asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what percentage of young people in Scotland found employment after participating in a youth opportunities programme scheme at the most recent available date.
The most recent survey of young people who had taken part in the youth opportunities programme, carried out by the Manpower Services Commission, indicated that 42 per cent. of respondents in Scotland were in employment or further education or on another scheme 23 weeks after leaving the programme.
Is the Minister aware that the youth opportunities programme cannot cope with the disastrous fact that over half of Scotland's young people now cannot find real jobs? Will he accept that very real concern exists about the operation of the YOP work experience programme on private employers' premises, because some companies are using the work experience participants as free labour while paying off full-time workers, and that now fewer than one-third of these young people are being offered jobs at the end of the scheme?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have introduced new plans and new programmes to improve the youth opportunities programme and to introduce a new training initiative, which is badly needed, apart from the fact that unemployment among young people is now extremely high.I know that there are criticisms of employers under the scheme, but those criticisms are greatly exaggerated where they relate to substitution. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the schemes have been approved by the relevant trade unions, and that in itself is a safeguard against abuse.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, unlike a few years ago, the percentage of youth employment in Scotland, particularly in my area of Grampian, is better than in the North-West and North-East of England, the English Midlands and Wales?
My hon. Friend is correct. In the midst of the worst world recession for 50 years, there is no doubt that the situation in Scotland, serious though it is, is very much better than that in most parts of the United Kingdom, including those parts which previously had an economic advantage over Scotland.
Does the Minister appreciate that, whereas until recently about 50 per cent. of young people leaving the YOP schemes were able to obtain employment, as a result of the mess that he and his right hon. Friend have made of the Scottish economy that proportion is now 29 per cent.? Does he further accept that children who are now leaving school in Scotland face the bleak prospect of possibly never being able to obtain a full-time job throughout their working lives?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's last, gloomy prediction. I can only say that it is a great pity that when he and his friends were in Government they did nothing to improve the Scottish economy.