HL Deb 21 November 1979 vol 403 cc196-248

6.25 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON rose to call attention to the need for a National Youth Service; and to move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, in introducing a short debate on the need for a National Youth Service I am only too aware that I have to cover a very wide area of concern in a very short time. A number of noble Lords have indicated their desire to speak, and I am anxious not to deny them the opportunity of taking part by taking too much time myself. If, therefore, I appear to be telegraphic or superficial in my presentation, it is because there is so much to say and so little time in which to say it.

We are witnessing the traumatic effect upon our society of the loss of our status as a nation as one of the great world powers. Most of us here were brought up with atlases in which a greater part of the world was coloured red and, as we imagined, belonged to us. Whether or not that was a justifiable state of affairs is beside the point. What we have to remember is that the British Empire was a focus of national pride and provided at every level of society opportunities for employment, for experience, for travel, and for service. Many of our ablest young people went into the Indian or Colonial Civil Service. Their Armed Services provided opportunity for adventure. Our Navy, Army and Air Force were the means by which our young folk went all over the world, met with other people of different nations and cultures, had a vision of service, created friendships, and inherited loyalties. It is easy, of course, to romance about these things. There was the other side of the coin, as we can now appreciate. Our status in the world often gave rise to arrogance, to paternalism of an undesirable kind, to long separations, to harsh conditions of life. But despite these things, our people found, through our status, a pride and satisfaction which enriched their lives.

In a bewilderingly short period of time all those opportunities have disappeared. They have been replaced by a sense of national purposelessness and insecurity. This malaise has been boosted by the growing fear of unemployment at every level of society, by anxiety about the future of a world bedevilled by inflation; to say nothing of the overriding possibility that our world may be utterly liquidated by means of destruction which man has devised. The first victims of this process are the young. It should be of no surprise that so many of them exhibit in their behaviour all the marks of a rootless society and a purposeless existence.

It is, my Lords, a solemn duty of Government to use every means in their power to arrest this trend and to ensure that opportunity is provided for young people to train and use their gifts in a way that will give them a sense of service and satisfaction. I am of course aware of the many efforts in a wide variety of fields to provide for the needs of young people. Indeed, in commenting on my Motion one noble Lord has remarked, "We already have a youth service ". Noble Lords will be aware of the work of the Manpower Services Commission, with its ancillary agencies to help young people to find training and employment. They will know of the opportunities provided by the Armed Services and by the many voluntary youth organisations. They will have heard of the many projects in different localities, such as that promoted by the Birkenhead Council for Voluntary Service, or here, in London, by ILEA. They will know of the work of the National Association of Youth Clubs, the National Youth Bureau, VSO, the Duke of Edinburgh Award, Community Services Volunteers, and the National Working Party of Youth Volunteer Organisers.

I have been greatly interested in the information I have received about the seminar which was held at the Royal United Services Institution in February 1971, which led to the conference at Ditchley in October of the same year. Out of that conference arose the Trident Trust, with its three-pronged objectives of work experience, community service and adventure-type training. This work continues mainly for those in their last year at school or for those who need its help in the year immediately after leaving school. So we should not in any way denigrate what is already being done; and we should be deeply grateful to that army of men and women who are devoting their thought and care to these problems, and in so many instances giving voluntary and self-sacrificing service themselves.

It is because there is this clear recognition of need and this admirable effort on so many fronts to meet it that one is aware that much more is required. Some of those efforts are, frankly, cosmetic. They are designed to remove the misery and dangers of unemployment. But so much is unco-ordinated and concerned only with its own affairs. I quote from one experienced youth leader: Do we have the imagination, in this country, to go one step further? The basis of a young people's community service agency exists in most areas—the current picture is of everyone going it alone ". In other words, these varied organisations and efforts need to be brought together in a recognisable entity, so that they can be seen and acknowledged by the nation as a whole as a way by which young people are given opportunity and encouragement to devote some part of their lives to the service of the community of which they are a part.

I believe that the time is right and ripe for leadership of this nature. We have come through the cynicism of the 'sixties, and there is a new sense of responsibility abroad in the land. Those who work among and with young people tell me that there is no lack of idealism, and that when they are presented with occasions for service, however demanding and unpleasant it may be, there is no shortage of volunteers. When they have done the job, they find a real satisfaction in what they have achieved. Now is the time for Government to give their encouragement for the creation of a national youth service which will, as a national effort, and not as a number of voluntary efforts, set before our young people the chance of finding a use for their gifts and a pride in their country and their service. For should we not be sensitive to the fact that Great Britain is the only West European nation which requires no service from its youth?

I do not minimise the problems or the scope which confront such leadership, but I believe it is essential that it should be undertaken now. It will need Government-sponsored study, but I trust we shall not use the examination of the issues as an excuse for doing nothing. I understand that a start could be made by asking the Royal United Services Institution, again, to undertake a pilot investigation.

In such a scheme there are three elements which I believe to be important. First, there must be the element of compulsion. I know that this is controversial. I agree that, ideally, we should rely on voluntary response. But if we are to instil in our young people the need and the satisfaction of service to the community, then all must be involved. The flaw in a purely voluntary service is that it does not involve those who need it most. In the debate in this House on the humble Address on 30th November 1976, almost three years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded the House that over the last 20 years or so only about one-third of teenagers had been attracted of their own accord to any organised leisure programme which had been provided for them, and that this figure had remained constant. He went on to say: These are facts which no initiatives by local authorities, no initiatives, many as they have been, by the voluntary youth organisations have succeeded in altering over the years."—[Official Report, 30/11/76, col. 220.] The noble Lord's eloquent plea on that occasion for stronger leadership in extending youth service programmes well deserves further consideration. As a very experienced worker in voluntary service has remarked to me, "Surely if community service is worthwhile for unemployed youngsters, it is equally worthwhile for the captains of industry and permanent secretaries of 20 years hence.".

Secondly, it must involve the requirement of residence for a period. There is no better way of breaking down barriers of social differences than by living together. For a few months during the war I served as chaplain at HMS "Collingwood", which at that time was giving initial naval training. Every week a hundred young men entered the gates. They were soon dressed in square rig and living together—boys from public schools, boys from the slums. Twelve weeks later they left, having profited greatly from having shared the same mess decks and the same training. The element of living together is essential, for community service means not only service to the community but service by a community.

Thirdly, it must be international. Though we no longer have imperial responsibilities, we all have greater and ever-growing responsibilities towards other nations, especially those poorer and less privileged than ourselves. Our own selfish affairs occupy far too great a proportion of our time and energy, and we must instil in our young people, as part of their training for their life's work, the vision of a world that is in great need materially and spiritually, a world of which we are all a constituent part, a world which needs our service. It is the duty of Government to ensure that opportunity is provided for fulfilling that duty of service.

In May 1978 the American Ambassador, Mr. Kingman Brewster, delivered 'a remarkable lecture at St. George's, Windsor, on the theme of power and responsibility. In it he expressed the view that the Welfare State, in response to the pressures of democracy, had come to stay. He called it the "Entitlement State ", because people no longer go to the State for help as suppliants; they regard that help as their right. If we are to avoid the dangers and pitfalls which such an attitude brings in its train, he said, then society needs to learn certain lessons and needs, not so much the "moral equivalent of war" as the "social equivalent of war"; and one of those lessons is the necessity to bridge what the Ambassador calls, the gloom of uselessness and the satisfaction of usefulness ". In other words, we have all to learn that the Welfare State is not all take and no give.

He went on: I urge the requirement of under-compensated, publicly-useful service for all men and women before they enter their lifetime careers ". He ended: I say the requirement of publicly-useful service should apply to all men and women in the conviction that no privilege, let alone the mere fact that you are otherwise engaged, should offer immunity from the obligation. The purpose is not just to cure ' youth unemployment ', although it would go a long way to do that. The purpose is not just to be able to afford adequate levels of social services, human and environmental care, without having to pay for it at market prices. The most fundamental purpose is to offer each generation a shared social experience of service in a common national cause without regard to birth, race or wealth ". In those words, the Ambassador sums up what I have in mind, and to those words I say, "Amen". My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, from these Benches may I welcome the initiative of the right reverend Prelate in putting down this Motion for debate on a subject which to me—and, I am sure, to most noble Lords—is one of transcendent importance in the present state of this country, the present high level of unemployment, particularly in urban areas, that we are suffering at the moment, and the feeling which the right reverend Prelate mentioned, of dissociation among so many young people.

I felt justified in speaking ill this debate for three reasons. First, when the right reverend Prelate was in Chester before being translated to London I had the privilege of working in a very minor way in the same field. I was chairman of the Birkenhead Council of Voluntary Service which he mentioned in the earlier part of his speech. Many of the initiatives which I hope to mention later that that particular body undertook under its secretary and present chairman are in line with that whe right reverend Prelate has said. Secondly, as long ago as 1969—and I am sure that this is not widely known in this House—there was a resolution carried at the annual assembly of the Liberal Party—and, unusually for that assembly, carried virtually unanimously—along very much the same lines. Thirdly, in a book written by David Steel before he became Leader of the Liberal Party he said, in what is a key passage in terms of this debate, the following words: There is surely a case for providing realistic grants all round irrespective of parental means in return for one year's national service. This could be, by choice, military training, voluntary service overseas, community work, nursing, or assistance to the police or prison service. All of these are crying out for manpower and it seems a reasonable return for the benefit of higher education ". Those are three good reasons why I should speak generally in support of the Motion that we are debating.

As the right reverend Prelate has said, in the days of our vast Empire—and I am old enough to remember when we were shown in school that nearly all the map was red; and what a good thing it was generally—and in an age which passed before that, an age of great industrial expansion, and an age of prosperity we have recently passed out of, there were plenty of challenges, plenty of opportunities and plenty of excitement for young people in the world and in this country. The right reverend Prelate quotes from the American Ambassador. I think of the words of a former great Secretary of State of the United States, Dean Acheson, who said: Britain has lost an Empire and failed to find a role ". Indeed, sadly, that aphorism is still true. Many of us hoped that Britain's involvement in Europe would provide that role. Although to many people this has been an opportunity, it has not provided quite the same kind of opportunity, certainly for young people, that the Empire and the general role of Britain in the world used to provide in an earlier period.

There are many people who will say—I sure that your Lordships will have heard it said—that what we want is a reintroduction of traditional National Service so that these chaps can get a "short hack and sides" and learn a bit of discipline. One very often hears this. I was one of those people who did the traditional two years' National Service and, although I went into it with trepidation, looking back on it, it was probably the two best years of my life—certainly a more enjoyable, a more exciting time than I had at school or at university or even in politics. One was away from home and that is a very important point. One had a certain element—very often, we thought, too great an element; a mindless element we sometimes called it—of discipline; but we learned self-reliance and adventure.

I suspect that such form of traditional National Service is neither practical nor desirable at this time, although it may be an appropriate and a suitable type of service, possibly on a three-year or four-year period, for some of the young people of this country. In the area where I live, we have the notorious Oak and Eldon Gardens, recently demolished 15-storey flats. The young people of Birkenhead used to swing on fire hoses from one 15-storey block to another, to the terror of their parents and to everyone. One old person said to me, "Those boys are the Commandos of 10 years from now." They are. They need this stimulus and excitement; and this is the thing they are not getting at the moment. For some young people, that kind of military service might be ideal and suit them down to the ground. I do not think it could be done on a basis of one or two year's National Service. Even in the period in the 1950s when I was doing National Service it was not popular with the professional soldiers and was regarded as a nuisance and wasted time and money.

Today we live in entirely different times, times of extremely high, totally unacceptable youth unemployment; and, for most of these unemployed young people, a time of very real personal, inward-looking concern whether they have a future at all. This is the really dreadful part of the present position. Young people in the 1960s at a time of prosperity, were willing to look outwards and to be concerned with Vietnam and so on. Now they are getting appreciably and obviously more inward-looking because their natural concern is to find out whether there is a future for them in this country or anywhere else in the world. It is vital, therefore, for the 16 to 18 year olds to be involved in creative, rewarding and interesting social and community work.

It is interesting that national opinion polls conducted over the last few years have shown—contrary to what I suspected was a widely-held opinion—that over 50 per cent. of young people world welcome an involvement of some kind in voluntary work after leaving school and before going to their first job or university; and that over 60 per cent. of young people of that age group would accept compulsion provided that their friends and mates also had to accept compulsions—in other words, provided that the compulsion was shared and not selective. This gives rather the lie to the concept that many people have that only the children of intellectual readers of the Guardian have a social conscience and a wish to look outside their own selfish interests. If between 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. are willing to do voluntary work this shows a very wide spread, throughout all classes, of young people who are willing to be involved, and a large number who are willing to accept (so long as it is shared) a form of convulsion.

In 1969 my party, at its annual assembly, passed a resolution which recognised, even then, the importance of the subject and the willingness of young people to do community work between school and their first job or further education. That resolution was passed overwhelmingly and had the distinguished support of such people as Peter Hain, who has since left us for other fields. The resolution proposed, first, to set up community responsibility courses while the boys and girls were still at school and co-ordinating courses for community work for boys and girls still at school so that they could go straight into this at some schools. Certainly the school to which my son and daughters go has that kind of basic concept already, but it is not true of all schools. Secondly, the resolution suggested one year of community work after school as a recognised option eligible for grant, keeping it on a voluntary basis. Thirdly, it suggested the setting up of regional community service centres to provide basic knowledge, training, tests for suitability for particular kinds of social work and for co-ordinating that work at a local level thereafter.

Although since 1969 the scene has changed, as I have said, with youth unemployment now at its highest level, many of those principles enunciated in that resolution are still applicable today. Since then there have been the changes in the job creation programme which has been established in this country. It is notable that such youth employment programmes have generally been most successful when they had been based on voluntary organisations at present in existence, such as Community Service volunteers. I hope that any future scheme which might result from this debate or further discussion will be based wherever possible in this country on existing voluntary organisations with the experience and knowledge to carry it out. I am in a difficulty because basically as a Liberal I am opposed to the concept of compulsion in voluntary work. It would be an enormous task if we were to introduce compulsory service because on any reasonable assessment at any particular time there are between 600,000 and 700,000 young people of the 16 to 18 age group. It would be an enormous task to require compulsory service from a number as large as that.

The second matter that concerns me is that if it were to be introduced compulsorily, the approach of many of the young people compelled into youth service might be coloured, and their attitude in their future life to helping in community organisations might be coloured by the fact that they were compelled to it at an early stage. In some ways, it rather smacks of the kind of compulsory national youth work that some of the Third World and Eastern European countries have in those areas, ones that I do not think are immediately acceptable to the British public. I think that it would be better if one could do it on a voluntary basis by providing grants during the period of service at a higher level than the social security benefit—or "dole" as it is widely called by young people of this generation. I should be willing to consider that if the kinds of problems that the right reverend Prelate mentioned occur, and people most in need of this service do not go in for it voluntarily with the incentives—the "carrots"—that I have suggested, then we might have to consider, after the matter has begun through voluntary organisations and on a voluntary basis, whether compulsion might not be the answer if it does not work in a substantial way on a voluntary basis. I agree entirely with the proposition that there should be a residential element in whatever scheme is introduced and an international, an overseas, element. I do not think there would be any dispute about that. That would be a vital part.

When one compares the schemes in this country with those in other parts of the world—perhaps in the United States, where one finds that young people act as front-line firemen, that young people act as assistant teachers in primary schools—one is brought up with a very sharp brake against the problems that we would have in doing that in this country. It would he a very useful development, but the problem is the one that the trade unions would make in that area because they would regard it as competition for jobs for the full-time workers in the social and other spheres, the fire service and so on.

One of the greatest tasks that we have to face is to persuade the trade unions to realise that this is not a means of obtaining cheap labour, but of helping the disadvantaged and people with a sense of hopelessness to get a sense of purpose and involvement and of doing things for which staff and money is not available from national or local government sources. All of us can think of so many ways in which jobs are not being done at present which could be fulfilled by young volunteers of this kind.

I am conscious of the time and, as the right reverend Prelate said, one could speak for a great length of time on this, and I should have liked to underline, if time had been available, the initiatives that we have taken in the Birkenhead Council of Voluntary Service. I will finish by saying that I think it is extremely important that this debate has been initiated. I only hope that after the debate has taken place there will be some action taken by Her Majesty's Government to start something along these lines. Anyone who is involved in inner urban areas, such as I am, and anyone who is involved almost anywhere in the community, must realise that we have a very serious and tragic problem on our hands with the levels of youth unemployment. I believe that some kind of system, whether voluntary or compulsory, along the lines of the Motion would do a great deal of good for the health of this country.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful, I am sure, to my noble and ecclesiastical friend for initiating this debate. Let me quickly say how ardently I concur with his appeal that there should be a comprehensive attempt to deal with this urgent problem. The haemorrhage of usefulness and happiness among youth is intolerable, and no one should underrate the traumatic effects upon the youth of any community when that youth is beset with so many of the problems of which we have already heard in some detail.

It is my belief that, before we can adequately treat this question, we must discriminate between the service which we render to youth in order that, in its turn, it may serve the community, and the claims that we make upon youth that they should undertake service, either voluntarily or compulsorily. I believe that the prior question is what we should now offer to youth in the various difficulties under which it suffers, and thereafter—as the right reverend Prelate has clearly said—expect from youth that kind of response which I agree is forthcoming when a sufficiently inviting and exciting prospect of co-operative effort is laid before the youth of today.

But I must confess I have immediate reservations when I find the contrast between what was supposed to be the British Empire of the past and the problems which stand in such clear contrast in the contemporary situation. I do not believe that at every level of society the youth, 50 or 60 years ago, had available to it the opportunities of service, the exciting prospects of an imperial future. It is my experience as a social worker that those who are very much older than I am have told me time and time again that this opportunity was largely confined to a comparatively small group in the community; and for the working classes—if one can regard them as a whole—nothing of this sort really prevailed. I do not feel that it will help very much to think nostalgically of the great days of the past—and many of them were bad old days. Neither do I believe that there is any future in the suggestion that we should compulsorily attempt to cure this problem by some kind of national service.

It is comparatively easy to construct a national service on the basis of military training. The objective is clear: whether is is reprehensible or desirable is another matter, but it is not complicated. The issue has an immediate appeal which at least can be translated in terms of flags and in terms of exhortation and has a reasonable place in the thinking of those who are not, as I am, a pacifist. But to think that we can somehow create a national service for youth without any of those compartments of training and preparation which were proper to military service is a false dawn, even in contemplation.

As I would so heartily agree with the last speaker, when you begin to examine what you would do in order to provide, as was said so very well in the penultimate passage, "the social equivalent of war", you are embarking upon a very different project from the specific preparation for young men to defend their country in martial arms. I think it is much more likely that we shall proceed by looking at the various kinds of youth need rather than endeavouring to provide an overall blanket answer to problems which are not only various but quite distinctive and, in many cases, cannot be confined in one general proposition.

I have no doubt that other speakers will say something about the intolerable situation of youth unemployment. I ask myself, I hope not sentimentally, what sort of person I would have been at the age of 18 or 20 if nobody wanted me, if I had very little skill to offer and no one was prepared to like the services that I could render as being worthwhile. I think the disintegration that almost inevitably would have accompanied that process in my life only adds to my admiration for those who, in similar circumstances today, do seem to get over it and to master it. Nevertheless, perhaps for many of them, and certainly for a large proportion of those who now leave school at 15 or 16 years of age, it seems to me that to incorporate a voluntary sort of training in the active education currently with some kind of oversight is not only splendidly exemplified in some of the voluntary organisations which now exist, but offers a means of escape from the treadmill of unwantedness "which so often corrupts and, it seems to me, is increasingly likely to corrupt the lives of young people.

For a great many youngsters the best kind of service that can be offered to them is the necessary equipment which will enable them later on to render an adequate service to the community in which they live. Therefore the schemes which are now voluntarily exercised in order to provide the opportunities of learning and of developing skills, whether they be mental or more physical skills, are surely a practical answer to the question: How do you expect youth to render service to the community in which it lives unless you provide the encouragement to facilitate the production of the skills by which that service can be rendered?

I think there is a place for compulsory service for the delinquent. I have a rooted objection to the whole concept of prison life, which I feel is futile and degrading; but I have no use for those who say, "Then let them go free". I realise there are others in your Lordships' House who are far more competent in this field than I am, but I have some little experience of it and I feel that compulsory service in the community for the delinquent is justifiable and part of the necessary reparation he should try to make to the community which he has ill-used.

I want, however, to speak a little about two other groups. One of them is the group of the youngster who opts out; and I think this is an increasing menace. I believe it was Arthur Koestler who said that, having made his excursions into the Far East and having discovered the wisdom of the East, he came back with the feeling that all he had really gained was the virtue of a gentle smile and a predilection for the patter of some kind of very obvious and unspecific morality. I find it very difficult to look with anything but intellectual contempt on the protestations of the Maharishi, who is not so much one who gently smiles as one who giggles, as far as I have watched him, and on those who run up and down Oxford Street crying out "Hari Krishna", and those who go in for a kind of transcendental meditation, because I believe that such concepts are intellectually practically worthless.

But I must be very careful not to blame those who suffer from this malaise, because I think I understand something of the way in which they have come to this attitude—to look into their own eyes, when they are more concerned to consult the optic nerve than to look out upon the world, which they find distasteful. It is a distasteful world for those who are suddenly confronted with the menace of armaments and with the almost insuperable problems which seem to confront all except those who are the strongest and sturdiest. It does not surprise me that many of these young people find in a retirement from the struggle and a compensation within the internal areas of their own thought and substance something which is at least an escape, and a not dishonourable one.

Youth can only be rescued from such an introspection by the provision of a community in which it can feel it can join a team, rather than continue in the isolation of what is called enlightened self-interest. Perhaps the greatest service that can be rendered to youth is to recapture that which the right reverend prelate has exemplified in one form in the traditional belief, shall we say? of a group, and the highest ambitions—and some of them were pretty high—of what we call the "colonialist and imperialist role" which Great Britain played. I do not subscribe to that but I do understand it, and I believe that to find some compensatory, or rather some kind of alternative, sense of community is perhaps finally the only way in which we shall serve the present age and in which we shall indeed recover the opportunity of youth, in general terms, to play its part in a regenerated society.

It is a question which obviously must tax the imagination and thought of all who ask themselves how it is going to be done. If I may, I would suggest to your Lordships that the value of a debate like this is that we appreciate the problem and that we, wisely I think, reject those methods which in the past have proved either unsatisfactory or totally futile. I therefore pin my hope to a resurgence of the sense of community, and in that sense of community I believe that the voluntary organisations will play an ever more predominant part.

I finish, wearing the collar that I do and making no excuse for saying this, by saying that we should not underrate the value of the Church as an institution which, quite apart from its worship, can provide the kind of stimulus to a sense of public responsibility. That is where I learned it—such as I have. It is within that fabric of general concern and the emergence and the stratification of moral values that I believe there is hope for youth today, which is aimless, in many cases has a great deal of opportunity for idle pleasure and in some cases far too much money and very little sense of what to do with it. It is in that central area of churchmanship that I would want to be included in the general voluntary system, and if my words are heard outside this Chamber I would earnestly invite my fellow clergymen to embark upon such programmes. They will find a very much more considerable response than perhaps they believe. They will find the power of that, if I may end with a quotation, from Wesley's hymn: How to serve the present age My calling to fulfil, Oh may I all my powers employ To do the Master's will ". That is still, in my judgment, the ultimate and final authority for the recovery of the youth of today and every youth of every age.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, may I first, along with other noble Lords who have spoken, thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing this very important debate, and may I say how extremely privileged I feel to be able to take part in it. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, will perhaps forgive me if I do not follow him entirely. I agree with so much of what he said. I would merely say that his eloquence and very deep sincerity, whether here in your Lordships' House or elsewhere such as in the media, I for one always admire tremendously.

As I understand it, we are talking about an age span of between 16—the normal school-leaving age—and 23. We are including both young men and young women. But it is necessary—at least, I found it necessary before attempting the subject—to see the measure of the problem in figures. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, mentioned a figure. As I understand it, the figure of young people leaving school every year at the age of 16 is upwards of 700,000 today, is likely to increase slightly during the years immediately ahead but is then likely to fall very substantially later in the 1980s. A point that I discovered, when deciding what I was going to say, was that of that number something like 75 per cent., or perhaps rather more, find employment within three or four months of leaving school. Therefore, one must assume that for the remainder there is a potential unemployment problem. What I want to talk about, which is really part of this debate, is not whether they are unemployed or employed but the whole lot of these young persons.

I am, of course, very well aware of the excellent work that the Manpower Services Commission are doing. The right reverend Prelate referred to various aspects of that and I shall not repeat what he said. Then there is the work of the great number of voluntary organisations, all doing magnificent work in one programme or another. As I see it, they seek to offer young people, many of whom are clearly bored with the schoolroom and yet cannot get work outside, some work experience, an introduction to a craft or skill, a better opportunity to choose what their career later on should be—and that, to my mind, is very important—a purpose in life and a feeling that they are needed and have something to give and that there is a worthwhile job for them to do and not merely one that has been mocked-up in order to keep them off the streets. All that is excellent and immensely worth while but, as I see it—and I hope I am right—the purpose of this Motion is to go rather further than that.

If I have any reservations at all about the work of the Manpower Services Commission and the voluntary organisations, they are not in any way related to the excellence of their programmes or to what they endeavour to do, but are about the possibility of their application over the country not always being equal and consistent. Bearing that in mind, it seems to me that with some kind of universal national service—I noted that the right reverend Prelate used the term "a recognisable entity", which is much the same thing—to which everyone would he liable, whether already employed or not, we should go a long way to evening out this inconsistency or haphazard nature. So one must ask oneself: what kind of national service should one go for, how long should it be and on what terms of remuneration?

National Service in the early post-second world war was for two years and was essentially military. My own feeling is that I would give individuals a fair choice of various options, as opposed to exemptions. They should have an option as to when they should do this service, because some would go to university and some would have other interests which they did not want interfered with. But unlike, possibly, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, I should put greater emphasis on military service. These options could well be built on the work of the Manpower Services Commission and the various voluntary services. They could include work in this country, as well as work overseas—VSO and so on.

But a very important consideration, which was hinted at in the reference which the right reverend Prelate made to the United States Ambassador's speech, is that the national service rate of remuneration, which might be lower than the going rate, however it was calculated, should be reasonably comparable with every other type of service rate, so that no one who opted for one type of service would feel that he was getting a better financial deal than he would get if he went into something else.

I now want to say a word about why I put greater emphasis on the military side. I am not unaware of the opportunities offered by the Territorial Army, both to the individual and to our national security. I say that, having served almost 25 years in the Territorial Army. But the Territorial Army of today is but a fraction of the size of the Army as envisaged in 1910 by Lord Haldane, or as it was when it was doubled in the 1930s. It is today better trained, better equipped and more professional, though I am sure, I hasten to add, no more enthusiastic than we were in the past. It has a different, more exacting and more immediate role and is certainly not for everyone. Therefore, while I realise it is there, I do not think it really contributes a great deal to the point I want to make now.

I believe that when young people leave school most of them are anxious to get away from the teacher-pupil, the "we" and "they", atmosphere. They want to be treated as equals, and that is more likely to be achieved when their immediate leaders and instructors are, as it were, almost of themselves; for example, the young NCO and the junior officer, who may be only a few years senior to them, with a very similar outlook on life.

Having said that, I am not suggesting that the older instructors of these people cannot gain the confidence and respect of the young. Undoubtedly they can. When they have what is obviously great craft, skill and experience and an aptitude for leadership, they can do that. But as a general rule, I believe that the young today are more likely to react to those who are not too much older than themselves and with much the same outlook. From that experience, I should hope that there would emerge a better understanding of what "leadership" means and, where latent, an aptitude which many of them can develop for themselves. This is important in regard to what they are going to do later on.

It is not insignificant, as I think a number in industry would agree, that junior management in industry—and leadership is, of course, an essential ingredient of good management—has tended to go down as the years of war and the years of National Service have receded. It is not without significance—I think this has been mentioned—that all our NATO allies, with the exception of Canada, the United States and Luxembourg, have a national service. Those countries—Germany, France, Italy—are among the most keen competitors with whom we in industry have to compete. That is not without significance. Again it is not without significance that I understand (this was hinted at by the United States Ambassador in the quotation) in the United States, where the draft ended with the ending of the Vietnam war, there seems to be a growing trend of thought in favour of what we are talking about today.

Of course, there would be many problems to be overcome. In the minds of many young people—but by no means all—and possibly also of their parents, there may be a suspicion, a dislike of the military. There may be fears that this year of service, if it were to be a year, would be lost to the learning of a craft. I suspect, however, that with modern, highly technical Armed Services, this need by no means be the case, provided that the standard of skill gained in the services could be recognised by and acceptable to industry, including the trade unions. This would be a very important point. Employers would undoubtedly need to rearrange their recruiting programmes.

Taking the problem as a whole, the introduction of any mandatory service where young people are liable for some sort of communal work, whether civilian or military, would of course, as other noble Lords have pointed out, demand an enormous, a massive piece of organisation and planning. It would take a long time and it would be costly, though I imagine there could be some immediate financial offsets. But as a long-term investment, both for the individual in his career, wherever that may take him, and for the country, it would I believe be vastly well worth while, and in the shorter term it would offer really valuable service.

I admit, as has been pointed out, that the circumstances are very different. The success that the late Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer had with National Servicemen in Malaysia indicates what is possible there. I hope, as do other noble Lords, that young people would do this service away from home where they would meet others from totally different backgrounds; where they would learn more of the outside world, much more than it is easy for them to learn either at home or in the sheltered atmosphere of the classroom; where they would find plenty of interest to learn, to work hard, and to play hard; where they could improve their personal standards of behaviour and bearing; where they would come to understand and accept the meaning of service as opposed to subservience; and where they would gain that degree of self-confidence, self-discipline and self-respect which is so needed but which is not always apparent in some of the youth today. I very much hope that this debate will sow the seeds for much greater thought—and urgent thought—on this difficult, complex, but exceedingly important subject, and again I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate for having introduced it for debate.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to do rather more than indulge in the very pleasant convention in your Lordships' House of thanking the right reverend Prelate for putting down this Motion. Without further ado, I enthusiastically declare myself to be his ally in supporting the principle of the proposal—we may disagree about the details—which he has put before your Lordships' House. Indeed, I should like to reverse our positions—and the right reverend Prelate has encouraged me to do so—by saying how delighted I am to find that he is my ally. That will sound pretentious, so I ask his pardon for that. But it is a fact that I have said much the same thing on many occasions both inside and outside your Lordships' House. The right reverend Prelate referred to the debate on the Address in November 1976; and as recently as last July, in a debate on juvenile delinquency, I made the same kind of proposals. In agreeing with one ecclesiastical speaker I have, in a sense, to disagree with the other, but I think that I really am not disagreeing with him. This is the difference between the ideal and the pragmatic, and I come down in favour of the latter.

I am only one of many of your Lordships, and many other people of an older generation, who regrets that in terminating the total obligation of young men to do military National Service a golden opportunity was missed to establish the ethic of service to the community as a permanent and general feature of our national life—as basic and natural as a statutory obligation to attend school. The value of military National Service can be disputed. Indeed it was disputed at the time by professional Servicemen, and I was one of them. The noble Lord. Lord Evans of Claughton, has thrown doubts upon its strict value to our national defence.

Nor was military service an ideal arrangement for young men at that time. It made an awkward gap between their leaving school at 15 and their call-up at 18. It was partly to compensate for that gap that the Duke of Edinburgh introduced his Award Scheme in 1956. But what cannot be denied by anybody, I think, were its beneficial effects in helping young men to grow up, to gain in maturity and confidence, to acquire a sense of belonging to a wider community and, however subconsciously, to feel an awareness of a wider purpose in life than their own personal interests. To have some part and responsibility in that purpose was something that military National Service did for the majority of young men of those times.

It is this sense of responsibility which I believe we are so lamentably failing to impart to very many young people today. Our democracy is very strong on individual rights and personal liberties. It is very weak indeed on any sense of individual responsibility for any other person, or people, than "No. 1". Responsibility, I believe, is of vital importance to our youth, to their future and, one could say, to the very survival of our concept of democracy. This fact has been brought into sharp focus by the attainment of full rights of citizenship and the vote at the age of 18. However, there are several straws of change in the wind which lead me to believe now in the possibility, as the right reverend Prelate and others seem to believe also, of a radical and positive change in direction along the lines which the right reverend Prelate put before us.

Many of your Lordships can bear witness—indeed, some previous speakers have already referred to it, including the opener of the debate—to the positive response of youth to purposeful work when they are in structured situations and when called upon to do it, irrespective of background—and, in many cases, despite disadvantaged social circumstances.

Of course, there are some youth organisations which have received very proper praise in this debate. The fighting Services provide proof of that. But much more relevant to our theme today is the success which the noble Lord, Lord Soper, implied; namely, the success of community service orders fulfilled, as they have been, to the tune of at least 80 per cent. regularly spread throughout the country, by young people under 25 who, let us remember, comprise 76 per cent. of the total number of people on whom those orders are served by the courts. The most recent figure that I saw was in the 12 months which ended on 1st April last year, during which period 13,000 such orders were completed. I would say that it is a reasonable guess that in the 21 months that have elapsed since then a further 20,000 have fulfilled those orders successfully.

More important than that is the growing public concern about the ever rising incidence of hooliganism and vandalism and the failure to check this. And to check it by punitive measures alone will continue to be a failure. All these factors taken together lead me to believe that the time may be politically right—it is in my view overdue—to extend the existing obligations of schooling in a new direction and in a dynamic new sense. In almost every debate in your Lordships' House reference is made to the far-sighted measure, the Butler Education Act of 1944. One of its recommendations was that there should be an obligation on all young people to continue with a limited course of further education up to the age of 18. In that report the establishment of adult colleges was seen as a means to that end. I believe that the wisdom of that principle is as valid today as it was then, but the means and the nature of the obligation need now to be reconsidered.

My Lords, I believe that the concept today—and here I differ in degree from the right reverend Prelate and indeed from the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and others who have advocated this—is that there should be a much more limited commitment to be fulfilled during the period of two years after the majority leave school, up to the age of 18. It should be presented not as further education, not in any sense as schooling, but as an induction to citizen status. It would take the form of some work of value to the community, normally (but by no means necessarily) in their own neighbourhood, in their own time or in time made available by their employers, if they are in a job, by day release or, for a minority, block release schemes or in other working time.

The point is that there could he an option to do something more demanding away from home, in the fighting Services if they so wish, but that should be an option for which they could volunteer. I am talking about a minimum commitment. For some young people who are already resentful and frustrated about being kept on at school until 16 and for no good purpose, I see no reason why their induction to citizenship should not begin by their being released during their last year at school.

I note sympathetically the view taken that there should be an element of residential training as a requirement. I agree with that in principle, but I believe that here is a case where the best could be the enemy of the good because of the enormity of the problem. In my view, the essential feature of the obligation is that it should not be detrimental to the child, nor to further studies. As the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, pointed out, there would be many difficulties; it would involve considerable cost, but I firmly believe that part of that cost would be offset against less expenditure on commitals to remand homes, to detention centres, to borstals and to our prisons. And let us not forget the cost of the damage and the disburbance which preceded and led to that form of punishment.

I do not believe the problems would be insuperable if there were the political will. I believe the cost and the problems to be a price worth paying for the prospect of changing attitudes and for a new spirit in our nation. It would call for a great deal of co-operation within each community and not least from the voluntary youth organisations and other special service bodies; but that community involvement and the responsibility within the community for making this scheme work would, in my view, be one of its greatest values. There are already some examples which give grounds for hope that it might be forthcoming.

I see this proposal, as others of your Lordships do, as part and parcel of facing up to the stark prospect of fewer jobs, shorter working hours, shorter working weeks and fewer months working in the year for a great many people, and especially for school-leavers, with advancing technology, more spare time and the problem of how to cope with it and profit by it satisfactorily and not to be demoralised by it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, made the point that real satisfaction depends—and he did not put the negatives—not simply on being entertained, watching sport, attending discotheques, gambling, let alone anti-social "aggro". It does depend on there being in every person's life an element of personal challenge, a sense of mattering and a sense of caring. I believe that all these vital ingredients for human satisfaction could be introduced into the lives of all young people and not be acquired only by those who are motivated to volunteer in one of the many ways that have been referred to in this debate. There is the real prospect that National Service by youth for the community on this minimum limited commitment basis, extended as a final step to becoming full-fledged citizens, could meet this need. I believe the hour calls for a challenge to youth, and to supply this challenge is the challenge to us all.

My Lords, I am sorry to end on a slightly different note, but I have to apologise to the right reverend Prelate for already being a little late for an appointment which I had undertaken before I knew that he was tabling this Motion. I shall not be here to listen to his reply so I have not put any questions to the Minister, to whom I should also like to apologise, but I hope he will feel able to respond sympathetically to the almost unanimous views expressed this evening on the right reverend Prelate's Motion.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I should like to ask him a brief question. I have the most enormous respect for the noble Lord who has just spoken, and I am not against or for National Service for any short period; but is not this a great evasion of the fundamental problem, which is not enough work, not enough employment for young people?


My Lords, I would entirely agree with my noble friend Lady Gaitskell that this is precisely so, but I also believe the harsh probability of life is that that lack of work is something that will be with us, if not for ever, for a very long time.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, what my right reverend kinsman has so eloquently said in opening this debate will, I think, carry conviction with a great number of people who have the welfare of the nation at heart. It is an excellent thing—and I am sure we would all agree—that he has brought it to our attention at this rather critical moment in our national affairs. But even if all his arguments are accepted in principle—as I believe they should be—everything will, in practice, depend on what results from an expert examination of the subject which he very properly suggests might be undertaken under the auspices of the Government by the Royal United Services Institute.

Whatever the conclusions of such an investigation may be, it remains true, as the right reverend Prelate has himself observed, that in any viable scheme for youth service involving all young men there must be an element of compulsion and an element of residence. I know that my noble friend Lord Evans of Claughton, who knows more about this than I do, is rather doubtful about the element of compulsion, at any rate at the beginning of any scheme. But I do not see how, if you are going to have a youth service involving the entire nation, that can be disputed. But if it is accepted, it follows that if all those eligible are to be called up—for I suppose a compulsory scheme could not possibly be selective—it must (a) be on a very large scale, and (b) involve, presumably, provision for barracks, camps and suitable staff to maintain them. So it would obviously entail expenditure of a very considerable sum of money, which I think is recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, though we can, I suppose, imagine that there might on balance be some saving on unemployment benefits during its operation and also there could be economies owing to the closing down of certain institutions that would be necessary if this scheme were in operation. Naturally, insofar as the service resulted in any useful work being done in the ecological and social spheres, as I am sure it would, it would involve in effect a very considerable national saving.

This must be a contentious point; but if this is not contrary to our sex discrimination laws, I believe there is a case for this service being limited to males, young women being, as I think, more properly restricted to voluntary schemes working in some way in association with the compulsory project. Alternatively, it would be necessary, I suppose, to provide for camps and barracks for young unmarried women between 18 and 20, which might in addition have certain disadvantages. In any case, it would more than double the cost.

All this, of course, requires a great deal of thought and work, and I repeat that in my view it should now be undertaken by the Government. Much of our present discontent—and I think this is recognised by almost all noble Lords who have spoken—arises from the fact that young men do not at an early stage in their lives get an opportunity for working together and thereby acquiring habits of discipline and self-control. I was for six months in a training camp as far back as 1918 and it did me a power of good, setting me up physically, and I think even mentally, for my subsequent career.

This brings me, not unnaturally, on to the question of national service of a military nature, from which I rather doubt that any scheme for youth service can altogether be dissociated. But in saying what follows I would emphasise that I am speaking entirely personally, the more official Liberal view having already been expressed by my noble friend Lord Evans of Claughton, who has recently been in touch with Liberal thought in various spheres on this subject. As I see it, any reversion to conscription, which was abolished I believe (and I believe Lord Hunt believes) for no very good purpose in, was it? 1957—anyway a long time ago—is usually opposed on the grounds, first, that the Services do not want it; then that it would be expensive; that in modern conditions—more particularly in the awful event of a nuclear war—it would be useless; that it would in any case encourage a militaristic attitude in our young men, who ought rather to be brought up to believe that any war would necessarily be disastrous.

Of these objections, the first—that is, the fact that the Services do not like it—may indeed be valid so far as it goes. It probably is. If enough volunteers can be assured, the Services may be better off with only professionals, at least on the assumption that there is a short war. That is a big if, but there it is. But the other arguments are obviously less compelling. Admittedly, the question of cost is a real one, but if on social grounds the case for some kind of national service can be made out—and I believe it has been very well made out by the right reverend Prelate—then we ought surely to accept it, more especially as there might be compensating advantages and economies from putting it into effect. Masses of young men hanging about with nothing to do during the formative years—I am afraid I rather agree with what Lord Hunt said in reply to Lady Gaitskell that, unfortunately, unemployment on a considerable scale may be with us, whether we like it or not, for a considerable number of years—might well in the long run he even more expensive.

Would some form of military national service, however, be useless as an exercise? Well, on the assumption that there is no likelihood of war, certainly it would be so. But that is an assumption that, unfortunately, very few of us can safely make. For the pacifist reason that all use of force by the state is wrong, again certainly. But then only a few of us are pacifists in that sense. On the assumption that the next war, if it comes, must inevitably be nuclear, certainly also, there would be no point in having any service whatever. But it is becoming increasingly possible, and I only say possible, that the next war, if it ever should happen, will not be waged with nuclear weapons. So apart from encouraging millitarism, which could perhaps be set against some diminution in terrorism if you have military national service, the main objection to any form of compulsory military national service, other than the present views of the Chiefs of Staff, is that it would be of no use even if the event of a so-called "conventional" war.

This is an argument which I think it is difficult to sustain. The existence, for instance, of some body of men who could be—this is rather a new idea—instantly available to protect our cities against attack by paratroopers, who would be very vulnerable if assaulted before they had time to deploy, might be an element calculated to fortify the conventional defence of these islands to a considerable extent, and therefore, in theory, would obviously raise the famous nuclear "threshold". I believe that there might even be enthusiasm behind the creation of such a corps as this.

It might in effect be a sort of Home Guard, but a Home Guard formed on modern lines, given some instruction in how to handle modern weapons, and no doubt in practice representing an extension of the present TAVR, the Territorial Army; that is, making use for training purposes of ex-regular officers, or anyhow ex-officers. It would not seem to require any provision for barracks, and therefore should not be terribly expensive. There would, presumably, have to be depots for arms and transport, and there would, of course, have to be occasional exercises. But why not? We live in a dangerous age quite different from those times which prevailed only a short time ago, and I think we ought to consider all ways of meeting what might be a real emergency.

So I suggest that if the Government do respond, and I hope they will, to the right reverend Prelate's suggestion that there should now be an inquiry into the possible establishment of a youth service on the broad lines that he indicated, they should also agree to consider some form of military service, perhaps on completely new lines.

If the Service objections could be overcome there might therefore be no fewer—I throw this in as an idea—than five options open to young men of, say, 18 to 20, as follows. A small, or very small, quota might be available for each of the Services—Army, Navy and Air Force. A much larger contingent could be taken in hand by the TAVR for training as Home Guards in the defence of our cities. And, subject to physical requirements, the great bulk of the 350,000 young men called up would be in the youth service which would also be open to all those who, on genuine religious grounds, of course, refuse to hear arms in any circumstance whatever.

I merely throw out these suggestions as matters for consideration. Some may well be thought to be impracticable, though I do not believe that they will be held as such to be undesirable. We live in times when we must, if possible, try to reorganise our entire society so as to meet both an economic and a physical challenge. Otherwise, like so many ex-empires in the past, we may plunge into some irreversible decline.

Nor is there anything either immoral or undemocratic about obligatory national military service. On the contrary, I believe that it responds to deep national instincts, and that its reinstallation on entirely modern lines, more particularly if it were associated with a large civilian youth force concentrating on such things as river cleansing, afforestation, and more generally on cleaning up the devastation caused by the industrial revolution, might have a profound effect for good on further industrial production and on economic performance generally.

Nor need it be a party matter. Whether we believe in free enterprise or in some kind of socialism, national service might well appear to he advantageous in itself. It is no longer in any case a question of subjecting young men to a lot of very boring drill: any new imaginative scheme would be likely to be popular, and in any case infinitely preferable to loafing about street corners and becoming a victim to drink or drugs.

About 150 years ago the French poet Alfred de Vigny wrote an excellent book called Servitude et Grandeur Militaires. I believe it is about time that we got round to encouraging such feelings. It is true that, towards the end of his life, I believe de Vigny also observed that "seul le silence est grand ". So, having launched those few ideas I feel that it is high time for me to sit down and to listen to what other noble Lords with much greater practical knowledge than I possess have to say on the subject.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that, in the unfortunate case of this country being attacked by nuclear weapons, a trained force might be extremely useful in helping to clear up what would be, I know, an intolerable mess? Trained personnel might help. Does he agree with that point of view?


My Lords, I fear I cannot agree with the noble Viscount. I think that if there were a serious nuclear war we would all be in the next world and it would not really be relevant.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, may I join with other noble Lords in thanking the right reverend Prelate for initiating this very timely debate. Youth needs helping and it needs encouraging to do something useful which will exercise both body and mind. Some get into trouble because they are bored; some get into trouble because there is no discipline or example in the home; and some get into trouble because there is difficulty in getting suitable and satisfying employment. Therefore, I believe that a period of some kind of obligatory, possibly voluntary national service, would help them to grow up and realise that our Welfare State is there to help those in genuine need and is not there just to be used to see what can be got out of it. There are so many gaps to be filled—with real job satisfaction—that volunteers can do and which young people are so very good at.

In some countries, for example, Egypt and Spain, which have compulsory military service, young people are allowed to volunteer to do work for voluntary societies and to do community work instead of military service. The right reverend Prelate drew our attention to the type of world that our young people are growing up in today—the worry on unemployment, the ghastly possibilities of nuclear destruction, and I would add the increasing number of accidents and worldwide disasters.

That reminds me and brings me back to a couple of years ago when the Ministry of Health and Social Security issued two circulars. One concerned the preparation and organisation of the Health Service in war, and the other the Health Service arrangements for dealing with major accidents. In both of those the voluntary organisations, that is, St. John and the Red Cross—and I must declare my interest as a member of the British Red Cross Society—are responsible for first aid posts in war and emergency help in hospitals in disasters. We in the Red Cross are already, throughout the country, training the public in both basic first aid and nursing, so that people can cope for themsevles and do not always have to look to other people for help. We are also doing that in schools and for other youth organisations. A great many young people help and learn how to be part of a team. Surely that type of training, and how to manage and look after handicapped people of all ages, is something that ought to be included in a young people's year of service.

I agree that national service, whatever form it takes, should be compulsory otherwise those who really need it probably would opt out. It is quite interesting that we in the Red Cross have found that young people who have not done very well at school and who have decided not to continue their education and go on to the sixth form, when given the opportunities to help with handicapped children both in clubs and residential camps, have done splendidly and shown a great sense of responsibility.

Although I urge that community service is an extremely important part, I also think that national service should start with some really energetic form of training, like Outward Bound courses; the reclaiming of land; the clearing of canals, joining the army cadets or sea cadets and so on, so that young people can get used to discipline and also working in a team, one with another. I should also like to include that they be given the opportunity of a variety of activities according to their skills and inclinations so that they can even at this stage in their national service have job satisfaction. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the Motion of the right reverend Prelate.

7.59 p.m.


My Lords, I too should like to thank the right reverend Prelate for this debate. However, I cannot help comparing and contrasting it with the youth debates of yesteryear. I took part in my first one some 20 years ago when we used to have annual debates on youth. At that time I was in my thirties and spoke because I was directly running a number of youth clubs. It is sad that we have not had that element here today in this debate. There must be a number of your Lordships of that generation or vintage who could have contributed that sort of experience.

Another contrast is that 20 years ago in each debate we heard of some new, bold, private initiative like Voluntary Service Overseas, Community Service Volunteers or the Youth Volunteer Force, being formed and providing opportunities on a private and voluntary basis for some of our best-motivated young people to make the best use of their transitional year between school and work. It seems to me that the context and the climate is totally different. Now, alas, the transition for far too many of our young people is a transition from out-of-school to out-of-work directly. I believe that it is this tragically large number of people, amounting to something like a quarter of a million at each annual peak in September, who deserve our attention.

I should like to follow the noble Lords, Lord Evans of Claughton and Lord Soper, in concentrating my remarks upon those young people. In doing so, I should like to declare my current interest. I am chairman of Task Force North, a charity formed some four or five years ago, which by now has gained five years' experience working in co-operation with the Manpower Services Commission's Special Programmes—first, the Job Creation Programme and latterly the Youth Opportunities Programme in the North of England. During this time, some 5,000 young people have passed through our hands and I hope have, to some extent, benefited themselves and the environment and the community in which we have deployed them.

The Motion of the right reverend Prelate calls for a National Youth Service. I submit that in the Manpower Services Commission's Special Programmes we have one. Personally, I should not like to see nationalisation in this area taken very much further. Here, in these programmes—and in the Youth Opportunities Programme in particular—we have something which has been centrally designed and which is centrally funded, but which I believe is very properly locally administered and locally implemented, with a diversity of patterns very positively encouraged. I believe that this is the right approach. In this way, the programme serves a diversity of needs and provides a diversity of opportunities according to the areas in which it is being implemented.

I believe that it is more on the local scene that youthful energies, passions, pride and concern can best be harnessed and focused. Such at least is our recent experience with those young people over the last four years. Like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I believe that it is something of an illusion to think that more than a very small minority of our people ever were or ever could be deployed on voluntary service overseas. We are dealing with a quarter of a million of our young people who go straight out-of-school to out-of-work and to be realistic the opportunity of service for them has to be provided near at home. If we are to concentrate—as I believe we should—on this "out-of-school"/" out-of-work "group of young people, I believe that the Manpower Services Commission's Special Programmes offer the best national and the best local framework available in which to offer those young people help and in which to give them a chance to help others.

I believe that to provide a standard, universal, countrywide framework for public service by young people—whether or not they have been able to find proper work and whether or not they want to do it—is unrealistic and would be wasteful of our resources, which are not at present all that extensive. So I return to the view that the Special Programmes of the Manpower Services Commission are probably the best framework yet devised for the young people who are hardest hit at the present time. I speak in particular of the Youth Opportunities Programme.

Although this is the best we have at the moment, two things need to be done. The first is to consolidate those programmes and I shall say why in a moment; then we must go on and develop and make the most of the framework we have got. We need to consolidate because over the past four years the Special Programmes have consisted of the Job Creation Programme which, looking back, was not particularly well thought out. There was more money available than people really knew what to do with and the whole thing was put together in an ad hoc and rather hasty way.

The existing Special Programmes are a great advance. The Youth Opportunities Programme is full of promise. But that was devised only in 1977; it was launched in April 1978 and was not fully implemented until September 1978, barely a year ago. We have only now received the first review for a whole year—it was published last July. By that time the Government had changed; the policies of the Government had changed, and the whole Manpower Services Commission had had to look at its policies again. We have only recently reached a position where the new Government have agreed with the Manpower Services Commission to maintain the Youth Opportunities Programme and the STEP Programme but to confine them and concentrate them on a smaller area. This means that those new programmes have barely had time to work out satisfactorily and the new policies and financial constraints applied by the new Government have yet to be absorbed and applied. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that these programmes give good value. They are concentrated on where the help is most needed and they can be used to valuable effect on the environment and the communities where they are used.

However, before long it will be possible to think in terms of developing and making more of this framework. I would suggest that there are four aspects at which we need to look. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate is correct when he emphasises the value of a residential element in service by young people. I do not think that it is financially practicable to base the whole of a young person's service under the Youth Opportunities Programme on a residential basis. It is quite a lot more expensive than are the programmes where the young person works from his home, but it is highly desirable to introduce as an element for part of the time. I would hope that we would all strive to ensure that that is done to the extent that finance is available for it.

The second aspect is to consider the balance between environmental projects and social service projects. This quarter of a million young people, for whom the Youth Opportunities Programme is provided, are between the ages of 16 and 18. Not all of those young people have their skill in personal relationships sufficiently developed when they come into the programme to be able to carry out social service among, for instance, old people effectively and reliably. If that is to he done at all, it must be done reliably. I believe that for a very considerable number of them, probably a majority, an environmental project—where they are working in a team of 10 or 12 people, well supervised by good managers, with something constructive to show at the end of it—is more the mark for most of them. It is just as possible to develop a sense of civic pride and team spirit on an environmental project as it is on a social one. There is that balance to think about and get right.

Thirdly, there are all the things that can be done—and there are many—to use the opportunity of the months spent in the Youth Opportunities Programme to develop a sense of job satisfaction, to develop a sense of team spirit, to develop a sense of community spirit, of working for the community and also—and this has not been mentioned in the debate—to develop a sense of enterprise. It is most important that as many of our young people as possible should leave school and, when they do get work, look at everything they do with a sense of enterprise. The more young people we can generate through these programmes with a sense of enterprise, the better it will be for all of us. I do not believe that that can be done by compulsion. I do not believe that it is practical to have compulsion because, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, said, compulsion would be accepted only if it is universal. It is not regarded as fair if compulsion is applied to some people and not to others, and I do not believe that a universal programme is possible. Nor do I believe that a wholly voluntary service is possible in the sense of this extra effort being obtainable for no extra pay. There is quite considerable difficulty in a number of areas in recruiting people on to the Youth Opportunities Programme with the allowances as they are.

What I think needs to be studied in place of compulsion to provide some encouragement and incentive is the possibility of differential supplementary benefits. It might be possible—I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say when he answers this debate on this point—to devise a supplementary benefit on the present basis for all those people who have good reason for not taking up work that is available to them; those people whose needs are genuine, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, said: to have another rate of benefit slightly lower for those capable of doing work, with no good reason for not doing work, and not willing to take up an opportunity of work that was offered to them; and a higher rate of benefit for those who come into a Youth Opportunities Programme and do work which is of benefit to the community and to the environment around them.

I think this may be possible, though I can see that there are enormous difficulties in introducing it, as a way of providing some incentive to come into the Youth Opportunities Programme, gain its benefits and make a contribution to your community and to your environment in the process. I look forward very much to hearing from my noble friend Lord Bellwin how the mind of Her Majesty's Government is moving in this area of the development of the Special Programmes. I look forward to putting our experience over the past four years at their disposal if it is of any value to Her Majesty's Government.

8.12 p.m.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate for raising this matter today. I am sure every one of us feels that the present tragic unemployment position is at its worst where the young are involved. I was saddened the other day when talking to a friend who goes to teach at Gaynes Hall borstal. She said that she had been talking to two young blacks who were about to be released and they were in despair about what they were going to find when they went back home.

We have to look at what is happening today in the light of the cuts in local authority expenditure. The Secretary of State may say that he does not intend there to be cuts in the youth service. Speaking of expenditure plans for 1980–81 he said: I can tell you now that in drawing them up we did not assume any reductions in local authority spending on the youth service ". Mr. MacFarlane said the same in the debate on the Youth and Community Bill the other day.

But alas, local authorities, in complying with the Government's request for economies in public expenditure, are intending to make cuts. Evidence is coming in from a number of authorities already. The Secretary of State may say: that investment in local voluntary organisations yields a large bonus in the sense of unleashing a store of voluntary effort. If support is withdrawn, that effort is lost. I think it would be a great pity if voluntary organisations were made a prime target of expenditure reductions ". But local authority investment in voluntary organisations may just have to be cut if heavy pressure is brought to bear on the authorities to keep rates and expenditure down. Cannot the Government relate one thing to another? Their pretence that they are unaware of the consequences that are bound to follow their actions strikes me as downright dishonest.

In addition, voluntary organisations all over the country are often inadequately funded—no money for a mature experienced worker to keep continuity. Good schemes are at risk. Jane Bailey speaking of Chesterfield Task Force at a Youth Affairs Lobby meeting last November, said: It seems to me there is a tremendous irony about a situation where an agency such as ours which has been in existence for 10 years is threatened by the local authority with cuts in grant aid, and asked to reduce its team from four to three field workers. while at the same time large sums of money are being poured into community service within the Youth Opportunities Programme ". So here is the scene: More young people unemployed than for a very long time; less money available both in helping them to acquire education, work experience and training, and in helping them to help others in even less fortunate circumstances. It is well known that anyone helping those less fortunate than themselves is given a tremendous boost of self-confidence: borstal boys caring for crippled or mentally handicapped children, for instance.

We have no Minister for Youth. We have a Minister for Sport, and we have six departments responsible for young people. Co-ordination is desperately needed, as the right reverend Prelate said. Shifting my ground a little, but not I hope very far, co-ordination is desperately needed in dealing with the education of young people—the 16 to 19-year olds. I tried hard during my time on Cambridgeshire Education Committee to get a coherent, comprehensive scheme going for that age group. But one is up against Burnham, school regulations, FE regulations, different rates of pay and conditions of service for further education and schools.

In the magazine Education on 9th November, in an excellent article headed "Too Many Cooks in the 16–19 Broth ", Fred Janes, Principal of the Yeovil Tertiary College says: As a nation we are slowly recognising the need to regard the immediate post-compulsory period of education as a cohesive whole. The 16 to 19s resemble a platoon on the barrack square being drilled by scores of sergeant-majors each of whom is either genuinely unaware of the presence of the others, is studiously ignoring them or, at best, breaks off momentarily for formal consultations in the manner of a delegation from the Kremlin visiting the Vatican. The entrenched interests of sixth forms, colleges of further education, sixth-form colleges, tertiary colleges, industrial company training schools and the multitude of professional societies—the latter jealously struggling to preserve their own independent form of tuition, examination and qualification—inevitably means a long drawn out struggle for survival ". Then he said: An Act of Parliament, no less, prescribes that education is different from training and should, therefore, be administered by different bodies: is it surprising then that the two sets of bodies should have immediately, in self-preservation and self-justification, set about ensuring that education and training were indeed different? The difference eludes the customer, the 16-year-old school-leaver. Could we not begin to structure these determining organisations into a cohesive and co-operating force, to discipline the sergeant-majors into a co-operative unit? I was pleased to see, in the same speech I quoted from earlier by Mr. Carlisle, that he said that he attaches a high priority to the needs of the 16–18 age groups, and that a group has been established under Neil Macfarlane's chairmanship to look with the local authorities at the whole field of education provision for this age group, including the relationship between schools and further education, taking into account the interaction between the education and training systems ". This, I am glad to say, is what the TUC wants too.

Not only is the education in the schools and colleges a mix-up, a muddle and confusing, but so are the employment and support arrangements. We have grants for various educational courses; there are apprenticeships; job creation programmes; YOPs, TOPs, STEP. But there are no educational maintenance grants. This is what the last Government wanted to start in order to encourage further education and training for that very vulnerable age group. Surely, my Lords, that is more constructive than paying the dole. In all these areas—education, training, grants and pay—we need co-ordinating policies.

It is against this backcloth that the right reverend Prelate's proposals must be examined. I accept totally that young people should have at some time—perhaps many times—to give some service to the community; that they should have demands made upon them. I could not accept anything compulsory on the lines of military service as it existed in the 1950s. It just would not work today. But I do not think the right reverend Prelate is asking for that, although he wants some compulsion, and one can appreciate that there are arguments for it; reduction in unemployment, possible reduction of vandalism, helping to solve social problems and mixing people up so that they share their lives. On the other hand, there are a number of objections to a compulsory scheme; it would be extremely costly, it would need far more trained community service workers than are available and I suspect it might be difficult to find sufficient projects, at any rate quickly, although I believe that Dr. Dickson, with all his exprience, does not agree with that.

I find from quite extensive inquiries among people experienced in voluntary youth work that they are nearly all opposed to it; they think the voluntary aspect is vital. It would be difficult to make adequate preparation. As one worker said, "Organising voluntary work for young people is a long and complex process requiring much time, energy and skill ". It is very important to match the young person to the person or people to be helped. And if it is a delicate operation suiting a volunteer to the particular job where people are concerned, how much harder will it be to plan a suitable match for a conscript? Again, a compulsory scheme might have a bad effect on the voluntary community service schemes that are now running successfully.

However, I do not want to appear negative and there are many things that could be done at much less cost than that of a compulsory scheme. There are areas of the country at the moment that are very poorly served, as the noble Viscount mentioned, and a review of the existing situation to see where needs are great would be helpful. The Secretary of State and Mr. Macfarlane have said on a number of occasions that industry could help. Then let the Government give some encouragement and incentive to industry to contribute by offering funds on a 50/50 basis. Resources of people and money could then be made available to the needy areas and more voluntary co-ordinators could be financed to search out opportunities in hospitals and so on as they have successfully been doing. And I do not believe, as somebody said, that the trade unions are objecting to these voluntary co-ordinators going in and finding what jobs could suitably be done there.

Many voluntary organisations have to spend far too much time fund-raising to keep themselves going; they could do with some cash if industry is persuaded to help. Research could be encouraged, as it was by the DES grant, in Shirley Williams' time, of £30,000 to CSV for an inquiry into what UNESCO calls "Study Service "—that is, how students as an integral part of their courses can apply the knowledge and skills they are acquiring to problems of significance to the community. To given an example, students of mechanical engineering at Queen's Mary's College invented a wheelchair that will mount and descend staircases, and law students at the LSE help tenants appearing before rent tribunals. I suggest that a not very great sum of money could help in the field of secondary, as that grant did in higher, education.

It is 11 years since the Schools Council paper Community Service and the Curriculum was published and times have changed, and I think are ripe for another. If study and service can be combined—if the element of service is introduced as an integral part of the course or curriculum—then that ugly word "compulsion" with all its emotive undertones simply does not come into it and those young people who are not initially motivated to help others may become so, and I believe it is better they should do it in this way.

I should like to see the consolidation and extension of much that is good in existing work. Some modifications are needed. I should like to see—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, may not agree with this—community service for the young unemployed removed from the Youth Opportunities Programme. I believe that has not worked very well in this context, for what the young people involved are looking for are job opportunities and the MSC tend to look on community service as a last resort. The result is that it is often the least able who are directed to community service.

In the same way, I have heard that in some schools it is the children of lesser ability who are time-tabled to do community service, and that is a pity. Community service schemes should not be linked with poor ability. I know that Dr. Dickson of CSV thinks that if, as in America with the Jobs Corps and Neighbourhood Youth Corps, one has programmes specifically aimed at the disadvantaged, the participants become labelled as the yobbos and the layabouts, and we do not want labels. But if one can bring in some perhaps a little older, more privileged and brighter, they can raise the whole tone of the enterprise.

In the longer term—this is my last proposal—I should like to see the CSV full-time volunteer programme extended to give every young person between 15 and 25—a rather wider group than the noble Viscount mentioned—the opportunity to do from four to 12 months' community service either locally or away from home. The advantages of the scheme are that it could build on existing work, including that in schools; it would be more acceptable to community service workers and young people, and it would encourage a young person to become involved in the community. I agree with various speakers who have said that variety of choice is important, and if there is enough choice then I think it is more acceptable to everybody and there is no feeling of being compelled to do anything.

The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, said that 50 to 60 per cent. of people would like to do some sort of service, but of course there are the other 40 to 50 per cent. If one can get them in by accident, so to speak, that is a very much better way of doing it. Of course the scheme might be costly, but a rearrangement of resources could surely be made, but the good that could come out of it for both volunteers and those helped should be colossal. How much better to spend money on a constructive and imaginative voluntary service scheme, national in the sense that it would be available all over the country, that could, in five years—by 1985, UNESCO's International Youth Year—be in full working order.

Compulsion naturally appears an attractive remedy to those who are exasperated by the misbehaviour of youth. I am all for a good deal of discipline, but compulsion may sometimes be counter-productive. Over 75 per cent. of those committed to detention centres and secure units are likely to offend again. The worst of it is that while the failure of Mr. Whitelaw's short, sharp shock treatment will damage only the Government, compulsion in service will inevitably damage the service.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that even if everything she proposed were carried out—and I agreed, I think, with every word she said—would not a great contribution be made to the purposes which she and many other noble Lords have in view if the Government made a reality of their declared policy of "Sport for All "? And if they want to make a reality of that declared policy could they not do it by making a down payment contribution of £100 million to the Sports Council for the provision of sporting facilities, in which we are behind almost every other country in Europe, and in giving the Sports Council an annual revenue of perhaps £20 million for the provision of trainers, coaches, leaders and administrative organisers, without whose help everything else would be in vain? Is it not true that sport can provide discipline, enthusiasm, team spirit and many of the things of which noble Lords have spoken this afternoon?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what my noble friend says, but I am not quite as convinced as he that it is the answer for everybody. However, I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord is about to say on this subject. The question should really go to him.

8.30 p.m.


My Lords, with regard to the last point that the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, raised regarding £100 million being given to the Sports Council, I must again ask a question which I have already asked in this House on a few occasions during the short time I have been here; namely, was the same question put—and at regular intervals—during the last five years to the previous Administration, and if so, what reply was given? I think that few people would argue about the Sports Council being a worthy recipient of funds of that kind, but unfortunately we live in a world in which, and at a time when, money is not as easily available as one would perhaps wish. Therefore, it is a matter of priorities and so long as it is a matter of priorities I suppose there will be those who will try to place them where they feel the need is greatest.

This has indeed been a fascinating debate. I have listened with great interest to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in moving the Motion, and I have also been greatly impressed by other contributions to this important topic. All show a deep sense of concern for the well-being of young people both as individuals and because they are the future of this country, and they do, I believe, reflect a feeling in the country that more should be done to help them.

The basic question posed by the debate is how we can best use this formative stage to prepare the young to become responsible adults, able and willing to contribute to, and participate in, society. It is not an easy question. Young people are not a homogeneous group, and the differences between them have yet to be softened and smoothed over by society's expectations and conventions. Their problems reflect those of our whole society: changing social values, unemployment, the decay of the inner city, the need to adapt to a multi-cultural society. There is no one solution, and many differences are possible, indeed desirable, in the way objectives are interpreted and put into practice.

I find many features of the current scene encouraging. Those who are growing up in a world of ever greater complexity need to achieve a maturity of outlook at an early stage, and I believe that many are so doing. If they bring a range of social problems into focus for us, we must beware of thinking of them as a social problem. They are not a threat to our society, but are our hope for the future. The fact that they sometimes hold views which differ from those of their elders can, of course, create tensions. This is inevitable in any society with the capacity to change and develop.

This debate is part of a continuous process of review, in which it is wholly right that this Chamber should be involved. The Motion before the House today reflects a feeling that, although much useful work is going on, in a great variety of ways, and by many agencies, this work may not be reaching enough young people, and is perhaps not reaching those who are in most need. Furthermore, I believe that the debate reflects a view, which I share, about the value of service to the community. I should like therefore to look first at what is being done, at the ways in which help is already being given, and then to turn to some of the other possibilities and to the question of a national youth service. Before turning to existing services, however, I should like to put them in perspective by saying that they are among many influences—such as family, home, Church and school—which play their part in the development towards maturity.

I should like to turn first to the education based youth service, a service which is national in coverage and is concerned with the social education, or "coming of age ", of all who wish to use it. The statutory basis for the service is provided by the 1944 Education Act. For many years the youth service has been a partnership between local government, voluntary organisations, and central Government.

Like the educational system in general, the youth service is administered locally, taking account of the needs and circumstances of individual areas. This is a point to which I attach particular importance, both as a Minister in the Department of the Envoronment and as a former local authority member. Elected councils are there to consider the special problems and opportunities of the communities they represent, and to decide how national policies can best be applied in their areas. In doing so, they are accountable to their local electors, just as Ministers are accountable to Parliament. Sometimes it is suggested that vital local services should become the responsibility of central Government, but this would mean reducing the scope for local initiative and experiment, and it could sap the vitality of local democracy. The Government have made plain their commitment to preserving and increasing the proper discretion of local authorities. We have published proposals to remove unnecessary central controls on their activities, and are looking at the scope for putting discretionary powers in place of some of their mandatory duties. In the youth service, as in their other important functions, we look to local authorities to make a particular contribution against a background of their understanding of the opportunities, circumstances, and needs of their locality.

Despite what the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, it is significant that, so far as the Government's overall expenditure plans for 1980–81 are concerned, we did not assume any reductions in local authority expenditure on the youth service. It is not helpful to pretend that the problem is caused by overspending unleashed by the last Government on a massive and irresponsible scale. It contributes little to this debate to ignore the effect that this has had on the whole national spending scene and the consequences to which it has led. However, the contribution made to the youth service made by voluntary organisations and by many thousands of voluntary workers is vital, and I am glad to acknowledge the part which the Churches play in this.

I should like to refer to some of the ways in which the education-based youth service is seeking to meet the objectives referred to by the right reverend Prelate. The service encompasses a great variety of approaches. Although club activities are certainly an important part, youth workers recognise that there are many who are not prepared to use clubs, but who need help by adults in various ways. Voluntary organisations and local education authorities have appointed detached workers who make contact with some of these young people and have varied success with individuals and groups. "Walk-in" counselling services have been established, and have been well used. Also, it is recognised that young people need to be prepared for participating in their society. There is a growing trend to provide the organisational means for club members to have a say in the clubs' programme, and participative structures within the youth service are seen as a training for wider involvement.

The Department of Education and Science is supporting projects concerned with local youth councils, the development of political and social education material, increasing young people's skills in decision-making, and developing the understanding of social responsibility. There has also been growth in voluntary community service, and I will come to that in a moment. The point I want to make is that the youth service is not standing still, and its development is, I am glad to say, following many of the lines advocated in this debate.

I should now like to turn to service to the community, which is clearly a central part of the views put forward in the debate. Voluntary community service is of immense value, both to the community and to the people who give it. It can certainly help to develop character and responsible social attitudes among the young. Arrangements exist to encourage community service on a voluntary basis. Service to the community is encouraged locally by educational institutions of all types, by the youth service, and, as my noble friend Lord Sandford said, within the Youth Opportunities Programme of schemes for the young unemployed—an aspect to which I shall turn in a moment. The Government make financial grants to several national organisations involved in providing opportunities for, or supporting, young voluntary work. The Voluntary Services Unit of the Home Office, as part of its general remit for the stimulation of voluntary endeavour, paid grants totalling in excess of £400,000 to six such organisations during 1978–79.

One of the recipients of Voluntary Service Unit grant-aid is the Young Volunteer Resource Unit of the National Youth Bureau. This unit provides a variety of services to professional and voluntary youth workers, many of whom are active in providing opportunities for young people to contribute to the well-being of their community. Community Service Volunteers, to which my noble friend Lord Sandford also referred, is another example of the voluntary bodies receiving Government support. It is an example of the agencies which link the young person wishing to give service with the people who can make use of his enthusiasm and talents. Community Service Volunteers places young men and women, over 1,500 of them in 1977–78, with local authority social service departments, hospitals and homes for the physically and mentally ill, and national and local voluntary organisations. While most of this effort is concerned with helping disadvantaged members of society, Community Service Volunteers also provides opportunity for many who are disadvantaged to be of service themselves. For example, in 1977–78 Community Service Volunteers placed 109 young people from borstal establishments with organisations and agencies who were able to give them an opportunity, sometimes their first, to make a positive contribution to the welfare of our society.

Noble Lords have rightly drawn attention to the problem of youth unemployment, and it is true that in present circumstances there are many who need special help if they are not to remain unemployed for long periods. It is perhaps worth mentioning that the peak in school-leaver unemployment is in fact in July, and that this year it was about a quarter of a million. This number diminishes over the summer, and this year, now, in November, it is down to 45,500. We are fortunate in having in your Lordships' House the Minister with prime responsibility for the Youth Opportunities Programme, which is making a significant contribution here—and I refer to my noble friend Lord Gowrie. I know he wished to attend this debate, but unfortunately his other responsibilities entail him being in Brussels today.

The Youth Opportunities Programme is a national programme for the 16 to 18-year-olds who have difficulty in getting and retaining regular jobs, and it concentrates its resources on areas of greatest need. The key is flexibility. The programme provides a variety of work preparation courses and forms of work experience. It involves the co-operation of local authorities, employers, unions and voluntary bodies in providing the various opportunities. So the approach is decentralised and locally based. Much of the programme's current provision is in terms of work experience on employers' premises, but there is also provision for project-based work experience and community service. The Manpower Services Commission pays the youngsters an allowance, agrees with the sponsor the sort of work experience or training needed, but otherwise leaves provision in the sponsor's hands. The measure of success is reflected in the high proportion entering permanent employment immediately on leaving the programme.

Despite the current need to stabilise national expenditure, the Manpower Services Commission is standing by its previous target of providing opportunities for some 220,000 young people to enter the programme in the year to March 1980, which is over 30 per cent. higher than the previous year's achievement. In addition, the two key national objectives will remain. The first is to ensure that no young person who left school in the academic year which ended in the summer should remain unemployed at Easter 1980 without the offer of a suitable place in the programme. The second is, by March 1980, to offer a suitable place in the programme to every young person unemployed for 12 months or over. The Youth Opportunities Programme combines an element of community service work with the paramount objective of helping youngsters to find permanent jobs. Many of its aims and elements correspond with what has been proposed in this debate.

My Lords, this, then, is what is being done now, and I hope I have given evidence of the Government's concern to emphasise those aspects of provision for young people referred to by noble Lords. What more, then, might be achieved by a national youth service, and what would be implied by the setting up of such a service? It has been suggested that it might involve service to the community; programmes to develop a broad physical, mental and spiritual fitness; further education and training in democracy. Also, that these activities might be undertaken for a period of time before young people enter employment, and that the main emphasis should be on the 16 to 18 age range. It has also been suggested that strong persuasion, perhaps even compulsion, should be involved. It seems to me that the activities which such a service might encompass are admirable. However, I am less happy about some of the other implications, and I should now like to consider these.

My Lords, I think it is important to be clear about the question of compulsion or persuasion. For example, I have seen suggestions that it might be appropriate to deny social security benefits to young people as an incentive to them to participate in national schemes. I suggest that this would virtually amount to compulsion, involving the same important issues of principle and practice. The issue of principle is one which I would want to underline, albeit without discussing it in detail. Suffice it to say that I believe strongly that those concerned must be free to decide for themselves in such matters, and the value of their contribution lies in its voluntary nature. I doubt if service given grudgingly would be worth having. Certainly I see real dangers in providing it to vulnerable groups, such as the sick and the old. Apart from risks of this sort, the young people themselves might well turn, in later life, against community service in any form. Secondly (to develop a point upon which I have already embarked) I think that it is not unnatural to want a regular job immediately on leaving full-time education, and I see no point in risking resentment by seeking to defer the realisation of this aspiration. It is quite another thing for those who wish to put in a period of community service of some kind before committing themselves to regular employment. In that case, I entirely agree that such aspirations should be given every encouragement, and so should the agencies which provide this kind of opportunity.

We should also pause to consider the scale of a national youth service, including the logistics and the cost implications. Each year, as noble Lords have said tonight, over three-quarters of a million young people reach school-leaving age. Of these, some 40 per cent. stay on in school or enter full-time further education. This means that some half a million youngsters are leaving full-time education at 16. Most of these find jobs, some of them with part-time day further education; but others find difficulty for a period in obtaining employment. The numbers are, therefore, very considerable.

The cost of organising community service opportunities on such a scale would certainly be immense, even if one gives weight to the argument that there could well be compensating savings in a reduced level of crime and delinquency. The Youth Opportunities Programme, on a smaller scale and with the specific objective of getting young people into regular employment as soon as possible, costs about £140 million a year, and that programme relies heavily on the provision of supervision by sponsors, without charge. A national youth service, to whatever extent it involved existing facilities and organisations, would inevitably involve heavy administration and supervision costs, and the appointment of additional staff at national, regional and local levels.

A further question would be the one upon which the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, touched; namely, the effect on the normal functioning of the labour market. This is a question which was considered very carefully before the Youth Opportunities Programme was pitched at its present level. It would not be possible to find community service opportunities for the numbers of which we are speaking without displacing existing adult employees; and to the extent that the scheme did not displace adults, it would amount to a considerable increase in areas of employment such as the social services, tending to divert resources away from the vital manufacturing sector of the economy.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate. The subject is clearly one of vital importance, and I suspect it will come up again before too long. However, for the time being perhaps I may summarise by saying that much is being done, but there is certainly no feeling of complacency: indeed, quite the reverse. The points made by noble Lords are those which are of constant concern to all those involved in services for young people. This concern has already led to changes of emphasis within the youth service and to the growth of services for the young unemployed and community service. The strategy of the Government is to concentrate scarce resources where they are most needed. This must rule out blanket schemes, and must mean concentrating on areas such as youth unemployment and urban problems. I cannot believe that this is wrong. Indeed, I believe that, particularly in current circumstances, it is the best way of helping the young people of this country.

8.50 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, at this late hour I do not think that there would be any profit in analysing, even if I were able to do so, all the admirable speeches made during the course of the last two and a half hours. So I would wish, first, to thank most sincerely all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I think there is general and universal agreement, at any rate there was in the earlier speeches in the debate, that there is a great need for new initiative and new vision. It has been, therefore, a matter of some regret that in the last speeches in this debate there has been, in my view, a narrowing of the vision which I sought to place before your Lordships. I have not thought of youth service as being something which is going to get us out of the problem of unemployment or of keeping people out of trouble or of keeping them away from borstal. I have been endeavouring to put before your Lordships that ideal which I quoted from the American Ambassador: The most fundamental purpose is to offer each generation a shared social experience of service in a common national cause without regard to birth, race or wealth ". I cannot think that your Lordships will disagree with that view.

If that can be achieved voluntarily, well and good; but I do not believe that it can be; and I do not share the apprehensions of this House which the word "compulsion" seems to raise in so many hearts. I believe that if you are compelled to be at school, there is no reason why you should not be required to do some form of national service for other people as part of your contribution to the life of the community.

I was interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who spoke from his personal experience of the Manpower Services Commission. This is something for which we should be profoundly thankful, but I do not share his fears about extending the work that is being done there, for I think that that is precisely the experiment that we are making, and which should be made, and from which we should go out to greater and wider things. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has given us a catalogue of all that is being done. It is a very impressive catalogue. Then he went on, to my distress, to voice all the difficulties that will exist if we tried to extend this and make it something of national importance. I do not share his view about the difficulties and I refuse to be daunted by the difficulties which might arise.

What I look for and hope for is a state of affairs when you can say to any young person: "What are you doing in service for your people, for your community, for your country?" Very few could now give an immediate and clear answer to such a question as that. That is the vision I would set before our people. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will not be content merely with the difficulties that he has voiced but also will initiate further investigation into the possibilities of extending to our young people something that would make them proud of and loyal to the things which belong to them and which are part of their community life. In that hope, I ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.