HL Deb 14 May 1981 vol 420 cc617-20
Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many school-leavers are expected to take advantage of the Youth Opportunities Programme in 1981–82; roughly what percentage this is likely to be of all school-leavers entering the labour market; and what recent steps have been taken, or are planned, to increase the training element of courses held under the programme.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, current plans for 1981–82 cater for some 300,000 school-leavers to enter the Youth Opportunities Programme. That would represent about 40 per cent. of those leaving school for employment in the academic year 1981–82. Plans provide for 83,000 young people to undertake short training courses under YOP this year—an increase of about 50 per cent. on last year. About two in five of the trainees on work experience undertake off-the-job training or further education, and it is planned to increase the take-up during the course of this year.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I am very grateful for that reply. Can my noble friend give an estimate of the cost of the programme in the coming financial year? Can he say anything about what is known as the placing rate; in other words, how many of those who go through the courses go into full-time work or into further training or further education? May I ask another brief question? Can he say whether the Manpower Services Commission's report entitled New Training Initiative will be presented to the Government quite soon, and whether it is hoped to publish it, in view of the wide interest in this question?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, figures on cost are necessarily provisional, but the estimated cost of the YOP in 1981–82 is £320 million at 1981 prices. That compares with a suggested final cost for the 1980–81 programme of about £210 million. About 68 per cent. of former trainees were placed in either real jobs or full-time further educational training in 1980–81. We do not know what the rate this year will be, but we expect a fall, perhaps to about 50 per cent. With tegard to my noble friend's third point, the new rraining initiative document is at present with the Government and I would expect it to be published towards the end of the month.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell us whether his statement represents a significant advance on previous provisions? If it does not, is he in the very near future to tell us whether the Government are, in his own words, to work towards a situation in which all unemployed school-leavers get some vocational preparation, as resources permit? When are we to have a statement to that effect, if the last statement was not so intended?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the last statement certainly was working towards that condition, since, as I made clear, this is a substantial advance in the numbers. It is an advance from 360,000 places to 450,000 places. However, I share the noble Lord's desire that all school-leavers should be offered some form of training, and the Government are working to achieve that.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, we are grateful for the Minister's assurance that there will be a further element of training within the YO Programme. Will the Minister comment on the wide differences in financial allowances presently given to those training under the MSC, those who attend colleges of further education, and those few who are left in proper apprenticeship schemes? The divergence of Government allowances in these cases is a very serious issue for this age group.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, that supplementary question is a little wide of the initial Question. However, I can say to the right reverend Prelate that the Government have been worried about the fact that in this economy the overall adult rates of pay tend to come into operation rather early, and this might have a disincentive effect on the hiring of young people. Of course, there are divergencies in allowances, but there are also divergencies in the type of opportunities or training obtained.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, in view of the fact that young blacks experience a much higher rate of unemployment than do young whites, do the Government maintain any ethnic records of the persons who benefit from the Youth Opportunities Programme? If the Government do not maintain such records, can the Minister say how they are to measure the effectiveness of the Youth Opportunities Programme as regards ethnic minorities?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, all minorities, whether large or small, suffer disproportionately during periods of recession and high unemployment. Equally well, minorities benefit proportionately from the provision of these schemes. Ethnic monitoring is not carried out formally in that the YOP is a multiracial programme, but since it deals with inner cities, the longer-term unemployed, and school-leavers with low educational qualifications, it inevitably has a high ethnic content.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that some of us really believe that he is as interested as are any of us in youth opportunities? However, does he agree that our greatest investment in these precarious times is investment in life and in the future of our youth? The cost of one Trident or a submarine would pay for all that we wish to do in this regard. To forgo only one such item would not be a risk to our destiny; it would be a help towards greatness in the future.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord said at the beginning of his remarks. I would certainly wish to underscore the fact that the next year or two will be an acutely difficult time for all young people, including those of relatively high educational qualifications, due to the baby bulge of the 'sixties coming on to the market before the First World War baby bulge comes off. With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, I think one's concern for young people also extends to their defence.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, can the Minister say how many young people in the rural areas receive this training? Are they encouraged to take jobs locally in agriculture, gardening, and so on?

The Earl of Gowrie

Yes, my Lords; the programmes are open to all young unemployed school-leavers of either sex, wherever they come from.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, is there any prospect of employers being given relief? I ask this in view of the fact that, as the noble Earl has indicated, they are precluded from giving skilled training to young people by the higher rates of pay that they are required to give to apprentices, in particular during the last year or two of their training?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, means a tax relief, or relief relating to national insurance contributions—I am not quite sure what relief he has in mind—I must of course acknowledge the fact that the majority of young people who leave school and seek work go into work. Therefore, it might not be cost effective to subsidise (as it were) training for those already in work.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend have discussions with the Minister of Defence to see whether some volunteers might not be trained with the armed forces? Not only would they be subject to some discipline, but they would receive very good preparation for future jobs in the civilian market. It seems odd that one area where they cannot volunteer, and where we are badly in need of extra manpower, is the armed forces.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence, under both this Government and their predecessor, has been a sponsor of the Youth Opportunities Programme for some time. We welcome this. My right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Defence are talking about methods of financing training programmes additional and extraneous to the YOP programme for the Ministry of Defence.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to what extent the technical colleges have been asked to give maximum co-operation?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I would certainly wish to see the colleges of further education increasing the opportunities they can make available for training young unemployed people. They are already involved in the programme through day release or weekly release training programmes. We should like to increase the number of places available.

Lord Denham

My Lords, it is for the House to decide. I know that this is the subject of extreme importance and interest but I think we are rather in danger of getting into a debate on this Question.

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