HL Deb 25 July 1983 vol 443 cc1361-5

2.37 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement concerning their current spending on special employment and training measures and whether they will state the number of places currently occupied in these schemes.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office, and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, we estimate that in 1983–84 almost £2 billion will be spent on the special employment and training measures run by the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission. At the end of May, the total number of people covered by the special employment and training measures was estimated to be 561,000.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for his reply. and I am glad to hear that the schemes are going so well. I hope they will be pressed on with, particularly those in regard to the technical training of young people. I also hope very much that the Government will pursue these with vigour.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, and I should like to say to her that expenditure on special employment and training measures will rise substantially in 1983–84. Major initiatives include the Youth Training Scheme, which I mentioned, and also the Community Programme, which began last year and which will cost about £400 million in 1983–84.

Lord Hawke

My Lords, can my noble friend say to what extent the trade unions accept these young person as qualified after they have passed through these schemes?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the Manpower Services Commission is, of course, a tripartite body. Therefore, I am glad to be able to say that the great trades unions of the country are wholly behind it.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Minister two questions? First, will he confirm that he has seen the recently published report of the Manpower Services Commission, particularly paragraph 2.10, which states that as a result of these special measures some 365,000 persons have been taken off the list of unemployed? Will that factor be taken into consideration when the Government are referring to unemployment figures? Secondly, there have been allegations that some of the training schemes have been used for cheap labour. Is this being monitored, and what action will the Government take?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, on the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, because the Manpower Services Commission works closely with the commissioners and because the commissioners have senior trade union representation, the question of substitution of that kind is carefully monitored by the commission. On the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, as I have said very frequently in your Lordships' House we are passing through a new industrial revolution and this is about training for the future.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, would the Minister tell the House what proportion of the total number of 16 and 17 year-olds who are currently unemployed is represented by the figures which he gave to the noble Baroness? Secondly, does he recall that the Youth Task Group, which presented its report in April last year, forecast that by September 1984 57 per cent. of the 16 year-olds at that time and 48 per cent. of the 17 year-olds would be unemployed? Is the Minister confident that this scheme, which I greatly admire, will cater for the majority of those people?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, there is no question of a training scheme—and this is precisely what the present scheme is—being able to guarantee people employment at the end of it. As the noble Lord will be well aware, that will depend on all sorts of factors, both national and international. But I am confident that the young people who pass through this scheme will be a great deal more employable than they otherwise would be.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, is the noble Earl the Minister in a position to give the percentage who succeed in finding work within a given period, such as three months or six months?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I should be delighted to do so, but I would need other notice of that.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, so far as the Youth Training Scheme is concerned, it is a foundation year and therefore the question of whether they are qualified does not really arise?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether it is the policy of the Manpower Services Commission to support voluntary organisations wishing to set up training workshops? Is the Minister aware that in several parts of England the training workshops have not been supported by the Manpower Services Commission?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, if my noble friend will give me details of any areas where there have been these difficulties, I shall do my best to iron them out.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while recognising the contribution that these schemes make and welcoming them for that purpose, would the noble Earl agree that there is also a danger that they tend to mask long-term unemployment? Could he tell the House whether or not it is true that, of the 600,000 who are currently leaving school, in the longer term two out of three of them have no prospect at all of work, or of permanent work?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the latter figure would be much too gloomy an overall prediction about the state of the economy, both at home and abroad. But it is certainly the case that there is great awareness, both on the part of the trainees and on the part of people generally, that, as the noble Baroness said, a training scheme of a foundation character will not of itself guarantee employment. The aim of the game is to lessen the odds against young people—and the odds are very considerable all over the Western world at present.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell the House whether it is correct that there are over 100,000 young people in the young workers' scheme at the moment who are receiving absolutely no training at all? Have the Government any plans in that respect?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords. I am certainly not aware of that figure. It sounds very improbable to me.

Lord Morris

My Lords. will my noble friend agree that if anybody has any doubts about the resolution of Her Majesty's Government in regard to this matter they should look at the figure of£2 billion as a measure of their determination to tackle this question?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I do not believe that all the problems in this economy can be solved by public money, but I do believe that it is the duty of the Government and of the state to try to ease people through a very difficult transitional period both in their own lives and in that of the economy in which they are liable to be seeking work.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, would the noble Earl also agree that if anybody is disposed to draw satisfaction from the amount of money which is being spent on these schemes they should reflect on the fact that there would be fewer people on the labour market if there had been more purposeful and constructive public investment in the first place?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, that seems to be a very ill-considered response from the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. He is known to have supported a Government which took the first steps in this direction. We have sought to build on those steps and to improve upon them.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that in the view of many of us the Government are to be congratulated upon what is being achieved under these schemes but that in an area like the North of England, which has the highest unemployment in Britain, what is being achieved under these schemes is being cancelled out many times over by the Government's appalling policy towards the local authorities? Is the noble Earl also aware that £28.8 million is being withdrawn from the grants to the four northern counties this year—counties which are trying to make an impact upon the appalling social and economic problems with which they are faced? What the Government are doing is therefore being negatived and cancelled out by their policy towards the local authorities.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, while welcoming the praise which the noble Lord gave to the Government before his qualification, I am sorry that he then proceeded to spoil things. The fact is that I do not believe that anyone on either side of the House seriously believes any more that one can solve the problems of employment opportunities for young people by "upping" central subvention to local authorities. That is no longer, I believe, a credible position.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, could the noble Earl the Minister say whether there is any truth in the reports in the press that NALGO and the CPSA are refusing to co-operate with the Youth Training Scheme because young people are not being paid enough?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I should need notice of the question which the noble Countess has asked me. I shall attempt to find out.