HL Deb 09 October 1986 vol 480 cc352-7

3.31 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, yesterday I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and others, that I would consider making a Statement today if the measures announced by my noble friend Lord Young seemed to justify a Statement in this House. I judge that it would be your Lordships' wish that I should make a Statement this afternoon. The first development my noble friend announced is an expansion in the number of Jobclubs from the present figure of just over 200 to 1,000 by March next year and, if the need continues, to a total of 2,000 by next September. Jobclubs help unemployed people to find jobs for themselves by providing free telephones and postage and expert help in writing job applications. Two-thirds of people leaving Jobclubs go into employment. That record speaks for itself. And that is why there is to be a big expansion.

Secondly, there are to be two pilot schemes within the Restart Programme. This is the Government's main programme to help the long-term unemployed. The Manpower Services Commission is now engaged in a massive programme to give counselling interviews to every person who has been out of work for 12 months or more. These interviews are the gateway to a whole range of other programmes and opportunities designed to help people back into work.

The pilot schemes announced today will, first, test the idea of extending the programme to everyone who has been out of work for six months or more and, secondly, test the feasibility of a new programme which will offer the six-month unemployed both training and work experience, leading to recognised qualifications.

The two pilot schemes are closely related because what we want to test is the feasibility of offering everyone who is under 25, and who has been unemployed for six months or more, a positive opportunity to get back into work: either directly, by placing him in a job vacancy, or through membership of a Jobclub, or by helping him to set up his own business through the Enterprise Allowance Scheme or by offering him a place in the new training programme.

Finally, the scope of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme is being extended so that businesses no longer need to be wholly independent. The Enterprise Allowance Scheme has proved a popular and successful means of encouraging unemployed people to become self-employed and to create thriving new businesses which can employ other people. By extending the scope of the scheme to cover unemployed people who start businesses under franchising arrangements we can help unemployed people into a wider range of self-employment opportunities.

This is an important package of new proposals to give urgent and practical help to the long-term unemployed and an earnest of the Government's determination to tackle the problem of long-term unemployment.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Viscount for making this Statement in response to our suggestion of yesterday, and we welcome the package which he has announced and which we shall study very carefully at greater leisure. The Statement reflects the acute concern which exists about the long-term unemployed population and I shall be grateful to the noble Viscount if he will say how many are classed as longterm unemployed and by how much that figure has grown over the last 12 months. Can he say how many of those who have participated in the Restart scheme have gone on to permanent employment as a result of the scheme? Further, can he say how many who have participated in the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which is dealt with in the Statement, have sustained their businesses after three years, and what percentage is that of the total who were at any time in receipt of the allowance?

Secondly, may I also welcome the expansion of Jobclubs. and can the noble Viscount say how many new jobs have been found as a result of the 200 clubs which are already in being? A good deal is being said about job creation. Can the noble Viscount say whether the Government believe that the Restart scheme will create jobs, or is there not a real danger that it will merely mean a reshuffling of the unemployed so that some will be able to compete more effectively for the same number of opportunities? There has always been that suspicion, and it has been expressed in this House on more than one occasion.

Furthermore, does the noble Viscount not agree that we are concerned here with more than job creation? Is not the important figure that of net unemployment? Is there not a possibility that the schemes promoted by the Government are characterised by a high rate of substitution between the unemployed and the employed, and what will be the net effect of the employment policy of the Government? I should be grateful if the noble Viscount could deal with those few questions.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State elsewhere today, and of course we welcome the new schemes that he has told us about. I am bound to say, however, that in relation to the total size of the unemployment problem and, in particular, to the total number of those who have been unemployed for over six months, particularly the disastrously high number of people under 25 who have been unemployed for over six months, these new schemes are still somewhat puny. That said, however, we of course welcome them so far as they go.

I should like to ask the noble Viscount to confirm what I believe to be the truth, but which is not widely held to be the truth, that these counselling sessions which are to be extended on a very much wider basis are genuinely motivated by the desire to help people to get into jobs and are not benefit policing devices. We on these Benches accept that this is the case, but the noble Viscount will know that there are many parts of the country where this is not believed to be true.

Secondly, I was very glad to see that a training element is to be included in the six months' experience and training which is being offered in these new schemes. The Statement says that these will lead to a recognised qualification. But it is not altogether clear what will be the nature or value of a recognised qualification that will come to a person who has been out of work for over six months or, in a great many cases, has not had sustained work at all, after he has done a period of six months' work and training.

It will not be of much value unless the training which is being offered is related to other established training schemes leading to well-known and established qualifications, and for example, allows exemption from some aspects of training schemes which the person would have embarked upon had he entered earlier. The relationship of the training being given to other training schemes is of the greatest importance. This is particularly so in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said. If all we are doing with these schemes is making unskilled people just slightly less unskilled, they will go back into unemployment, because fewer and fewer unskilled jobs will be available, while, as we all know, there are many unfilled vacanicies for skilled workers, and this is increasing.

If there is money available for additional training, why not put some of that money into the community programme where there are now 200,000 places? Some money is going into training in the community programme, but many of us think that it is not being used effectively. Furthermore, realising the importance of training, may I ask the Government whether they will not increase the amount of money available to the adult training strategy on which the MSC has already embarked with, in the view of many of us, woefully inadequate resources?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for their reception of the Statement and, indeed, for the welcome that they have given to the measures I have announced this afternoon.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked about the numbers of the long-term unemployed. I understand that in July 1986 the number of those unemployed for more than 12 months was 1,285,000. I also understand that the number of long-term unemployed has remained broadly stable over the past two quarters.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked about the jobs created by Jobclubs. I think it is fair to say that the purpose of Jobclubs is not to create new jobs but to help unemployed people to find jobs. It is true to say, as I said in the Statement, that two-thirds of those who have been members of Jobclubs have gone on to other jobs. That is a considerable justification for them.

On the question of job creation, I think all these measures—and there are many others besides the ones I have announced today—have to be seen against a background in which the number of jobs in Britain has grown by nearly 1 million since 1983. So these measures, if they help to create more jobs, will be doing something in addition to what is a considerable achievement in itself.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked about the counselling. She asked whether it is a question of trying to get people jobs or a policing arrangement. It is in fact for the purpose of trying to get people jobs, and that should be made abundantly clear. The noble Baroness referred to training. I note what she says about the community programmes. These are considerable in themselves and are not the subject of the Statement this afternoon, but I shall ensure that my noble friend Lord Young is notified of her views.

The noble Baroness referred to training opportunities. There are a great many, as the noble Baroness knows very well and as I once knew; it is an awfully long time ago since I was in the Department of Employment. Many certificates and qualifications are already offered by the examining bodies—for example, the City and Guilds, the RSA and the BTEC—covering almost every occupation at a variety of levels. It can be said of the scheme that it will help individuals either to start on a new skill from scratch or to build on what they already have, and they should aim in that direction; and I totally agree with what the noble Baroness said about the need for training positions.

I believe it is fair to say that when one looks back at our training arrangements over the years in this country one sees that the training programmes today are on a scale totally different from what many people who advocated them many years ago would ever have imagined at that time.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that those of us who are aware of the unemployment problem, particularly in the areas from which we come, will welcome very much the speech this morning of my noble friend Lord Young? I should particularly like to emphasise the point he made about the success of the enterprise allowance. He mentioned the town of Sunderland where the success of the enterprise allowance has been such that an amazing number of unemployed people have started up their own businesses. This applies also to Derwentside, in the North-East of England. I think that this is the most encouraging feature of the present Government's considerable efforts with regard to unemployment.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth for what he has said, with his very special knowledge of the extreme problems in the North-East. I am very grateful to him for what he has said about the enterprise allowance. At a time when we have to look to small businesses to help solve the unemployment problem what has been done through the enterprise allowance is extremely valuable. I should add that I am afraid I cannot give the information for which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked about the number of people who, having taken on businesses, then gave them up, but I shall certainly find out and let the noble Lord know.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that my noble friend Lord Ennals has an engagement in the Middlesbrough area today? He left by an early morning train and considered it his duty to be back in time for the sitting of the House. Can the Leader of the House explain why the Secretary of State for Employment was not able to make his Statement to the House?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord I would say simply this. I considered that possibility with my noble friend and he would have been prepared to do so, despite a considerable number of other engagements which he had at the party conference. I make no secret of that fact. I decided myself that I should do it rather than ask him to come back. That was my decision, not his. I hope the House will see that it was not an unreasonable decision that I should take upon myself the duty of making the Statement. It was my decision and not that of my noble friend Lord Young.