposals.
I wonder how the voluntary sector will respond to the Government's proposals. The Government want it to make a major contribution to the new programme. It will be interesting to see whether the various agencies will take up the proposals. The programme offers various kinds of training to the unemployed. There is to be practical training, either with employers or in projects, and directed training—presumably by a training agency, such as a college of further education. There is a guarantee that 40 per cent. of every trainee's time will be spent in directed training. The Government hope that employers will provide many more places on that programme than they did on the community programme and that they sill also make a financial contribution.
The Government expect the voluntary sector to provide project-based training, designed particularly for those who 713 have been unemployed for more than 12 months. Of the 300,000 places on the adult training programme, at least 170,000 are to be on such projects. We provided about 130,000 places for the community programme and the local authorities provided a further 100,000 places.
It seems most unlikely that the employers, especially in Wales, will come up with the required number of places, at least in the short term. The local authorities for their part, increasingly subject to severe financial constraints and with many of their functions about to he privatised under the new Local Government Bill, will probably lack the incentive to participate as much as they did under the community programme—especially in Labour-controlled areas — if the TUC does not endorse the new programme, as seems very likely. In that case, initially at least, the voluntary sector will be under great pressure to provide project-based places, of which far more than the minimum of 170,000 are likely to be required.
The details of how the programme will be administered are still unclear, even at the MSC's headquarters, but voluntary organisations have already identified a number of difficulties. The most important is whether the income that training managers will earn will meet their anticipate outgoings. Preliminary calculations made by the national task group, which are confirmed by the agencies in Wales, suggest that the funding will be very tight indeed, and that may well deter voluntary organisations at present involved in the community programme from participating.
Another practical issue is how far voluntary organisations will be able to determine who they accept on to their projects. That is an important matter, because at present agencies can be selective to a certain degree about the people whom they employ, but if the employees are to be directed by agencies some of the new training programme organisers and managers will not have the opportunity to determine whom they will accept. That could make quite a difference to some of the projects that we have developed in the Ogwr borough.
The cardinal issue, however, concerns the overriding question of principle that the programme should be voluntary. For the moment, that principle appears to have been safeguarded. The Secretary of State has stated that he has no plans to make the programme compulsory. "Training for Employment" also states that the Government have accepted in full the MSC's recom-mendations. That may well be, but the very strong endorsement that the MSC gave to the voluntary principle is nowhere echoed in the White Paper. There are grounds for scepticism about the Government's statement. Indeed, the TUC is already seeking a categorical assurance from the Secretary of State that the programme will remain voluntary, and will not be registered as an approved training scheme.
The cause of the anxiety that the TUC and many voluntary organisations feel is clause 25 of the Employment Bill now going through Parliament. Under that clause, the Minister can register any training scheme so that, if someone refused to take a place offered on it, he would he penalised by losing for 26 weeks any social security benefit to which he was entitled. If that ruling applied, many trainees would be coming on the programme under duress and as pressed men on to projects run by voluntary organisations.
714 As was stated in the petition that we presented to the Secretary of State for Wales in November, such compulsion would destroy the voluntary principle that it is essential for us to maintain, and would especially damage social welfare projects in which a personal commitment to the work is essential. This compulsion is more likely to be invoked if the financial inducements are not sufficient to persuade unemployed people to join the scheme voluntarily.
Trainees will receive a supplement of £10 over their weekly benefit, together with travelling expenses over £5 a week. For most participants that will mean working for £5 extra a week. There is some doubt whether that will induce long-term unemployed people in particular to join the programme in sufficient numbers. If they do not, whatever the Secretary of State may say now, the Government may seek to oblige them to do so by threatening to withdraw their benefits.
With all those anxieties and doubts, it is doubtful whether any of the voluntary organisations which have played such an important role in the community programme will be willing or even able to continue to do so in this new programme. The MSC will have to persuade voluntary organisations that such anxieties are unfounded if they are to participate as fully in the new programme as they did in the old programme.
In the minds of unemployed people, there will be a transition period between the wage-paid community programme and the much reduced benefit plus of the new training programme. The Government must safeguard against that and ensure full financial support to their agents during the transitional period.
The new scheme is based on filled places, whereas the community programme is based on approved places. The present scheme has budgeted for £440 per annum allowance per approved place. Therefore, provision must be made for a safety net. The MSC must guarantee a minimum number that it will fund. If that is not conceded, a number of well-established agencies will undoubtedly collapse.
I hope that the Minister will consider my remarks and respond with the reassurances that I have requested.
§ 5.1 am
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) makes his case for scepticism about the new adult training scheme, which is due to start in September, very well indeed.
The Minister has frequently heard my views and those of the Opposition during our consideration in Committee of the Employment Bill and I have no intention of repeating them. But the Minister should note that my hon. Friend's objections are stated from the perspective of someone who has struggled to work with existing Government programmes to seek to benefit the worryingly large number of unemployed people in his constituency, and came afresh to the new scheme hoping that it would be of benefit to those unemployed people.
My hon. Friend's objections complement those that we previously put to the Minister when we examined the scheme from a national perspective. That demonstrates that whatever way one looks at the Government's proposal, it is objectionable in principle, complicated and difficult to work in practice and will cause great trouble and difficulty to anyone who approaches it on either basis.
715 I remember well the replacement of the old community enterprise programme with the community programme which the Government are now seeking to abolish and to establish in its place the adult training programme. At that time I was the director of a pressure group called Youth Aid. We had not long before completed the study of the community enterprise programme, which provided mostly full-time places and paid a rate which, if it had been kept in line with inflation, would today be some £125 per week; much more than the Government are willing to offer today. Having completed the study, which was funded by the Manpower Services Commission, we called for an increase in training and more places on the programme, because of the high number of long-term unemployed and the relatively low number of places on the scheme.
Instead, the Government gave us the community programme, which increased the number of places but massively reduced the income payable to the long-term unemployed. The Government stood by the unbreakable commitment demanded by the trade unions and the TUC commissioners on the Manpower Services Commission that the rate for the job should be paid by deliberately providing a high proportion of part-time places and insisting that the average rate for the job would be £67 per week: a rate that has not been upgraded in line with inflation since the programme was introduced. If it had been, the rate today would be some £85 per week.
At that time there was enormous objection to the new scheme, because the income levels were so low and the Government had provided no facility for training, although it was pointed out that many long-term unemployed were unskilled workers and that training would give them a greater chance of getting into jobs. Since that time we have seen a continuing squeeze on funding for public sector jobs and a growth in the number of community programme placements, frequently replac-ing services that were provided by the public sector. Much of the work done through the community programme is valuable — caring for disabled and elderly people, providing nursery services for children, and other crucial services. Those services should be provided by workers employed permanently who are paid a decent rate for the job. Nevertheless, people have taken advantage of the community programme, as public sector and local government services have been squeezed, to try to provide services for the needy.
We are now seeing a further squeeze. The Government are telling us that it is desperately important that the long-term unemployed should he trained, which is what we said when the community programme was introduced, but the Government would not listen. The Government say that the long-term unemployed with dependants have no incentive to go on the community programme, because the average wage is so low, so it is better to pay a small amount on top of benefit to ensure that everyone has an incentive to go on the programme. We do not agree with that argument. It would be easy for the Government to provide an incentive for everyone to go on to the community programme by making available more full-time jobs. They deliberately produce a higher proportion of part-time jobs to keep average wage levels down.
The reason why there are such low incomes on the community programme and why such a high proportion of entrants are single and relatively young, long-term unemployed people without dependants is that the Government fixed the participants' income at a low level. 716 Having reduced the level of income paid to the long-term unemployed on special programmes by deliberately changing from the community enterprise programme to the community programme, the Government are now trying to reduce those incomes still further because they are so obsessed with the need to restructure our economy and cut the pay levels of the lowest paid. The Government have taken a series of measures since they came to power in 1979 to cut the wages of the lowest earners in our society. Indeed, the Government have been very successful in that. Instead of 8 million low-paid workers in our economy, we now have 9 million. That means that one third of the people in work are working for very low incomes — lower than the decency threshold of the Council of Europe.
The Government now wish to move on from having a high concentration of low-paid work and from paying the rate for the job to paying the adult long-term unemployed £10 on top of their benefit. The long-term unemployed are not expected to work for £10 a week; they are expected to meet the first £5 of the costs of getting to work themselves. We are considering people who have been out of work for a considerable time and are being required to work for £5 a week on top of their benefits.
We are very worried about that, partly because the income offered to the long-term unemployed is simply inadequate and an insult to them. We are also very worried because the Government are proposing that the new scheme should be private sector employer led and not projects of benefit to the community as was the case under the old community programme. It will he a kind of adult youth opportunities programme. That means inevitably—as we experienced with the YTS and YOPS—that there will be a great deal of job substitution. If free workers are offered to employers, they will sometimes take them on and not recruit as many full-time and permanent workers as they did previously. The Minister will be aware that his Department publishes statistics to show that that practice still happens in considerable numbers under the YTS.
The new offer is insulting to the long-term unemployed because it offers them so little extra for working full-time than they would get on benefit. It will inevitably destroy some of the permanent jobs that the long-term unemployed might otherwise have aspired to. Inevitably—and I am sure that this was part of the Government's intention—it will act as a lever down on the wage levels that the long-term unemployed might expect to receive if they managed to get those jobs. If employers have free labour available, they will offer rather less to those they employ than they might otherwise have offered.
The Government pretend that they are concerned to offer more training for the long-term unemployed. That is impossible to believe when we consider the amount of money available for training in the new scheme. This is like an Orwellian farce in which the rhetoric of the need for more training in our economy for the long-term unemployed is used to camouflage a low-paid work experience scheme that is more about reducing yet again the unemployment figures and the income levels of the long-term unemployed.
Probably the greatest worry was that alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member of Ogmore. He said that the scheme will not be attractive to the long-term unemployed if they are left to volunteer tar it freely. Therefore, it will work only if people are put under pressure to enter the 717 scheme. That is why there is the ugly prospect of long-term unemployed adults being compelled to go on a low-paid work experience scheme.
We understand that there will be two ways in which the scheme will be compulsory. There will be restart interviews. Those who have been out of work for six or more months will be called in for interview under the threat of losing benefit if they do not come in. They will then be subjected to a test of their availability for work. That test is constantly tightened, and will be tightened further, as we are told by a whole chapter in the White Paper. If the Government get away with their proposal, people will have no freedom of choice. The Government now threaten the unemployed with loss of benefit for not just six or even 13 weeks but for 26 weeks.
Under clause 26 of the Employment Bill the Government have taken certain powers in designating certain new schemes as approved training schemes. The Government make it clear that that does not mean that a scheme must provide adequate training. The Secretary of State could designate, whenever he wishes, a work experience scheme. Anyone who fails to apply for a place, who fails to take up an offered place or who leaves a place early can be deprived of benefit for up to six months. Supplementary benefit will be cut by 40 per cent. for six months. With supplementary benefit set at the minimum necessary to keep people alive, such cuts will make people's circumstances impossible.
A complicated set of falsehoods about clause 26 of the Employment Bill has been put before us. Employment Ministers know that there is enormous worry about schemes being designated, in additon to the worry about the restart interviews and the availability for work tests. In Committee and on Report questions were put to Employment Ministers to clarify the Government's intentions. I should like to put them again to the Under-Secretary of State. I know that the hour is late, but the issue is important. If there is one thing that I can say to the hon. Gentleman it is that he normally answers every question that is put to him.
§ Ms. Short
Not always, but the hon. Gentleman normally answers questions rather than evades them, which is the alternative adopted by some of his colleagues.
The Secretary of State has said that he accepts the recommendation of the Manpower Services Commission that the new adult training scheme should be voluntary. We put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he should withdraw clause 26 from the Employment Bill. He said that that was out of the question. We asked him for an undertaking that he had no intention that the adult training scheme should ever be designated under clause 26. He refused to give it and said something like, "Never is a very long time and one never knows what may arise."
When the Secretary of State made his statement following the publication of the White Paper, we asked him to give an undertaking that the adult training scheme would not be designated and thus be compulsory, with the threat of six months' withdrawal of benefit, in the lifetime of this Parliament. He refused to give that undertaking. He evaded the question and kept saying, "I have no intention of designating the scheme at the present time." I put it to 718 the Under-Secretary of State tonight, as I put it to the Secretary of State then: the undertaking that the right hon. Gentleman has no intention of designating the scheme at the present time will last only for as long as we all understand the present time to last. It would be possible for the Secretary of State to designate the scheme tomorrow, or next week or in a few months' time.
Will the Under-Secretary of State be a little clearer about the undertaking? Will he go beyond the general assertion that the Secretary of State has no plans to designate the adult training scheme under clause 26 and give us an undertaking that the Government will not designate it during the lifetime of this Parliament? I shall listen with great interest to what he says.
The Minister will know that it is far from clear whether the general council of the TUC will endorse the scheme, and that groups of people in the voluntary sector, local government and the trade union movement are deeply worried by the scheme. Great arguments are raging throughout the country. Anything that he can tell us about undertakings that the Government may give will help some of those who are agonising about it.
I hope and wish that members of the trade union movement, people who have committed their lives to the voluntary sector and those who work in local government will unite to make the scheme unworkable. When I have said things like that before in noisier and more vigorous meetings of the House and in Committee, Conservative Members have criticised me and talked about my disgraceful attitude to the schemes. I say those things because I believe that this is an outrageously unfair offer to the long-term unemployed. The income that it offers is unacceptable, and freedom of choice is being removed. The scheme will inevitably reduce the income and the opportunities for work for those who are already in work or hope to obtain it. Something better could be offered to the long-term unemployed. We should offer them serious training.
In a healthy democracy, groups of people are entitled to come together and resist Government programmes if they genuinely believe that they do not offer something worthwhile to the people whom they are supposed to help. It would be an expression of healthy democracy—something that is on the decline in Britain—if that combination of people came together to make this Government employment scheme unworkable. A similar combination of forces made the Government's job training scheme unworkable. That originally included the proposal that the young long-term unemployed should work for nothing on top of their benefits. The Government returned with a slightly better offer of £10 a week on top of benefits.
I hope that all decent forces in Britain will combine to make the scheme unworkable. It is not a good enough offer. The Government will be forced to think again and come back with something better. I hope that we will then be able to combine and work for better opportunities for the long-term unemployed. The principle on which we can do that is that, whenever they are working in real jobs, they should be paid the rate for the job. When they are training, it is of course perfectly acceptable that they should be paid a training allowance.
I wish to end by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore on his success in the ballot and on caring as much as he obviously does about his local scheme and his unemployed. He is willing to stay up all these hours of the night to put the case to the Minister and to appeal 719 to him to give us some serious answers, especially on the specific points that I have put about clause 26 of the Employment Bill, in relation to the Government designating the new adult training scheme.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) on having chosen this subject for debate and on the way in which he has introduced it. If I do not entirely accept his analysis of labour market trends towards the end of the 1970s, I applaud at once the way in which he has been involved in addressing the consequences of long-term unemployment, however that has come about.
I wish that the debate he initiated and the way in which he introduced it had a wider audience. For preference, I should have been happy to yield my seven o'clock slot to the hon. Gentleman, to give him that platform. Unhappily, these things are not entirely in my gift, so we are debating the matter tonight, or perhaps it is this morning—I do not know whether we are up early or late. However, may I say in all seriousness, that it is a pity such a crucial debate, especially in view of the contributions that we have heard, has not had a wider audience. Perhaps there are people outside even now queueing for copies of Hansard to see what has been said!
It might help the House if I set out briefly the background to the implementation of the new training programme and go on to deal as specifically as I can with the points raised by the hon. Members for Ogmore and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short).
At the time of the general election, there was a general feeling that more ought to be done to train the unemployed, especially the long-term unemployed. Underpinning that attitude was the recognition that the long-term unemployed in particular were not benefiting from the improvements coming to most people in this country as a result of the upturn in the economy. There was a perfectly proper desire to ensure that those members of our community could benefit as they had not done before.
The improved economic situation means that unemployment has fallen for 18 successive months. It has decreased by about 600,000 since July 1986, and there is no immediate prospect of that decline slowing. In terms of vacancies, recent surveys have shown that only about one third of job vacancies are reported to jobcentres, and in any given month there are about 700,000 vacancies in the country. It is interesting that many seem to think that all of the vacancies must be concentrated in the prosperous south-east, but two thirds of them are elsewhere.
The fall in unemployment figures, the increase in jobs created, and the number of vacancies together showed clearly that the time was right to put on a training programme to help those members of our community who had not yet had that opportunity, and to ensure that they could benefit from it. The model that has been essentially adopted is the community programme.
The hon. Gentleman painted a graphic picture of the work of CATO within his constituency. He referred not only to the benefits of the programme to the community but also to the benefits for those who take part.
One of the benefits of my job is not only being able to come to the Chamber at this time to reply to a debate, but to travel around the country looking at various types of 720 scheme. I have not had the pleasure of seeing CATO, but I have seen other schemes that sound similar and those are better than average. It can be extremely humbling to see what people can and will do for themselves.
The hon. Gentleman's scheme, in common with schemes in my constituency, is not unilateral, imposed by one side or the other. It is not an employer or trade union scheme, but a scheme that has come about because both sides of the community have come together to create something that works.
In my constituency — I have bored the hon. Lady with this before and I am happy to do so again—YTS has been highly successful. Initially there was some scepticism—I will put it no more strongly than that—but the local trade union movement decided that the scheme could be helpful to the young people of the area. It became a success because of the way in which everyone rallied around.
It is easy to criticise the community programme for not providing training. However, the community programme, or more particularly the schemes from which it descended, were temporary work programmes—there is nothing wrong about that—but it is clear that they were not training schemes. Although the better type of community programme had a training element in it, it was almost coincidental to the main task. The essence of the new training programme is that the training element is no longer fortuitous or coincidental; it is crucial to it. That is the essential difference between the new training programme and the community programme.
What made YTS a success was the local commitment from the trade union movement and the local labour movement. Sadly that commitment was not universal. What could make the new training programme a success is the fact that it could receive the support of both sides of the community.
The programme that we are implementing was written by the Manpower Services Commission. It was aware of the budget within which it was working—about £1.4 billion. That is a huge amount of money even by Government standards. The MSC had the project of producing a quality scheme. It would have been open to the MSC to come back and say, "It cannot be done and that is it." It said that funding would be tight, as did the hon. Gentleman, and that is correct. However, the MSC made it clear that it had produced a programme that provided quality training for the unemployed.
The programme received the unanimous recommendation of the MSC commissioners and it therefore followed that it also received the recommendation of the trade union commissioners. I appreciate that, as the hon. Gentleman said, although those union commissioners voted in favour, that is not yet the view of the TUC. If the trade union commissioners on the MSC believe it is in the interests of the long-term unemployed for the programme to go ahead, it is a grave matter to say that they are wrong. If, at the end of the day, those commissioners have sold themselves out, what does that make them? Uncle Toms or people duped by the wicked Government? I do not believe that such comments are of any help. The reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was willing to accept, without qualification, the programme as written was that it was unanimous—the result of work done by both sides of the industrial community.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the YTS in his constituency that operates under the auspices of CATO. 721 He produced the remarkable figure that about 95 per cent. of those who go on CATO go into employment later. That is in fact well above the national average. The national average is 60 per cent. going into work and a further 14 per cent. going into some other form of training. The fact that YTS can produce such a result in the hon Gentleman's constituency is proof positive of what such schemes can do.
Many of the objections which are now being voiced about the new training programme were once made about the youth training scheme, which is now broadly accepted, even to some extent by the hon. Member for Ladywood. It is now accepted as a respected and respectable way for young people to start their working lives. I should like to think that, when people are considering how the new training programme may work out, they will consider the experience of YTS.
§ Ms. Short
The Minister must not describe what he thinks may be my view, if he does not want me to intervene. Labour Members take the view that the better parts of the youth training scheme provide very good training and tend to lead young people into permanent jobs. I join the Minister in paying tribute to the scheme in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) which has a 95 per cent. success rate. That is exceptional, especially in an area of such high unemployment.
Some parts of the scheme are very good, but others are not so good. We object deeply to the Government's recent move to abolish the right to supplementary benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds and thus make the scheme compulsory. We should prefer a scheme that guaranteed that the highest quality of training would be provided to all and that the income levels of young people placed with employers would be topped up to take account of the work that they do when they are on the employers' premises.
That is our view of the youth training scheme. We should like to see improvements, but we do not completely reject it. We reject the Government's move to remove the right to supplementary benefit and thus make the scheme compulsory.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I hope that we shall never hear again, in some of our more rowdy exchanges, Opposition Members complaining that the youth training scheme is only a skivvy scheme. Progress appears to have been made tonight and, if we do not hear such remarks again, we shall be all the better for it.
The hon. Lady is right to point out what is essentially obvious. There is nothing wrong in making the obvious point that any scheme will be made up of the better and the worse, the good and the bad, the great and the not quite so great. However, the youth training scheme has achieved a remarkable overall figure for getting young people into work. The MSC is also concerned about quality. The move towards approved training organisations is another means by which quality can be controlled. If the MSC is, broadly speaking, able to achieve its present degree of quality—obviously, the occasional bad scheme must be rooted out—and is even able to satisfy the hon. Member for Ladywood to some extent, there is no reason to think that such a scheme will not also work for the unemployed. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the points 722 that she has raised and I shall try to deal with them. I try to answer all questions, but, whereas answers are guaranteed, satisfaction is not.
The hon. Member for Ogmore said that there might be only a small amount of work experience in the new training programme. I can assure him that that will not be the case. We believe that common sense and experience show that a person who is trained in the context of the workplace with an employer stands a far better chance of finding a job than if he has been entirely project-trained. Remarks used to be made that YTS does not guarantee a job. Of course, it does not: there is no such thing as a guaranteed job. An employer will often take on a young person for whom he says he has no job but whom he says he will train. He gets to know the trainee because he is on the premises; loyalties are built up and in the end the employer finds that he can offer the trainee a job. Common sense and experience show that workplace training is more likely to lead to a job than training that is wholly project based. That is why the aim is that 60 per cent. should be employer-based and 40 per cent. directed training.
The hon. Member for Ogmore was concerned that the Government might be treating the community programmes with contempt. Absolutely not. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we are taking the best types of community programme and using them as a model on which to build the new scheme. The hon. Member for Ladywood reminded us that there are good and bad community programmes, but we are building on the best. I can assure the hon. Member for Ogmore that there is no question of the Government treating community programmes with contempt.
The hon. Gentleman—quite properly—talked about the voluntary nature of the scheme and sought assurances. He also mentioned the effect of section 20 of the Social Security Act 1975. I shall deal with that when I deal with the points raised by the hon. Lady. He also mentioned benefit-plus and pointed out that it had only a relatively small lead over benefits and that people would be refunded for their travel expenses only after the first £5. He went on to say that most people would be only £5 better off. It is the curse of politicians that we tend to generalise, especially if it suits our purposes to do so, but the hon. Gentleman may be generalising a bit in this regard. There will he cases to which that applies; to others it will not. Training allowances are as recommended unanimously by the MSC. I make no apologies for repeating this crucial point. The MSC's unanimous recommendations were accepted by my right hon. Friend. They amount to a benefit entitlement — depending on circumstances—of between £10 and £12 a week. Travel costs of more than £5 will be met and lodging costs will he paid when appropriate. Assistance with the necessary costs of tools and clothing will be provided and child-care costs of up to £50 a week per child will be met for lone parents. So those who undertake training will be better off than they would be if they were not training.
The hon. Lady spoke of her views and those of the Opposition. She went on to say that the scheme was objectionable in principle. I do not want to raise the temperature of the debate and I do not think I could, at this time of the morning, in any case. My exchanges with the hon. Lady, often late at night, show that we must get to grips with a paradox: I can work with the hon. Lady on the Employment Bill and be impressed by her industry 723 and intelligence and yet be staggered by some of the things she says. So I must now ask the rhetorical question: are the hon. Lady's views on the training scheme and those of the Opposition the same? Both of us were less tired than now and our last exchange, during the Report stage of the Employment Bill, was more heated than this one.
I keep a cuttings book on the hon. Lady, in which I find the following:My personal view—I stress that—is that the Secretary of State is now seeking to humiliate the trade union representatives on the MSC with the changes in the Bill. It is time for them to leave the commission to seek to represent the interests of the unemployed and those who seek training through traditional trade union measures. I stress that that is my view. It is my serious view".This produced a certain amount of excitement on the Government Benches because we realised that it was possible to appear at the Dispatch Box without representing the Front Bench of one's party. The hon. Lady was pressed to say precisely for whom she was speaking, and she said:I have made it clear that in this matter, this is a personal view. Everything else that I shall say will reflect the position of the Labour party from the Front Bench. I said before that this was my personal view, and I am entitled to put forward that view…On the question whether the trade union movement continues to have representatives on the commission, I said that that is a matter for the trade union movement." —[Official Report, 10 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 433.]If I have understood the position correctly, it is reasonably fair to assume that the trade union commissioners on the MSC are in favour of the scheme, and that the representations that had been unanimously made and accepted by the Secretary of State might mean that the Labour Front Bench would accept them as well. I suppose that in a sense that is a fair assumption, because the hon. Lady said that her views on that were different from those of the Labour party.
I am certainly not clear in my mind whether the Labour party is sceptical of this and wants to watch it very closely or perhaps wants more money to he spent on it. At the very least it is prepared to back the judgment of the TUC commissioners by giving them the benefit of the doubt.
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady, with her considerable industry and energy, has now been able to persuade the Labour party to ditch this scheme, with all the implications that that would presumably have for the standing of the trade union commissioners. I am not trying to provoke the hon. Lady, but perhaps she would like to intervene to say whether she is freewheeling on this issue or speaks with the authority of the Labour Front Bench. I shall be happy to give way to her, but will not press her if that is embarrassing.
§ Ms. Short
I was waiting for the Minister to finish his point before intervening. I thought that he was concentrating on part II of the Employment Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), our shadow Secretary of State, made absolutely clear our criticism of and opposition to the new adult training scheme. There was no difference in view on that and our view was repeated on many occasions from different perspectives.
What TUC representatives do on the Manpower Services Commission is a matter for them. The Minister will know that there are close links between the trade union movement and the Labour party, but the Labour party does not tell the trade union movement what it 724 should do. Nor is it the case that representatives of the TUC tell the Opposition Front Bench what position to take on matters such as this. The matter of the acceptability of the adult training scheme must be judged independently by each trade union and by the Opposition Front Bench. The Minister must know that that process of judging and of each trade union taking a position is going on at the moment. On 6 April the general council of the TUC will take a decision about whether to endorse the action of its commissioners on the MSC.
The Opposition Front Bench view is that the scheme is unacceptable. The question whether the TUC commissioners continue to serve on the Manpower Services Commission is a matter for the trade union movement. My personal view is that the time has come for them to withdraw from the commission.
§ Mr. Nicholls
That sounds plausible enough as far as it goes, but if it is accurate there would have been no need for the hon. Lady, when talking about the training programme, to draw a distinction between her views and those of the Labour party. I suspect that the hon. Lady has had to set herself to squaring a circle. It sounds plausible, but certainly depressing. [Interruption.] I fully accept that and that is why I quoted the hon. Lady's words at length. I know what she said before, and I know what she says now. If what she says now represents a concise view of her attitude to these matters, it is good enough on the basis of this debate but does not explain why, when dealing with the Labour party's attitude to the new training programme, she drew a distinction between her own views and those of the Labour party. That was the point that I was making, and I think that everybody who takes an interest in these matters would have been interested to know about it.
The hon. Lady, having dealt with her objection in principle to this scheme, said that there was not sufficient, training and that we should provide more jobs on the community programme. Again, I suppose this is a difference in philosophy between us. The hon. Lady obviously believes—and I accept that she believes this sincerely — that new, meaningful, real jobs can be created by the use of the public purse and that it would be possible to get rid of unemployment to a very large extent using the public purse to create worthwhile schemes. She can quite easily and properly construct a scenario in which worthwhile tasks are done. The difficulty, we say, is that it is not possible to get rid of the dole queue simply by the use of public money. She takes one view and we take another. That is the reason, for what it is worth, why we do not agree with the idea that the way to get rid of the dole queues is by vastly increasing placements in a community programme which concentrates not on training but on making jobs. We do not believe for one moment that that works.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Lady seems to want to intervene again. I give way. I suppose the exercise is good for both of us.
§ Ms. Short
The Minister must not misdescribe my position. We are not calling for an expansion of the community programme. The point that I made which I think he seeks to refer to—and I understand that the hour is late—is that many of the jobs done under the 725 community programme should be full-time, properly organised jobs which people are trained to do on a permanent basis. That was the point that I was making when I referred to the needs of the disabled and some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. I am calling for the expansion not of the community programme but of the the provision of public services, where they are needed, and of permanent jobs.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The whole point about the new training programme is that essentially it is community programme plus training, and that is something which the hon. Lady is obviously keen on.
The hon. Lady referred to the problems of job substitution and, she said, to the Department's own figures. I suspect that she was referring to an article by Messrs. Deakin and Pratten which appeared in the Employment Gazette, and which by a happy coincidence I happen to have with me. The hon. Lady has in the past proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the devil can quote the Bible for his own purposes, because she has managed to read this article on a number of occasions to try to cast doubt on the validity of YTS. She used this article on one particular occasion to cast serious doubt on and to denigrate the effect that YTS has had in practice.
That report, quoted, as I have said, in favour of the proposition that YTS has caused a lot of job substitution and dead-weighting, starts with the proposition that YTS induces extra jobs, and then goes on to say that the survey found that YTS had increased the number of youths being trained and improved the quality of industrial training, and that these changes in training programmes increased the employment prospects of the young workers involved. It says that much of the training was of an impressively high standard and that YTS had been successful in creating positions for school leavers, placing more young people in training and improving the quality of training for those and other trainees. Yes, it has, and there is no reason to suppose that, given proper diligence on the part of all concerned, the new employment programme will not achieve the same.
The hon. Lady then turned to the question whether the scheme would be designated using the power under clause 26 of the Employment Bill, the effect of which is to change the provisions of section 20 of the Social Security Act 1975. I will say a word or two about that in a moment.
Coupled and linked with that was the thorny old question of availability for work. It may be worth spending a moment or two stressing the fact that there seems to be an idea being bruited, for reasons that I cannot imagine, that there is something new about the availability for work test and that it is some wicked new instrument which the satanic Tories have taken to flagellate the poor, miserable working classes back into work. There is nothing new about availability testing. The principal legislation which clause 26 amends is the Social Security Act 1975, which was passed in the period of a Labour Government. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was a Social Security Minister in that Government. That legislation dealt with availability for work and there was nothing new about it in 1975, for it underpinned the way in which the welfare state was created and it stemmed from Beveridge.
726 Anyone who doubts that it is an unreasonable proposition that, broadly speaking, those in receipt of benefit should be available for work need look no further than the proceedings on the Employment Bill and at the utterances of the hon. Member for Oldham, West—his remarks have a Right-wing feel about them, but they are none the worse for that—who said:No one objects to a measure of compulsion as a last resort for individuals who are blatantly malingering. That has been on the statute book for a long time and was probably put there in the first place by the Labour Government in the 1948 national insurance legislation. We have never objected to it… the principle is unchallengeable.In case he had not got the point over, he went on:it is perfectly reasonable to deny benefit to people who patently and unreasonably refuse to avail themselves of a job or a training scheme. We are not in dispute about that.Then he went on, because sometimes good points need to be stressed:there is no question whatever of people being able readily to malinger on benefit". — [Official Report, Standing Committee F, 21 January 1988; c. 633–36.]The hon. Gentleman seemed to be saying there that he was content with the legislation which was passed by a Government in 1975 in which he was a Social Secuity Minister. So the idea that there is something devious, wicked and radical about availability testing is not on.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Lady may be rising to explain that yet again she wishes to dissociate herself from the views of her senior colleague. I give her the opportunity to do so.
§ Ms. Short
The Minister should not try to be clever at this late hour and he should not seek to mislead the House. We are aware that Beveridge established an availability for work test. The Government recently tightened up that test considerably and imposed new standards, three that I can remember offhand. One was about how far people were willing to travel for work. The second concerned the level of income they would seek and that they should not seek the level they had had before but should opt for the going rate in their local area. The third was a tightening up on whether people cared for children or other dependants during one day and were therefore available for work the following day. We have just been promised in the White Paper a further tightening up of the availability for work test. Let us be honest and agree that there has always been an availability for work test, but it has been tightened up and a further tightening up is promised. That is a shift. The Minister must accept that. Let us not play games at this late hour.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am not trying to play games with the hon. Lady, although I suppose I could always be tempted. It is curious that I should be accused of misleading the House when I am only reminding the hon. Lady of the forthright comments of her hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West about availability testing. He leads for the Opposition on these matters and he is in favour of availability testing.
The hon. Lady says we have tightened it up. We have done no such thing. We have simply ensured that availability testing is properly considered, and, if she is saying that we have changed the ground rules, the answer is that we have not. If somebody finds that his benefit is suspended because doubt has been cast on his availability, then whether or not at the end of the day that person was 727 available for work and should have that benefit restored will not be decided by a Minister. It will be decided by an appropriate appeal tribunal administering the law, as it has been since Beveridge and before that.
I shall use a nice, neutral word and say that it really is not helpful for the hon. Lady to say that there is something sinister about availability testing. There has always been availability testing and it is quite proper that it should be observed. If there is doubt in a particular case, if criteria have been used too restrictively, a person may have the usual recourse to the appellate procedure. The hon. Lady tempted me to speak about availability but we are really discussing the designation of the scheme.
The hon. Lady—I suspect to build me up before expressing her utter disappointment at my reply—said that, whatever else could be said about me, I tended to answer questions rather than simply to evade them. She then paraphrased the words of my right hon. Friend that there was no intention at present to designate the scheme. That is exactly the position. I do not regard that reply as evasive. It is as straightforward as I can possibly make it. My right hon. Friend made it absolutely clear that it has to be a voluntary scheme., The MSC made it absolutely clear that it considered that the scheme should be voluntary. My right hon. Friend accepted that and has taken every opportunity to say, as I say now, that that is the position.
The hon. Lady is going too far. She is going further than she would if she were standing on this side of the House in saying that I should give an assurance that the scheme will never be designated. Why is it such a good idea that I, as a Minister, should say that we shall never designate under legislation that was passed by a Labour Government? [Interruption.] The hon. Lady accuses me of lying. Perhaps she will withdraw that. I heard the hon. Lady quite distinctly. I was called a liar, and I invite her to withdraw that word.
§ Ms. Short
I did not call the Minister a liar. I said that it was a lie to suggest that clause 26 is no change from the legislation of a previous Labour Government. That is such a distortion of the facts that, in common parlance, it is a lie to describe it in that way. There is no way in which I am calling the Minister a liar. He knows that. This is really unnecessary.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The effect of clause 26 is to alter section 20 of the 1975 Act to ensure that the sanctions on a designated scheme would apply equally to refusal of work and approved training. The clause slightly alters a section of legislation passed by a Labour Government to rationalise it as much as anything else.
To say that it should never be used is tantamount to saying it should never have existed in the first place. If the 728 hon. Lady is requiring me to say that never, for ever and a day, never this side of the millennium should this clause be used, then that section of a Labour statute is wrong arid never should have existed in the first place, and the hon. Lady should have been working for its repeal before now and not simply producing the idea now.
I stress to the hon. Lady with as much verve, vigour and enthusiasm as I can that there is no question of the scheme being anything other than voluntary. I shall pick one point to take her by the hand, as it were, and get her to understand the proposition. She said that there was no intention to designate at the present time, but asked what was the present time, and said that it could be very soon indeed. It would be completely incompatible with all our intentions if the Government were suddenly to designate the scheme. If we were suddenly to designate the scheme, the hon. Lady would be leaping up and down in barely-disguised glee, saying, "I told you so. That is what they always intended to do. They designated it and it is not voluntary." If the Government want the scheme to succeed, it is hardly likely that they will designate it, but if the hon. Lady expects me to say that it will never he designated she should have been working before now for the repeal of the section.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am not prepared to say that the scheme will never be designated during the lifetime of this Parliament, or during the next Parliament, or by the turn of the century. If the hon. Lady is taking that line, she should have been working for the repeal of this section and criticising her hon. Friends for having included it in the Act.
The hon. Lady ended her speech by saying that she hoped that all would unite to make the scheme unworkable. She said that it was outrageously unfair. It is not easy for hon. Members who have never been out of work—or who, if an election result went against them, would be able to walk straight into a job because of their academic and educational background—to understand what it must be like to be one of the long-term unemployed. Yesterday I went to a job club in Nottingham where I met somebody who had been a hotel porter. He loves portering in hotels. That is the job that he wants to—
In accordance with MR. SPEAKER'S Ruling—[Official Report, 31 January 1983; Vol. 36, c. 19]—the debate was concluded.