HL Deb 09 March 1989 vol 504 cc1597-601
Lord Carter asked Her Majesty's Government

What assistance they are giving to the United Nations global project to promote the Decade of Disabled People.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, the Government are pleased to announce that they have provided assistance to the value of £37,000 in the form of rent-free accommodation at their premises in London for the project manager of the global secretariat of the United Nations global project.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the global project is part of the United Nations world programme of action concerning disabled people which focuses on prevention, rehabilitation and equalisation of opportunities so that disabled people can make a statement about their rights, their needs and their status? This is the most imaginative project which is intended to heighten awareness and, above all, to change attitudes. With all that in mind, should not the Government be doing much more to assist the project than just providing some free office space for the international secretariat?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I agree with the preamble to the supplementary question of the noble Lord. Although I understand that the overseas development administration makes grants to non-governmental organisations to carry out overseas projects, it does not normally contribute to their administration costs. We have already bent over backwards by providing accommodation to the global secretariat, as I have said. We have also provided money for a consultant in Vienna. If and when specific projects are established in the United Kingdom, we shall of course consider any requests for support. Meanwhile, I have no hesitation in commending this international cause to any sources of charitable and other funds.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I welcome the Government's intention which my noble friend has expressed in answer to this Question. Is my noble friend aware that according to the definition which has applied for many years in our country, the largest group of disabled people here are those who suffer from mental handicap? Within this international effort, will the mentally handicapped also be considered as an important group?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I agree substantially with what my noble friend has said. I thank him for his welcome of my earlier comments. But I am afraid that this is very much a question for the global group itself rather than Her Majesty's Government. However, I shall endeavour to find the information my noble friend asks for and write to him.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I sympathise very much with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that this should be a project which deals with mental handicap as well as physical handicap. I also wish to express my support to the Minister for his indication not only of support for the secretariat, but also of the willingness of the Government to consider supporting particular projects when they are brought to the attention of Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very grateful for those comments.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, will the Government take encouragement from the fact that the United Nations International Year of the Disabled which took place in 1981, and for which I was chairman for Scotland, was judged to have helped considerably in spreading awareness of mentally disabled people and others whose handicaps are not obvious?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. I quite agree. Indeed one of the early Questions to which I replied from this Box took place during the International Year of the Disabled in 1981. I seem to remember the subject was access to public buildings up and down the country. I also remember that my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone was I believe the president or vice president of the national committee for that year when my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy was chairman.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, as a disabled driver, I declare an interest in this matter. I wish to express my great gratitude for the extraordinary kindness I receive in that capacity. Can we have some explanation as to what a disabled driver is, and which people should give such a driver consideration and in what terms?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the term "disabled driver" is, as I understand it, a very technical one. It is written into the social security legislation. It also appears in some of the transport legislation. I hope there is a common definition. I shall certainly endeavour to discover that definition and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, do I understand from what my noble friend has been stating in replies that the United Nations Decade of Disabled People will apply to the mentally ill as well as the mentally handicapped?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that is a question which I was regretfully unable to answer. I said that I would write to my noble friend Lord Renton, and of course I shall include my noble friend in that correspondence.

Young People

Education and Training

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood asked Her Majesty's Government

What percentage of 16 year-olds are staying on in full-time education.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the percentage of 16 year-olds staying on in full-time education in the United Kingdom in 1987–88 was 47 per cent. Figures are not available for the United Kingdom for 1988–89, but provisional figures suggest that full-time participation for England has increased from 46 per cent. to 49 per cent.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer and I welcome the fact that the percentage is rising. In view of the enormous demand for skilled people and the fact that, according to what one reads in the newspapers, young people are required in all industries, can the Government encourage still more young people, both boys and girls, to stay on both at school and in technical colleges? That would cost money, but does the Minister agree that that would be an investment in view of the enormous demand for skilled staff in industry today?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am happy to say that the Government agree entirely with my noble friend. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science proposed to the Association of Colleges of Further and Higher Education that every young person should receive some form of education and training leading to a worthwhile qualification and that many more young people should stay on in full-time education studying for A and AS-levels or a vocational qualification.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the Islington Sixth Form Centre, of which I have the honour to be a governor, has achieved a very impressive increase in the staying-on rate through an imaginative mixture of academic, vocational and craft subjects? Would he agree that that is the way to go ahead rather than making a rigid divide between the school and the FE system, which is rather the tendency of government policy?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I was not aware of the noble Lord's college but I shall certainly look into the matter.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, are we to understand from the Minister's reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, that there is a prospect of Her Majesty's Government treating the years between 16 and 18 as a period of education and training for all?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, our examination reforms in the Education Reform Act will raise standards in schools giving more young people the qualifications and motivation to stay on. In the speech to which I referred my right honourable friend suggested action on three fronts:the curriculum and qualifications on offer, the image and marketing of further education and the re-organisation of the governance and management of further education colleges following the Education Reform Act. A copy of my right honourable friend's speech is available in the Library.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords. can my noble friend tell me how the 47 per cent. is divided as between boys and girls? Is it not true that girls are more sensible than boys about such matters?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I have the figures here, if I can find them. I can confirm that the conclusion is that more girls stay on than boys.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell the House how those figures compare with the figures for our partners in the European Community?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, on the whole they are lower. The Government are well aware of that fact and that is why we are taking action to improve the situation.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I think that the relevant figures are that 53 per cent. of girls stay on at school while 45 per cent. of boys stay on. That confirms what the noble Viscount said. The noble Viscount mentioned that in the past year there had been an increase in those staying on in full-time education. Can he confirm that in the 1980s until last year the rate of increase was lower than at the start of the decade and that it was only last year that the situation began to recover? Can he explain that fact? Can he also explain the curious fact that the proportion staying on at school rather than going on to further education is now lower than it was at the start of the decade?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I cannot answer the last question from the noble Lord. However, I agree that the figures to which he referred were 53 per cent. and 47 per cent. Before this year the annual increase was in the region of 0.5 per cent. The 3 per cent. increase in the past year is very encouraging. We do not have firm evidence as to why the staying-on rate is improving, but young people taking GCSE this year may have had a better experience of school. AS-levels, CPVE and TVEI are offering more attractive forms of provision for 16 year-olds and the opportunities for young people without qualifications are fast disappearing. They may be realising that a job at 16 without training is a dead-end.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I think that the noble Viscount was referring to the situation in England. Did he give a figure for Scotland?

Viscount Davidson

No, my Lords, he did not. However, I can tell my noble friend that in 1987–88 the figure for Scotland was 48 per cent. but no comparable figure is yet available for 1988–89.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell us what proportion of the 53 per cent. who do not stay on at school are given regular day-time release by their employers for further study or training?

Viscount Davidson

No, my Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in 1969 when I studied this problem the figure was around 40 per cent. for boys and lower for girls? Does he agree that the advance for boys seems to have been remarkably small over the whole of the past 20 years, not just the last 10 years?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I was not aware of that fact.

Lord Peston

My Lords, can we pursue one aspect of the Minister's answer in relation to GCSE which I welcome? Can he confirm that it is the Government's view that GCSE has been helpful in persuading young people to stay on in further education? Will he therefore confirm that it is a bad idea that those people who are trying to undermine GCSE should continue to do so? Can the noble Viscount confirm that GCSE is a success?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am happy to agree entirely with the noble Lord.

Baroness David

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the fact that the percentage staying on at school was only 33.2 per cent. whereas the total continuing in education after school leaving age was 48.8 per cent. shows that sixth form colleges and tertiary colleges, or further education colleges, are very much more successful than small sixth forms in schools? Are the Government now taking a more reasonable attitude towards tertiary colleges?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Baroness on that point.

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