HL Deb 05 November 1992 vol 539 cc1540-2

3.18 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Within what length of time they guarantee to find a youth training place for all 16 to 17 year-olds who register for one.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, the Government guarantee the offer of a suitable training place to every young person who is entitled to and wants one; and announced new measures in July to ensure that the guarantee is met. Given the importance of placing young people in training which suits their needs, the speed at which a place is offered will naturally vary from case to case.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. Does he appreciate that, while the severe hardship payment remains discretionary, young people may have no visible legal means of support until the guarantee is met? How quickly that can be met is vital. In the light of his Written Answer to me of 27th October, in which he said that he did not have the detailed figures, does he agree that he did not give me an answer to this Question because his records do not permit him to discover one?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Earl rather skates over the fact of the visible means of support. Young people have a great deal of support; for instance, they have child benefit for an extended period up to perhaps January if they leave school in the summer. They are also entitled to income support if they are living alone or if they are disabled. So there are many instances where young people are entitled to support. But we do not believe it the right policy to let young people start on a lifetime of benefit which may mean that they end up on a lifetime of benefit.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount is aware of the anxieties of the British Youth Council about the increasing amount of youth unemployment and about the increasing number of young people who are not being found a guaranteed training place. If the noble Viscount does not have the figures and cannot tell us exactly how many young people are unemployed, have no guaranteed place and have not taken up any alternative training or education, can he tell us what steps he is taking to try to find out the total extent of the problem?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, will understand that this country has probably a better record than most in the European Community on youth employment. However, in order to understand exactly where we are, on 7th July the Secretary of State for Employment asked for monitoring arrangements. For instance, the training and enterprise councils and the careers service are liaising fortnightly to check the progress on meeting the YT guarantee and to pursue individual cases; TECs are providing monthly reports on the action they are taking, and a guarantee liaison officer has been established in all TECs to follow up individual cases and to ensure that suitable YT places can be found for all those who want them.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether a survey has been carried out into whether there is the wide variety of courses that would meet the needs of young people? Very often a young person wants to go on a course but is told that, although that type of course is not available, another type of course is. One boy was told that there was a building course but not a chef's course and he wanted to be a chef, so he did not get on to a course at all.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my noble friend highlights an interesting position. More than 450 national vocational qualifications are currently accredited, and YT offers an opportunity to train to at least NVQ level II. The TECs are obliged to organise suitable training programmes in more than 10 occupational sectors. There are bound to be waiting times in dovetailing all these factors in any one area.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, am I right in thinking that training and enterprise councils have been asked to state how many 16 and 17 year-old applicants have had to wait for a youth training place for eight weeks or more? If that is the case, when will the information be available?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is yes—that is, indeed, the case. Again, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has undertaken to provide the Select Committee on Employment shortly with figures concerning the new arrangements.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, if the Minister is right in saying that we have a better record on 16 to 19 year-olds in employment than other European countries, surely the reason for that is that they have an infinitely better record in keeping that age group in education for much longer.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, what we are doing is measuring youth unemployment and we have a better record than the European Community, on average. We are making great strides in keeping young people on at school or in encouraging them to stay on at school. The choice of whether to stay on at school is often left to the very last minute and that poses problems over whether they are actually seeking training places.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, while I am not for one moment underrating the value of training, is the Minister aware that the great difficulty now with youth training is that youths are very cynical about taking such a training course and there then being no job at the end of it? That is causing a great deal of cynicism at the moment and is leading to some reluctance about going on training courses. Would the Minister agree with that statement and, if so, what is he doing about it?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I am sad to hear the noble Lord's remarks because the training courses provided by the local TECs are of great value. They give qualifications, and a higher number of NVQs is now being achieved by young people. I think that all young people recognise the value of qualifications but, of course, at the moment—in the recession—it is difficult for people to get the jobs that they want.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the British Youth Council has recently reported that nearly 900,000—or one in six —people aged between 16 and 25 are now without education, training or work? That is twice the number recorded two years ago. This is a really deplorable situation. What do the Government intend to do about it?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Question is about the youth guarantee or the guarantee of a suitable training place, and that is what I have been answering questions on. If people do not wish to put themselves forward for youth training, that is entirely a matter for them, but the Government do not encourage that and are not prepared to fund it.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that a guarantee can be meaningful only if made within a specified period of time, and that those who do not get a youth training place within that period of time are entitled to protection from the principles of the Citizen's Charter?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I do not believe that there is any instance where the guarantee has not been met.