HL Deb 21 June 1982 vol 431 cc813-9

4 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The Statement is as follows:

" With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on youth training. Last December I told the House of the Government's plans to introduce from September 1983 a new Youth Training Scheme which would guarantee up to a full year's foundation training for all 16-year-old school-leavers who find themselves without a job. This would remove from them the threat of unemployment during their first year on the labour market and help them to acquire the skills they need to obtain and keep jobs.

"At the same time, I announced increased expenditure for the training of young workers and said that, if the Manpower Services Commission could make other proposals to bring more young unemployed people into paid jobs with proper training, the Government would be willing to consider the transfer of resources proportionately from the new scheme to such proposals.

"In response to this invitation, the MSC published on 4th May a comprehensive scheme proposed by its Youth Task Group, on which representatives of the CBI and TUC sat. The scheme was unanimously recommended to me by the MSC, supported by the CBI and the TUC, and has generally been endorsed by the Select Committee on Employment.

"The scheme is fully in line with the Government's ultimate objective for training young people. It meets the Government's requirements on the guarantee to all unemployed 16-year-olds, on the September 1983 date of introduction, on the content and length of the training programme, on involvement of the local community in delivery and on the need to keep within the resources made available in last December's White Paper. However, the MSC scheme extends beyond last December's proposals by covering also many young people in employment, including apprentices, and it proposes a higher level of training allowance.

"In this wider scheme, employers share in the training costs, and the Government accept that in these circumstances the training allowance can be increased without more cost to the taxpayer or any loss of training standards. A training allowance of £1,300 a year seems appropriate for the launch of the scheme in 1983, though this and the question of excessive travel costs will be reviewed in the summer of 1983 when the MSC will offer their advice to me.

"The Government generally accept the revised scheme and delivery arrangements as set out in Parts IV and V of the Youth Task Group report, on the basis that its costs will be kept within resources already made available for 1983–84 and 1984–85. Although we believe the resources will be sufficient to cover all unemployed 17-year-old school-leavers when the scheme begins, it is not yet possible to give a guarantee to this group nor to say when we might extend the scheme to cover all other unemployed 17-year-olds. In deciding the resources required, we have assumed substantial assistance from the European Social Fund, and this is essential.

"We accept the need for large initial Government funding of the new scheme while youth unemployment is still high, but we intend before 1985 to review the future distribution of the training costs between employers and Government. The MSC intend to undertake, in co-operation with the Government, a study of funding of industrial training generally which should help us decide the level of public funding in the longer term.

"We already undertake that all unemployed school-leavers will be offered a place on the Youth Opportunities Programme. My precedessor as Secretary of State for Employment made clear that, when the Government was in the position to guarantee that no 16-year-old need be unemployed, it would be time to withdraw supplementary benefit from 16-year-olds in their own right. Last December we also stated our belief that it would be right for young people, whether in education, the new training scheme or unemployed, to be regarded in general as dependent on their parents for the first year after reaching the minimum school leaving age.

"We still believe that these young people should not be entitled to supplementary benefit in their own right. Nonetheless, the Government have noted the firmly held and clearly expressed views of those on whom the operation of the scheme depends, that its launch could be seriously impaired by the withdrawal of supplementary benefit from 16-year-olds. We have therefore decided that withdrawal of supplementary benefit will not take place in September 1983 and that there will be a further review after a year's operation of the scheme.

"This will, I believe, also meet the views of the Select Committee and the Social Security Advisory Committee, who were similarly concerned. Meanwhile, in line with their views, we shall provide that those who unreasonably refuse a suitable training place will, like adults, have their benefit reduced for six weeks.

"This scheme is an immense step forward towards setting, standards and systems of training for our young people as good as those anywhere overseas. Its success now depends above all on the efforts made by employers and other sponsors, supported by unions, all of whom have fashioned its shape, to provide enough good quality training places. We shall certainly expect commercial and industrial establishments in the public sector to contribute, and I hope that all in this House and outside will give this imaginative new scheme the wholehearted support needed to ensure its successful operation from September 1983 ".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement being made by the Secretary of State in another place. It is in part a welcome Statement, although not as welcome as if the Minister had openly admitted that he was climbing down on two of the cardinal points included in his Statement of December 1981. Basically, the Statement, for all its length, says that the Government will not now withdraw supplementary benefit from those 16-year-olds who will not take part, and that the training allowance will be increased to £25 per week—that is, the £1,300 a year to which the Minister referred in his Statement, instead of the £15 a week previously proposed.

It is clear that inclusion of the conscripted youngster would not have been conducive to making the scheme work, and we welcome the withdrawal of this threat to terminate supplementary benefits from those who do not wish to participate. One regrets that the atmossphere in the field of youth unemployment has been needlessly poisoned by the Statement made last December, and one is only thankful that the Secretary of State has been reluctantly converted to the views of the TUC, the CBI and the local education authorities under the aegis of the MSC's Youth Task Group, and that the scheme has been saved. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that he and his right honourable friend are now whole-heartedly behind the scheme, as amended.

There are one or two points that I should like the Minister to clarify. What proportion of the unemployed 16 year-olds does he think the scheme will affect? How right does he think it is to make such an age distinction between 16, 17, and 18-year-olds? One hopes that the new scheme will cover a broader range of work opportunities and in particular that it will cater for the problem of ethnic minorities. One hopes also that the scheme will be operated on a decentralised basis, with more local autonomy.

4.9 p.m.

Lord Byers

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I would not wish in any way to minimise the importance of it. If I understood the Statement correctly, it represents a welcome retreat from the December White Paper and acceptance of a great deal of the Manpower Services Commission's Youth Task Group report. I hope that is correct, for that is the way I read it. If so, this represents a very important and welcome shift of policy away from the present concept of finding something for the unemployed 16-year-old to do, with a little training thrown in, in favour of a two-year training scheme for 16- and 17-year-olds, to provide them with special skills and higher standards which will make it easier for them to get, and to hold, real jobs. This is a very important change of policy. This is much in line with the views expressed from these Benches in recent months. We are also pleased that the loss of supplementary benefit as a sanction has been abandoned, and I congratulate the Government on having had a change of mind.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am obliged to both noble Lords for their halfhearted welcome to the proposals.

Seleral noble Lords


Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I misinterpreted the noble Lord opposite and I apologise. As for the resources available to the scheme, I think it is important to recognise that the total resources available remain unchanged. It is simply that. in general, employers will be making a greater contribution to the training programmes, and thus it has been possible to raise the allowance to individual trainees. But that is within the context—I would emphasise this—of the unchanged resources for the scheme as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me how many people would be affected by this. We believe it will have an effect of some quarter of a million, in round figures, on the unemployment figures altogether; that is a very substantial number. Both noble Lords referred to a change of heart by the Government on this matter. I would prefer to call it a change of emphasis. But I readily acknowledge that the Government have reviewed their position on some of these matters. Perhaps it is worth saying that the Government did most carefully consider all the views expressed, including in particular those represented by your Lordships in the recent debate on this matter a couple of weeks ago.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement of the Secretary of State in another place. Although it is open to question whether this is a climb-down or a change of heart, or a change of emphasis, I do not propose to add my voice to the rather ungracious tone of the reception given to the Statement by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I frankly welcome it. The Statement does refer to the views and the advice of the Select Committee on Employment in another place and of the Social Security Advisory Committee. It does not in so many words refer to the advice which emanated from all sides of your Lordships' House when we debated this very matter on 9th June, only a few days ago. But I was glad to note that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, referred to this debate, and I think we can say with some confidence that it must have had some effect on the Government's thinking.

There are three specific points I would like to ask the noble Lord. He speaks of an allowance starting off at £1,300 a year in 1983. The task group recommended that this should he uprated to something in the region of £1,400 or £1,450 by September 1983. 1 wonder if the Government have taken that into account. The second point is this. Will the withdrawal of supplementary benefit for six weeks for unreasonable refusal apply only to 17-year-olds or to 16-year-olds as well? Finally, do the Government accept the priorities expressed in the task group reports final chapter, called Next Steps, on dates and the things that need to he done prior to implementation of the scheme? With those few questions I would repeat my welcome for the Government's Statement.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that response. Could I just make two points? The noble Lord asked about the rate of £1.300, which, as I said, is regarded now as appropriate for September 1983, but we have said that we are prepared to keep an open mind on this and maybe review the figure between now and then. On the withdrawal of benefit for six weeks in the event of unreasonable refusal to participate in a course, that would apply to both 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds. On the final point the noble Lord made, about the conditions to be completed before the scheme comes into force, I would like to consider the implication of that question before giving the blanket assurance that the noble Lord asks for, and, if necessary, perhaps I could write to him.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, as regards the contribution from EEC funds, is the Minister in a position to indicate the sort of proportion he expects from that source, and can he say whether any similar scheme from any other member of the Community is having money from EEC funds, and on what sort of scale?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not able to say off-hand what assistance the Social Fund is giving to other members of the Community for similar schemes. 1 can say, so far as we are concerned, that we are receiving some £60 million, or did receive some £60 million in 1981, in respect of our own YOP scheme, which is, of course, subsumed into this new scheme. We would hope that we could get a little more for the coming year, but it is too early to say precisely how much more that will be. It is, of course, fairly simple arithmetic to determine what percentage of the total cost that contribution is. But it is very welcome.

Lord Oram

My Lords, is not the important aspect of all youth training schemes, including this one, the extent to which temporary training schemes lead on to permanent jobs? In that connection, will the noble Lord and his colleagues have a particular look at a scheme recently launched in Hartlepool by the Archbishop of York, and supported by the European Social Fund, the MSC, the local authority and the Church of England? Under this scheme the young people not only receive technical training but also business training, and it is linked with the formation of small co-operative businesses, which create new jobs and in which the young people can anticipate moving on to permanent employment. Has not this scheme got many constructive features, and would not the noble Lord give particular sympathetic regard to this project, with a view to its proliferation in connection with the scheme he has now announced?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, a doughty champion of the Co-operative Movement. I confess that I have not always gone all the way with him on some of his ideas in that connection, but in regard to the scheme he has described —I must confess I do not have immediate knowledge of that scheme—it sounds a very imaginative one and certainly appears to deserve support. On the general point of finding jobs for those who complete their course, I can say that about half, or perhaps more than half, of the trainees who complete courses do manage to find jobs at the end of that or soon after. I am looking forward to the day when more than that number will do so.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, the noble Lord said that he preferred to describe this as a change of emphasis rather than a change of heart. May we take it that this confirms the view long held on these Benches that the Government have not got a heart?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that is not correct. In this particular context, to be specific, the revisions which we have made to the training scheme were literally a change of emphasis because they were a reordering of existing resources; it was not possible to make available additional resources. With regard to the supplementary benefit question—the second part of the proposals I have announced—we are saying that, although we are not going to withdraw supplementary benefit in September 1983 as originally proposed, we are keeping an open mind on the subject, because the fact remains that one does need to consider in general whether supplementary benefit is appropriate for those who deliberately decline to undergo courses.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the people of Britain expect their Government to have both a heart and a head, and this scheme seems to encompass both?

Lord Spens

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I believe that the Members of your Lordships' recent Select Committee on Unemployment, who issued a report last week—and I think that there is only one other Member present in the Chamber today—will be very pleased indeed with this Statement because it accepts two of the Select Committee's recommendations; namely, that the minimum wage should be £25 and that the element of compulsion should be removed?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as the noble Lord says, the Select Committee, of which the noble Lord was, I think, a distinguished Member, recognised that the Youth Training Scheme represented, in their words: a big step forward in combating youth unemployment ", and made recommendations very similar to those of the task group whose revised scheme we have, in general, accepted this afternoon.