HL Deb 02 December 1975 vol 366 cc562-90

7.17 p.m.

Lord BALFOUR of INCHRYE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, since there are now over a million unemployed, steps are being taken nationally and locally to expand conversion trade training; to encourage voluntary educational and voluntary community service opportunities and the provision of recreational facilities for those out of work. The noble Lord said: My Lords, of course the first priority of the Government in the problem of unemployment is to shape the economy so that the unemployed become employed. That is an obvious first priority and I trust that the Minister will not dwell on it for long because it is one which is clear to us all. Beyond that first priority, the Government have a responsibility. We have at present between one and one and a quarter million unemployed, and undoubtedly unemployment, however successfully it is tackled as a first priority, will be with us for a very considerable period of time. I ask this Question tonight, because I remember the 'thirties from a political point of view. I was in another place then. There are not many Members here now who remember those tragic days and the political ineptitude which, looking backwards, I am afraid characterised that time.

I can remember the men standing on street corners with their hands in their pockets, men who had had no work for months in the past and who would probably have none for many months or years to come. Today, the problem is not so acute as regards physical privation, thanks to the growth of social conscience. There will not be a physical want of food, but there is a truism that man does not live by bread alone and I am sure that man needs dignity. He needs endeavour and he needs hope, rather than shame, blame or despair, which is bred by prolonged unemployment. Therefore, I believe that the Government have a responsibility beyond what I call the Number One priority to see that the unemployed do not feel deserted and unwanted. Forced unemployment through no fault of the man himself must not be the end of the road. It should be an opportunity in new directions. None of us wishes to see barren weeks, months or years. We feel that the time should be one for developing new interests and activities.

In my Question, I have been bold enough to suggest one or two headings. One is retraining, which of course appertains to what I would term the Number One priority, but we should like to know from the Minister the adequacy of the present position as regards new training and whether the facilities are being fully used and, if so, whether the Government are willing to expand them if there is a demand. I then mentioned the heading of education. I have in mind the fact that enforced idleness on the part of good men may give opportunities for adult studies which have been denied to people who have never had time because they have been working too hard and have been too busy. Certain adult studies may widen the scope of the interest and knowledge of men. They may wish to look at interesting things such as history, economics, the Arts and music, all of which they have not had the chance to indulge in during the past.

Of course, I realise that local authorities must be the prime movers in such extension of education. But I maintain—I trust that the Minister will not differ from me on this—that Government encouragement and support is essential for the facilities, like teachers and classrooms, for the extension of what I call educational interests. We should also consider recreation, particularly for the young. School gymnasia, school grounds, school halls—all these come in, because I believe that the key of social conscience is needed to unlock the gates of opportunity. Let us consider local industrial playgrounds, owned by big commercial enterprises, and playgrounds owned and administered by local authorities. Are these being brought in specially to the areas of unemployment? I hope they are, because we should like to hear something on those lines from the Government. These facilities, as well as wet weather centres, are essentially local authority organisation matters, but they must be based on some Government support, and possibly some Government money for rentals and maintenance and use of public and private facilities.

The final heading in my Question concerns community service, voluntary service and more. Show the ordinary good man or woman how, when, and where to help the community and his or her response will, I believe, be astonishing. Youth helps already. It is interesting to bear in mind that most of the public schools today have a branch of community service. Even that much criticised public school which is not always popular with noble Lords opposite—Eton—has a community service section, members of which go out to look after old folk, and do many of the other chores which are necessary and desirable in community service. In all public community service I believe that we have a tremendous latent pool of willingness available from these men and women, and youth, who, unfortunately, not through their own fault, are unable to obtain work for an indefinite period ahead.

My Lords, in all these headings which I have mentioned we must reckon that there will be certain undesirable elements who will try to destroy efforts. A minority always abuse any good endeavour. But I believe that the leadership thrown up from one and a quarter million unemployed people—mostly good citizens—makes the risk of going forward on these things worth while. There are always some who will say, No, to everything new; but, thank goodness! there are more people who will say, Yes. Do not let us be put off, or diverted, by the few deplorable cases of abuse of our social system which we read about in the Press. There is much ground for altering the rules and regulations in many directions, which is not apposite to my Question tonight. But do not let us draw general conclusions from a few specific cases, because I believe that the general body of men are good, sound, honest folk.

Finally, I have one appeal. I make it not so much to your Lordships' House, but rather in the hope that it may filter outside. It is an appeal in connection with the unemployment tragedy. I should like to see abolished in speech and in print the word, "dole". To me it is a survival of the ugly 'thirties. It is an insulting and degrading label for those on social security or other benefit, whether it be covenanted or uncovenanted. I should love to appeal to the Press and to speakers to outlaw this needless and unfair infliction of shame and insult on the unemployed by the use of the word, "dole". I regret to say that I have heard this word used in your Lordships' House. It is because we all care deeply about the nation of 1 million, which is growing up within our greater nation, that I ask the Government whether they accept a responsibility beyond the first priority of work, and, if so, what they are doing about it?

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who has just resumed his seat, is entitled to our gratitude—and we give it completely and earnestly—for raising such a vital issue. I hope that the reverberations of this debate will be heard far outside these walls, and may indeed be profitably turned into effective measures to deal with this problem which, in many respects, I suggest, is even more important than the one which has occupied the attention of this House for the major part of this afternoon and this evening. It is a pity that there are very few taking part in, and listening to, this debate. I am quite sure that my noble friends on the Bishops' Bench are here in spirit. But it is to me a reflection of something that happened only a few days ago, and it can form the introduction of what I propose to try to say in support of what Lord Balfour has just said.

A few days ago there was one of the most remarkable demonstrations outside the Palace of Westminster. It got a rough ride from the Press, and I have no doubt that there were ulterior motives among some of those who sponsored it. But it was a very large demonstration, and having had something to do with it, in listening from time to time to those who comprised it, I was convinced—if I needed such a conviction—that in many respects unemployment is the supreme evil from which we are suffering at this moment. It is the supreme evil because it is in itself a human evil, with economic repercussions and results and associations, whereas the evil of inflation is an economic one, admittedly with moral and other human results and repercussions.

The immediacy of the problem of unemployment is its prior claim to be regarded as the superior of all those issues with which we ought practically to be concerned if we look forward to a healthier, more useful and better community. There are two elements in unemployment which single it out, as I suggest, for particular and especial responsibility. One is that its effects upon those who suffer it are immediate and tragic. The second—as the noble Lord so splendidly suggested to us—is that we are in a process in which we can expect a great deal of unemployment for a very long time. Therefore, though there may be light at the end of the tunnel, a great many people will be in that tunnel for years.

What are the principle effects of unemployment? Scripture says that it is more blessed to give than to receive. If one turns that upside down one would probably find an echo in the experience of every unemployed man, that there is something more cursed in not being able to give than even the scarcity of what one does receive. Consider the enormity done to the dignity of a human being when he is no longer wanted, has nothing to contribute, can give nothing which other people would regard as valuable. This, I believe, is a denial of one of the dimensions of human personality which is quite intolerable. If I speak with a certain amount of dogmatism, may I interpolate now—because it will colour what I have to say—that every day in the mission where I work we try to look after about 160 or 180 of those who are unemployed, and we have derived from that experience a great many dramatic repercussions in our own lives. I know, and I would imaginatively communicate to your Lordships, if I may, that there is nothing worse than that a man should feel that he has nothing to give; and that that sense of loss and nescience in his own life is an immediate, increasing and wasting disease, which is the second characteristic of the unemployed man—that, normally speaking, his unemployment connotes a decreasing ability to recover and, unfortunately, an increasing acceptance of conditions which in themselves render him less capable of recovery.

The noble Lord referred to young people. NACRO tells us that 40 per cent. of those arrested whose ages are under 25 are at that moment unemployed. That is a statistical relationship. I do not know what its casual relevance may be, but it suggests itself to me that there is a very radical relationship between the evils of idleness and the process of delinquency. Therefore, I speak not with any ease but with a deep sense of importance when I say that considering the matter of what can be done now for those who are in the process and under the strain of unemployment is a most relevant and imperative task.

My Lords, what do we do? I am sure that the Government have already been seized of the value, the supreme value, of retraining; but the Government will surely know that, with the best of intentions and with any amount of money, such a process can reclaim or give new hope to only a very small proportion of those people who are out of work. For it is our experience that many of them are unfitted for the kind of tasks which will be required to be done in a society in the future in which unskilled labour is no longer in any sense an indication of the opportunity to work; it is rather a deterrent. What do we do with these younger people—indeed, with other people—who cannot be retrained at this moment, who are in profound need of re-education, or of education in the first instance, and who are certainly in need of recreation? Here I draw on our own experiences, and I offer them humbly to the Government. The Government may probably know them already, but they are worth repetition.

One, and perhaps the most important, is that you should try to give to the man who is unemployed, whether he is young or old and in whatever category he may be, a sense of a disciplined and ordered life in which, though he cannot go to work at half past eight in the morning, he may find the opportunity of creative and useful membership of a community of people who, by that very process of fellowship, are themselves working out the kind of community service which we have noticed grows, as the noble Lord was quite right in saying, almost naturally among those who are in similar states of difficulty and of uselessness. That is to say, the very process of providing a place for, and a sense of importance in, some kind of house, some kind of hall or some kind of regular meeting place is in many cases the first stage in recovering the man who has habitually been leaving his doorway at half past eight, seven o'clock or nine o'clock in the morning. If he has not some kind of regular opportunity I believe it is more likely than ever that he will degenerate; and I think I should myself be one who would degenerate rather more quickly than other people.

Secondly—this is just as important, and it bears out what the noble Lord had to say—it is astonishing to us how those who find such an elementary basis of community begin to develop the opportunities of mutual care. Teaching, the processes of cultural education or reeducation, the provision of recreational opportunities—these are more likely to take place in the atmosphere of such a community than they are likely to take place in the first instance by some kind of statutory regulation or even some official provision. Therefore, my Lords, I would ask the House to consider, as I am sure the Government would want to consider, the practical ways in which this process of reclamation, this rejuvenation of the spirit, can take place.

When we are talking about unemployment let us remember that there is one institution in the community which, if not unemployed, is very much underemployed, and it happens to be the Church: the Church, which attracts far fewer people than once it did; the Church, the activities of which are less than they were; but the Church which possesses all kinds of accommodational opportunities—rooms, halls, meeting places, which are not themselves officially connoted but have an open door and a friendly reception. This is one of the schemes which I believe the Government could operate in conjunction with many a church and which would be quickly and enthusiastically welcomed by parsons and others who in many cases have not enough to do anyhow.

It is not, in my judgment, a process which will recover a man completely—nothing will do that but the recovery of that kind of community in which, once again, he will be of value and can offer himself in service; but I have heard a lot that has been said about the need to care for the unemployed. I am so glad that the noble Lord offers us a practical chance to say what can be done. There are other ways which I have no doubt other speakers will adumbrate, but here is a way in which many of those things for which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has asked can in fact begin to be done and we can remove what I believe is the greatest curse that rests upon people—not the curse of not getting enough, but the curse of not being able to give anything.

7.37 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, we on these Benches are also very glad indeed that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour. has given us the opportunity to have this debate tonight. Training in relation to unemployment, and indeed training in general, has two major aspects, a social aspect and an economic aspect. Its social aspect is of great importance to the individual. Training gives individuals new opportunities; the chance to change their occupation in mid-stream, or perhaps to take a new way having made a false start. But there is also training as part of economic policy, and I want to talk tonight on the economic aspect of training in the current situation, and particularly in relation to an economy in which unemployment is far too high and is rising far too rapidly.

Both noble Lords have spoken most eloquently about the social side of this problem. I want to say that a period of unemployment is one which offers special opportunities to do things which have long needed doing in the field of training; and it is only in times like these that it may in fact be possible to do the things which need to be done. In times of full employment it is easy to find an unskilled or a semi-skilled job which pays a reasonable wage, and in such times it is not at all easy to get people to train for the skilled jobs and for the jobs which are increasingly going to demand to be filled in the future. So let us seize the opportunity, when people are not in work, to identify the jobs which we are going to need to be done in the future and which, indeed, we are still needing done at present, and to mobilise all our resources of training to see that we can bring about the changes in the availability of skill of this country which we have badly needed to do for a a very long period of time.

Noble Lords will know that over decades we have been short of skill in this country. We are even now short of certain skills. It is difficult in parts of the country to find people with the skills to fill the jobs which need to be done. This should be a very important pointer to us as to what we ought to be doing at the present time, and how to use this situation of unemployment to the advantage of the economy, and to see that we do not relapse into further periods of unemployment when we begin to recover from the state in which we now find ourselves.

I believe that training is not a minor, marginal aspect of the way in which to tackle economic problems; I believe that it is central to the way in which we can deal with economic problems. I believe that training can be used both as an anti-cyclical device—that is, drawing more people who are out of work into training at a time when they arc available—and as a device for restructuring industry so that we begin what we ought to have done a long time ago, which is to draw people out of the industries which plainly have no future. Now they are being thrown out; if we had done what we ought to have done earlier we should have found ways in which people could have been induced and encouraged out of the jobs in those industries which plainly are not going to be able to give continued scope for employment as in the past, and moved into areas in which the future lies.

My Lords, we have been woefully slow under all Governments in tackling the restructuring problem which, if we had tackled it, would have saved us a good deal of the unemployment with which we are now confronted. What kind of economy is this country to move towards? It was Mr. Wilson himself who talked years ago about the "white hot technical revolution". Surely it is plain that the industry of the future and the pattern of employment of the future must concentrate on the high technology industries of a highly profitable kind. Our weakness has been that we have bolstered up industries which have no future. We have not got it over to people that there is no point in hanging on to a declining industry. Today one has sympathy for, say, the textile industry, which is clamouring for protection when all over the world other people with lower standards of living are able to produce textiles. In our present situation I suppose we must offer some support because this is not the moment for doing the restructuring, the chance for which was temporarily, rather than permanently, lost.

Where do I hope that we will move over the next decade and will be in ten years' time? A much smaller manufacturing industry of a high technology kind, capital-intensive but employing people working short hours on shifts. You can employ quite a number of people doing that and make good use of your capital resources. If it is highly profitable, as it could be, from that will come the growth of service industries; because out of the profitability of those industries will come the possibility of providing in both the private and public sectors the services which people in this country are crying out to receive. That is the direction in which we need to go. Now is the time to try to move in that direction, by getting people to learn the skills which will be needed.

My Lords, we are already making a beginning. We have the Manpower Services Commission set up in 1973, and they have the institutional equipment and the means. But they are on all too small a scale—and here I echo what both noble Lords have said about the scale of operations—in order to do what is urgently needed; that is, to make estimates of what will be required and to provide on a much bigger scale the resources necessary for training and opportunities for training to meet those requirements.

I read the very interesting publication by the Employment Service Agency, the wing of the Manpower Services Commission dealing with employment. They reported a small experiment—but only a small experiment—which contained the very important germ and hope leading to the kind of thing we could do on a larger scale. They had asked unskilled men who had been out of employment for six weeks or more to come voluntarily for tests to see what capacities they had and to discuss the results of those tests with them. Out of those men, 10 per cent. have come forward for training. This was done in one small region. If out of that small experiment we can get men voluntarily coming forward for training, how much more could be done if this were extended over a wider scale, as I am sure the Manpower Services Commission and the Employment Service Agency working with them are wanting and planning to do. We must make up our minds to move away from the old structure of industry to a new one and we must prepare for it. That is the starting point.

My Lords, I should like to ask the Government a number of questions. I confess that I did not give the noble Lord notice of these questions and if he tells me that he would rather reply in writing, I should be delighted. I have reminded your Lordships that we are still short of skilled people in some categories; that it is not possible to fill all the skilled vacancies that exist. I should like to ask—region by region, if we could have it—for what jobs are we still short of people; in what skills and in what numbers at the present time? Then, looking ahead, I would remind your Lordships that every time the economy begins to recover we find acute shortages of manpower in skilled trades. I would ask the Government to let us have the figures which surely the Manpower Services Commission can give us (if not at once, then given time) that, given a 1 per cent. increase in growth rate where would the skilled shortage be? Given a 3 per cent. increase, what and where would the skilled shortage be? We have had past experience. It should not be too difficult to forecast what would happen with an upturn in the economy. What folly it would be—do we never learn?—if, as we begin to recover, we find again the men not there that are needed to take advantage of the new opportunities. May we ask, too, how many training places there are, and how they are distributed up and down the country and what skills are involved? Have they all been taken up? if not, what is being done to see that they can be taken up? Now is the time to do something about it.

May I ask the Government what they are hoping to do to change the attitude of men and women towards training and to move people to the acceptance that there are many industries in which they worked in the past in which there is not a future, but that there can be a future in the growth industries? For decades people have been encouraged to believe that the thing to do is to hang on in the jobs they have. "Property in the job" has become the favourite phrase. I am second to none in my belief in the right to work; but I will never agree that any man or woman has a right to the particular job that they happen to be doing because they have always been doing it. We need a change of attitude so that people see training as a tremendous opportunity, not as a last resort when they have waited and waited to get back to their former job—a former job which is dwindling before their eyes but for which they have waited because they were reluctant to move.

My Lords, this cannot be done by exhortation. It must be done by a campaign to get over to people the real facts of the situation. This is not a dying economy; or rather it need not be if we do something about it and if people understand that hanging on to the old ways is death and moving towards new opportunities is where the chance of a good future lies. I know that cannot be promised straight away. I know it is difficult to put this to people at a time when there are over a million unemployed. What inducements can you give to get people started? Let me suggest—although it may not be possible—something which could be followed up. Supposing a man has been out of work for a short period and he has been receiving income-related unemployment benefit. Would it be possible to say to him that if he took training recommended on the grounds of what were likely to be the future opportunities, if, at the end of the training, there exists no opportunity—this is disaster, to trap people into training but find them no job at the end of the day—then the benefit he would get could in some way be enhanced, so that he had not taken a risk without compensation if he accepted the offer of skilled training? Something must be done to get people to see that to train for new jobs is worth while and they should not hang on to old jobs.

I should like to ask whether we might have a debate on the work of the Manpower Services Commission and what it is doing. So far as one can tell, it is doing useful work. There has not been a great deal of publicity about its work either on the employment agency side or on the training agency side. More publicity could do nothing but good. It is important that this kind of opportunity should be given. The Manpower Services Commission is a semi-autonomous body. I am glad that it is. I believe that this is the way in which it can act effectively, and speedily absorb and put into practice new ideas. A semi-autonomous body is that much more remote from Parliamentary control.

In this urgently necessary area of job change, training and the development of new skills, the Manpower Services Commission holds an absolutely key position. Surely it would be reasonable to ask that time should be given to debate what is going on in that Commission, to learn what it has been doing and to put forward suggestions for future developments. Its work and encouragement to the unemployed, and to those who are not already unemployed but who have the wit to see they had better get into new and better openings, will be art expensive job. We have to do this on a scale which will begin to make an effective difference to the whole situation, both to unemployment and to economic development. It will cost a lot of money. I fully appreciate money is hard to come by at the present time. But this is investment in human beings to avoid the corrupting effects of unemployment.

It is the problem to which other countries have given a great deal of attention. I know the work in Sweden has often been referred to—perhaps boringly often—in discussions on this subject. They spend proportionally a great deal more money on the retraining of people than we have been prepared to do. They have been tougher in expecting people to move from jobs in which there i9 no future; but they have been more generous in the provision of money to ensure that new opportunities exist. When I was looking at the work done in Sweden a couple of years ago, I talked to a trade union official and I said, "Your training is remarkable but also very expensive." He replied, "Yes, it is; but this is how we have bought our members' consent to technical change". If they have bought their members' consent to technical change, so that full advantage may be taken of the new technology—which we have not begun to do—then no amount of money spent on it is too great, whether in Sweden or Britain.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I join with others in being grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for asking his Unstarred Question today. I will keep the points I want to make brief. Most people agree that declamatory sentiments are out of place in a Question. But I feel it is important to be clear about the structure of vocational training at the present time. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has had to leave your Lordships' House; he warned me that he would have to do so. I digress, but over the past few years I have had to follow the noble Lord, Lord Soper, in a few debates. I particularly recall a debate he sponsored on violence. Every time I was to follow the noble Lord, good sense told me that I should tear up my notes and slink away. He is the conscience of us all, and the pictures he paints of a benign, caring community are what we should sincerely like to see.

Following the Fulton Report many Government duties were separated from the Civil Service, as you know, and several areas within the Department of Employment were treated in this way. The Man- power Services Commission, which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred to several times, was formed and it is generally accepted that it is a sound concept. The two executive arms of this body were created at the same time: the Employment Services Agency and the Training Services Agency. The latter inherited the industrial training boards and wisely kept changes to a minimum. The Central Training Council was dissolved to few people's regret. When I last talked on training in this House the CTC was still in existence, and I remember a few brickbats going its way from noble Lords actively involved in training matters. More recently we have seen the creation of the Training Opportunities Scheme, usually called by its comfortable acronym of TOPS. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, asked what was available. He is welcome to borrow my copy of the TOPS list of courses—everything from accountancy to being a yacht master.

TOPS has been an excellent administrative device for Government participation in training, and developments there have been largely welcomed. From 15,000 people in 1971, this year's figure will be 60,000 who have entered some form of Government sponsored training—that is a factor of four. The target is 80,000 for next year, I believe, with a ceiling of 100,000. These seem adequate figures but the Government would do well to put them in the context of the number of job changes this year, which informed sources put at around 9 million. Even at its most optimistic, this means that fewer than 1 in 100 job changes took place where a Government scheme played any part in training the individual for a particular job switch. I am not saying this is right or wrong, but just remarking that the part played is still small compared to the potential "market" for retraining. As a general observation, there seems no natural point between total Government abstention and total Government intervention. We all believe that there should be some compromise, but nobody agrees where the balance point should be.

A small but humane change which has come about under the Training Opportunities Scheme has been the renaming of the Government Training Centres as Skill Centres. I know that these are often criticised, usually for under-use. I should like to point out in defence of the system as it presently stands, that the theoretical maximum capacity is 80 per cent.: staff changes, updating machines, courses starting and finishing, not co-ordinated with each other, are all perfectly good reasons to lower the usable maximum. Skill centres to be used to 100 per cent. would be failing in their purpose. Frankly, these are early days yet for their acceptance by the mass of the people. I want to remind noble Lords that we are dealing with a voluntary system introduced into an area with a history of very slow change. The British do not rush to change the way they do something as important as learning a new skill—perhaps they should, but it just is not so.

This brings me to a point of great importance for any Government when examining industrial training in this country. May I plead: please, now, leave things as they are. The Training Services Agency, for better or worse, is in the middle of setting up its district offices to give it a "presence" in appropriate places. The regional organisations have been threshed out. What is needed now is a chance for some kind of tradition to be built up around this structure. I sometimes think that we in this country have a greater talent for sheer meddling than any other characteristic. It is certainly one that we have seen more of than any other in the last ten years or so in this country. Institutions are set up, and abandoned one year later. They have not had time to become acceptable. Their basic soundness is not in question, but it seems that successive Governments have felt that unless they change they are somehow failing their notional electorate.

If asked to choose, I would lean towards Mr. Robert Carr's concept of training opportunities reflecting what the people want rather than what the planners dictate. I would do so for two reasons: first, that the individual has by far the highest motivation to develop himself in the most profitable way—though this is not to say that I would not agree emphatically with what the noble Baroness said; namely, that the opportunities should be broadcast in a much more unambiguous manner. The second reason is that the individual, in following his motivation to develop himself, is usually right; and surely the placing rate of 90 per cent. from skill centres this year seems to justify this point of view. I should be most interested to hear the Government's response to that point.

One interesting side issue is the relative performance of the educational system, reflected by certain remedial actions which the Training Opportunities Scheme has had to adopt. For instance, it is now an essential part of TOPS' programmes to offer what they call "Litnum", which is short for literacy and numeracy courses, intended to equip the participants with enough reading and arithmetic ability even to start courses of training. I may say that "Litnum" comes under "L". This was not planned, and it seems both a pity and a waste.

I am specially interested in the fact that there is a trend towards the module system in skill centres—in fact, in TOPS as a whole. This trend seems to have followed the wide acceptance of the Engineering Industrial Training Board's craft modules: I am sure the noble Lord opposite will know exactly what I mean. A by-product of this—not the least important of them—is the building of much more flexible attitudes towards demarcation of craft skills. This flexibility is being introduced where it really counts; that is, with the man who is actually to be doing the work. As EITB module users have found, the module manuals were almost as useful as job aids as they were for training per se.

I would urge the Government to emphasise this aspect wherever possible and to encourage the use of job aids. Of course if there is no work to be had in one skill and a spell in retraining is the only way for a person to offer a skill for which there is a demand, then that is what has to be. But it is only logical that the training period should be as short as possible consistent with the level of expertise required, and job aids should be introduced so that people can learn even while they are effectively producing. People want to work. I do not think that anybody really deludes themselves into thinking that training is an adequate substitute for actually doing a job. And I would warn any Government which tried the subterfuge of retraining just as a way of keeping people off the streets, that they would be on a hiding to nothing.

So what do we do if the work simply is not there?—which is the rhetorical base of the noble Lord's Question. The question raises issues which are not less fundamental than how a whole society orders its own affairs. Implicit in the phrasing of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, are enormous areas of social investigation. For instance, should we accept a large proportion of our adult population as unemployed not just for a short period but for ever? Will it one day be a privilege to work, not a right? Should we be planning now for some kind of Arcadian Britain or a barricaded society? No, my Lords; I feel safer with the smaller problem of whether to produce more waiters or more lathe operators, and in these days I should imagine that any Government would share that view.

8.6 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, I should like first to thank my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye for having put down this Unstarred Question and for giving this opportunity to the House for discussing what is undoubtedly the greatest social evil of our time. I only regret—with the noble Lord, Lord Soper—that there are so few of your Lordships here to discuss this extremely important question. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Balfour not only for having put down the Question but for dealing with the social and human consequences of unemployment in such a humane and understanding way. I think this has provided an excellent base for our discussion this evening.

Reference has been made to inflation and to the large numbers of unemployed who have existed throughout Western Europe in the last year or year and a half. What I find particularly distressing is that, even if inflation ends or is brought under reasonable control and unemployment declines in most of Western Europe, there are few signs of encouragement for thinking that the United Kingdom's position will improve sufficiently soon to reduce significantly the large numbers of those who are not able to find employment commensurate with their abilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has already touched on the point that it is generally recognised that structural adjustments and re-education in our industry are inevitable in the light of scientific and technological development, and also in order to change patterns in world trade and standards of living.

So increasing numbers of unemployed persons, ranging in age from 16 upwards, are now in our country. While recognising that not everything can be laid at the door of the Government, some factors cannot be overlooked. First, training policies are dependent on long-term employment policy related to future employment opportunities in this country and in other European Community Member-States. If the Government insist on interfering in industry and in the private sector, they must be held responsible for failure. For what jobs and opportunities are these unemployed being trained? The question must be asked: are millions of pounds being spent on training for jobs which may not exist in the future? There can be nothing more deceitful than to encourage an individual who is unemployed to go through a training course, when at the end of it he will still have no job. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has put some very relevant questions in detail to the Government on this matter.

Secondly, the individual stimulus needed to create new jobs in industry by the encouragement of investment is being stifled by the present economic and fiscal policies of the present Government. Thirdly, the trend of development of industrial societies appears to lead to an increase in service industries at the expense of productive industries; the comparative employment figures, of course, show this. Is this being taken into account in the kind of training programmes which are being undertaken under Government auspices?

Fourthly, I should like to ask one question of the Government, because this is very relevant to what has been published recently in the Press, and very relevant also to those who are unemployed or who may become unemployed in the near future. On what criteria is unemployment benefit being paid? Is it being denied to those who are refusing to become members of a trade union? It is a denial of human rights to have conditions imposed on the right to work, and, even more, it is a denial of human rights to be deprived of the right to unemployment benefit for which a person has contributed during his working life. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, will be able to answer this point. I have not previously submitted these questions to the noble Lord, so I shall quite understand if he is not able to answer them tonight. But I shall be very grateful if, at a later stage, I may have a written reply to them.

The Statement made on 24th September by the Leader of the House outlined measures to be taken by the Government, and further assistance in job creation is being given through agencies such as the European Social Fund. Perhaps we can be told how much is now being given and how many jobs will be created through that Fund, and also through the European Regional Development Fund. At some stage, perhaps we may hear how much the United Kingdom is to get from this new Fund and how many jobs will be created by application being made—because, as is well known, only if the Government make application to the Fund will the money be forthcoming. Therefore it is in the interests of the Government, and consequently of the country, that application should be made.

The spending of the massive sums which are being allocated for training and retraining raises questions which have been so rightly posed by my noble friend—whether they are for the benefit of the relief of unemployment, or for making tolerable the period of unemployment which a human being has to undergo. We know that there are certain factors in modern employment situations which have to be accepted. First, there is the necessity for greater mobility. The Employment Transfer Scheme, which I believe has approximately £3 million allocated to it, is available to help people transfer from one part of the country to another. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell us how many persons have been able to benefit from this scheme; whether they have gone to different parts of the United Kingdom, and whether they have found jobs when they have reached the places to which they have transferred.

Secondly, there is the need to adapt and to change jobs during one's lifetime—it is estimated at least three times now, in view of the developments in industry. Here I would ask the Government whether any plans are being made to encourage firms to allow workers time off in order to train or retrain for other jobs and to have better opportunities. As the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, may well know, in France it is obligatory for firms to allow their workforce a certain percentage of time off, in order to have the opportunity to train or retrain for other jobs, in the event of their having to change employment. This seems to me a very sensible and practical way of dealing with the ever-continuing change in the industrial system.

Thirdly—and I do not think anybody has raised this point tonight—the necessity for a solid basic education on which to build specialist knowledge should be much more emphasised. It must he asked whether the present educational system as given by the State is providing children who are literate and numerate. The question has to some extent been raised by my noble friend Lord Birdwood, who referred to the Litnum course under TOPS. But as must be seen by the figures of those who attend further education courses, there is a desperate need for children who have already left a full-time educational course to learn to read, write and count before they can undertake further training, or even have a possibility of getting a job.

Another point which I should like to raise with the Government—and I realise that this will mean considerable restructuring—is the question of earlier retirement. As our capital intensive form of society changes, people should at least have the option of being able to retire earlier. Would it not be better for a man of, say, 55, to be able to choose to retire and then turn to new interests, even on a voluntary basis, than for him to draw unemployment pay until he is 65? It seems to me an inhuman way of conducting our society if a man is not allowed to retire until it is time for him to draw the old age pension at 65. As the noble Lord will know, in other EEC Member-States this question of choice is now being seriously considered and is, I believe, available in one or two of them.

Also, I should like to ask the noble Lord, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about the preparation of sufficient young men and women with adequate scientific, technological and professional qualifications to fill the future needs of industry and commerce. The marked swing from productive industries towards the services, to which I have referred, will undoubtedly demand young people with new skills and abilities, and I should like to know what evidence the Government can give that they are taking steps along these lines.

Another point which has been of some concern to those of us who have been looking at the unemployment situation is the dreadful, immoral situation of young school leavers who have done 11 years at school, have passed their exams and have worked keenly, but who, when they are hoping to gain their financial and moral independence on leaving school, have found that they are not able to get any work in our modern society. I should like to know exactly how many school leavers are now unemployed, how many are employable and may have had one or two weeks' employment and have then become unemployed, and how many are now in full employment. By "young people" mean those between the ages of 16 and 18. There has been some variation in the figures, according to some of the statistics which have been published, because some have referred to those under 20 and those figures have not always included those between the ages of 16 and 18. I understand that the National Association of Career Officers places the figure of unemployed young at approximately 200,000. That may be an exaggeration—I do not know—but perhaps the noble Lord will be able to say something about that.

Undoubtedly, there will have to be a new attitude in education and this is a great responsibility for the Government who have to direct the way in which education should go. Basic training must enable people to adapt to different kinds of jobs throughout their lives, and the young must realise that diplomas are no more a passport to a job. They will have to learn that if they want to have a job when they leave school they may have to accept one which is not amenable or acceptable. If they are to become valuable members of society they will have to accept such jobs as are available, if they do not want to be unemployed and lead the intolerable life which I consider a curse of our society, as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, also said.

Finally, I should like to say a word about the job creation programme, because it is undoubtedly a most imaginative one. I certainly support and congratulate the Manpower Services Com- mission on the work it has done in this field, together with its two executive agencies—the Training Service Agency and the Employment Service Agency. This job creation programme makes it possible for the young to give, because it is based on voluntary effort and voluntary organisation. It has to be non-profit-making and for the betterment of the community. But there are one or two points which could be improved, and have had the benefit of the experience of Mr. Anthony Steen, a Member of another place, who is one of the founders of Task Force and has done a great deal of social work among the young, as well as being one of the initiators of a similar scheme in Canada about which there has been a certain amount of literature. I understand that £30 million has been allocated by the Manpower Services Commission to create 15,000 temporary jobs. We on this side of the House should like to know how many jobs have so far been created, and how much money they have cost. These are the kind of jobs of which money is not of the essence. It would be very much better not to spend up to £50 a week in wages to a young individual, and to have two jobs at, say, £25 each, which is roughly the equivalent of the unemployment benefit. When there are so many unemployed it seems to be a great waste to escalate the wage of one person at the expense of the benefit of another.

Other snags to the scheme were mentioned by Mr. Steen in another place on 24th November. First, a sponsor has to be paid to look after the young who form groups to do a job. It seems to be unnecessary that such a sponsor should have to be paid, and it reduces the amount of money that is available for the job itself. Secondly, the Manpower Services Commission pays only 10 per cent. towards the cost of the materials which are to be used in any job creation programme. To pay 10 per cent. towards the cost of the materials seems tome to be a rather stingy and bureaucratic approach. It would be very much better if the young were to be paid £25 a week, with the materials to be paid for fully by the Manpower Services Commission, than to make this distinction of paying only 10 per cent. towards their cost.

Anybody who has been connected with the social services knows that it is essential that the young should be able to co-operate and be given responsibility. We all know that if responsibility is given to the young they can take it and that it develops their imagination and stimulates them to do better. Therefore, in setting up job creation programmes may I ask not that the offices of an employment agency should be used but that advertisements should be placed in the shop windows of High Streets that these opportunities are available, and that a young unemployed boy or man should be put in charge, with a civil servant or whoever is responsible for the scheme, in order himself to take part in the running of his own affairs. This is much more stimulating and provides many more opportunities for the young at least to have a chance to do a service to the community and at the same time keep themselves occupied. As my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye so rightly said, it is important that the young should be occupied and have an opportunity to give their services to the community. If there are 3 million old age pensioners who are living in loneliness, could not some of these young people visit them and thus feel that they are contributing to society and being useful and appreciated?

May I refer to Task Force where there are only 60 staff, but 15,000 volunteers. Therefore, the proportion of staff to volunteers who are needed to run such a scheme is very small. In one year, these 15,000 volunteers made 90,000 visits to old age pensioners within Greater London and 1,000 rooms were decorated by them. These statistics do not cover the whole country but they are an indication of the satisfaction that the young obtain from helping others, particularly in their relationship with the old. May I therefore encourage the Government to look more closely at this scheme and adopt a more flexible approach so that the young may benefit.

Having said all this, I come back to the 1,250,000 unemployed. It is clear that there is no immediate solution to the problem. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has given us the opportunity of seeing what can be done to make life more tolerable and hopeful for these people. It now lies with the Government to provide this hope and opportunities for the unemployed to lead a decent life in our affluent society.

8.24 p.m.


My Lords, may I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for having raised this Question. In all my experience of this House I have never had to answer a questioner with whom I agreed so much. Like most of us, he is very greatly concerned at the loss in human values. This is the real problem with unemployment; it is not so much the loss in money terms as the loss in human values. I found that I agreed with almost everything that was said by the noble Lord.

The present level of unemployment is unacceptable to the Government but their actions are overridden by the need to contain inflation. As the House is aware, our policy is the curtailment of inflation to single figures by the end of 1976, which means that the resources available for this or any other project are very small. We believe that any reflation now in order to give immediate benefits would jeopardise our trading future and our employment prospects. In other words, there has to be a certain amount of suffering now if there is not to be suffering for a far greater length of time. In the use of the funds that are available for this purpose the Government have given very high priority to retraining. Most of it is being done through the Manpower Services Commission and their Training Opportunities Scheme has been greatly expanded. The number of people trained in 1972 was 30,000; in 1973 it was 40,000 in 1974 it was 45,000; in 1975 it is 60,000 and next year it is expected to be 80,000. In this expansion due consideration is given to what people want, but that cannot be the deciding factor. We must also have regard to the employment opportunities that will be available in the future. Due regard must be given to that, and a balanced decision taken.

I was asked how far facilities are available. In September 1975 we had waiting lists for certain kinds of training in the skill centres. For other kinds of training there were vacancies but in the skill centres as a whole there was 85 per cent. occupation. The House will be aware that 85 per cent. is a very high figure and shows that because of the present emergency the skill centres are being used to their fullest extent. In order that the Manpower Services Commission could carry out this retraining, an allocation of £80 million, spread over a period of two years, has been made but a substantial proportion of that sum has been reallocated by the Commission to the Industrial Training Boards for the purpose of encouraging apprenticeships and other forms of training for trades where we are, or are likely to be, short of skilled manpower. As a result of that action, we expect that 27,000 people will benefit by apprenticeships and other forms of training. The figure of 27,000 is in addition to the figures I gave for training by the Manpower Services Commission. Therefore, your Lordships will see that the Government are giving a very high priority to retraining.

I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, regarding some of the questions which she has raised. However, the question of a change of structure is not new; it has been with us for centuries. It involves great problems for the individual—not merely a loss of job but retraining for another job, a new place of work and sometimes an entirely new place in which to live. The attitude of the individual can be summed up in the general attitude to change. We all believe in change, but for other people, and I think that that sums up the general human attitude to change. That is why it is a difficult problem. That is why it is difficult to persuade people.

We accept that community service, recreation and education are important, but we believe that what the unemployed want above everything else is a job. Consequently, we have given fair priority to the finding of jobs. First, we had the temporary employment subsidy which is designed to minimise the number of temporary redundancies. When it was first announced in August of this year, it applied only to the assisted areas; now it applies to the whole country and it is expected that in 1976 60,000 will benefit by this scheme at a cost of £7.5 million. Then we have the school leavers recruitment scheme. It is expected that 35,000 will benefit from that scheme at a cost of £5 million. I was asked for the figures appertaining to the unemployment of school leavers. The figures that I have before me apply to 13th November 1975. At that date the number in round thousands of school leavers unemployed in Great Britain was 40,000 and this was a decrease of 24,000 on the previous month. In the United Kingdom it was 43.000 with a decrease of 25,000 on the previous month.

We have also the Employment Transfer Scheme to which further money has been allocated since the Budget. We believe that the present resources available would enable the transfer of 20,000 people who have another job to go to in another part of the country. Additional monies have also been allocated particularly to the construction industry. Your Lordships will be aware that recently a sum of £32 million was allocated, which will be used largely by local authorities and health authorities to create work in the construction industry in those places where the slump in the industry is at its greatest.

I come now to the job creation scheme. Under this scheme the Commission pays the wages cost of short-term projects which are of social value and which will employ people who would otherwise be unemployed. The sponsor may be a local authority or a voluntary organisation. The kind of work that is done is the clearing of derelict land and the creation of a recreation ground. That is a typical example of the kind of work that is done, although it varies considerably. The kind of scheme which is most likely to appeal to the Commission is one which is labour intensive and which offers some element of further education or a training opportunity within it. The rate that is paid is the rate for the job, with a maximum of £50 per week, and the sum which has been allocated is £30 million. It is expected that this will create 15,000 jobs up to March 1977. At the present moment 178 projects have been agreed and this creates 2,937 jobs. The scheme is not confined to development areas. Scheme projects in other parts of the country which fulfil the rules that I have mentioned would be considered. The response has been so great that the Manpower Services Commission has advised the Government that the money is far too little and that more money is required. At the present time the Government are considering this request but of course we shall have to bear in mind the overriding need to defeat inflation.

I must also refer to the very tiny community industry scheme. It is small but I think it is worth mentioning. This is a scheme which is designed to prepare for employment young people who find it difficult to get or to hold a job. Until this year there were only 2,000 places. The Government have provided a further 1,000 places, making a total of 3,000, because we believe that in periods of high unemployment the sector of the community which suffers most in the better times suffers even more in the harder times. I was asked about unemployment benefit with reference to not being a member of a trade union. I can only say that whether a person is entitled to unemployment benefit is not decided by the Government or the Secretary of State but by the National Insurance Commission, and we are content to leave it to the Commission to decide.

The Question goes on to ask about recreation and education. In education there has, of course, been an increase in grants for full-time education, and many local authorities are offering places in part-time courses for the unemployed at no fees at all or at a reduced fee, and the Government are encouraging this. One education authority in the North-East at its Further Education Centre is offering foundation courses for the unemployed—courses which have an element of vocational training and for which there are no fees and during which the unemployed continue to receive their normal benefit. We should like other education authorities, especially in areas of the same kind, to offer similar courses.

I must also remind the House that the education system is being greatly used in the training scheme which I have mentioned and which is undertaken by the Manpower Services Commission. In the present year, the Manpower Services Commission, in co-operation with the education authorities, is using 25,000 places in the Colleges of Further Education and the plans are at the moment to use 45,000 places in those colleges in 1976. The statutory and voluntary youth services are doing a good deal of work in the localities. I have before me a long list of the schemes, which vary considerably, but one scheme which stands out and which is being carried out by several of the authorities is what is called a "Dial-a-job" scheme. The youth ser- vices in touch with all employers and if they have a "one off" job they are asked to telephone. A register is kept of young people who are unemployed and the youth services guarantee to send them immediately people who can undertake the "one off" job. This is being done on a voluntary basis by the youth service.

On recreation it was found that during the three-day week early in 1974 the recreation facilities were not saturated as a result of people being out of work for part of the week. It was found that the recreation facilities which were often used wholly only at week-ends were being used to a far greater extent during the whole week, and that is what is happening now. The recreation facilities are getting fuller use and that is welcomed by the Government because it gives us a partial solution without any additional expenditure. Another pleasing feature is the way in which some local authorities are keeping their youth centres open during the day. Centres which were open only at night are being used during the day and the only cost involved is to have a leader or somebody there to keep control of the proceedings.

I would submit—and I hope I will have the agreement of the noble Lord—that the schemes which I have outlined, when taken together, are quite a substantial package, designed to concentrate limited resources in what we consider to be the most deserving and effective areas. My Lords, to those people whose questions I have not been able to answer, may I say that I will endeavour to give answers in full in writing.


My Lords, when answers are sent, may I ask that they be included in Hansard so that those people who are interested can see what the answers are? I always think it is rather a waste of time—


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness, Lady Ward of North Tyneside, she did not speak in the debate, and there is no right of reply even for the noble Lord. Therefore, I am afraid her question is out of order. But if the noble Baroness wishes, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, will see that she is sent a copy of the answers sent to other people.