HL Deb 01 July 1985 vol 465 cc968-73

3.47 p.m.

The Minister Without Portfolio (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall 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 would like to make a Statement on youth training.

"My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget Statement that he was making extra resources available which could fund a two-year Youth Training Scheme. On the same day I asked the Manpower Services Commission to consult and develop proposals for such a scheme to start from 1st April next year and to report to me in three months.

"On 27th June the commission, which includes representatives from the CBI, local authorities, education interests and the TUC, unanimously approved proposals for the two-year scheme. The chairman immediately submitted these to me and asked for the earliest possible approval.

"I am pleased to inform the House that I have now approved the broad framework of these proposals and I have today authorised the commission to proceed with implementation, within the resource levels previously announced and on the planned date of 1st April.

"The proposals represent a major step forward in improving the opportunities for young people both in training and work experience. The scheme will give broad based training in the first year, with a greater emphasis on more specific training in the second year, with the opportunity for all to obtain vocational qualifications. This will be building on the foundations laid by the current Youth Training Scheme, which more than three-quarters of a million young people have entered so far. The Youth Training Scheme has opened new horizons for both young people and employers and has brought home to many the contribution which training can make to improving employability and productivity. I pay tribute to the work of all the individuals and organisations who have played their part in the development of the one-year Youth Training Scheme.

"The main features of the new scheme will be as follows. There will be a quality training programme leading to vocational qualifications and there will be at least 20 weeks off-the-job training over two years, in addition to a planned programme of on-the-job training and work experience. There will be two years' training for 16-year-old school leavers and one year for 17-year-old school leavers.

"There will be a training agreement between the trainee and those responsible for his training, setting out their respective rights and responsibilities, including the detail of each young person's training programme.

"From April 1987, only approved training organisations will be able to take part in the scheme, and a new Training Scheme Advisory Service will be set up to maintain the quality of the training provisions.

"Trainees will be paid an allowance of £27.30 per wek in the first year and £35 per week in the second year.

"A basic grant of £160 per month will be payable in respect of each trainee to their training provider. There will be a managing agent's fee of £110 per annum.

"We recognise the special needs of some areas and some young people who may find it difficult to find employer-based training places and it is proposed that a premium payment of £110 per month per trainee will be paid in such cases to those providing alternative training.

"In approving this broad framework I have approved an increase in the existing trainee allowance to £27£30 with effect from the beginning of September this year, as recommended by the Commission.

"Having determined the broad framework of the scheme there is much work to be done to fill in these details but I look forward with confidence to the delivery of a quality scheme which will begin in April next year.

"I would like to pay tribute to the commission and their staff for having responded so effectively to my request in producing within such a tight timetable a complete set of proposals, which have been unanimously agreed. They could not have done that without massive support and co-operation from the many individuals and organisations they have consulted with over the last few months. I thank them all.

"The degree of commitment to the present Youth Training Scheme will be of real help in carrying forward the new scheme. I am confident that all those concerned will once again work together to make the new scheme a success. The role of employers in providing the necessary places is crucial. The new scheme will involve a greater financial contribution from employers than the Youth Training Scheme does at present. I know that they will recognise not only the challenge but also the opportunity that this new scheme will bring.

"Under the new scheme, up to 200,000 more young people will be in training than under the existing Youth Training Scheme, bringing the total to over half a million in training at any one time. This will mean a major improvement in the opportunities for training and work experience for our young people and one that will become a permanent and essential feature of vocational education and training provision in this country."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place. I give it a welcome, though a somewhat qualified welcome. Any extension of a service which takes young people into something gainful is to be welcomed, although I have said it is a qualified welcome.

I should like to put one or two points to the Minister. Perhaps I may first question him on the proposals to pay £27£30 in the first year and £35 in the second year. I think those were the figures quoted. Is it not a fact that in this scheme inherited by the Government from the Labour Government, if the figures were updated to a realistic level those figures would be £37 from the word go? There is, in real terms, a reduction per person.

Can the Minister inform us whether he is satisfied that employers who have a poor record on providing resources and cash for training will come forward with the extra resources, or extra money, needed under this scheme? Has the Minister received any assurance from employers about what will happen if the employers fail to pay up? If they have not given any guarantees will the Minister consider introducing a system of training levies?

In the Statement the Minister referred to the question of an advisory service. I would take that as overseeing that the job is being done correctly. Does the noble Lord consider that an advisory service would be adequate, or would he be prepared to look at the question of an inspectorate, adequately staffed, which could oversee this in a more definitive manner? I should also like to press the Minister on what is meant by "vocational qualifications". What type of vocational qualifications are we talking about? Are they forms of vocational training which are in fact marketable?

Can the Government tell us what is the point of having a plan for training without a plan for jobs? Unless the Government reverse their present policy the outcome will simply be better trained youths in the dole queue. I have said before, and I say again, that for hopes to be raised by a training scheme and then for the youngsters not to be gainfully employed afterwards means that hopes will be dashed, and I cannot think of any exercise in a way more dishonest and more despairing.

Finally, is it not a fact that the full benefit, if that is how it can be termed, of this in the unemployment figures will be felt in about two years' time just in the run-up to the next general election? May I ask the Minister whether there is any significance in the timing of this for the benefits to be drawn at that time?

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we on these Benches also should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating this important Statement. We are certainly able to welcome it in general principle. We ourselves have advocated for some considerable time the extension of the YTS to two years. So far as the broad framework is concerned, we certainly welcome the Statement.

I should like to ask the noble Lord one or two questions. The Statement refers to "implementation, within the resource levels previously announced". Is this going to be possible if we have another 200,000 young people? There will be a considerable additional cost. Can the noble Lord say what additional contribution employers will be required to make?

On the question of vocational qualifications, can the noble Lord say that qualifications like B.Tech. and City and Guilds will be counted as access to degree courses? We do not want to get into a situation of irrelevant qualifications, as under the old apprenticeship system. Quality is obviously of the greatest importance. The revised version of the Statement on the setting up of a Training Scheme Advisory Service could be important if it is going to be really effective in allaying the criticisms that there have been of the YTS as job substitution, and in ensuring really high quality training standards. That is a vital point. We should like to have the noble Lord's assurance on that point.

Finally, can the noble Lord say a word about Mode B schemes under the new dispensation? Will the present tendency to phase them out be continued, or will their role be recognised and enhanced under the new arrangements?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for his comments. In some ways I wish they had been rather less qualified. I should like to remind your Lordships' House that this was a unanimous decision of the Manpower Services Commission, and this report was unanimously received by the employers, by the Trades Union Congress and by education and local authorities, after what was possibly the most extensive series of consultations that the commission has undertaken.

I have little doubt at all that employers are cognisant of their responsibilities, and when the time is ready will find the resources that will be necessary if they are to play their part—and it is a vital part—in making this scheme the success that I am sure all sides of the House hope it will prove to be.

I am not sure how one would equate the level of allowance under the old Youth Opportunities Programme, which, from memory, I think was £23.60 and maybe £25 a week at the end of the time in 1982, compared with today, but I would think it odd if the rate of inflation had increased that quite to £37. I should like to remind your Lordships' House that £27.30 as the allowance for the first year and £35 as the allowance for the second year were unanimously approved by the TUC, by the CBI and by all parties.

4 p.m.

Reference has been made to a training scheme advisory service. This is to consider the quality of training provided within the scheme. It is vital. The details of that are to be worked out by the Manpower Services Commission. It will come into effect in April 1987, but the great step forward which the new Youth Training Scheme is making is that it is becoming a permanent part of the landscape, and therefore more definite and permanent arrangements have to be made.

The noble Lords, Lord Dean of Beswick and Lord Kilmarnock, mentioned vocational qualifications. At the time of the White Paper in April which foreshadowed the two-year Youth Training Scheme we also announced a review of vocational qualifications. That is continuing and it is hoped that the review committee will be able to report to my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State concerned in September with its conclusions hopefully within 12 months. It will consider all the courses provided like B.Tech., City and Guilds and the Royal Society of Arts to bring order into a fairly chaotic landscape. I hope that at that time, and in the course of the years ahead, we shall be able to devise a system which will not only restore vocational qualifications to the respect and parity of esteem which they deserve, but will also find some way of ensuring that people can if necessary go through vocational qualifications to higher education.

There is no mention of Mode B(1) or Mode B(2) in my Statement because as from next April Mode B will, happily, no longer exist. I always regarded it as a somewhat unfortunate name to have Mode A and Mode B, with Mode A for employers and Mode B as a secondary type of scheme for those people who did not go through employer-run schemes. Mode A included such matters as information technology centres as well as community projects. Instead, there will be an additional grant of £160 per month, which will be payable in respect of each trainee to the training provider and a further grant of a premium payment of £110 per month per trainee in those cases where there will not be employer-based training. This will take the place of Mode B and will be financed in that way.

As I have said, the whole plan received the unanimous support of all parties to the commission. Finally this is, as far as I am concerned, by far the best plan for jobs. The original Youth Training Scheme has shown that seven out of 10 people are carrying on in full-time employment or full-time education. This is another constructive step on-the road back towards full employment and will give many of our young people the very best start in life. Without that start I suspect there would be few jobs. Within the scheme I am quite sure they will find gainful employment.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply. May I correct a figure that he used? I used my figure of £37 for updating from 1979 at the time of the last Labour Government, not from 1982. Will the Minister please confirm something which if I am correct will be very welcome, and that is that there will be no compulsion about this scheme?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, this is a scheme which is voluntary for employers to take young people and for the young people too. I should very much regret it if young people saw fit not to go on the scheme, but that is their option if they so wish.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, I believe that from these Benches we want to give this scheme a very warm welcome because, as your Lordships know, the Church has been very much involved in what used to be called the Mode B scheme. It is particularly encouraging to hear that this scheme will be enlarged in the outreach of numbers, that it will be increased now firmly to two years and that, thirdly, if I heard him correctly, the noble Lord the Minister said that this was now a permanent part of the scheme. It speaks very well not only for the fact that it has been unanimously recommended by all the different interests in this area (that speaks well for the unity of the nation and for the leadership of the Government) but from our point of view in the Churches, it encourages us very much. This is because, through our industrial missioners—I can only speak in detail of my own diocese of Norwich but I know that both Coventry and Carlisle and many other dioceses represented on these Benches would support me—we have been finding that the work we have been doing in the Churches in relation to the Youth Training Scheme and to the Manpower Services Commission has been giving us opportunities of practical caring for people which we could not have done but for the financial input. The fact that that money has been there has meant that the opportunities for caring for young people have been magnified out of all knowledge in relation to the input of money.

I have one question for the Minister. Can he assure us that the work which the Church and the MSC have been doing together is not only encouraged but even increased by the general statement that the Minister has made today?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. Yes, I hope I can give such an assurance. The fundamental principle of the Youth Training Scheme is that it is an employment-based scheme that will look towards employment of young people as they go through the scheme as a transition from school to work. We should put on record the great part which the Church has played in helping to run the scheme up to now. I hope that that will continue in the future, but the main thrust of the scheme will be towards employment. In some areas of the country there are many young people who are not immediately suited to go straight into employment. There will be provision under the new scheme for that to happen, and I sincerely hope that the Church will continue to play the part that it has so valuably played up to now.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, are there no special provisions in the scheme for the young people of Brecon and Radnor?