HL Deb 10 June 1948 vol 156 cc632-46

4.7 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the passing of the previous Motion which enables us to get on with the Second Reading of this Bill. This Bill received a ready acceptance by Members in another place and was described as a first-class measure. In view of the other business which is to follow, I propose to take up as little of your Lordships' time as possible in dealing with this matter. It is now nearly forty years since the Labour Exchanges Act was placed on the Statute Book. The developments which have taken place in the placing and training services provided by the Ministry of Labour require the introduction of a new Bill to bring legislative authority up to date, and to put on a sound basis the employment service for young persons.

Clause 1, subsection (1), lays upon the Minister the duty of organising an employment and training service for both adults and young persons. It requires him to assist persons to select and fit themselves for employment suitable to their age and capacity; to assist employers to obtain suitable workers: and, thirdly, to provide generally for promoting employment in the national interest. There are two aspects of this third side of the Minister's duty that I might specially mention. The service must take its place in giving effect to the policy of maintaining a high and stable level of employment. It may from time to time be necessary to guide people into particular industries, and to conduct special recruiting campaigns for industries in which the national interest requires an expansion of employment. To-day, the textile, coal and agricultural industries are cases in point. It may also meet the requirements of the community by providing training where the national interest most requires it. I might add at this point that the Bill does not give the Minister any power to direct people to particular employments. Under subsection (2) of Clause 1 advisory committees are to be continued. Under the Act of 1909 their functions were related solely to advice and assistance in the management of employment exchanges. Under this Bill they will be extended to giving advice on any functions of the Minister.

The remainder of Part I of the Bill reenacts with modifications the main provisions of the Labour Exchanges Act of 1909, and the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Acts about training and facilitating the transfer of workers. Clause 2 deals with employment exchanges and employment services, and provides for payments to local authorities and voluntary associations for any expenditure incurred by them in connection with the provision of such services. Clause 3 deals with the provision of training courses, not only for unemployed persons, but also for persons already in employment. Subsection (4) of this clause is, I think, particularly interesting. It provides for maintenance allowances for boys and girls to obtain training with a suitable employer in another area if they have a marked aptitude for a skilled occupation but no suitable training is available within daily travelling of their home. There is a genuine need for training facilities of this nature; already some 400 to 500 applicants have been assisted under an interim scheme already in operation. Clause 4 continues the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1935 with regard to schemes for promoting regularity of employment. These powers are not being used at present, but we think it reasonable to retain them. Clause 5 empowers the Minister to make payments in connection with the transfer of workpeople for the purpose of obtaining employment and for their settlement.

I come now to Part II of the Bill, which deals with the youth employment service. Hitherto this service has been called the juvenile employment service, but experience has suggested that we are more likely to secure the interest and confidence of young people if the word "juvenile" is discarded. The main purpose of the service is to help boys and girls at the critical period when they pass from school into the world of adult independence. They need someone who can advise them with authority, and yet be both sympathetic and practical. The youth employment service exists to fill this want. It is not a substitute for either the parent or the teacher. Indeed, it can make its own particular contribution only with the full co-operation of both schools and parents. But while we hope that increasing use will be made of the facilities offered by the service for vocational guidance, no obligation under this Bill will be placed upon any child to do so.

This part of the Bill is based on the recommendations of the Ince Committee. The Committee were agreed that the only really satisfactory system was one in which the work was done in all areas by one organisation, but they were unable to agree whether that organisation should be the Ministry of Labour or the education authority. The problem before them thus became one of devising machinery to combine the educational and industrial elements of the service under a dual system of administration. For this purpose they recommended that, within the Ministry of Labour, there should be set up a Central Juvenile Employment Executive staffed by officers of the Ministry of Education and the Scottish Education Department, as well as of the Ministry of Labour, to supervise the whole service and to speak with authority on all matters affecting it. This Executive was set up in April, 1946, and it has since been engaged in putting into operation those recommendations of the Committee which do not require legislative authority. This experiment in administration has proved a success and Clause 7 of the Bill proposes to put it on a statutory footing.

A National Youth Employment Council is provided for by Clause 8. This Council will be advised by Scottish and Welsh Advisory Committees. The constitution of these bodies is set out in the first Schedule to the Bill. By Clause 9, the Minister is enabled to make regulations for the setting up of local advisory committees, to be known as youth employment committees, which will advise on the local operation of the service in those areas where it is administered by the local offices of the Ministry. Clause 10 deals with the conditions under which local authorities may provide a youth employment service. There are two points to be mentioned. First, there is the proposal in subsection (1), that any scheme submitted by an authority must cover the whole of its area. Experience has shown that it is undesirable to have an authority operating the service for part of its area, with the Ministry looking after the rest. Secondly, it is important that the question as to who is to be responsible for its operation in each area of the country—the Ministry or the education authority—must be finally settled as quickly as possible, to enable plans to be made for the development of the service. Hitherto, education authorities have been able to take up or surrender their powers at short notice and, under those conditions, stability in administration is unattainable. The Bill, therefore, proposes, by subsection (5) of Clause 10, that a time limit of six months must be fixed within which an authority, if it wishes to assume responsibility for the service, must submit its scheme for approval.

We regard Clause 13 as most important, as it will ensure that opportunities are provided for all boys and girls while still at school to get advice about what they should do when they leave. This need has not been adequately met in the past, mainly because of a reluctance on the part of some schools to co-operate with the service. This clause puts an obligation on schools to furnish the youth employment service with certain particulars about their pupils. This is the only proposal in the Bill which entails an element of compulsion, and it is a requirement placed upon school authorities and not upon children or their parents. The particulars which schools will be required to pass to the service will be limited, by subsection (2), to data without which it is impossible to give effective vocational guidance. The youth employment officer will arrange for a personal interview to be available for each pupil, and the parents will be encouraged to attend. There will be no obligation upon any young person to receive vocational guidance, and, whatever advice is given, he will remain free to choose his own employment.

I should mention at this stage that, in response to representations made on discussion of the Bill in another place, a Government Amendment will be moved at a later stage proposing that a parent, if he so requests, may be informed by the youth employment officer of the particulars of his son or daughter which have been received from the school. It is hoped that this will make for a closer co-operation between the service and the parents. The remaining clauses of the Bill call for no special comment: they are supplemental. I should, however, mention that, by Clause 19, the Bill proposes the extension to educational authorities in Scotland of the powers to provide a youth employment service in their areas, and in this way for the first time the administration of the service in Great Britain will conform to a uniform pattern. The Bill constitutes another important step in the process of establishing a full and effective employment and training service for adults and young persons. It launches on its career a great youth employment service, and I hope that the young people of this country will take every advantage of it. I am confident that this Bill will enable the employment exchanges to carry out the additional functions required of them and will be of real value to future generations. I beg to move.

Moved, That this Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hall.)

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House give a welcome to this Bill. As the noble Viscount who introduced it said, we consider it to be a good measure. We like Part I of the Bill, which puts the training of the unemployed on a permanent basis; this has not hitherto existed. We also approve generally of Part II of the Bill which deals with the launching of the youth employment service. I should like for a very few moments to touch on Part I of the Bill and then on Part II. I think it is worth recording our view that good and suitable training of employed and unemployed is the most economic form of national self-help that we can carry out. It not only pays great dividends in national efficiency, but it also gives good dividends in the personal happiness and opportunity of those who are re-trained.

Here I would like to add one sentence as regards the training of disabled men. I think that as a nation we need not be ashamed of the efforts of successive Ministers of Labour, including the present Minister of Labour, as regards the training of disabled men. We have had no great post-war problem of disabled unemployed because of the determination of the community, expressed through its Minister, that our disabled men should be given special opportunities and special help. As one who takes some interest, as do other noble Lords, in ex-Service men, I should like to say how gratified we are that the training of disabled men will be improved in the future—if that is at all possible. It is a source of gratification to us that Part I of this Bill, which concerns training, derives from the May, 1944, White Paper on unemployment which was produced by the Coalition Government and fathered by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. The Coalition Government sowed, and, as in so many cases, the present Government are reaping the benefit of their good sowing.

As to the second half of the Bill, which is concerned with the youth employment service, I may say that again we, on this side, approve of the objective. The issue whether this youth employment service is going to succeed or not will depend very largely on how it is administered. It is essentially one of those big and ambitious projects which administration will make or mar; and we, for our part, are glad that the proposals in, I think, paragraph 44 of the Ince Report, which recommended a greater degree of compulsion than the Government have adopted, have been rejected. I believe that the youth employment service is something that must be fostered in a voluntary and not in a compulsory spirit. We support the proposals because they avoid centralisation and devolve responsibility upon the local authorities. I believe that this devolution may guard against the real danger in the youth employment service that urban-minded and urban-trained officials will follow their natural inclinations towards urban life and draw away our youth from the countryside. If there is devolution to local authorities, however, I believe that that danger will be by-passed. It is worth remembering that with a mechanised countryside and with mechanised equipment in farming to-day there are just as good opportunities for technicians in the countryside as there are in towns.

Another thing we are glad to see is that the parent's position is recognised. In modern legislation the parent seems to be more and more relegated to the background, and the central or local authority seems to take on the parent's duties and responsibilities. There was considerable debate in another place, both on the Second Reading and the Committee stages of the Bill, as to the position of parents. The noble Viscount said that the Government are going to introduce an Amendment which was promised in another place to allow parents to see the confidential reports which have to be made (and I am glad to see that that is the only attempt at compulsion in the Bill) upon the children by the youth employment officer. Perhaps if the noble Viscount says anything more to-day or on a later stage of the Bill, he will make it clear that the effect of the Amendment will not be to allow the parent to look, as it were, over the shoulder of the officer to see what is in the report, but to provide that the parent shall have a report made available to him, so that he can discuss the problems of his child with his wife or with any other members of the family. There should not be a mere cursory examination of the report; if necessary, the parent should have a copy of it or be able to take a copy of it himself.

We do criticise to some extent—and we shall be returning to the subject in Committee—the set-up of the Youth Employment Council. We feel that there are certain deficiencies, that certain important youth organisations have not been offered representation, and that both the Services and those responsible for juvenile delinquents should somehow have access to this Council. We propose later to suggest that the number of seats on the Council be increased without defining exactly how those places should be filled. The Bill, in both Part I and Part II, seems to be an admirable example, of co-operation between the different participants in industry—management, employee and the Government. I can only wish that some of the other measures which the Government have introduced, and some of the speeches made in the country by members of the Administration, showed equally that spirit of co-operation and did not postulate an inevitable conflict between the participants in industry. I can pay no higher compliment to the Bill than to say that its roots lie in Coalition Government policy as propounded by my noble friend, Lord Woolton, and that the proposals in the Bill could well have been lifted from the Conservative Industrial Charter.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches should not like a all so beneficent in purpose and design to be introduced without our saying a word of commendation upon it. As regards that part of it which concerns the adult person, this, according to a truism, is a specialised age, and specialisation is not by any means confined nowadays to the upper ranks of intellect. Not only is the general labourer to a large extent at a discount in the labour market nowadays but, what is equally important, he is conscious of being at a discount. He feels that he is condemned to one level for the rest of his life and that, without some extraneous aid, it will never be possible for him to advance himself and to give more opportunities to his family. Therefore, anything which may be done to widen the area of his training is likely to be welcomed. As regards the young people, I think perhaps all of us would agree that the procedure outlined in the Bill is particularly necessary at the present moment when, after the inevitable upheaval of the war years, and the general uncertainty of life in the subsequent period, young people are conscious of a feeling of being lost as to the future and of not knowing in what direction to turn. That feeling is largely due to the fact that they do not really know what is involved in committing their future to one or other of a number of possible openings. Therefore anything which can put to them, in a concrete and comprehensive form, what a particular line of work offers, and thereby attract them to make their careers along that particular line, will no doubt contribute very greatly to a higher level of general craftsmanship and knowledge in the country. From both those points of view, we desire to give our general approval to the purposes of the Bill.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, like my noble friend who has just spoken, I attach considerable importance to Clause 13 of this Bill, and I welcome the special assurance that has been given by the noble Viscount as to the rights of parents to see the reports. I would stress the importance of the parents not merely seeing the report but having some opportunity to discuss it together before the interview takes place. That surely is a reasonable thing to ask. It would be to the advantage of the smooth conduct of the interview with the juvenile employment officer if father and mother were to agree beforehand, having considered the school report, on points on which they wish to comment. As there was in another place, there must be in this Chamber considerable apprehension regarding any Bill which sets up a system of dossiers. When we discuss Clause 13 during the Committee stage I shall have to ask His Majesty's Government for some concrete assurances regarding the type of questionnaire which teachers will be required to fill in for this purpose. Teachers nowadays are asked to fill in some very curious, and to my mind exceedingly undesirable, questionnaires about their pupils.

In Lancashire there has recently been considerable turmoil arising from the action of a head teacher of a school who refused, and in my view properly refused, to fill in a school record card. I hope that we shall be assured that the record cards that are to be compiled in connection with this Bill will have nothing whatever in common with the record card which has been sent to me, which comes from an important local authority and which teachers in that authority's schools are bound to fill in. I cannot go through that card now; it would not be polite to the Scottish noble Lords who are awaiting with some impatience the debate upon their own subject. But merely from the size of this card which I am now holding up in my hand, your Lordships may form some idea what the teachers are expected to answer. I would allude particularly to one section of this card which I regard as being strongly objectionable. There is a section devoted to "special home conditions." I hold that it is a most unprofessional action on the part of a teacher to report, or even to make any permanent record of, facts which may come to his knowledge regarding the home conditions of a child. As I read Clause 13, anything of that sort will be entirely excluded from the questionnaires which the teachers are to fill in for the purpose of the Bill. I shall rejoice if that is the case. I would suggest to your Lordships that this type of questionnaire should serve as something of a warning to the Ministries of Education and of Labour that they may not be led down the very dubious paths that have been opened up by school record cards of this kind. May I reproduce one comment of a Lancashire parent to whom this card was shown? The parent in question remarked: "Aye, but there is something missing. Aye, but there is a space for it too. They have not got the child's fingerprints." They have got a photograph of the child.

Provided that these important matters are duly safeguarded, and provided that there is proper provision for the destruction of these cards as soon as they have served their purpose, I feel that we may view Clause 13 with equanimity. But I would beg that the Government should consider inserting in the clause itself a definite provision regarding the destruction of the cards. At the present moment it is left to the Minister to determine by regulation the time at which the cards shall be destroyed. Regulations can be changed and although he may wish to destroy the cards at a reasonably early date, and may make such provision in the initial regulations, he may later rescind those regulations and decide upon the retention of these cards—which are, in effect, secret dossiers of the child—for an altogether undue period. I would beg that your Lordships should consider that point and other connected matters when we come to this clause in Committee.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friends from Scotland ask that the debate should be short. For that reason, I shall speak for only a few minutes. I should like to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has said in welcoming the Bill and to associate myself fully with his tribute to the Ince Committee, the White Paper of 1944 and the work of the Ministry of Labour in their arrangements for training, especially the training of disabled ex-Service men. A most satisfactory feature of this Bill is that the results of those experiments are now to be consolidated. After all, we are all agreed on Part I of the Bill; there is no controversy. But we must recognise that the bones of the Bill in Part I are pretty dry bones. What really matters is the way in which employment exchanges are administered and the standard of efficiency displayed by their personnel. At the present time when, for various reasons, we are in a period of full employment, the full skill of the employment exchange official does not, perhaps, have to be revealed. It is when times are difficult, employment is scarce and people have to be fairly treated, and in particular when people have to be moved from one job to another, that one really sees the full value of skill in the handling of the employment exchanges. Beyond that I will not go, because it is a long time since I was at the Ministry of Labour and I am slightly out of touch with the position.

I would like to say one or two words on the second Part of the Bill, which deals with the youth employment service. First, I would like to congratulate the noble Viscount opposite on having removed the word "juvenile" and replaced it with the word "youth," which I think is the right word to use in these days. It is well understood by everybody, even the young people themselves. "Youth," with a big Y, is much in the public eye at the present time, and rightly so. There are many Government Departments which are concerned with the youth problem—the Ministry of Education, the Home Office, the Ministry of Labour, the Service Departments, the Ministry of Health (in so far as they are concerned with local authorities), and, of course, Departments concerned with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, apart altogether from other people whom I am going to mention presently.

When one looks into the Bill and reads between the lines one can see how far real co-ordination exists behind the scenes. It appears to me to be fairly interesting. It looks as if the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health have co-ordinated and dovetailed their affairs rather closely. I would like to acknowledge that fact, because it reveals signs of careful preparation and thought which will be all to the benefit of the young people with whose welfare we are trying to deal. But, when we come on to the other Ministries, I wonder whether co-ordination is quite so "hot". Scotland and Northern Ireland are properly dealt with, and provision is made in the, First Schedule for a Welsh Committee. I know that the noble Viscount opposite would not have cared to introduce this Bill had proper care not been taken of Wales. As I have said, I am lot so sure that co-ordination among other Ministries is so "hot". It your Lordships will cast your minds back to the Criminal Justice Bill which we have been discussing this week, you will remember that there was a great deal of very useful talk about methods for dealing with delinquent young people. There does not seem to be any such provision in this Bill. I hope we shall have an assurance during the passage of this Bill that there is a proper "hook-up" between the Home Office, the problem of delinquent children and this Bill, because I think there ought to be. After all, the young people who are dealt with by the probation service are some of the hardest people to employ and, therefore, need the most care taken of them. Moreover it is not a particularly easy matter to persuade employers to give a helping hand by employing delinquent young people, if for no other reason than because they know that it is not always fair to their fellow workers. This matter needs careful thought, and wants looking at in relation to this Bill.

Now I turn to the Services. This side of the subject received a certain amount of discussion in another place, and I suggest to the noble Viscount opposite that a good deal of that talk was rather misconceived. I think it was suggested that the Services would be quite well represented, because, by the law of averages or some such law, ex-Service men would be representing other bodies. I am not quite sure about that idea, and I do not think it will work out. What I have in mind is that there should be some link between what is to go on under this Bill and the very important selection procedure which was built up and perfected in the Services during the war, and if I am right in thinking that there is to be a proper link between those branches, I cannot believe that Colonel Blimp will be a suitable person to contribute to this problem. We shall have more to say on this point on Committee stage, and we shall also have to deal with the question of the voluntary organisations—that is, youth organisations which are not part of the local authorities' youth service. Three or four years ago there was a good deal of talk, and rightly so, about partnership in the service of youth, and the fact that the voluntary organisations are not dealt with in this Bill and were not mentioned in the debate, has raised some doubt in my mind as to whether that principle is being carried out in practice. I raise this matter because I think that provision should be made in the First Schedule for representation from both the Services and the voluntary organisations. The number of free places on the committee, however, is restricted to two, because, of the four independents, two are the chairmen of advisory committees; therefore I do not think there is room. I suggest that the Youth Employment Council would be a much stronger body if there were a little more room to get one or two more independent people in, and I make that as a constructive suggestion.

May I now return to the subject of the interviews which my noble friend, Lord Iddesleigh, raised just now? It raises the question of how the people who are to operate the youth employment service will be trained. I have some experience of confidential reports in the Army, and I know what frightful results can be produced by the employment of unskilled labour in the preparation of those reports. Unless the people who interview parents and the young people are really skilled at their jobs, the results will be disastrous. We found that in the personnel selection scheme in the Army. On the other hand, if the staff are skilled, the results will be extremely good and very helpful to those concerned. Perhaps at a later stage in the passage of this Bill we might hear a little more about the proposals for training these people, and also a little more about the very interesting pilot scheme which was referred to in another place. After all, these matters of reports and interviews, and so forth, have really "come out in the wash" in the pilot scheme. I think it would be very welcome to noble Lords to hear more about it. I should be horrified if I heard that the pilot scheme had swallowed the enormous camel which my noble friend, Lord Iddesleigh, produced just now. I do not think it has. That point is one which I think might benefit from further discussion at a later stage.

In conclusion, I would like to say how very glad I am at the line His Majesty's Government have taken over compulsion. It would have been so easy in this Bill to produce more compulsion; but it would have been so likely to produce bad results. From the little I know of youth organisations—and I know a certain amount, partly from cadets and partly from boys' clubs—the more I see of it, the more I am convinced that what is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gosling; and that before one compels young people under eighteen to do anything, except perhaps go to school, one has to think very carefully whether the results on the temperament and the keenness and the spirit of the boy and girl will be of benefit. From the Bill it appears that the Government have rightly appreciated that point and, if they have, I believe it is an augury for the success of this measure.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to those of your Lordships who have spoken, for the helpful reception which you have given to this measure and for the very constructive suggestions which have been made. I am not going to refer in detail to those who have been responsible for drawing up the provisions of the Bill. All I know is that, whatever political differences there may be about some matters, there is scarcely any difference as to the need for a measure of this kind, not only ill relation to the training and welfare of children but also in the training of adults and assisting unemployed and employed men to find suitable jobs. I thought that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, touched upon a very important point. It is one with which I have concerned myself a good deal during the last fifteen to twenty years—I refer, of course, to the importance of helping a man who might otherwise be regarded as just a labourer to recognise the full importance of the Job he is doing, and, if possible, taking steps to enable him to reach up to something much more important for which he may be well qualified. I think this Bill is going to do that. As to broadening representation upon the committee, that is a point which will certainly be taken into consideration. Indeed, some consideration was given to this matter in another place, both on Second Reaching and during the Committee stage. I will certainly take up the matter with my right honourable friend and see what further can be done with regard to it.

Points about the questionnaire were raised by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. I can assure him that the card of the questionnaire will not be of such dimensions as he seems to fear. I can also assure him that the number of the questions will not he great, and that they will be quite specific in their character. There will be no inquiry about home circumstances or into character, in the sense chat replies might be elicited which would be detrimental to the boys or girls. I, unfortunately, have to see many secret reports. Sometimes I wish that parents were able to see them, for if they were I believe they might be helped considerably. Parents who would benefit especially from seeing such reports, I feel, are those who are inclined to spoon-feed their children a little too much. It would be well, I think, that they should learn the truth about their children, not only with regard to their mental capacity and character but also as to their physical condition. When the Committee stage of this Bill is reached, I think we shall be able to satisfy noble Lords that the information which will be obtained will be information which is suitable only for the purpose for which it is required.

The points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, will also be taken into consideration. Juvenile delinquency is a matter of great concern at the present time, and those excellent men and women who devote so much of their time, under the auspices of voluntary organisations, to dealing with this problem have made a valuable contribution. It will be possible for them, in the future, to accomplish still more in dealing with matters of this kind. I was under a promise this afternoon and I am grateful to your Lordships for enabling me to carry it out. I again thank you for the warm reception which you have given this measure.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.