HL Deb 24 October 1983 vol 444 cc1-5
Lord Orr-Ewing

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 are satisfied with the level of response from companies to the youth training scheme.

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

Yes, my Lords, the Government are satisfied that the response has been excellent.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the briefness of his reply, if not the information contained in it. I hope that in answer to this supplementary question he may perhaps give us a little more material. Is he aware that this scheme has been described in responsible newspapers as the most imaginative in Western Europe? What are the numbers of those who have currently agreed to enter the scheme and train for a year? Are the Government satisfied that the present rate of intake is matching their expectations?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I will not conceal from my noble friend or the House that in the very early stages of what is, after all, a novel scheme we were a little anxious at the rate of take-up, but by 20th October over 200,000 young people had entered the scheme and during the first three weeks of October over 56,000 young people entered it; so things are now progressing well.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask the Minister for an assurance that those young people who are unemployed and who have not taken up places in the scheme will not have their supplementary benefit of £15.80 a week cut if they do not take up places? This was threatened in a circular to local government earlier in the summer.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I know of no such plans for any such cut; but I would urge young people that it is only responsible for them to take up the places which are offered and which are, after all, designed not to provide makeway activities but real training to enhance their possibilities of real employment in a difficult labour market.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of these schemes have been partially financed by grants from the European Social Fund, especially in the London area? Would he agree that that is a useful way of proceeding and of bringing to fruition more schemes, for the benefit particularly of areas of urban deprivation?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am aware of that. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has made additional applications to the European Social Fund for these purposes, which are precisely what it is for and is designed to fulfil.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the information and support being given in schools and colleges for youngsters to take part in these schemes? Secondly, to what extent are the unemployed 17 year-olds being recruited into schemes to fill the gaps which are not being filled by the 16 year-olds?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am not dissatisfied because I have not been given information which might make me dissatisfied, but I will take up the point the noble Baroness has made and make sure that the schools are aware of this potential. From my own experience as a youth employment Minister two years back I know that the schools were co-operating with us very closely on that point. If I may I will take advice on that and on her second supplementary question, and will write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, could the noble Earl he a little more frank? What percentage of the places available is represented by the number that has been taken up—the 200,000 that he mentioned? Is it not a fact that a lot of young people are reluctant to join this scheme because they realise that when it is finished they will become unemployed and that this is simply a postponement of their unemployment?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, it is a relatively open-ended scheme so one cannot talk about proportions in that way. But it would certainly be misguided of young people to behave as the noble Lordsuggests, because while there can be no guarantee of permanent employment as a result of participation in the scheme, as I said earlier it does improve the odds in favour of real employment at a very difficult time in the labour market.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, can the Minister say anything about the objections of some Civil Service unions in preventing the taking up of some places including, I believe, a proferred place at Downing Street?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, as the Minister in day-to-day charge of the Civil Service I have been engaged in quite sensitive negotiations with the unions on this very issue. I am optimistic that we shall shortly have a good result but I do not want to say more than that at the moment.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that this could be a very useful scheme which could bear very great fruit but that that will depend on the responsibility of the Government and that it is not so much the young people who are being irresponsible? If at the end of their training they end up on the dole they will naturally be more bitter than they were before entering the scheme. Therefore, is there not a need for a combination to carry on with this imaginative scheme and to reverse part of the Government's policy and have an onslaught on unemployment to make the scheme worthwhile?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord said in the first part of his supplementary question. However, I am afraid that on the second part of his supplementary his assumptions are that the Government have control over the overall levels of employment in any given economy. In a free society that is simply not the case.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, is the Minister conscious of the fact that the Church is very deeply involved in this matter across the country and certainly in East Anglia? Does the noble Earl know that the Church is deeply involved in Norwich, Lowestoft, Thetford and King's Lynn with great encouragement and help to young people in giving them confidence for their own future?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am delighted to pay tribute to the Church as a very responsible employer, if I may put it that way.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, in view of the skepticism among many young people, particularly unemployed young people, as I have found in Liverpool, which deters them from taking part in the scheme on the ground of the poor prospects of employment at the end of one year, may I ask whether the Minister is satisfied that enough is being done to persuade these young people, by various means, of the intrinsic value of training in a skill, notwithstanding the present and expected state of the labour market?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I do not think that one can ever be satisfied but I certainly think that all the bodies concerned—particularly the Manpower Services Commission in terms of its excellent direction at regional level on Merseyside—are doing everything they can and are spending the money that we give them well to promote the practical usefulness of the scheme.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, does my noble friend monitor the results of this scheme? If so, perhaps Parliament can be told after a given time how successful is the scheme and whether those who enter it are more likely to obtain jobs as everyone expects? Further, can my noble friend say whether there are arrangements to adjust the training in order that the maximum usefulness of the training can help provide jobs for these young people?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am very happy of course to come before your Lordships at any time to report on the progress of the scheme; but, for what my own views are worth, this would be useful when we have had a little more time on the scheme, perhaps in six or seven months' time.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the Minister inform us whether there is an upper age limit for admission to training under this scheme? I know someone aged 85 who would like to be trained.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I will do what I can to pull strings for the noble Lord but he seems to have done very well in the ordinary course of employment.