HC Deb 17 October 1994 vol 248 cc5-7
4. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on his policy for promoting the employment prospects of young people.

Mr. Redwood

I intend to promote young people's employment by urging higher school standards, continuing the system of new apprenticeships that we have launched, strengthening and increasing vocational qualifications, continuing our successful programme of youth training and promoting a better careers service—among other measures.

Mr. Jones

In addition to the unacceptably high number of young people who are unable to find permanent, well-paid work, I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that there is a particularly acute problem in respect of young graduates this year. Will he examine that problem, to ensure that the talents of a whole generation of young people in Wales are not wasted? Will he urgently introduce measures, such as bringing the careers services and training and enterprise councils together to identify job opportunities, and one-off grants to companies to recruit graduates in specialist areas? Will he also examine ways of encouraging students, particularly graduates, to enter management training, in view of the acute shortage of managers in many parts of rural Wales?

Mr. Redwood

I believe that graduates do have better job opportunities and I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. The House should note that in the United Kingdom there is 10 per cent. youth unemployment, compared with 35 per cent. in Spain and 23 per cent. in France. The fact that we do not have a minimum wage is extremely important in that respect. The Labour party has a lot to answer for, with the job-destruction policies for which it voted at its annual conference, against the advice of its leader.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the employment prospects of young people in Wales would evaporate as quickly as socialists seem to be evaporating from the new-look Labour party if we were ever to see the establishment of a separatist Welsh assembly in Wales, wedded to the job-destroying minimum wage policy supported by all those on the Opposition Benches, to which my right hon. Friend referred?

Mr. Redwood

I agree, and that is material to the prospects for youth employment, which is the subject of the question. When I watched the Labour party conference, I thought that it was an episode from "Gladiators", with Labour's gladiators making sure that every time their leader proposed a policy, he bit the dust.

Mrs. Clwyd

Does the Secretary of State agree that one method of improving youth employment prospects would be concerted action at European Union level—or does he agree with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer that there is not one economic benefit to be derived from Britain's membership of the European Union?

Mr. Redwood

Of course, the Government believe that there should be concerted action at the European level as well as at national level, which is why we put on the agenda, through my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others, many items that we think will make a great improvement in employment prospects throughout Europe. If only more people in Europe were prepared to listen to our points, we think that they, too, could have lower youth unemployment. But we are not satisfied with our level, which is why we are continuing the policies that I have identified.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to discourage prospects for youth employment would be to pay 16 to 18-year-olds unemployment benefit, and that it is far better to target those resources to ensure that young people get proper training, therefore increasing the prospect that they will seek employment after training?

Mr. Enright

On the big dipper.

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That was a fatuous comment from a sedentary position, saying that it is a big dipper to offer young people training and better education. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think better of that silly remark. Of course, the way to get more employment for young people is to have better training and better education opportunities. That is our policy. The Labour party does not seem to agree.

Mr. Ron Davies

The Secretary of State should not be so complacent. He should realise that the young people of Wales have been let down both by his Government and by the free market system. In Wales one in five of our 16 to 18-year-olds drops out of the system entirely. They have no employment, no training and no further education. In addition, some 40,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 are long-term unemployed. The economic and social consequences of that evil should be the highest priority of any Government. I urge the Government and the Secretary of State now to set up a special unit in the Welsh Office to co-ordinate all the instruments, all the agencies and all the departments that are at his disposal to start to tackle the problem.

Mr. Redwood

I am attacking the problem and I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that we do not want anyone dropping out. We want to raise the sights and the ambitions of young people, because there are jobs available, there will be more jobs available and we have policies that can help those young people. I hope that the Labour party, which has such influence in local education authorities and in school governing bodies throughout Wales, will heed the advice of its leader, who said that if there are bad teachers they should be removed from office. He went further than I did, but I am just waiting to see action from the Labour-controlled education authorities in Wales. Of course it matters. We want better education and better results. The Labour party must answer.