HL Deb 30 July 1982 vol 434 cc453-5

11.20 a.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

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 they have responded to the increased demand for full-time education from 16–19 year-olds.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, the Government are anxious to encourage this welcome development as much as possible. Our current expenditure plans contain provision for a large expansion of demand, including an extra £100 million for the current financial year, compared with our original plans. In May, the Government announced the launching of a new prevocational qualification for 17-year-olds.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I thank my noble friend for his reply. In view of the Chancellor's Statement earlier this week on job sharing which is to come into force in January 1983, may I ask him whether it is possible that this has an effect on the numbers of 16 to 19-year-olds seeking full-time education, and could the Minister assure me that the Government will see that these groups have no obstacles placed in their way of continuing in part-time education? Could he also assure me that he is aware that there is a changing world in employment and that many skills are now needed to be learned—skills such as communications—which are not job-specific but would relate to many jobs and would increase the employment prospects of that age group?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the job-splitting scheme, although it is experimental will, we hope, if people like it, provide real jobs which could be opened up for more people, including the 16- to 19-year-olds. Full details of this scheme will be announced in the autumn and the scheme itself will run from 1st January 1983 till 31st March 1984. We will not place obstacles in the way of young people wishing to remain in full-time or part-time education and the numbers doing so continue to rise to a remarkable level already.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that one of the few qualifications for which there is still an excess of demand over supply is computer programming and, in this Year of Information Technology, I wonder if the Government will consider financing education and training schemes within industry which would enable young people of this age group to get the two years' experience which is required by most employers before they will take on somebody in a paid job, and thereby enable more of this age group to get their feet on the first rung of that employment ladder?

Lord Elton

My Lords, certainly the area to which the noble Lord has addressed himself is a very important one. Perhaps it should be considered in the context of what we are providing in the way of the Manpower Services Commission's proposals for the new training initiative. There will be, in that, full place for the sort of thing that the noble Lord is talking about and it is in fact a determined effort to produce a better-educated and better-trained workforce in all respects. I should tell your Lordships that by 1984–85 investment by the MSC will be around £1½ billion per year.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, without being churlish, nevertheless we welcome the extension and better attitude that is now taken to further education? Secondly, is he further aware that the young of today are the seed corn for the future of Britain and the future of this nation; and that for the following up of education it is essential—and I know this from people who have come to me only in the last year or so—for the 16- to 19-year-olds to have some supplementary monetary support, because many of the families cannot support the 16- to 19-year-olds in further education unless there are generous, understanding grants made to them?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not quite sure what the noble Lord implies by, I think he said, "monitoring support", but we are very well aware (and I particularly am aware) of the great importance of this age group. It may help your Lordships to visualise what is going on if I say that our plans assumed an increase in pupils above school-leaving age in schools from 310,000 in 1980–81, to 340,000 in 1981–82 and the 16- to 19-year-olds on courses of full-time, non-advanced further education will be, in 1982–83, 266,000. There are a great many people doing this and we want to encourage it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, may I remind my noble friend that, in his previous appointment last winter, he was so good as to tell us what the Government proposed to do about the further education of those mentally-handicapped young people who are capable of it? Will he bear in mind this in further developments in this matter?

Lord Elton

My Lords, certainly, it will be borne in mind.

Lord Hoosen

My Lords, will the noble Lord not agree that, in the present circumstances of this country, there is a great deal to be said for paying these young people unemployment benefit but allowing them to continue in full-time education? It seems to me that we should make a virtue of necessity in the present state of this country.

Lord Elton

My Lords, more and more young people recognise the importance of improving their qualifications and are staying on. Therefore, that seems to put the question of need for greater support than at present perhaps a little in question. But we shall keep the matter of a staying-on allowance of some sort under review. Our first priority must be the NTI (new training initiative) on which there will be major expenditure to which I have already referred.

Lord Somers

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that, when you reach the age of 16, you pass the stage where general education is necessary and that from then on it is much more specialist education to suit the career which you are going to follow; and that, therefore, being the case, it will be a pity to have completely unselected education from 16 to 19 years of age at the expense of those who perhaps need it?

Lord Elton

My Lords, a feature of present developments is the way that education is being extended right across the spectrum from the academic to the totally non-academic. The noble Lord is referring to the latter; and that is the area in which there is the greatest expansion. However, many who have undertaken university degree courses in their youth will recognise that there is room for general education as well as specialist education at about the age of 16.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, how does the noble Lord reconcile his statements about the expansion of education in the further and higher education field with the cutting back of the numbers to be admitted to universities and polytechnics? Would he not agree that it is much more sensible to use the institutions which now exist for the purpose of giving education to that age rather than to create new methods of very doubtful significance?

Lord Elton

My Lords, we are using the existing plant. A feature of what we are doing is to use it more productively, and what we are doing, I think, is not doubtful but practical.