HL Deb 27 November 1996 vol 576 cc275-313

3.56 p.m.

Earl Russell rose to call attention to the practical problems which diminish the ability of young people to make their full contribution to society; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I would like to say how warmly I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen. It seems barely a moment since I listened to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack make exactly the same wish to me. I am sure that the noble Earl will find, as I did, that the reputation of this House for generosity to maiden speakers is entirely justified. I look forward to hearing him.

I must declare a variety of interests. First, I must declare an interest as a parent of two recently graduated sons. I must declare an interest as a university teacher, and in many of the points I make I will be thinking of the experience of pupils to whom I have listened. I must declare a non-pecuniary interest as patron of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence, by whom, among others, I am advised.

Any Liberal is used to addressing subjects in the Gladstonian language of rights. Any Liberal is used to warming at such language. I trust that my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead will forgive me if I say that, on occasion, large doses of Gladstone may be like large helpings of Christmas pudding. But I say that as one who likes Christmas pudding.

Today I take the opening quotation—the theme of my remarks—from another flavour within the party, Lord Palmerston, on Catholic emancipation: it is not expedient to exclude so many able persons from the public service.

I am concerned with the difficulties facing young people in the way of achieving independence; an independent establishment, an independent job, earning their living. In the words of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence, it takes longer to become independent these days. Speaking as a parent, I agree entirely.

The figures make some fairly compelling points. Unemployment among 16 to 24 year-olds is nearly double the national average; 15.4 per cent. against 8.5 per cent. The gap between the rate of youth unemployment and the national average rose in the three years between 1992 to 1995 from 67 per cent. to 81 per cent.

It is not only a matter of unemployment; there is also under-employment. The proportion of 16 to 24 year-old men in temporary jobs is more than four times as high as for 25 to 55 year-olds. One would expect a discrepancy, but not one quite so large. I do not believe that when I was that age the discrepancy was anything like as large. I did not know how lucky I was.

Among those earning £2.50 an hour or less, 16 to 24 year-olds account for one in every three. Young people's pay, as a proportion of adult earnings, fell between 1985 and 1995 by 6 to 8 per cent. for men and by 8 to 12 per cent. for women. That is a discrepancy to which I hope the Equal Opportunities Commission will pay attention. It must be of concern to any Chancellor of the Exchequer. The public sector borrowing requirement, which is still serious, even if not desperate, is something which needs attention, and it is a revenue problem as much as it is a spending problem. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on 13th November, challenged opposition parties to recognise and welcome the fall in unemployment. I am happy to do that; it gives me great pleasure. However, although the fall is genuine, it does not mean that we should be satisfied with where we find ourselves because it is not only a matter of total unemployment. It is also, as every young person knows—usually from personal experience—a matter of gross under-employment. The economy does not seem to be creating the stock of reliable, permanent, full-time jobs to which people used to look forward. That may be partly a matter of what Professor Handy refers to as a portfolio of jobs. It may be partly insufficient economic activity. Either way it calls for adjustments which we have not yet made.

There is, in fact, a phrase to cover low-wage, part-time temporary jobs. They have come to be known as "McJobs". The Chancellor of the Exchequer should be aware that a "McJob" does not usually yield as much revenue to the Exchequer as does a real job. Therefore, we need some real jobs.

It should also be causing us concern that among the people who appear as homeless in St. Mungo's Hostel no fewer than 20 per cent. have a university degree. We are producing more university graduates than the labour market is capable of mopping up; we should be thinking about that. The Trust for the Study of Adolescence says—I am sure, from my own experience, it is right—that one of the real problems which young people face is the attitude of adults who regard them as being irresponsible and immature. A young person accused of being immature may well fall back on the reply of Senator Fulbright, as he later became, who, on being taken to task for becoming a college president at the premature age of 30, said, "I understand objections are made against me on the grounds of my youth. I can only say that I am aware of the defect and daily efforts are being made to correct it".

There is nothing new about this, of course. I have a quotation here which shows just the same sort of attitude towards young people: contempt of all dutiful submitting to supreme authority; as the want of that due discipline and correction, wherewith men ought to be framed and smooth in their minority, and tender age… The coming generation will bring in such a torrent of vice and corruption, as will over-run the world, with rudeness, lewdness and extreme barbarity".

That was the vicar of St. Giles-in-the-Fields preaching in his parish church in 1627.

There really is not anything new about it. I once listened to a very fascinating reading of a paper at my postgraduate seminar by an American colleague from Colorado who traced back into the Middle Ages what she described as outbreaks of social control—complaints against the young, complaints against mobility, complaints against sexual manners, discipline, compulsory work and training, and so on. She said that those occurred at regular intervals but always mirrored, not a change in the behaviour of young people, but economic dislocation, social mobility, geographical mobility and changes in employment patterns. I am glad to say that her research showed that none of those outbreaks lasted longer than 20 years. Time is nearly up because we have now had 17 of those years.

When I listen to my own pupils, I find a generation of undergraduates who are a good deal more moral in their attitudes than we were at the same stage. They are quarrying out a morality in which the two key virtues are kindness and honesty. One could do a great deal worse.

There are two areas of irrevocable change. One is in the matter of sexual morals. We must accept, whether we like it or dislike it, that contraception has changed sexual morals as irrevocably as nuclear weapons have changed war. If anyone makes a complaint against me for moral relativism, I shall claim to be in good company. St. Augustine, in the city of God, discussed why God had given a dispensation for polygamy to the patriarchs and then withdrawn it. He said it was because God needed to increase the number of chosen people but when God had done so he withdrew the dispensation. If that is not moral relativism, I do not know what is.

On matters of morals, one thing we can do that is really worthwhile is to lead by example. "Don't do as I do, do as I tell you", is the most impossible advice that can be given to the young and I shall not go in for it. The other thing we can do is to attempt to remove obstructions. The immense problem of student poverty has been displaced into the immense problem of student labour. If your Lordships hope to meet any of my pupils, you are likely to do so, over the next month, in Harvey Nichols, Liberty's or Waitrose where they can be found on average for 10 or 12 hours a week; otherwise they cannot afford to do their courses. That is not merely an interruption of their education. No new jobs are created. So, for every job a student gets, somebody else goes onto income support. There is no resultant saving of public money.

I shall not dwell on the problem of 16 and 17 year-olds. Your Lordships know my opinions and they have not changed. However, I believe that it is pushing a great many people off the ladder which leads into regular employment. They disappear from the statistics, which is why the Government do not know about them, and they never get back in. I hope that in the course of the debate someone will dwell on the terrible problem of what is happening to care leavers, among whom 90 per cent. are unemployed and 23 per cent. have no income from any source.

I shall not dwell at length either on the lower rates of income support for under-25s. My noble kinsman Lord Henley knows what I think about that. I know what he thinks about it too. He says that it is because they have low expectations. But that is precisely what this debate is designed to complain about: they do have low expectations and I wish that they did not. That is our problem.

As an example of discrimination against the young, I was going to use the new system of housing benefit for under-25s which confines them to shared accommodation. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I looked at what was in the Budget. Obviously, the Chancellor simply has not taken in what was said because he is now proposing to extend that system to all single people under the age of 60. It was already clear that there was not enough shared accommodation in the whole country to cover all the under-25s. There was a shortfall in Torbay, for example, of about 100 per cent. The department, believe it or not, had absolutely no information on the extent of the shortfall. That is criminally irresponsible legislation. But now this type of system is to be extended to all single people under 60. That will create an impossible situation.

I should like to hear advocates of family values acknowledge that it is better to be single than to burn. If we do not put this matter right, people in their 40s now can go whistle for their pensions. Helmut Kohl recently pointed out that one of the big disadvantages of it taking so long to get people into employment is that the problem of financing pensions gets worse. It is not just a problem of the number of old people; it is a problem of the ratio between old people and people in employment. If we do not get our young people into employment, we are wasting a scarce resource. That is irresponsible budgeting. I beg to move for Papers.

4.11 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, unfortunately I have been ill and I cannot now stand to speak. Therefore, I cannot see the noble Earl who has just spoken. However, I wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for the wide-ranging picture that he has described to us this afternoon. He is always a man to be followed in a debate. I would dread there to be a day when he followed me, which would oblige him to say some nice words about what I had said. He has a brilliant brain and we all listen to him, as we have with great pleasure and interest this afternoon.

I also wish to welcome, as will other noble Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, who is to speak this afternoon. I remember so well his attractive, tall, red-haired father. He was a great friend to everyone here. I am so glad that the noble Earl has chosen this debate in which to make his maiden speech.

We are asked to discuss the practical problems faced by young people. All people are beset by practical problems when they are growing up. The problems one faces and one's ability to cope with them depend to a large degree on one's formative years. It depends on whether one is fortunate enough to have been brought up in a stable family, whether one has, unfortunately, been brought up by parents who are divorced, whether one is brought up by a single parent, whether one is adopted, or whether one is orphaned. Whether or not a young person reaches the age of 16 and beyond as a happy, healthy and well-adjusted person depends on the way that person has been brought up and on his experiences of early childhood. Whether a young person can make a full contribution to society will depend on the end product of his experiences of early childhood.

This afternoon our attention is being drawn to the practical problems faced by young people; that is, those aged from 16 to 22. If one is much older than that, one cannot remember the time when one faced so many practical problems. I refer to the problem of sometimes being coerced into taking drugs and the difficulty of withstanding pressure from those who want to persuade one to take more drink than is necessary. I refer also to the problems of a shortage of money and a shortage of work, which the noble Earl mentioned. Unfortunately, many young people experience a shortage of housing.

The way in which a young person has been brought up will determine whether, at the age of 16 and over, he or she is still welcome within the family, or whether they are thrown out to fend for themselves. If they are thrown out to fend for themselves, where they live is of paramount importance, not only as regards the way they live but also as regards the jobs that they will be able to obtain. It will affect their employment prospects as sometimes they may not be able to obtain a job because they do not have a permanent residence.

The Government—and through the Government, other agencies—have had much success recently in providing housing for young people who have no homes of their own. We are all aware that it is primarily in this great city of London that the problems occur. We are all aware of the tragedy of youngsters living in the doorways of shops, or perhaps of clubs, or anywhere that gives them protection from our inclement weather. Those doorways constitute their only home. However, they can make good. They are not happy—how can they be?—but they survive.

I happen to know a little about this matter because I have been involved with the charity, Crisis at Christmas, since its inception. It was started by my late husband and myself many years ago when we discussed it round our dining room table. That was in 1967. We hold an open Christmas for about 1,000 people in an enormous warehouse. We feed them and look after single people who are temporarily—we hope—homeless. They make friends at that event but outside the Christmas period they are lonely people. Loneliness is one of the worst scourges in our society today.

Having said that housing is the most important thing that we can provide for our young people, I believe we must all admit that the basic need in their lives is that of a stable family background, whether that is the young person's own family or a co-opted family. If these young people have a stable family background and a family whom they can approach, that makes all the difference in the world. Housing has been provided, by the Government and others, in a big, smart building in Great Peter Street. I believe that the housing is owned by the Salvation Army, but I have not been able to check that. More housing providing 200 beds was opened at the beginning of this week. Housing is gradually being supplied by the Government and by other charities. We can only encourage that as much as we can from this House.

Those problems do not mean that young people cannot and do not make a full contribution to society. From my knowledge of them I maintain that they make a full contribution to society in most cases. They are young and we are apt to think that young people do no good because unfortunately some get into the press. However, the voluntary work undertaken by young people in hospitals and various institutions is perhaps unknown to most noble Lords present. But if one goes round a psychiatric or paediatric hospital, or any organisation which cares for the elderly and the sick one cannot fail to be impressed by the overwhelming help that young people give. As a disabled person, if I want help perhaps to cross the road or to find my way I would always ask a young person—someone in the age groups that I have mentioned.

After all that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, I feel that I have failed miserably. However, we must give much thought to the help that we can give to those young persons while growing up and afterwards. I hope that all Members in this Chamber today will continue to do their best for those young citizens of our society.

4.22 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham

My Lords, first, perhaps I may say how indebted we are to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for initiating this important debate. Secondly, I wish to reiterate how much we look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen. Thirdly, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, for the important point she made about the positive things that are done by so many young people, so often unnoticed. I should declare a personal interest. I am the chair of NACRO's Young Offenders Committee and have been so for some years. I should also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for mentioning St. Augustine, to whom the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and I are devoted; we are avid students.

The subject is of the highest importance because, in talking about young people and their place in society, we are talking about our country's future. Our young people are our future. There is no doubt that there is a problem—the alienation of many young people, young men in particular, of which the incidence of youth crime is one of the symptoms.

How will adult society as a whole respond? The basic question is this, I believe. Do we respond with a mentality and, therefore, with policies of exclusion; or do we respond with a mentality and, therefore, with policies of inclusion? Exclusion when faced by distressing behaviour is often the immediate natural reaction. I believe that the mentality of exclusion is implicit in the way that we so readily talk about young people in the third person—we are doing so now—rather than trying to listen to them and let them speak for themselves. It is a symptom of our fear, anxiety and even—I am sorry to say—dislike.

Our adult society is one which, on the whole, does not like young people very much. People who are disliked tend to respond by behaving in dislikable ways. Deep down most of us actually believe the negative things that other people say about us and respond accordingly. Tell a child that he is not capable of anything and he will lose self-respect and ambition. His expectations will be low. Brand a young person as a young criminal and he will behave as one.

There is a symbiosis between exclusion and self-exclusion—for instance, between truancy and exclusion from school; between absence of work and the habit of work; between lack of facilities for young people and lack of interest in anything except hanging around and being a nuisance.

We also need to attend to the powerful effects of the language of exclusion. I refer to such dreadful talk as "animals" and "rat boys" which breaks out from time to time. Such language does no good at all, least of all to those who use it. We have no right to consign our fellow human beings in that way to some kind of dustbin, whether it is a dustbin of the mind or body.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has called our attention to the practical problems which diminish the ability of young people to make their full contribution to society. He has mentioned some. Here are some others and some of the same. So far as concerns young men, there is the loss of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. There is the collapse of opportunities for the kind of jobs which gave respect in tightly-knit working communities. There is the loss of the habit of work now spread over two generations. There are the special difficulties which ex-offenders have in finding the kinds of secure employment which will help them not to offend again. There has been the chopping and changing of training programmes. There have been the effects on youth work of cuts in local authority funding. We have already heard of the problem of unemployment among graduates and the problem of homelessness among the young.

Few, if any, of those are the result of deliberate policy. But they have all contributed to a culture of exclusion. However, there is one area in which a policy of exclusion has been deliberate. That is in recent policy towards young offenders with its emphasis on punishment and locking people up. That is, I believe, a policy of despair. For that reason—as I said, I speak as chair of NACRO's Young Offenders Committee—we must welcome the Audit Commission's recent report on young people and crime with its emphasis on prevention of crime, work with parents, the place of schools and leisure facilities, housing, training and employment.

What the Audit Commission said is in close accord with NACRO's recently published strategy on crime in England and Wales with its significant title, Prevention, Restoration and Reintegration.

Give young people a stake in society. Listen to them, value them and include them. That is a positive policy instead of the negative habits of exclusion. We need to foster a mentality of inclusion by which young people will be valued, not feared and condemned.

Policies of inclusion will require investment. But do not let us forget the high costs of the existing policies and habits of exclusion. I am thinking not only of the costs of our penal system but of the costs of unemployment and the sheer waste of human talent. The present state of affairs is a waste not only of cash but of people.

In the end there is a profound moral principle at stake. What price do we put on our fellow human beings? Do we recognise our young people, however unattractive we may sometimes find some of them, as our own flesh and blood? That is the basic issue. If we do not, we diminish our own humanity.

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Enniskillen

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I thank noble Lords for their legendary courtesy in welcoming me here. I believe I have relevant experience to bring from Kenya, where I work. I ask the indulgence of the House while I bring that experience to your Lordships' attention and in so doing, even though it may seem rather narrow, offer a more global view.

We are all interdependent to an increasingly great degree and Britain's young people do not have unique practical problems. Those in other parts of the world will also be Britain's problems to a greater or lesser extent. But Britain's young people have unique learning opportunities which can be used to greater effect overseas. Under-employment, sadly, may be a fact of life in future, but there are other ways to occupy young people.

The youth of today are tomorrow's leaders. The learning and experiences they undergo in their formative years will shape and prioritise their future decisions. The environment in which they develop will influence the way they feel about themselves, and their consideration for the world around them, thus enabling them to make their full contribution to society. The environment influences the quality of life for young people in Britain, but in other parts of the world dictates their very existence.

By their experiences and through our trade and aid agreements with other countries, tomorrow's leaders will influence how the global village develops and their wise management of the environment will ensure we can support the human population—a very practical problem.

Britain has made a huge contribution globally in the fields of education and political and personal freedoms. But are we doing enough to ensure the wise use of natural resources and thus prevent problems for younger generations? I believe this should be given top priority. Otherwise tomorrow's conflicts will not be over ethnic, religious or political differences; they will be about practical problems of food and water.

Human population growth and ingenuity coupled with technology and focus on economic development today has a capacity to destroy the environment tomorrow, leaving younger generations impoverished. One such threatened resource is the world's wetlands.

Why is this relevant to today's debate? In the short time available I will try to illustrate from my own experience one area where yesterday's deficiencies give us problems today which mainly affect the younger generation and will affect future generations. They themselves have the ability to correct those deficiencies given the necessary support.

In Kenya, one of the most developed countries in Africa, millions of people have to walk great distances to collect water from unreliable sources. Ironically much of our water and that of Ethiopia and Uganda flows through the Nile, and feeds the rich riparian irrigation strips in Sudan and Egypt. Kenya and Ethiopia are both countries where droughts are common.

Yet Kenya also feeds the United Kingdom and Europe. Its flowers and vegetables now join its tea and coffee in terms of quality and export earnings: 75 per cent. of Kenya's flowers grow in the world's largest flower farms around Lake Naivasha, where I live, which is one of the most important fresh water resources. The lake is highly susceptible to pesticide and chemical pollution from the surrounding farms, among other threats.

We have drawn up and are implementing a management plan for the sustainable wise use of the lake's resources, and to promote the existing multisectoral uses without damaging the lake. We initiated action to declare Lake Naivasha Kenya's second Ramsar site in 1995—giving it worldwide recognition as a wetland of international importance.

It has been a long, uphill task against considerable opposition because of the lack of proper long-term planning in the past for some of the economic developments and lack of cross-sectoral environmental legislation in place to regulate them. In spite of all efforts to the contrary therefore, damage has been done. The younger generation is increasingly aware of these issues, but we have not left them an enabling environment in which to implement their knowledge. We have left them with the problems.

Our success to date, which is probably a unique initiative throughout the world, has been achieved by voluntary work and consensus building at community level with support from the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the UK ODA and Leicester University researchers among others. The result has been a pilot scheme of a sufficient quality to attract Kenya government and international support and by example has encouraged other initiatives.

Some 6.5 per cent. of the earth's surface is covered by wetlands and possibly half of that is in the tropics and sub-tropics, where they are most fragile and where land hunger is at its highest. Two-thirds of the fish we eat globally spend at least some of their life-cycle in wetlands. Yet the rate of loss is alarming and the EU is only now formulating wetland and sustainable land use policies. With the notable exception of Canada and Uganda, other countries are far behind.

Governments are too preoccupied with SAPS Paris Club meetings and conflict resolution to be able to give the necessary attention to the problem. Is it not time that we enter the era of the EAP—environment adjustment programmes—with strategies directly to link sustainable wise use of resources to international trade and aid agreements? It is not a matter of choice; it is the only long-term option, and it will provide job opportunities and enable young people to make a real contribution.

Through its membership of the EU, international conventions such as Ramsar and OECD, and its leadership positions within the commissions of IUCN, Britain has the opportunity to take the lead globally to promote knowledge and awareness as a major priority. Enforcement will never be a solution. It requires educated and aware decision-makers, the young people of today, to create the necessary economic incentives. It is fruitless to expect countries such as Kenya to conserve their forests and wetlands unless the real value of those resources is recognised in the global context when the country is at the same time thirsty, without oil reserves, land hungry and needs employment opportunities and foreign trade so urgently. It needs the support and experience of the international community to achieve that hugely difficult balance between socio-economic development and conservation.

Research and job opportunities in understanding and monitoring conservation issues, and drafting management plans, policy and environmental legislation abound throughout the world. We must enable and enthuse our young people to take them or perform voluntary or community work in related fields ensuring that work is given its true worth in the promotion opportunities back home.

International NGOs such as IUCN are uniquely positioned to help by placing young scientists to work with local communities and for governments to channel more donor support through such organisations by way of return of benefits and recognition of the worth of the natural resources consumed.

The European environmental advisory councils have recently issued an excellent statement on environmentally sustainable land use and reform of the CAP. That statement is worthy of the utmost support.

Our young people have the opportunity to lead the world in environmental issues just as previous generations did on parliamentary democracy and civil liberties. I feel that this is one way in which we can turn young people's problems today into tomorrow's opportunities for them to contribute to society, but time is not on our side.

4.39 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, it is a great honour on behalf of the whole House to be able to thank the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, on an outstandingly interesting maiden speech. The noble Earl's breadth of vision does not surprise me. He served in the Irish Guards; he was a civilian pilot in Kenya; and he is, it may surprise the House to hear, an honorary citizen of the state of Texas. His breadth of experience showed in his speech. We all greatly enjoyed it and I am convinced that the message of shared community environmental enterprise in Kenya is one that is very relevant to this debate this afternoon. I hope we shall hear from him often in this House.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, may I also thank my noble friend Lord Russell for introducing this debate so eloquently this afternoon. Your Lordships may not know that he came here fresh from his award at lunch time today, as Peer of the Year by the Spectator. It is a curious title, but there we are: Lord Russell is now Peer of the Year, and he follows, of course, in the footsteps of our noble friend Lady Seear, who is so sadly absent from her place today. I understand that Lord Russell, in accepting his award, said that he learnt his craft from Lady Seear, and I can well imagine that.

It is clear that this is an important topic. My colleague, Don Foster MP, the Liberal Democrat education and employment spokesman said three weeks ago, when addressing the National Conference of Youth Clubs, that Britain is currently failing to develop to the full the talents and abilities of its young people.

I cannot believe that statement in this House is in any way controversial, even if, between the various Benches, we may disagree on what should be done about it. That failure, to which Mr. Foster referred, is reflected on the margin by a serious breakdown in law and order. Two out of five known offenders are under 21. One out of four is under 18. For those who see the remedy to this in taking ever more draconian punitive measures, it is worth noting that the Audit Commission in its excellent report Misspent Youth, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, points out that three-quarters of the young people who were convicted of the most serious crimes, and were being held in secure custody, had themselves been the victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Seven hundred and fifty thousand 16 to 25 year-olds are today outside work, outside education, outside training and outside benefits. Barely 50 per cent. of young people remain in post-16 education and training. Your Lordships will know that comparable figures in France are 87 per cent. in post-16 education and training and 93 per cent. in Germany.

It is quite clear that we need a new approach in Britain to youth support and youth training. We need to encourage the participation of young people in arts and sport. Could I ask the noble Lord, Lord Henley, when he replies, to tell us whether it is now at last Her Majesty's Government's policy to discourage the selling of school playing fields of which there has been so much, so damagingly over the past 20 years?

We need local strategies to change anti-social attitudes amongst young people in society. Above all, we need to invest in education. This is the challenge to us all, not just to solve the problems that the right reverend Prelate so rightly referred to of alienation, exclusion and, on the margins, lawlessness, but to seize our future in a competitive world. Young people are indeed our future and the challenge to us now is that low skill levels, and even lower aptitude and learning, have become the greatest threat to our future both as a society and as an industrial economy.

The schools of Singapore and Taiwan with their high morale and excellent results already put us to shame. In a business world in which we had a formidable skills lead 100 years ago and in which we still have the inestimable advantage of the English language, the world language of commerce and business, we have now become laggards. At every level from nursery education, the proper foundation for a learning society, to reducing class sizes, improving facilities and raising standards in secondary schools, to universities, to life-long learning, we are starving our future.

I was frankly amazed in the Budget debate of recent days that a government, and for that matter an official opposition, facing the last election before the new millennium, should see the primary question for the electorate as one of tax cuts, rather than one of real investment in this most fundamental pipeline to the future.

The other aspect of education, which I would like to address briefly, is the question of citizenship education. The Audit Commission in the report which I and the right reverend Prelate have mentioned, said that we need a strategy based on citizenship in schools and in the community. My own party proposes that there should be citizen service to give young people one or two years community service for environmental projects. I mention in that context the admirable work done by Groundwork around the country, bringing young people into environmental projects in rundown urban areas, in housing, in renovation, in crime prevention and social services. That would be wise indeed.

We are also committed to making citizenship education a mandatory part of the school curriculum. I think we are the only party to say this, although I shall be interested to hear from the Labour Front Bench. I should like to say a few concluding words on that.

I think it is too early to have a fully objective view of the Thatcher years and of that extraordinary experiment, about which we are all still shell-shocked and trying to assess what it meant for this country and our society. I am quite clear that the remark that there is no such thing as society can now be seen as wholly disastrous. It implies a one-dimensional view of human nature in which people are producers and consumers, where they are economic units, not a society where we are part one of another, not social beings, not citizens, but taking the market which is, of course, an efficient way of securing economic progress, but it is not a metaphor for life as a whole. It will not do to say that there is no such thing as society.

I have had an interesting experience myself in the past three years in establishing in Prague a secondary school, known as the English College in Prague, which aims to give the best of British education to young Czech people. The most interesting thing is, following the end of the Communist regime in the Czech Republic, how many of the Czech schools, how many of the gymnasiums and other secondary schools, are now looking round to try to find some social ethic on which to base their teaching. This was not a problem in the old days; they had Marxism and Leninism. Now, all they are offered from Britain and from the West is the market. The market may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. People need to have an idea of how to live in society one with another.

I am also involved as a trustee with a body called the Citizenship Foundation. After the horrors of recent months and years the whole subject of citizenship education is much on people's minds, including issues of legal education, political education and moral education. The Citizenship Foundation is doing useful work. Some of your Lordships may know of the Motorola sponsored youth parliament, of the mock trials of the young person's passport, of good role playing exercises in schools where people can play out some of the decisions that are made by local councils, and of teaching, through moral dilemmas, children even in primary schools. As we know, most moral development is formed—the Jesuits were right—by the age of six or seven. The early teaching through moral dilemmas and role playing cannot come too early to give children some kind of insight into life with their fellows.

There is also the work of the Hansard Society in political education, not on a partisan basis. We need that very much. Those who look to the next election expect not more than two out of five first-time voters to go to the polls to vote. That is tragic because it is their future for which they will be voting.

I refer also to the work of the Bridge Project, with which some noble Lords may be familiar. It brings together university students—from Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham and now Leicester—to work with excluded, disadvantaged and isolated young people in a practical way, to try to deal with the problem of exclusion mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham.

Inclusion is one key. But the other key is the question of trust. In the end, that is the object of citizenship, education and community involvement. People should learn to be trustful of each other. Mr. Fukuyama in his recent book spoke about trust as the fundamental glue of both civil society and competitive success. That is what I believe we have to create in our schools, communities and society as a whole.

4.51 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, on a splendid and imaginative maiden speech. I spent three of the most formative years of my life in what was then Tanganyika. I hope that his idea of encouraging young people to take an interest in the problems of Africa can be followed.

I welcome the practical tone of the Motion. I also endorse the emphasis put on the importance of education by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I believe that the most crucial element in enabling young people to make a full contribution to society is that they should be able to acquire the right—I underline the word "right"—qualifications and skills which are so essential in today's complex and competitive world.

The general tone of the debate has been rather gloomy, offering a series of problems and even disasters. I accept that there are many problems. But, although I have often in the past bemoaned the problems, I feel that the situation at present is more hopeful than I have known it for many decades. It was unfortunate that in the 1960s raising the school-leaving age to 16 and the introduction of comprehensive education were paralleled—not caused—by a decline in apprenticeship and the demise of the technical colleges. The result was that weakened vocational and technical qualifications with unsatisfactory structures failed to attract many of the young. The apprenticeship system had collapsed and there was nothing to take its place.

What happened—here lie the roots of today's problems—was that many, indeed the majority, who were not drawn to the academic courses which were present in large numbers at the expanding universities, left school, without any qualifications at all, to take unskilled jobs. Those are the people who often resort to crime and are the first casualties of any unemployment problem. I am hopeful, because attempts have been made over the past three to five years to remedy the situation. For the first time we are beginning to concentrate on getting adequate vocational and technical qualifications. NVQs and GNVQs are being developed to provide such a qualification, which, it is to be hoped—I say this optimistically—will in time bear comparison with A-level. Much remains to be done. The Minister knows—I have told him on many occasions and bored him to tears with it—that the GNVQ and NVQ qualifications have to be made demanding. Only in that way will they be held in as high regard as those vocational courses that exist in France and Germany. That must happen. A start has been made and things are better than in the past.

I believe, although many in the House will not share my view, that breaking the rigidity of the educational structure has made it possible for schools to give more value to courses other than academic ones. That can occur because of the greater independence of grant-maintained schools and of course the creation of city technology colleges. I believe that in time that will enable some of the grant-maintained schools or city technology colleges to create centres of excellence for vocational and technical studies, again producing a situation exactly parallel with the one that exists over the whole of western Europe. Such centres of vocational excellence exist in large numbers in France and Germany and provide an alternative to the Abitur and Baccalauréat, the equivalents of A-level. That cannot but help school leavers obtain adequate qualifications suitable to their interests and abilities. It will enable them to get jobs and prevent them drifting into destitution and crime.

I speak as governor of two independent schools and one maintained comprehensive school. The much maligned league tables have caused schools—certainly those that I know, both independent and maintained—to pay more attention to creating higher academic standards, particularly in the crucial areas of numeracy and reading. I agree that the system could be refined. We would want to know the standard of the pupils when they entered the schools. But again progress has been made and things are better than they were—and I have governed schools for a long period.

I conclude anecdotally. I think it shows something of the tenor of what I am trying to say. I was brought up in the north as a member of a poor family. The tradition in which I was brought up was one in which parents made enormous sacrifices so that children could obtain qualifications. My grandmother, a widow from the 1914-18 war, worked as a shop assistant in the Co-operative. Yet with an inadequate grant—there were hardly any grants and when there were they were inadequate—she paid for my uncle to go to a teacher training college. Others accepted the inevitable low wages of their children while they were in an apprenticeship. We must encourage that. My noble friend Lady Macleod emphasised the importance of the tradition of a family helping and supporting its children to obtain qualifications to enable them to avoid unemployment. We must all support that. I spent five years at Cambridge. My family were poor but they bought my clothes, fed me and gave everything. That tradition, which existed at a time when there was very little state support, should be encouraged. I say again that there is a lot to do. But a start has been made. The situation is not gloomy; we might even imitate our Continental neighbours.

Before I sit down perhaps I may say a word in favour of the great St. Augustine. He was accused of moral relativism but he also said, Would that the world was celibate and this sorry business could come to an end". That is the opposite of moral relativism.

5 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, on his excellent maiden speech and thank him for reminding me that what we are discussing tonight are probably the problems of young people in the first world.

My noble friend's debate is as relevant as ever, as the conditions for young people to enter adult society become more difficult, and indeed when more barriers are being erected than ever before. I propose to look at why some of those barriers are erected and then make suggestions as to how we, as a society, might dismantle them.

We are focusing on that period in life when the inevitably inexperienced young person makes the transition from school to work or related training. For some it is more fundamental—securing a home; securing an income; securing health and safety. Those who are currently being looked after by a local authority may well feel that they are being cast adrift. "Looked after" is the euphemism in the Children (Scotland) Act for being brought up in care.

I recall recently tabling amendments calling for an extension of a local authority's duty of care of young people up from 17 to 21, 23 and even 25. I did that in the context that the average age of leaving home is 22. I persist in the view that being looked after by the local authority is in no way an acceleration to independent living, despite the sub-cultural thought of some children in care.

To return to the mainstream of the debate, there is no doubt that youth employment policy and practice must be looked at. The importance of entry to work cannot be stressed too much. It is the symbol of integration into adulthood and into the community. It is the means of accessing the fulfilment of one's purpose, to make one's contribution to society. Failure to achieve that is expressed in frustration, boredom, lack of direction and wasted potential—as has been mentioned—and can spill over into self-defeating deviance, vandalism, criminality, addiction and even, in some dreadful cases, suicide.

For young men it is now harder to enter employment since it was established that young women are more employable. That imbalance needs attention, especially as young men who fail to access the modern form of the hunter-gatherer role will end up very displaced. I turn to the economic aspects of that situation and, initially, touch on what I suppose must be called the redistribution of unemployment. I ask the unwanted question: who is more capable of withstanding unemployment? I answer it thus: young people are among the least capable.

I want to consider reshaping the workforce by measures such as a shorter working week, job sharing, moves from employment to self-employment and earlier retirement. Also needing consideration is the effect of raising and lowering wages as a means of employment expansion. Those suggestions all relate to a static labour market. Clearly economic expansion and investment are better but often elusive measures for expanding the workforce. I fully accept that talk of an earlier retirement policy will cause the usual Treasury cynicism that young people are cheaper to maintain in unemployment than older people. But, while I accept the initial arithmetic, I insist that it is far more damaging not to give young people a start in employment. Policies aimed at compulsory private or, more to the point, fully funded pensions will be helpful, albeit requiring a substantial period of time to elapse before they come into effect.

I should like to run with the hypothesis that there is a frostier reception for young people when joining the workforce today. They are perceived as a greater threat to existing jobs than ever before. That is a product of job insecurity and of the changing nature of work. As has been mentioned, there are far fewer jobs now for a laddie—a wee boy—to do.

I move on to education policy. Initially, I note that schools still focus on qualifications rather than skill acquisition and that professional cynicism allows some children to be written off due to family background. I am keen that all young people should be taught economics, particularly those aspects which explain employment practices and the nature of work and business. Too many young people have not grasped that unless they focus on a specific job, they will be left unemployed. Youngsters who say that they will do any job will be employed to do no job. An education system that produces unfocused jobseekers is clearly unhelpful.

Similarly, the practice of teaching the wrong metric system is unhelpful. Teaching children to use centimetres is nonsense when the building industry uses metres and millimetres. The distortion caused by drug pushers, some media influences and parental disinterest is even less helpful. Parental disinterest needs examining. I suggest that today's parents have less confidence as parents than ever before. Faced by a bewildering range of differing lifestyles and attitudes, today's parents are faced with choices and potentially more confusion than their forebears ever had in a more structured society. A clear view of how children should be brought up seems to be harder to develop and maintain today. Parents and potential parents therefore need to give that matter more thought and, in some cases, actually start to think about it.

I want now to focus on the neglected area of social and employment policy; that is, that of land settlement. It is part of what I call "remote areas" policy. Reversing the trend of education and emigration from our more remote areas could be achieved by a more vigorous approach to enabling young people to stay or, indeed, move to the more remote areas and to find a means of making a living and a life in the abundant space of our more remote areas. Attention to underused land assets and absentee landlords would reveal that there is a potential for the redistribution of land and that that has already been legislated for. Attention to the position of absentee crofters and smallholders, for example, and a better resourced crofting new entrant scheme could have considerable benefits in that regard.

I conclude with the plea that the importance of a successful transition from school to work be recognised as vital and that government policies be focused around that criteria.

5.8 p.m.

Lord Sempill

My Lords, I too extend my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, and welcome to your Lordships' House another valuable spokesman on behalf of Africa. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue as I believe the young are the most important asset that we have and I do not believe that we are managing them very well.

Today's young are by no means the most problematical that we have had and I suspect that my generation may even have been worse. In contributing to the noble Earl's debate, I felt it worthwhile to provide an overview of today's youth and I commence with a quote: It was the absence of anxiety and the freedom to grow up largely without interference from adults which demarcates previous generations from this one … the children hear an adult burden of worry and gloom". That quote has been extracted from an extensive piece of research commissioned by an advertising agency, which, not surprisingly, is very interested in the attitudes and aspirations of today's youth. The research was conducted in six cities among respondents aged 14 to 25 and has been supplemented with quantitative data from various other sources. It was completed in March of this year.

The key observations are that British youth are characterised by an aggressive consumer confidence, a reasonable degree of control over their social lives and a growing consumption of media. They are worried by job insecurity, AIDS, drugs and violence, which means that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. These concerns are underlined by a perception that major institutions are now letting them down. This is mainly applicable to schools and, unfortunately, to the police.

Education featured very highly in the research, and I was pleasantly surprised to read that in a list of 10 key lifestyle statements the second in order of importance was: It's important to work hard at school". That shows a clear recognition of the value they place on education, an area in which government have a clear responsibility and an area where the young are at the most crucial stage of their development. But the continual chopping and changing of educational policy has created a feeling among our youth that they are nothing other than "guinea pigs". The current dilemma between school teachers and difficult pupils is a good example of how we have failed them through parental incompetence and state impotence. Their uncertainty manifests itself in a blasé approach to their future, which is being exacerbated by the speed with which things continue to change.

Technology, however, holds them in no fear and I was surprised to read that nearly 60 per cent. of their homes have a PC and that over 80 per cent. of the respondents use computers on a regular basis. The majority of them have become aware of the Internet and recognise the benefits of having global technology or information on tap. The impact of this technology is having a profound effect on education, specifically now that teachers are reshaping the way lessons are presented.

The biggest change noted in the research—a similar study was conducted in 1994—is the emergence of the empowered female. These young women, one of whom is my daughter, are active consumers and display a maturity way beyond their years. They are sexually aware and not afraid to start relationships. They are avid readers of magazines especially those aimed at older women, from which they are picking up a wide range of information, some of it sexually explicit. Among this group, unfortunately, there has been a notable increase in young female gang violence, which is disturbing. This empowerment has, not surprisingly, created a male reaction, which is epitomised by, in the words of the research, a laddish world of football, pubs and birds". That is not dissimilar to what I went through.

No valid observation can be made of the young without reference to the drug scene and the impact it has had, and will continue to have, on their lives. So let us examine the drugs phenomenon a little closer. According to the Drug Dependency Unit, some 2.7 million Ecstasy tablets, with a street value of £40.5 million, are sold in the UK every weekend. The survey shows that 17 year-olds are averaging more than £100 per month to satisfy this habit. That does not include the £40 they spend on alcohol. But before we condemn them to a life in prison, let us just understand what they value in this rather extraordinary pill. It kills their inhibitions and brings them into a world of love and togetherness! Is that good or bad, or is it not just what we were trying to do, albeit through different stimulants? However, across the board, some of the fun associated with Ecstasy usage has gone. It is by no means harmless, as the death of Leah Betts clearly evidenced in the research.

The power of this drug is not just the effect on the individual but the effect on an entire generation. It has spawned an entire culture of music and dance, and with that a re-evaluation of youth values. It has been responsible for the development of the rave scene, which in turn created a separate form of street communication, leading to a dramatic increase in pirate media. Their buying power has enabled them to escape from the home environment and, coupled with the chronic lack of facilities, has seen the urban youth invade shopping malls and fast-food outlets, where they congregate and spend their money. Their country cousins are not so fortunate and boredom often becomes the catalyst for experimentation with drugs and other substances. This freedom of movement is helped by a degree of financial independence. More than 85 per cent. of them have either a bank or a building society account and approximately 20 per cent. receive between £100 and £200 pocket money per annum.

I hope that I have given your Lordships some insight into our youth, although it is important to note that this is no homogeneous group. Social divides are clearly evident and the hedonistic attitudes of some should not be confused by the overt anarchism of others. Why are our children so unsettled? They are, after all, exceptionally privileged in comparison to many of their counterparts overseas. The difference, I believe, is in how we are portraying the future. A recent study has examined the attitudes of the youth in India. They are extremely confident of tomorrow. They are led to believe that their contribution will not only benefit India but that they, in turn, will experience a lifestyle of superior quality. We may all hold differing views regarding our future, but I ask: is it as bad as the media make out? Where is the dream; where are we going? Young people do not aspire to write the agenda. They expect us to do this.

What do we offer? ERM, BSE, BBC and government by TV! It does not quite have that "bliss was it to be alive that dawn" feeling. As the survey shows, they have little confidence in the political system, let alone the politicians. Therefore I have to conclude that our youth are frustrated and lacking in direction. They are the beneficiaries of a technological revolution, which is having a profound effect on our society. They are maturing at an alarming rate and need to be given a stronger sense of citizenship. It is in our long-term interest to provide them with the necessary facilities to allow them to develop and thereby contribute to a better tomorrow.

5.18 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, on an outstanding maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, said a moment ago that young people have little confidence in the political system. Indeed, we worry from time to time that young people do not respond to many of the political issues that concern us. But if there is one thing that young people are enthused by, it is the problems of the environment and how to deal with them. I welcome the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, and his emphasis on the production of environmentally sustainable policies which he has seen developed in Kenya.

I wish to develop the theme of the problems of juvenile crime, which were touched on by my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham. I, too, am indebted to the recently published report by the Audit Commission entitled Misspent Youth. My noble friend Lord Holme reminded the House that, according to Home Office statistics, two out of every five known offenders in 1994 were under the age of 21 and a quarter of them were under 18.

The estimate made in that report means that a staggering 7 million crimes against individuals—such as theft, burglary, assault and theft against retailers and manufacturers—were committed during that year. The Audit Commission estimated that the cost of the criminal justice system in processing and dealing with young offenders, including all public service areas, amounted to £1 billion per year.

We have to ask ourselves: what value do we get for that money? The first startling figure is that only a small proportion of those 7 million offences are ever reported and recorded by the police, of which just 3 per cent. lead to arrest and action. Of that 3 per cent. 1.8 per cent. of the offenders are cautioned and 1.3 per cent. are charged or summonsed. So, in effect, of the order of 97 offenders out of 100 are not caught or dealt with for the crimes they commit.

Youth offending is not going to be dealt with by progressively harsher penalties calling for larger and more numerous penal institutions, boot camps, psuedo-militaristic training and so on. That is not the way to prevent crime because, as I have said, 97 out of 100 young people who offend are never caught. So the emphasis must move from deterrence through these penal measures to a strategy for tackling youth crime as a whole. We have heard from Mr. Blair about his wishing to be tough on the causes of crime. That is an excellent sound bite, but it solves nothing on its own. It raises two further questions: what are the causes of youth crime and, having identified those causes, how do we prevent offending behaviour in the first place?

In a recently published Joseph Rowntree report Understanding and Preventing Youth Crime, these risk factors as the child grows up through the various stages of its life were identified; these are the formative years referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. They were identified as, first, inadequate parenting. Nobody is trained to be a parent and when that bundle arrives we look at it with surprise and joy and wonder what to do next. I recall Steve Martin in the film "Parenthood" who did precisely that. He looked at the little bundle and said, "Just look at her—and we haven't harmed her yet".

Erratic or harsh parental discipline shading into child abuse is not the answer. Those who advocate spanking and caning really do not have an answer to the problems of dealing with young children. Conflict between parents, parental rejection of the child, low parental involvement with the child—these are the matters of concern. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham talked about exclusion. These young children are excluded from love. I, unfortunately, and much more than most of your Lordships, have had to deal with pathological killers—far too many of them. The common feature of people who do not feel pain themselves and who do not realise that they are inflicting it on others is that they have never learnt to love because affection was never shown to them when they were young.

The learning of parental skills must start in the schools and continue with professional help, which will help young parents to develop the self-awareness and self-confidence to deal with children. Family centres in areas of high risk can bring together the social services, the health services and the voluntary organisations such as the organisation Homestart which aims to befriend young families at risk through volunteer networks of experienced parents. We all have experiences as parents—I hope good ones—which we can pass on to other young parents who do not know quite how to react.

As the child grows up the next problem is aggressive and hyperactive behaviour in early childhood. What is the answer to that? It is investment in nursery schools so that the children who have been brought up in a home lacking love can at least learn to socialise, to get to know other children and to have imposed on them by the carers at nursery school standards of behaviour, or even to have identified for themselves medical problems so that they can be helped.

Again, as the child progresses we come to the school years, with the problems of truancy and exclusion, which were highlighted recently in the case of Philip Lawrence with which I had some connection. It was tragic indeed to see what can happen when young people truant and are excluded from school. The research paper by Graham and Bowling, Young People and Crime, published in 1995, found that 42 per cent. of offenders of school age who are sentenced in the youth court have been excluded from school and 23 per cent. truant significantly. Further, excluding children from school causes them to commit 50 per cent. more offences in the year following exclusion. So excluding children from school is not the answer. That is not the way to go because that merely pushes the problem from within the disciplines that can be enforced on the children in the school, into the wider community. It is a challenge to parents, schools, headmasters and school welfare officers that these problems of truanting and exclusion should be dealt with.

The next matter which the report highlighted was peer group pressure to offend. They are young people who used to get into "bad company", as they used to say, who are associating with others and imitate what they do. How is that to be dealt with? It is to be dealt with by resources for youth clubs; giving people access to sports facilities and to outdoor activities; encouraging young people to mix with others in constructive and challenging activities; finding new role models to promote a positive self-image for themselves at the youth stage. We must get away from the gangs hanging around with nothing to do and with boredom causing them to commit crime.

A further factor was unstable living conditions particularly for young people leaving care. My noble friend Lord Russell referred to the fact that of the children who have been in care, 90 per cent. are unemployed and 23 per cent. have no income at all. They live in terrible conditions which are conducive to crime. We must tackle that. It is no use later coming along, taking them to a boot camp and marching them up and down in some militaristic way, as I have previously said, believing that that will solve their problems. It is a question of dealing with the way they live in their homes; giving them support for the way in which they live their lives.

It would take too long for me to deal with training and employment. As I have already said, boredom and having nothing to do are the sort of things which are conducive to young people offending. Finally, there is drug and alcohol abuse, which are so much behind all the crime with which I come into contact. It is a wide subject and I do not have the time to deal with it all. The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, developed that theme. Apart from the need to fashion a dream for young people, his point was that we should try to stimulate young people to have interests which mean that they do not get their stimulation from drugs or alcohol but from positive activities.

I have tried to describe the cycle of deprivation at each stage of the development of a child. Once that cycle has begun, it is difficult to break it. When he replies, I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Government will shift their emphasis from populist draconian penal policies that are bound to fail to a more imaginative approach of preventing crime at its roots.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may speak in the gap. I do so with some trepidation because I have a fundamental concern about speaking of young people as a group. I wonder what we would say if the noble Earl had introduced a debate on the practical problems facing 56 year-olds such as myself. I make that as a serious point because I was concerned that following the International Youth Year the most commonly repeated comment among young people was, "Please will people stop describing us all as though we are the same?". Thousands of young people are involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, community activities, Young Farmers Clubs, the Scouts and drama societies. The list is endless. It is important to have on the record the fact that so many young people undertake such activities.

I join the congratulations that have been paid to the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, on his distinguished maiden speech. His contribution will strike a chord with many young people who recognise the interdependence of the world in which they are growing up. One of the noble Earl's points, which I hope will be taken up, was the need to extend young people's opportunities to participate in international activities.

I seek to speak about one particular group of young people within the general category. I refer to those young people who are very young parents themselves. Many noble Lords have referred to the circumstances of, and the problems facing, young people. It is fashionable in some political circles to treat the issue of providing adequate incomes, adequate housing, a safe and secure environment, and education and training opportunities as somehow rewarding feckless behaviour. If we take that view, the feckless behaviour is ours.

In most cases, young people who become parents face intolerable pressures which I, for one, know that I could not have overcome at the age of 16, 17 or 18. On the other hand, there is dramatic evidence to show that where we provide resources to help such young parents with, for example, parental support projects, support through family centres and, particularly, with nursery and primary education, it is possible to intervene and to break a tragic cycle that so often is one of deprivation.

In order to do that, we must recognise the importance of human resources and time. A child needs a sufficient number of teachers to ensure that he can speak and be listened to. With a committed investment in human time from professionals, young parents can break that cycle of deprivation and increase not only their own opportunities, but those of their children. I hope that the Minister will recognise the importance of that work.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, it is an unexpected and, these days, an unusual pleasure for me to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton. More usually I speak immediately before her. However, since I have such an unexpected and unusual opportunity, perhaps I may say how much I agree with her opening comments. I am sure that that is true of all noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Russell who tabled this Motion. We are wrong if we suggest that all young people are the same. Of course they are not. Young people are as different individually as people of any age. They all have different needs and different expectations. However, perhaps they have a range of problems and practical difficulties in common, just as—dare I suggest it?—do most 56 year-olds or rising 53 year-olds. The purpose of today's debate is to draw attention to. and to consider, those common problems and difficulties.

I may just have declared one personal interest, but before going any further perhaps I should declare both a political interest and a personal interest. I am still the leader of a London borough council which is a unitary authority and therefore has responsibility for education, including the youth service, for housing, for social services and leisure services—in fact, for the whole range of local authority services which impact upon young people.

My other interest—a very much more personal one—is that I have two sons who are currently in post-school education. My older son has just started his first term at university as a mature student at the ripe old age of 22. Having been out at work for three years, free of parental support, he thought—my wife and I took a slightly different view because he was living at home with us—he has now discovered somewhat to his surprise (but not to ours) that his grant as a mature student does not enable him to live in the style to which he has become accustomed. That is a very real personal interest.

We have had a brief but interesting and useful debate on a subject which is of vital importance to the country. As many of your Lordships have said, it is of vital importance to the future of our society. There have been many useful contributions. I do not have time to single out many, but I should like to join all noble Lords in paying tribute to the interesting and excellent maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen. We all listened to it with great interest and it brought a wider dimension to our debate than we may have expected at the start of the debate.

I listened with particular interest to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and found myself agreeing with everything that he said, particularly with the emphasis that he put on "inclusion" as distinct from "exclusion". So often we approach young people as the problem and immediately start to exclude them. When we say, "They are the problem", we use what is essentially an exclusive term. It is not young people who are the problem; it is young people who have the problem. By talking with them and most particularly by listening to them, we can attempt to recognise and to deal with the problem in an inclusive way. I agree wholly with the right reverend Prelate.

Inevitably, many of my noble friends have already made the points that I had intended to raise. They have rightly stressed why the Liberal Democrats have chosen this subject for one of our debates. It is because of the importance that our party gives to the whole issue of life-long learning and particularly to the challenges now facing young people. My noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham raised a number of useful points, some of which I had intended to cover but no longer need to. He asked the Minister a question—as a local authority leader I have particular interest in the answer—about what the Government intend to do to discourage the sale of playing fields. Perhaps I may suggest an answer to the Minister—I suspect that I shall not hear this one in a few minutes' time. If the Government were to relax significantly the capital controls on local authorities, that alone would have a significant effect on the sale of playing fields because very few, if any, schools or local authorities want to sell their playing fields. However, they have to do so to raise the capital receipts that are necessary for the basic maintenance of their schools. I am in danger of getting onto a hobby horse.

Inevitably, in talking to my sons and thinking about this debate I have to make some comparisons between the situation when I left school in 1961 and the situation today. In 1961 we felt that we were under great pressure but life was a good deal simpler. Only 5 per cent. of us went on to university. Most did not, and did not expect to. Whether or not that is a benefit is a matter of interpretation. I compare my situation then with that of my sons today. Not only did I go straight to work on leaving school but, as far as I recall, everyone I knew went straight into jobs. Most of us had jobs from which to choose. Both of my sons are educated to A-level standard and have gone on to university. They have many friends who are similarly qualified and who before and after university have had great difficulty in finding jobs. Perhaps the biggest difference between my generation and my sons' is that in the 'sixties we had hope for the future. If asked then probably most of us would have said that we did not expect to die in our beds but rather in a nuclear holocaust. That is one change for the better. I suspect that nowadays young people would not say that. Having said that, we had hope for the future. Although there are many exceptions, I am not sure that, as a generation, young people today have the same hope that we had 30 years ago. Perhaps that is not surprising. We have heard that today many more people are in further and higher education, but still only 50 per cent. of young people are undergoing further and higher education compared with 87 per cent. in France and 93 per cent. in Germany.

We know only too well about the problem of student poverty and the general underfunding of that sector. I have spoken briefly about jobs. It is a fact that 600,000 under 25 year-olds are without work. Although I have not checked the figures, I suspect that in 1961 the total number of unemployed of all ages was in the region of 600,000. Now we are simply talking of those who are under 25. Last year alone, 156,000 16 to 19 year-olds experienced homelessness. That is shocking at any age, but for young people of that age it is much worse.

My noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham spoke about citizenship, on which I do not need to dwell. However, I should like to make a comparison between today and 30 years ago. In the 'sixties many young people belonged to single issue groups. The youth movements of all the political parties were strong and vibrant. Indeed, some parties at that time, including my own, thought that they were too vibrant! Those groups were strong, vibrant and had a real impact and influence. I remember campaigning hard for votes at 18. I should like to know why young people today are not campaigning hard to have the age at which people can stand as candidates lowered to 18. I am sure that 30 years ago that would have happened. That remains my party's policy.

In the 1992 General Election over 20 per cent. of 18 to 25 year-olds were not even registered to vote. Two and a half million of them do not even bother to vote. That is not their fault or their problem; it is our fault and our problem. I believe that it is the fault of the political system and the political parties that there has not been a sufficient engagement with young people such that they feel it is worth while to become involved and register, let alone bother to vote. Of course, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham is right when he says that we need to listen to young people and not just talk at them. We need to listen to them and act upon what they say. There is no point in listening to them unless they know they have been heard.

I have mentioned that I am a local authority leader. In that sector I see some of the practical problems only too well. I do not wish to upset the Minister, at least not on this occasion, but in general there has been considerable pressure on local authority budgets. An hour or so ago we learned that the pressure may be even greater in the coming year. In an effort to protect the school budgets and give priority to them, I suspect that most LEAs, including my own (I am sad to say), have had to cut the youth service budget. The effect of year-on-year cuts in those budgets has been very serious. Such cuts are seldom cataclysmic. It does not happen as a big crunch or crisis; it happens over a period of time. This has happened over a period of time. The effect on the youth service—I do not refer solely to the public sector youth service but also to the extremely important part played by the voluntary sector in co-ordination with the public sector—has been very serious.

As a local authority leader, I take the matter a little further. It is sometimes said—I have heard it in my own authority—that youth is the responsibility of the youth service. That is a very limited view. Youth is the responsibility of all of us. All local authority departments provide very important services for and should be working closely with young people. That is demonstrably true of social service provision, but sadly it is not entirely true of housing and leisure services. Many of the users of leisure services are young people. Many local authorities do not have a properly co-ordinated youth strategy. Local authorities are particularly well placed to engage with young people in real dialogue and debate about their needs and aspirations to which the right reverend Prelate has referred.

I turn briefly to youth training, which is another important area. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that, in particular about the effects of the Budget. Immediately prior to yesterday's Budget, TECs feared that there would be a 20 per cent. cut in the youth training budget. I have not yet been able to unpack the Budget details sufficiently to know whether or not that is true. Perhaps the Minister will be able to clarify the position. But if it is true, or even partially true, it will have a very serious impact on 18 to 21 year-olds. A 20 per cent. cut would mean the loss of 50,000 places. In my own TEC area it would mean a loss of 1,000 places. In my own borough alone there would be a loss of 200 places for the 18 to 21 year-olds. Yet proper and good quality training is the key to proper and full employment in the future, and it is crucially important.

It is Liberal Democrat policy to give priority to lifelong learning. That is the reason why we have chosen this subject for debate today. It is our priority to invest in the future. We regard investment in the future as infinitely more important than tax cuts for the next four months, as one of my noble friends said earlier. We have a whole range of measures, which I do not have time to describe, to attempt to deal with that situation and demonstrate where we would place that funding for lifelong learning. Our first priority is to open up new opportunities for people to gain skills and make the most of their lives and to create a nation of lifetime learners.

As I have mentioned in other debates in your Lordships' House, we also have proposals to tackle the ever-growing and real problem of student poverty. Most of all, we need to recognise that our young people are society's future. I am sure that all of us believe that young people are valuable assets, but it is not simply enough to say that. Our actions must demonstrate that they are valued. It is for that reason that Liberal Democrats give such high priority to lifelong learning.

5.49 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, first, I should like to thank the noble Earl for introducing this very important and, as it has turned out, varied debate. The subject is of great importance to our country's future. It also gave us the opportunity to hear the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, give his maiden speech, which was fascinating. It was interesting to have a wider view—a view from another continent. I was particularly pleased to hear him talk about the environment. I believe that young people find the environment a stimulating subject, and the more we can encourage that the better.

My own list of problems which create difficulties for society today are: poverty; unemployment; inadequate education and training; poor parenting; and the greedy and unfair society that it seems we have become. All those lead to young people feeling alienated from society. That, to me, is dangerous.

Poverty makes it very difficult for parents to cope, and it is growing fast in what we are told by the Chancellor is a prosperous and successful society. Children living in households with less than half the national income rose from 16 per cent. to 33 per cent. between 1981 and 1992. Inequality of income is greater in the UK than in any other north European country. There are two groups I want to mention specifically: lone parents and young people leaving care.

The percentage of children brought up in one-parent families rose from 11 per cent. to 19 per cent. between 1981 and 1992. That is 4.2 million children. That is frightening. Last year they had their benefit cut. I wrote as chairman of the all-party Children Group to Mr. Peter Lilley to beg him that further cuts forecast would not take place in the Budget. We did ask him to see us but he was not able to do that. Yesterday he pushed through a drastic reduction in benefit payments for single mothers by abolishing the lone-parent premium for all new claimants. The 1 million lone parents on income support will continue to receive the £5.20 a week, but single parents who go onto income support from next year will not be eligible.

A Channel 4 programme on poverty a few weeks ago showed a good, caring, single mother trying to bring up a child on £80 a week. Imagine the stress and the struggle in trying to keep up appearances for the child's sake at school, buying expensive little packets of orange juice so the other children would not think that he was different.

Some people think that pushing more money toward two-parent families in order to boost marriage is sensible and would influence people towards marriage and two-parent households. Perhaps it will, but I am afraid that I consider it doubtful. Surely it is children of whom we should be thinking and the effect of poverty on them, on their lives. They are the next generation. Deprivation is recognised as a cause of crime.

Now, children leaving care, particularly the 16 to 18 year-olds are others about whom we should be very anxious. During the debate on the Children Bill in 1989, Lady Faithful and many of us tried very hard to improve the possibilities for them and put some responsibility for them on local authorities. We did not get what we wanted. The powers of the authorities are discretionary, and of course a great many of them have not got the money.

Those young people represent only 1 per cent. of their age group, yet they are massively over-represented among those who are disadvantaged. More than 75 per cent. have no academic qualifications; between 50 per cent. and 80 per cent. are unemployed; 23 per cent. of adult prisoners and 38 per cent. of young prisoners have been in care; one in seven young women leaving care is pregnant or already a mother; 30 per cent. of young single homeless have been in care; one in 10 16 to 17 year-old claimants for DSS severe hardship payments has been in care. There are some care leavers who are successful, but a caring society should not feel complacent about what is happening now. The vast majority are in care through no fault of their own. Local authorities just do not have the necessary resources to take on the duties that they could exercise. The plight of those young people is very serious.

The Labour Party has a number of plans for getting young people into training and employment, but I do not have time to go into those. Poor parenting is a cause of inadequate and possibly delinquent children. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, talked about that and I echo everything he said. The Labour Party has produced an excellent document called Parenting. I recommend that to people's attention. Research has shown that parental supervision is one of the most important factors in determining juvenile delinquency. Poor parental supervision and harsh and erratic discipline were among the most important factors contributing to youth crime.

We in this country give very little attention to helping people acquire the skills of a competent parent. Our media give more attention to the care of car and pets than to the care of children. Newspapers and magazines bombard us with information about our personal relationships and sex lives, but about parenting and children, the product of those relationships, there is usually silence. As they grow older they are exposed to an ever increasing range of harmful influences—drugs being a prime one—and strong peer pressure can mean that the lowest common denominator in behaviour can easily become the norm.

Parents find it difficult to cope and need help. We are constantly made aware of violent and anti-social behaviour in our schools. That is not just in urban areas; it can be in villages, towns, and cities in any part of the country. Unemployment, poverty and deprivation research has shown that economic deprivation, family criminality and school failure, as well as parental mishandling, are important predictions of offending. The crucial factor is the relationship between parent and child. How can we get better parenting? We should go back to the schools and look at the curriculum. It is too prescriptive. As it is, it cannot achieve the purpose of education which Section 1 of the 1988 Act states is to prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.

Personal life skills must be a part of the curriculum. Example must be offered by the atmosphere and ethic of the school. Children will not learn to respect others if members of the school are not mutually respectful. They will not learn to negotiate, compromise and resolve conflict constructively if they are being bullied or coerced. They will not learn tolerance and non-discrimination if they are isolated from people who are different from themselves. They will not learn to participate responsibly in a democratic society if they are given no voice or responsibilities in the school community. They will not learn self-discipline if they are always being disciplined. Educating for parenthood must begin in schools.

One thing that worries me is the alienation of young people from national politics. That was mentioned by several speakers. Here again, I think that the schools could help. The all-party children group recently had a meeting at which Demos and Barnados told us of the apathy of the 18 to 25 year-olds to voting. They have a total lack of interest. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, mentioned that also. If we are to have a fully democratic society they must be involved. The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, also mentioned that in his fascinating speech. A fairer more caring society might make them more idealistic. The present greedy, unfair society is not the one to inspire them.

I spent most of the weekend reading the excellent Audit Commission report entitled Misspent Youth, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and one or two other speakers. It is an excellent fully researched document. It does not just clearly outline the problems which exist in society today—it is immensely readable—it gives many examples of policies which could be followed which will improve society and help with all the difficulties we are now suffering. It makes a number of recommendations and it gives examples of good practice in a great many areas. There are examples from both at home and abroad—for instance, the HALT programme in Holland—which we could well look at and learn from.

The introduction points out the huge rise in crimes against individuals. It increased by 73 per cent. between 1981 and 1995 to 19 million, and against retailers and manufacturers it increased to 9 million, involving losses of £1 billion. It is predominantly young people who commit these offences.

Part 2 of the report, entitled "Tackling Offending Behaviour", I found an encouraging read. It first outlines the unnecessary costs—the very large costs—of the work involved in preparing cases for court, when one in four cases is withdrawn or results in conditional or absolute discharge. There is an appalling length of time in getting cases to court and the time which such cases take is a total waste. If only the time were shorter, the better it would be for young people. The commission report states that £40 million could be saved. If all the money that were saved could be spent on establishing schemes for community services of some kind, or on educational courses such as motor mechanics for joyriders—the Bumpy Project deals with motorbikes—a great deal of money could be saved and a much more satisfactory outcome achieved.

I wish that I had time to outline some of the successful projects which have been started in some areas. There is such a lot of good practice; for instance, the Northamptonshire Diversion Unit, the HALT programme started in Rotterdam, the Dalston Youth Project in Hackney. All that has led me to take a much more optimistic view of the future. There are things that can be done but they need imagination and acceptance by the Government that what has been happening in our criminal justice system has not been successful.

I really do hope that we can have some assurance from the Minister that there will be a change from this harsh, punitive attitude which seems to dominate, at any rate, the Home Secretary. It has been extremely expensive and there are other much better means to create a caring and happier society which I believe that all who have spoken in the debate want to see.

6.2 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by offering my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, on his very interesting and perceptive maiden speech. I am sure that in a debate such as this, which can often become somewhat insular, we found it fascinating to hear a more world-wide perspective. We were reminded of the problems which are faced by young people in other countries and the fact that they are more severe than those faced in this country.

It has been a very busy day for my noble kinsman Lord Russell. It started with an article in the Independent and it will end with this debate. Indeed, I dare say that it will not end with the debate because I imagine that he will return to his university duties. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, reminded us, the noble Earl was one of the guests and winners at the Spectator/Highlands Park parliamentary luncheons. I mention the fact that it was a Spectator/Highlands Park luncheon because I believe that both sponsors should be mentioned. Perhaps if part of the noble Earl's prize involved products from that second sponsor he might wish to share them with some other Members of this House—

Lord Graham of Edmonton: That is the spirit!

Lord Henley

My Lords, it is also cheaper today than it was yesterday.

The Government do not underestimate the many problems which confront young people in this country today. The world seems to be a more complicated place. But, as many speakers have made clear, we do young people a disservice if we play down not only their achievements but also the many opportunities available to them. Too often the press and media concentrate on a small minority who get into trouble with the law. As was stressed by a number of noble Lords, most young people pursue responsible lives and many play a significant part in the successful running of our communities. In the words of the Motion, most are able to make a very "full contribution to society".

However, if young people are to thrive in today's and tomorrow's world, they will need a number of things and I wish to emphasise four points. First, they will need a sound general education with all that that implies. Secondly, they will need relevant vocational skills. My noble friend Lord Pilkington spoke about the importance of vocational training and I shall say more about that later.

Thirdly, they will need the right personal skills; that is, adaptability, enterprise, the ability to work in teams and the capacity to keep on learning and relearning into adult life in particular to fit them for the modern employment conditions which prevail. The right reverend Prelate spoke about the damage caused to some working-class men by the loss of what were seen as the traditional male jobs. Yes, obviously things have changed in the labour market, and changed dramatically. We cannot prevent that; obviously, things always will change. That is why it is important to get education and training right and what we have to do is to make it clear that we can train our young people for today's and tomorrow's workplace. Again, more of that later.

Fourthly, as we discussed last July in the debate initiated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and two weeks ago in a debate on morality and schools initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, it is vital that the upbringing by parents—I wish to emphasise their absolutely primary role—and schools equips young people with the appropriate values and morality. I agree with my noble kinsman Lord Russell on the importance of example in terms of equipping young people with the appropriate values and morality.

However, I partially disagree with the noble Earl on the important subject of youth unemployment. I accept that it is high—some 15 per cent. of 15 to 24 year-olds in this country—and I accept that that is very regrettable at a time when unemployment is falling for all other groups. However, I hope that when the noble Earl looks at those countries which have over-regulated, minimum-wage, social-chapter economies—I refer to France, Italy and Spain—he will see how much worse youth unemployment can be. I urge him to remind his colleagues in his party and in others of the dangers of those minimum wages, over-regulated labour forces and the social chapter if they want to preserve the jobs of young people.

The Government's duty is to establish a framework within which young people can be well educated and well adjusted as individuals; to give them opportunities both economically and socially; and to provide a secure foundation on which to build. But young people themselves have a major part to play in developing the self-reliance which will help them to become well adjusted and confident. It is they who must take advantage of the opportunities on offer. For example, the youth service—both local authority and voluntary sector—plays a substantial part by providing young people with a chance to grow through planned programmes of informal personal and social education. I say to the right reverend Prelate and to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that we have not seen a decline in local authority spending on the youth service. The latest local authority returns—those for 1994-95—show that expenditure by local authorities on the youth service rose by some 2.32 per cent. in cash terms to £281.8 million as compared with 1993-94.

I accept that the picture is varied and that individual LEAs have on many occasions reduced their service. I would ask them to look at that again. However, the overall picture is not one of the decline which the noble Lord pointed out. Many such activities are recognised in a tangible way through awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Youth Clubs UK Awards Scheme, which my honourable friend Mr. Paice launched last month. But young people must decide whether to participate; they cannot be forced and nor should they be.

I also believe that voluntary organisations have a long and honourable record in this field and my department supports them with a substantial programme of grants. Currently there is a three-year programme of £9 million. That represents a 6 per cent. rise over the previous programme. But there are other government departments. I have been briefed for this debate by a host of other departments that play their part. One that was not involved in the briefings offered me is my former department, the Ministry of Defence. I pay tribute to the work it does in supporting the various cadet forces. Anyone who has seen what the cadet forces do in various parts of the country, both in urban and rural areas, will recognise the wonderful work they do with young people.

The same is true of the Scouts and Guides and a whole host of other organisations. As to them, I would ask local authorities who have seen fit to withdraw grants from Scouts and Guides in the past on the spurious grounds of political correctness to think again. Like the cadets, the Scouts and Guides perform a wonderful service and do much to help young people make their full contribution to society.

Volunteering is one of our priorities. This can provide immense, valuable opportunities for young people by offering them fulfilling opportunities to contribute to their communities. As part of the Government's make-a-difference, the Department of National Heritage recently launched a £3 million grant programme to ensure that it is easy for everyone to get involved. We are particularly keen to make opportunities available for the young. We have pledged that by the end of 1997 every young person who wants it will have the opportunity to volunteer.

My noble friend Lady Macleod referred to problems of housing and spoke very movingly about the problems of the young and homeless at Christmas. I commend—as I am sure the whole House does—the work that my noble friend and so many others do to help those who face loneliness and difficulties at Christmas. But as my noble friend made clear, the Government—through the Department of the Environment, through the rough sleepers' initiative—have done a great deal to get people off the streets and sleeping rough. The voluntary sector agencies estimated that there were between 1,000 and 2,000 sleeping rough on any night in central London in 1990 before the rough sleepers' initiative began. In the latest count by voluntary sector agencies in the same area, in May 1996, that figure had dropped to some 288 people sleeping rough, of whom only 59 were recorded as being under the age of 25 years, and only six of those were under 18. It has achieved a great deal. I hope very much that it will achieve a great deal more.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about the extension of housing benefit rules for the under-25s to all single people under the age of 60. We have discussed on earlier occasions those rules relating to the under-25 year-olds. The under-25 restriction on housing benefit was debated on 14th May this year in this House. The noble Earl expressed his reservations then but the Government said that the private rented sector would respond, and there is nothing new to suggest otherwise. The extension of the rules to all single people under 60 builds on that change.

The Government are concerned about the growth in one-person households and take the view that the benefits system should not encourage that growth at the expense of the taxpayer.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Can he tell us whether, since 14th May, the Government have conducted any research into the amount of shared accommodation available?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I regret that I shall have to write to my noble kinsman on that particular point.

We take the view that we should not encourage, at the expense of the taxpayer, the growth of single households of that sort. The proposed extension will be the subject of consultation with local authorities and the Social Security Advisory Committee. The Government will listen to representations made by the noble Lord and by all interested parties who provide housing in that area. Obviously that will deal with many of the concerns of the noble Earl.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, spoke about the effect of the Budget on youth training, and implied that there were further unnecessary cuts. Next year an additional £22 million—that is up 3 per cent.—will be available for the youth training programmes compared with the expected spend this year, rising to an additional £72 million—that is 10 per cent.—by 1999-2000. There will be an extra £128 million over the next three years compared with the forecast spend this year. There are sufficient resources next year for some 248,000 training places compared to about 240,000 this year. That sustains the guarantee of training for young people not in education or employment. The plans also provide for a continuing build-up of modern apprenticeships. That means that by the turn of the century modern apprenticeships will be achieving some 60,000 NVQs at Level 3 each year.

In the final analysis it is our educational system that can do most to equip young people to make their full contributions to society. I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, in that. I would underline to him that that is why we believe it is so important to invest in education. That is exactly what my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made clear we were doing in his Budget Statement yesterday.

We believe that those leaving school who are alienated, illiterate and with little idea of the world of work are unlikely—although there will always be exceptions—to make much contribution to society. They are much more likely, as others would put it, to be taking from society in some of the many ways that were alluded to earlier—through crime, demands on social security, ill-health or general anti-social behaviour. That is why it is so vitally important for the nation that as many young people as possible continue in education and in training.

I am pleased to say that participation rates are still growing. In 1995-96 86 per cent. of 16 year-olds participated in either education or training; the figure for 17 year-olds was 79 per cent.; and for 18 year-olds it was nearly 60 per cent. Almost one-third of young people are now entering full-time higher education compared with 12 per cent. in 1979. The total numbers over the past 17 years have doubled and doubled again. Higher education has changed from being an elite system to a mass one without, dare I say it, a decline in standards.

I noticed with enormous interest—and I do not know whether it is his party's policy—that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, claimed that we are now producing too many graduates. If the noble Earl thinks that, I hope that he will address those particular points to the Dearing Inquiry because I am sure that Sir Ron would be very grateful for his thoughts. But I would remind the noble Earl that even the CBI feels that that level of about one in three 18 year-olds is too low. They recommend a figure of some 40 per cent., a figure that we have already attained in Scotland. I would be very wary of the noble Earl saying that we have too many graduates when it is at that level when many others say that we have a need for more.

I do not accept the allegations of the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about student poverty. The noble Earl will be aware that we published our survey into student incomes only last week. That showed a growth in student incomes over the past few years. It is worth pointing out before the noble Earl interrupts me—which he is about to do—that we have possibly the most generous student support system in the entire world. I invite the noble Earl to ask, say, French students whether they can live away from home when they are away at university, as most English and Scottish students do.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I would like to thank all the noble Lords who have spoken.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thought my noble kinsman was about to intervene, which is why I gave way. I do have further points that I would like to run through before I give the noble Earl the opportunity to intervene.

Very briefly, I want to underline the importance that the Government place on education. That is why we have introduced reforms over the last few years to improve choice and diversity and to raise standards. That is why we have given more powers to schools; that is why we have allowed schools to create more diversity, as stressed by my noble friend Lord Pilkington; that is why we have given greater choice, greater power and greater involvement to parents. That is why we have provided far more information in the schools. That is why we introduced performance tables, and again I am grateful for the words of my noble friend Lord Pilkington who made clear just how useful they have been. That is why we have brought in inspection, and inspection on a very regular basis—roughly once every four years—for all schools. That is why we have introduced the national curriculum.

When one looks at the improved numbers of students going to university, the improved A-Level results, and the improved GCSE results—and it is wrong to undermine the commitment on the students taking those exams—it can be seen that we really have achieved a great deal in that field.

Perhaps I may deal with two particular points on schools which were put to me. First, I was asked by the noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Tope, about the selling off of playing fields. I dealt with that recently at Question Time. However, I must make it clear that we have laid down minimum standards for schools below which they should not go. The Prime Minister has made it clear that schools' needs should be retained; in other words, they must adhere to those regulations. But it would be wrong to lay down an absolute blanket ban on the sale of all playing fields where schools have more than they need. In those circumstances, in the interest of education, it can be for the benefit of either the school itself or the LEA that playing fields should be sold.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with exclusions, and I am talking about exclusion with a small "e" as dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Obviously exclusion from schools is not the answer, but it is important to put the number of exclusions into proper perspective. Ofsted says that the great majority of schools are orderly places. The latest data which we have in the department show the national total of permanent exclusions at some 11,000 in 1994-95 which represents 0.15 per cent. of the schools population. But I believe that schools must have that right to exclude that very small minority of pupils whose behaviour is so severely disruptive. I believe also that it is for the schools to recognise that they have a duty to promote better behaviour and as far as possible to avoid that need for exclusion they should use that power only in the most severe cases.

I appreciate that in the time available I have not been able to cover all the points which have been raised in what has been a very wide-ranging debate. However, I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that the Government have instituted a wide range of action designed to enable young people to make a full contribution to society. Had we not, our society would have been the poorer for it.

I should like to conclude on a positive note by praising young people for their involvement in a way that enriches all our lives. As I said at the start, I believe that many play a very significant part and for most the opportunities are greater than they have ever been.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he give specific evidence to support his assertion that Labour-controlled local authorities reduced expenditure on the Scouts for politically correct reasons? In asking that question, I declare an interest as mother of three sons who were members of the Scout movement and as vice-president of that movement in Lancashire.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Baroness should take care to listen to what I say. I said that some local authorities have done that for what I thought were politically correct reasons. I did not say that it was Labour councils which were doing that, but I dare say that a great many are.

Lord Tope

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene because if they are not Labour-controlled councils, then the Minister must be implying that they are Liberal Democrat councils because there is only one Conservative local education authority left in the country. If he is to make those assertions, he really should be more specific rather than to condemn us all.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can think of at least two Conservative-controlled LEAs. There is Westminster and Wandsworth and also Bromley. They all have the benefit of receiving children from Labour-controlled areas who have parents on the Front Bench opposite of another place who do not like the schools in their Labour-controlled education authorities.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I wonder what that has to do with grants for the Scout movement. Perhaps the Minister will answer the question which was put to him and will be more specific about those LEAs. I forgot about London, although why I should have done, I do not know. There are at least five Conservative LEAs. I assume that they are not the ones he was talking about. He said that he was not referring specifically to Labour LEAs. Therefore, he must be talking about Liberal Democrat LEAs, which I am certain is not the case. Will the Minister be specific about what he is referring to?

Lord Henley

My Lords, there have been allegations that some authorities—and I am not going to name them—have withdrawn grants from the Scout and Guide movements. The noble Lord cannot deny that. If he would like chapter and verse I will provide that for him. The simple fact is that some authorities have done it and have done it probably for what I would describe as politically correct reasons.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, is the noble Lord unable or unwilling to name the authorities?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not able to at this moment. That is the point that I was trying to make.

6.25 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, first, I must apologise to the Minister for my misunderstanding of a few moments ago. He observed correctly that I had been tempted to intervene. What he had not observed was that I had then decided to resist the temptation so he played his stroke before the ball was bowled. I am sorry for that misunderstanding.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, especially the noble Earl, Lord Enniskillen, for an extremely fascinating maiden speech. That is not a figure of speech. This has been an extremely interesting debate because we have had a very clear consensus among practically all of the speakers including, on a number of points, the Minister.

The first point on which there was agreement is that the 1960s are over; that we are no longer concerned with problems of the young who are generally irresponsible. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for putting on record the point that young people are very different from each other. The only similarity to which I wished to draw attention is in relation to the hurdles, many of them legal and many of them discriminatory, which they all have to jump. That is something about which we are agreed.

The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, in a fascinating speech summed up that feeling that the 1960s are over by recording the opinion, clear in his survey, that one of the most important things is working hard at school. In general, with a few inevitable exceptions, we are not talking about irresponsible people.

The other point about which there was a general consensus is that something is going wrong and something needs to be done about it. That point of view came from a wide range of occupations and I find that really impressive. We heard that from the point of view of education, the magistracy—and perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, that I listened to her speech with very great interest and I thought that she was right in practically everything she said; I regard it a privilege to follow her—the Church, where again we agreed on practically everything, social work, conservation, business, advertising, law and local government. When there is a consensus over such a wide range, it suggests that that may be something which needs to be observed.

I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, said what she did about young people who become parents. While she was talking, I remember a pupil of mine who asked permission to change the time of her tutorial without warning because her younger sister, still at school, was about to give birth. She did. The whole family rallied round. The parents are both graduates and are now married and living together happily. That is what I understand by investing in the future.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that I did not follow her on the issue of what was done for single parents yesterday for the only reason that I have done so in this morning's newspaper and I did not wish to repeat myself. I will in future; do not worry.

I must admit that the Minister led me into temptation. I did my best not to make a party speech but some of the things he said tempt a party reply. I shall not go into detail on the issue of the Scouts, although I must declare an interest as a former Scout. However, I noticed that the Minister said that he thought the reasons were politically correct. That is, as Perry Mason would call it, a conclusion of the witness. I do not think that Ministers understand quite how desperate is the shortage of funds in local government. If that is the reason for which any grant has been withdrawn from any Scout organisation, I suggest that the Minister might first cast out the beam which is in his own eye.

On housing benefit, I note that no research has been done on the amount of shared accommodation available. I did not enter into any debate on the morality of principle of what the Government are doing; I do so merely on its practicality—whether there is enough accommodation available to make it possible for them to do what they are doing. They do not know whether that is the case. That, I must admit, I do not think is responsible.

The Minister tempted me on social chapter economies. Apart from the formal figures of unemployment, which are difficult to compare on the basis of a level playing field, there is the gross problem, to which I drew attention, of under-employment and underpaid work. Government Ministers regularly talk about a competitive advantage in not observing these regulations. However, dismantling a tariff barrier is very much the economic equivalent of disbanding one's armies. One gives up the idea of hostile competition. One cannot do that unless one accepts competing on equal terms. If one is to argue for these competitive advantages, one upends the level playing field and disqualifies oneself for the single market. The Minister might have thought of those points before he introduced that matter. I also think that he might take note of the bulk of information about young people not having adequate contact with their fathers, which may often be because of the number of hours those fathers are working. As he introduces these points, I hope he will forgive me for replying to them.

I passed the noble Lord a note across the Chamber asking whether the youth training and youth training bridging allowances have been uprated in the Budget. They have not been since 1988. I have not received a reply. I take it, therefore, that the answer is no.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. He will understand there is a convention that I speak only for 20 minutes when winding up. That is why I did not respond to a great many of the points put to me. I shall respond to a number of those, as appropriate, in writing in due course. The noble Earl should not interpret my lack of response on any particular point in the manner in which he wishes to interpret it.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the Minister warmly for that reply. I shall live in hope. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.