§ 2.48 p.m.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to arrest the growth of youth unemployment.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, the Government's plan to help young people, including the young unemployed, were announced yesterday by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment in a White Paper entitled, A New Training Initiative: a Programme for Action. Lasting employment, however, depends on ensuring that our companies, and the goods which they produce, are competitive, and that they will both attract and create demand. It is to this end that the Government's policies are directed.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that there are two major defects in these proposals—namely, the miserly £15 a week, which is redolent of all that is mean in creating cheap employment and cheap labour, and, secondly, the coercion aspect that if youngsters refuse even the first offer they lose all supplementary benefits? Would the noble Earl ask the Government to reconsider those two distasteful aspects?
My Lords, I will ask the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, to reconsider his question, because in fact what the Government have done is to create a 170 situation where every school-leaver who is not in further education, or who is not in employment, will in fact be offered the opportunity of being trained, for which he or she will be in receipt of funds. Those people who do not desire or choose to be so trained should not, in the Government's view, necessarily be in receipt of supplementary benefit.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this excellent scheme for the voluntary training of young people is about the best thing that has happened since the compulsory apprenticeship scheme in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth? To what extent will the physically and mentally handicapped be able to take part in it?
I accept my noble friend's historical analysis without disagreement, my Lords. Regarding his latter point, I think I am correct in saying that those who are mentally and physically handicapped will be subject to the same conditions, but if I am wrong about that I will write to my noble friend.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, when the Government are implementing this scheme will they look at a very simple way of doing it? Instead of setting up new training facilities, they could raise the school-leaving age, with exemptions for young people who secure employment. There is a lot of space in the schools nowadays and it could be done quite simply there, and done much more quickly than by the time-table the Government have in mind.
It is, of course, more efficacious if people stay on at school and get a better and fuller training, my Lords. The whole object of the Government scheme is that those who have left school should nevertheless be trained, and they will be trained for a year. I would only point out that this scheme, in its first full year of operation, will be costing the Government £1,000 million.
§ Lord Glenamara
The Minister did not answer my question, my Lords. Will the Government look at the possibility of simply raising the school-leaving age by six months or a year, with exemptions for young people who secure employment?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the other side of the question asked by the noble Lord is that many youngsters want to leave school when they reach 15 or 16 and do not wish to continue for another year? They will make much better use of their time if they go on to some adult training scheme for the next year rather than remain at school.
My noble friend is absolutely correct, my Lords; it is very difficult to force people to stay on at school when they do not wish to do so.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, is the Minister certain that the further education colleges and colleges of tech- 171 nology will have the space and staff to accommodate the training aspect that will be necessary for the new scheme, in view of the cutbacks in local authority expenditure?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the scheme comes into operation in April 1983, some 15 months ahead. This time will be used to make sure that those facilities are available.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I am simply asking the Government to be realistic and to try to understand that young people can hardly exist on £15 a week? If they become apprentices in technological establishments, should they not have the least of financial worries? Is he aware that they should not be coerced if they decide that they cannot accept other offers? Will the Government reconsider these two aspects? While many of us welcome the endeavour that is being undertaken, is the noble Earl aware that we do not want to see it spoilt by meanness and coercion?
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's question in the spirit in which it is put, and of course those matters will be considered because the point he makes is a very real one. I would emphasise, however, in respect of those who are in full-time further education that their parents receive the child allowance, and this continuation of the child allowance will also apply to those who come under this new training scheme.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the statement he has just made is not in accordance with paragraph 36 of the Government White Paper?
My Lords, the noble Lord must be very adept at reading. I will read paragraph 36 in a rather longer time than half a minute and, if I am wrong, I will get in touch with him.