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Young Persons

Volume 19: debated on Friday 12 March 1982

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9.34 am

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the employment and education policies of Her Majesty's Government, confirmed and prolonged by the recent Budget, which have led to record levels of youth unemployment and reduced education and training prospects which compare unfavourably with those of other developed countries, and calls for the introduction of a comprehensive, unified and continuing tertiary system of education, training and employment.

I should like to take as my text this morning the Conservative election manifesto for the 1979 election. I can think of no better way of starting the debate. The manifesto said among other things that
"the Conservative government's first job will be to rebuild our economy and reunite a divided and disillusioned people …to restore incentives so that hard work pays, success is rewarded and genuine new jobs are created in an expanding economy".

It went on to say:
"We must restore to every child, regardless of background, the chance to progress as far as his or her abilities allow…. We shall review the relationship between school, further education and training to see how better use can be made of existing resources".
Presumably to back up those boasts, the manifesto added:
"The creation of new jobs depends to a great extent on the success of smaller businesses …our general economic and industrial relations policies are the key to their future".

I am glad that at least some Conservative Members stick to what was stated in their election manifesto because their Front Bench has clearly failed to deliver any of the items that I have listed. Youth unemployment now is at a staggering and disastrous level. If it is not reduced, we shall not achieve what hon. Members have just prayed for in this place—the public peace, wealth and tranquillity of the realm. If the present levels of youth unemployment are maintained, there will be a reduction in wealth, no peace and precious little tranquillity.

No fewer than 550,000 young people are out of work. Over 250,000 are on YOP schemes and over 50,000 on other special schemes. This means, using the Prime Minister's immortal words when she was Leader of the Opposition, that more than 900,000 young people in this country have no real jobs or are not in full-time education. The Manpower Services Commission, an official Government body, estimates that two out of every three young people leaving school in the coming year will not be able to get a job. The figure of two out of three, or 60 per cent., should be unacceptable even to Conservative Members.

I should like to draw particular attention to youth unemployment in London. I apologise to those hon. Members who do not represent London constituencies. I use London as an example partly because it is the area I know most about and partly because unemployment levels in London and the South-East region are the lowest in the country. It is the best example of the desperate circumstances of our young people.

Unemployment in Greater London is presently running at 9 per cent. In Wales and in the North it is over 16 per cent. It must be borne in mind that anything I say about the problems of unemployment for young people in London can practically be doubled for other regions of Britain.

The Government have achieved an historic unemployment record in London. Not even in the depths of the 1930s depression did such a situation arise. For the first time in history there are more unemployed people in London than there are vacancies.

About 80,000 young people in London leave school every year. The Manpower Services Commission described 1979 as
"the last 'good' year before the current recession".
In that last "good" year London careers offices reported an average of just over 9,000 vacancies for young people per month. By 1980 that 9,000 per month had fallen to just over 5,000 per month, a fall of 44 per cent. By 1981, London careers offices had reported a fall to 1,378 in the average monthly vacancies, a fall of 73 per cent. on the previous year which itself had shown a fall of 44 per cent .

As a result of those figures, unemployment for 16 to 18-year-olds in London rose by no less that 222 per cent. in the course of two years. The number of young people out of work in our relatively prosperous capital city rose from roughly 15,000 out of work in 1979 to 50,000 in 1981. What is worse is that in 1979 unemployed young people of both sexes amount to 15 per cent. of London's unemployed. By 1981, they totalled 20 per cent. of London's unemployed. One in five of London's unemployed are under 19 years of age, and that is not in an area of declining industries, such as steel, but in an area of insurance, banking and finance. That group of industries has halved its recruitment of young people since the Government have been in office. Even the money lenders in the City are recruiting half as many people as they were before this so-called business men's Government came to office.

Retailing, which must be at its height in London of all places, has also reduced its recruitment. In addition. because of the Government cuts there have been massive reductions in the recruitment of young people into the Civil Service and local government in London. The postal services and communications industries in London are widely regarded as expanding because they use modern information technology. They are therefore supposed to provide more and more job opportunities. However, in August 1979, those industries had vacancies for 198 young people, but only one young person in August 1981—and that is in a prosperous expanding industry.

What can we look to in the future? A Manpower Services Commission document states:
"The outlook for young people's employment in 1982–83 is not encouraging, especially for school leavers."
It will be appreciated that the Manpower Services Commission is a master of understatement. It continues:
"There is no indication that those service sector employers who cut back on recruitment in 1981 will take on more recruits in 1982. On the contrary, the financial and other pressures that forced employers to cut recruitment in 1981 will remain and it may be several years before vacancies run at the level of 1979, before the recession began."
In other words, the recession began in 1979 when the Government came into office. Furthermore, the Manpower Services Commission said:
"The other side of the coin is that unemployment, especially among school leavers, is likely to continue to rise through the 1982/83 planning year."
Faced with the problem of youth unemployment, but on a much smaller scale and apparently not so longterm—there were 190,000 young people out of work when the Government came into office and there are now nearly 900,000—the Labour Government introduced a series of special employment and training measures. Some were started and finished during the period of the Labour Government, but the present Government inherited a number of them. They inherited the job release scheme and they cut it, only to restore it later. They inherited the special temporary employment programme and they cut it, only to restore it later in the guise of the community enterprise programme. They inherited the temporary short-time working scheme and—no surprise—they cut it, again only to extend it later. They inherited the community industry scheme and they cut it; later they partly restored it.

The Government also inherited the youth opportunities programme. I will use not my words but the words of the White Paper—"A New Training Initiative: A Programme for Action"—to describe the circumstances in which they inherited it. It was introduced by the Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). The White Paper said:
"The Youth Opportunities Programme was introduced in 1978 especially to help the minority of young people who were unemployed and quite unprepared or ill equipped for working life by means of a relatively short period of work experience or work preparation. Since then it has become clear that we need a full-scale training programme".
That is certainly true, because when the present Government came into office there were 66,000 young people on the youth opportunities programme and, needless to say, the Government cut the money for that programme almost immediately they came into office. They were forced by the failure of their economic policies—

The Government did not cut the youth opportunities programme; they merely cut the increase that had, rather rashly, been proposed by the Labour Government.

To the best of my knowledge, the Government cut the amount of money available by £25 million. They certainly did not expand the scheme straight away, but were forced, by the failure of their policies, to expand it beyond anything intended by those who originally introduced the youth opportunites programme. It now covers 250,000 young people.

In a sense, the youth opportunities programme was not a bad idea for limited numbers of young people and for a limited period, but it is quite unsuited to cope, as a primary method, with youth unemployment. During the early period, 80 per cent. of YOP trainees found permanent jobs afterwards. That is no longer the case. The education and training aspects of YOP seem to have been whittled away and many YOP trainees receive very little training. The youth opportunities programme has not given special help to young women or ethnic minorities and more might have been done. There is no doubt that YOP has been exploited by some unscrupulous employers and that the scheme is used to provide cheap labour and to make it unnecessary for employers to employ full-time workers on decent wages. I do not say that that applies to all employers, but I am sure that all Conservative Members are aware of examples of skullduggery in their areas to which my remarks properly apply.

It is said that the allowance is too low. It has recently increased from £23·50 to £25 per week. The Government's response to the criticisms levelled at YOP can be found in the new White Paper "A New Training Initiative: A Programme for Action", which should be called "Son of YOP". It is a sign of the Secretary of State for Employment's sensitivity that, in response to valid criticisms from practically all those involved to the effect that £25 is too little, he has come up with a scheme that will give young people £15. If they do not accept the training scheme and the £15, they will no longer be entitled to supplementary benefit.

We are entitled to ask how the new scheme will meet the criticisms levelled at YOP. The short answer is that it will not. There will be no special help for ethnic minorities or for young women. If a trainee has no choice about whether to go on a scheme and is unable to refuse an employer's lousy scheme, there will be no incentive to employers to provide the proper training elements needed in such a programme. Even the good employers who provide the training element will no longer have an incentive and those who do not provide that training element will not do anything about it.

Similarly, there will be no incentive to employers involved in the scheme to give people permanent jobs. As far as employers can see, there will be legions of Tebbit trainees rolling along to do the job, in effect, for nothing. There is every sign that the scheme will be exploited just as YOP has been exploited and will be used as a source of cheap labour by many employers. Perhaps the worst effect and characteristic of the scheme is the element of compulsion that will be introduced. At present, YOP is not compulsory. Those involved do not lose their benefits if they do not accept what is offered.

The whole situation will change. Careers officers and advisers will no longer advise people, but will be careers coercers. It will be their job to say "Bloggs Ltd. has a traineeship. Off you go, or you will lose your money." That is not a good relationship for a careers officer.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that adults have any obligation or duty to give guidance to young people?

I certainly do. However, not many Conservative Members are qualified to give guidance to the 900,000 young people whom they have slung on to the dole.

Indeed, £15 certainly is cheap. That is what we are complaining about. The Secretary of State for Employment is supposed to be one of the most realistic members of a supposedly realistic Government. I should have thought that he would have recognised that he cannot create places on a scheme merely by announcing that they will exist. Jobs do not spring up just because he has made an announcement in Whitehall or Westminster. Investment will be needed and employers will have to be obliged to provided training. Training arrangements will have to be stepped up.

What have the Secretary of State and his friends done about that? Providing less money for the careers service is not a very good start. Abolishing 16 out of 23 industrial training boards is an even worse start. Stopping the funding of the remaining training boards will not be a great help. The Secretary of State is saying that he will rely on voluntary efforts for training in British industry. With his background, I should have thought that he had heard of the old saying that one volunteer is better than two pressed men. That is what he is saying. However, he is not faced with the choice between one volunteer and two pressed men. The history of training in British industry shows that only pressed men provide training. Very few, if any, employers volunteer to provide training.

The area that the Secretary of State represents includes part of Waltham Forest. That area has problems. Since the Conservative Party came into office, the number of firms in Waltham Forest with more than 100 employers has fallen from 54 to 36. There do not appear to be bounding, expanding job opportunities there. The education department's estimates are that with the present level of unemployed young people 450 places will be needed under the new training scheme for 16-year-olds; 650 places will be required if the scheme applies to 16 to 18-year-olds.

At present, 64 training places can be identified and the best possible target is 306. Therefore, for 16-year-olds alone, Waltham Forest will be 144 places short of the target necessary to meet the requirements of the Secretary of State, that area's Member of Parliament. The area will be about one-third short of places from the word go. It is realistically said that it is impossible to get a quart out of a pint pot. It will be impossible to find the training places that the Tebbit initiative calls for unless the Government do much more to provide jobs. Perhaps they threw out realism with metrication.

Let us turn to some of the other Government initiatives and the famous young workers scheme. That is a very peculiar scheme. A £15-per-week subsidy is provided to employers who take on young people under the age of 18 and pay them less than £40 a week. However, the condition is that they pay them less than £40 a week. I understand that that scheme was invented by a Professor Alan Walters, who is economic adviser to the Prime Minister. When he invented that scheme for lowering young people's pay, he was receiving £961·50 per week. I do not know whether he will be limited to a 4 per cent. pay increase in this round, but if he was paid by results he would have his pay slashed to about £15 a week. After all, he is the economic adviser to a gang of Conservative incompetents.

These are the prospects facing young people. On leaving school, two out of three have no job. What about those who stay at school? Schools also face cuts, with less money for books and other teaching materials. Teachers are being made redundant and education standards falling. Choice of subjects is being curtailed and, but for the Inner London Education Authority—much vilified by Conservative Members and some others—there are no education maintenance allowances to help children from poorer families stay at school. As a ratepayer in inner London, I am pleased and proud to pay my rates to make a contribution towards the education maintenance allowance that will provide opportunities for working class children to stay at school.

I am disappointed that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), is not here today because I wanted to ask him this question, seeking enlightenment: faced with the prospect of two out of three children leaving ordinary schools and not getting jobs, how would he fancy teaching the 14 to 16-year-olds in schools today? A main source of discipline used by school teachers has always been the promise, if children behaved themselves, worked hard, obtained a few certificates or even a nice recommendation, that they would be all right and would get a job when they left. Most teachers can no longer say that and it will be a great source of problems in maintaining discipline in secondary schools. I hope that the Under-Secretary will turn his attention to that aspect rather than to some of the more arcane things he seems to concentrate on these days.

If people contemplate higher education when leaving school, they discover that cuts have also been made in available places. Applications for university places this year increased by 6 per cent., but the intake dropped. The public expenditure White Paper planned a drop of 13 per cent. in university places by 1984—an important year because of "Big Brother". Big Brother might get to university, but by 1984 little brother will find it difficult.

Further education courses have also been cut throughout the country. In some areas, when young people leave school and then decide to obtain a bit more education and training through the further education system, they are charged for seeking that increase in knowledge, skill and improvement in training.

Another aspect of training for young people is that there has been a catastrophic decline in apprenticeships. I could clearly continue with this catalogue of opportunities missed and denied for the whole of this debate, but there does not seem much point, if only because other hon. Members no doubt wish to speak.

Young people have been totally betrayed by the Government, not deliberately but as a result of the Government's incompetence. They thought that their economic policies would work. There is clear evidence of that in my remarks; when the Government came to office, they immediately slashed all these special measures to provide employment and to help young people because they thought that their economic policies would work. They have expanded them again in almost formal recognition of the fact that their policies have not worked. All these expansions of late are an admission that what they said in the run-up to the general election was wrong and that their economic and employment policies have not worked.

The Government have created a crisis. There was always an endemic problem—a chronic and developing problem—but it has been made so acute that it has now reached crisis proportions, directly as a result of the policies of the Government.

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it all ways. The Government have managed to produce a scheme costing £1,000 million and I recall, when the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) was in the previous Labour Administration, that she failed totally to get any sort of scheme accepted. The hon. Gentleman's educational maintenance allowances and all the rest, which the right hon. Lady tried to get through the Cabinet, were thrown out. At least we now have a scheme which contains a very high element of training.

It sems to be no part of my task to apologise or explain away the inadequacies and incapacities of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams). If she had been as committed as she claimed and as persuasive as people say she is, she ought to have been able to convince the last Labour Government that the education maintenance allowance was the right action to take. I make no bones about it; I regret that the last Labour Government did not do that, because, just as I welcomed this provision in inner London and recognise its social consequences, it ought to have been a major priority of the last Labour Government. It was a failure on the part of all the members of that Government that it was not introduced.

No.

This crisis has also revealed that there are severe underlying problems and weaknesses in the whole system of education, training and employment for 16 to 19-yearolds. The crisis has also greatly exacerbated the shortcomings and unfairnesses of our education system and has had a particularly bad impact on the education of working class children, girls and ethnic minorities.

Our education system has concentrated far too long on higher education for people over 16, despite the fact that, ironically, we have always managed to have almost the lowest percentage in higher education in the industrialised world. Despite concentrating on that aspect, to the disadvantage of all other young people, we have not achieved a great deal in higher education. We have certainly tended to ignore the needs—we have all been at fault—of roughly 80 per cent. of young people and concentrated on the desires, demands and interests of about 20 per cent. or less.

The Department of Education and Science has scarcely shown a flicker of interest in the training of people not heading for higher education. It is not insignificant that the training is now almost entirely in the hands of the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission. We need to treat 16-year-olds as a whole; we want not a fragmented approach to all their needs, but approaches that provide for the variety of their needs. We should not have all the artificial differences, barriers and massive variations in the amounts of money provided to help to keep people in education and training from 16 onwards.

We also need considerably to broaden the education and training that young people receive. It is no good telling them that we will train them for a job and that that is all we will do. They will have to spend much less time in future at work. We also need to put a great deal of effort into expanding the leisure interests and other pursuits of all young people.

I welcome the opening of the Barbican centre, but it is sad that it will almost exclusively be filled, as a result of our education system, by people who travel considerable distances to get there; the use made of it by ordinary people living in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, just to the north, will be minimal.

Considering the review of education and training of young people, we ought to try to broaden the horizons of those whose prospects are very short at the moment by encouraging them and giving them incentives to take an interest in much wider cultural and leisure pursuits

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) will take this opportunity to spell out the more positive aspects of Labour's policies for 16 to 19-year-olds, because I am convinced that we can no longer muddle through. We need a radical transformation of our class—ridden elitist education system. We need more equal opportunities for all young people in the education system. We need massive investment in the future education and training of our young people. We have seen little of that from the Government. We have seen little of any investment in jobs for anyone from the Government.

We need to make sure that there is a universalist approach to the problems of our young people. For those who in future do not decide to stay in the formal education system, what we need above all, what we want, what we were promised by the Government, and what we do not have—I revert to the words of the Prime Minister—is real training for real jobs. For the Government to pretend, following the Tebbit initiative and this week's Budget, that they are offering real training for real jobs is the ultimate deception that they are attempting to practise on the British people.

10.11 am

It is with pleasure that I congratulate the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) on choosing the subject of the debate and on winning first place in the ballot. However, I cannot congratulate him on the terms of his motion. Not surprisingly, he did not talk much about those terms. I propose to speak more about them. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will be able to refer more to training and the Manpower Services Commission.

We have an area of common ground with the views in the hon. Gentleman's motion about training in this country as compared to that in some of the countries of our competitors in Europe. We have always protected the academic stream in this country. Over the last 30 years we have done less well for the less academic. I deliberately do not use the words "less bright". I do not accept that. I am talking about the less academic. Some people who are less academic are as bright or brighter than those who have a strong academic qualification.

I would even go as far as to say that there has been a failure over the last 30 years by politicians of both parties and by educationists. I draw the attention of hon. Members to the figures, which they must know, in "A New Training Initiative". They show that 44 per cent. of our youngsters left school at the compulsory school leaving age to go to work. In France the figure was 19 per cent. and in West Germany it was 7 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman may have seen the recent study published in the National Institute of Economic and Social Research by Mr. S. J. Prais, which reinforces those figures rather alarmingly. For example, 30 per cent. of the work force in Britain has intermediate qualifications and 60 per cent. of the work force in Germany has intermediate qualifications. About one-third of the work force in West Germany has no vocational qualifications, whereas two-thirds of the work force in this country have no vocational qualifications or only non-vocational school leaving qualifications.

Is it the Minister's estimate that, as a result of the reduction in the number of students who will be admitted to universities and technical collegess, that proportion will change advantageously for Britain? Surely it will be the other way round.

If the right hon. Gentleman takes on board what I am saying, he will realise that we have protected the academic stream, in other words the university stream. We shall continue to protect it. The problem that I am describing is that of vocational training for 16 to 19-year-olds in colleges, which is related much more to non-advanced further education.

Will the Minister explain to me, to the universities, and to current and potential students how the university system is protected by the deliberate reduction of 26,000 places for undergraduates and the destruction of parts of the research facility? How can he equate that with the protection of academic standards, scholarship, the university system or the interests of young people?

I do not believe for a moment that academic standards will fall in universities.

That is a question for the hon. Gentleman.

The population of West Germany is almost the same as ours. Some 20 years ago the gross national products of our country and of West Germany were about the same. Today that of West Germany is double ours. I suggest that the Labour Party and Labour Governments have contributed much to that. I also suggest that the Labour Party, and Labour and Conservative Governments, have underestimated the importance of vocational training for 16 to 19-year-olds over the last 30 years.

In today's world of changing technology, it is well nigh cruel to let youngsters leave school at 16 with, in too many cases, practically no academic qualifications and no vocational experience. Some 12 per cent. of youngsters leave school with no qualifications, and about 35 per cent. leave with only a grade D or E 0-level, or two to five CSEs. There is common agreement in the House that new technology destroys job areas. I believe that it creates more jobs than it destroys, although it destroys areas of employment, notably that of the unskilled. That is why it is vital that we should train youngsters and that they should leave school with some vocational experience. I repeat that past Governments have failed to do that. However, at least this Government are doing something about it. The Labour Government talked a lot about it but did nothing. We are doing something. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) will curb his impatience for a moment, I will tell him what we are doing. The Government are winning the confidence of the people.

Today's MORI poll in the Daily Star shows that the Conservative Party is ahead. I am delighted to tell the House that. People understand what the Government are trying to do. No doubt the Conservative Party will be ahead when the election comes.

I was surprised about the decision of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South to table his motion because among the great strengths and initiatives that the Government have shown are our proposals for 16 to 19-year-olds. I intend to prove the strength of that area of education to the hon. Gentleman during my remarks. I am surprised that he should attack us at such a point of strength.

The hon. Gentleman did not appreciate that whatever system is chosen for 16 to 19-year-olds must be soundly based on what happens during the compulsory school years, especially for 14 and 15-year-olds. I talked to the Skills for Working Life Committee the other day. The chairman said that a wind of change was blowing through secondary schools. We are playing our part in that. It is a good wind of change.

I remind the House of the recently published school curriculum document, which has been well received. It is extraordinarily useful. It says that youngsters must be taught to read and write, and that they must be taught academically, but there is much more to do. Their attitudes, skills, knowledge and social and personal development must be taken into account in the pre-school leaving years—in the fourth and fifth year. However, that is not enough. We have already said that education, especially in the fourth and fifth years must be made more effective. We must introduce a greater pre-vocational element of education in those years. It is about time that this was done and we are proposing to do it. I am not calling for training for specific jobs in schools. However, those who leave school at 16 with few or no academic qualifications need some pre-vocational educational training. Incidentally, it was nonsense when the hon . Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South asked "Why educate people, because they may be unemployed"

That was the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I apologise if I misunderstood his argument. However, I have heard the question asked by others. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I heard him say it. I shall read Hansard to learn precisely what he said.

The recession is ending and, as everyone will know, when a recession ends the bottlenecks arise because of lack of skills. That is why we must train our youngsters for skills. Secondly, even if they do not get a job immediately., are they not better equipped by having been educated properly? How can anyone say that it is not worth educating them because they will not get a job?

It is of some concern that the less academic—perhaps 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. of youngsters who leave school at 16—do not have a goal to work towards in the last couple of years of the compulsory school period. This may be reflected partly in the high truancy rates, especially in the fifth year. There has been talk of a pre-vocational certificate for those in that group at 16. I see little merit in that. It would be a disaster if it were ever equated that the bright were academic and the less bright were vocational. That would be wrong. The vocational element in the fourth and fifth years should go right across all ability bands.

It has been put to me that it could be helpful to have a certificate for all youngsters when they reach the age of 16, in which would be entered their achievements in public examinations—their 0-levels and, if they stayed on, their A-levels. There would be entered also what else they had done during their school years, including personal qualifications. I should like to see every youngster have some such certificate. If the hon. Member for Bedwellty contributes to the debate, I shall be interested to hear his views on such a certificate. There is a problem and something must be done. It is an issue that concerns us greatly.

I am much in favour of profiling, as the hon. Gentleman describes it, as long as it is properly done. Does he think that the Government will commit the additional resources and staff necessary for a proper, consistent, comprehensive and unified system of profiling that will be validated for all children?

I am talking of more than profiling in the certificate. I shall deal with resources when I talk about the further education unit, which does good work on profiling.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South was typically uncomplimentary about what has been happening to the schools resources. The planned number of teachers—namely, 405,000—will ensure that the present pupil-teacher ratio of 18·6 to one will be maintained. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is the best ratio that we have ever had and calls for congratulations to be offered to the Government.

We should recognise the burden that is carried by many careers officers as a result of the pressures that are put on them from the Manpower Services Commission. In turn this has put a burden on careers teachers. It is desperately important that youngsters should get good advice about the jobs that they might go to and the opportunities that there might be for them in further education or in higher education. There has been direct Government funding for abut 1,100 additional posts. That shows the importance that we attach to this service.

An extraordinary statement appears on page 107 of the Labour Party's "Socialism in the 80s" document entitled "16–19: Learning for Life". It states that the careers service
"should be given sole responsibility for dealing with careers guidance needs of young people up to 20 years of age."
If I understand that statement aright, it can be only deeply damaging to the morale of the careers teachers' service. It is plainly wrong, and I hope that the hon. Member for Bedwellty will explain exactly what is meant by that statement. I have expressed my understanding and that of many others. If we have it wrong, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will clarify the issue for us.

In moving on from the pre-16-year-olds to the 16 to 19-year-olds I emphasise the importance of pre-vocational education. We believe that the existing qualifications do not provide fully for youngsters at 16-plus with more modest academic achievements. I am talking about youngsters who probably do not have higher education in mind, who intend to go into a job, but who do not have a precise idea of the job that they wish to take up.

We shall be issuing a paper on a new 17-plus qualification. The House will know that a document was circulated for consultation last year. The consultation process has been completed and I hope that an annoucement will be made around Easter. The qualification will be available both in schools and in colleges. It will be a national qualification and access to it will be as open as possible. I suggest that there will be a close linkage between the new national qualification and the youth training scheme. That will be complementary and not competitive. The age groups may be the same, but the aspirations of the youngsters will be different.

I was distressed to read in the Labour Party document to which I have referred that the proposals that we sent out for consultation may not be cast widely enough.

I do not have the page number, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows exactly where to find the passage.

Another relevant phrase is
"based on the presumption that youngsters leave study after a year."
I ask Labour Members and others to wait until they read the Government's document before expressing their opinions. When the Government's document is produced, they will be able to make a judgment on it. Having read the document, I very much hope that they will support it. It is profoundly important that the scheme should be successful in filling a gap in the 16 to 17 age group, which so badly needs filling and which was not filled by the previous Labour Government.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South talked about resources in schools and in non-advanced further education. Already about 10 per cent. more youngsters are staying on in schools this year, since September 1981, and about 15 per cent. more are staying on in non-advanced further education. The expenditure plans for 1982–83 to 1983–84, which were presented on Tuesday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, cater for an expected increase of nearly 25 per cent. —about 50,000 youngsters—in the 16 to 19 age group in full-time and sandwich courses in NAFE. I am comparing 1982–83 with 1980–81. There has continued to be a 10 per cent. increase in those staying on post-16 in schools over the same period. Excluded from those figures are the MSC youngsters in NAFE. The House will know that additional funding has been provided precisely for this purpose.

No, not precisely for that purpose. Funding has been provided through the RSG.

The hon. Gentleman has interrupted from a seated position, but none the less I shall respond to his interjection. First, £50 million was announced last July, for England, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That will continue for the next two or three years at more or less a real rate—not a cash rate. Then there is an additional £35 million, which I suspect that Labour Members have not even noticed. It was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last December for non-advanced further education in 1982–83. It will provide for additional lectures, additional non-teaching costs, and additional students support, such as discretionary awards and in-service training. I am sure that we all welcome this increase in the staying-on rate.

The hon. Member for Bedwellty mentioned the rate support grant. Both those sums were distributed through the rate support grants, weighted according to youth unemployment in the areas. He will know that there is no other way to do it. It was done after consultation with local education authorities. If it had been done, for instance, under the urban programme, there would have been a geographical bias, and that would not have been satisfactory.

It was completely plausible. Indeed, the matter was being discussed, by the AMA, which said that, having weighted the allocations according to intensity of youth unemployment, specific grants could be made to tackle this urgent problem among the 16 to 19-year-olds. It was entirely feasible for it to be specific. Now a substantial proportion of that money will be spent on other objectives by local education authorities, which are hard-pressed for any sort of money.

We at least tend to consult and abide by consultations.

I mentioned the further education curriculum review and development unit, known as the FEU because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we live in a world of acronyms in education. I was pleased to announce the other day a substantial increase in funding for the FEU for the next three years. I repeat that it is a substantial increase in funding. I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman looking pleased. The FEU is a body which has already had a considerable impact on policies for the 16 to 19-year-olds. I remind the House of its document "A Basis for Choice", which was significant in this connection. The FEU's curriculum guidelines have played an important part in developing the basis of the new 17-plus qualification that I mentioned earlier.

I hope that the additional funding will enable the FEU to tackle three main tasks. First, to build on the work already done on all forms of vocational preparation; secondly, to work towards a more coherent and effective delivery of mainstream vocational further education; thirdly, to act as one of the Department's prime agents in the development of our continuing education programme. I hope that hon. Members recognise the valuable contribution that the FEU has made, and I am sure that they welcome this additional funding.

Although the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South did not mention the matter, it may be helpful to say a few words about the current controversy over the 21-hour rule. That rule permits the young unemployed attending part-time courses to receive supplementary benefit. Until recently, the edges were rather blurred regarding who could or could not qualify for supplementary benefit. I understand that applications have even been made and qualifications received by those in schools. That must raise queries, because under the Education Act 1944 school must be a full-time endeavour. One wonders, therefore, how those young people qualified under the 21-hour rule.

Recently, the chief supplementary benefits officer issued new guidelines. That officer is independent of Ministers and independent of officials in the Department of Health and Social Security. He has now interpreted the law, after taking legal advice, as follows. The 21-hour rule includes all the hours that a school or college requires a pupil to spend on the course. It includes formal tuition, all project work and private study and lunch breaks within the school's day. Guidance will be published very shortly, within the next week or so, and a copy will be placed in the Library.

In the interests of education and training, is it not possible for the education or training Ministers, even in the light of the advice of the chief officer, to express the need to ensure that the regulations are adjusted so as to permit young people to undertake 21 hours of education or training a week without affecting their supplementary benefit, not including the necessary consumption of food on college premises, or even private study, which they could do even if they were at work?

I accept that there is a difficulty here. One of the problems was that if meal breaks were excluded, under the terms of the law it would be possible for those studying in schools and sixth forms to qualify, and that was not the intention of the 21-hour rule. I suggest that we await the guidance, which I have not yet seen. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the CSBO is a very independent gentleman. When we see the document, we can consider the matter.

I am appalled if that is correct. Under the last Government, the Department of Education and Science issued a circular drawing the attention of education authorities and schools to the 21-hour rule. It used to be a three-day rule, but it was then deliberately made more flexible. It was pointed out that the Government expected not only further education colleges but schools to take up the 24 hours, because that is where the capacity lay to cope with young people at 16-plus. It would be crazy to throw away what has been a major opportunity to encourage young people to stay in education.

I entirely understand my hon. Friend' s point of view. I merely say to him that the chief supplementary benefits officer is completely independent of the education service and of the DHSS. I suggest that we await his guidance. When we have seen that guidance, which is to be published next week, we can then take counsel.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important from the point of view of continuity in schools and the morale of pupils that there be no disparity between schools and other forms of further education for 16 to 19-year-olds in this area, otherwise schools will suffer greatly?

The difficulty is that, under the Education Act 1944, school is full time, and it is therefore difficult to qualify for supplementary benefit if one is working full time. However, I repeat that the matter is under review. Let us wait and see what is published, and then the review will continue. If it appears that changes are essential, I am sure that they will be taken on board.

While we are waiting for the ruling, may we at least have a clear statement from the Minister today -that in the Government's opinion it would be greatly to be regretted if young people returning to colleges or open-access sixth forms to seek qualifications were so discouraged and deterred by an over-zealous ruling that they abandoned the courses?

We have only a week to wait for the guidance. Moreover, as I have said, a review is under way.

No, I think that I have covered that point.

I wish to say a word about one of the main planks of the Labour document, "16–19: Learning for Life", to which I had expected the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) to refer beyond saying that his hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty would take it up. Understandably, we are receiving a number of comments about the anomalies in the financing of youngsters aged 16 to 19.

The document recommends some kind of mandatory grant for all who stay on at school after 16. It is unclear whether the grant will be means tested and, if so, how. I can only presume that it is the same scheme which failed implementation in 1979. As I have said, we are delighted that, even without mandatory grants, the staying-on rate is increasing. Secondly, if an extra £1 billion, £2 billion or £½ billion—the document does not quantify the amount—were available, would it not be better spent on education generally than on funding youngsters in post-16 education?

I remind the Opposition that safety nets exist. The educational maintenance allowance is paid on a discretionary basis by local education authorities to those in need, and there is the discretionary grant for the same circumstances in further education. In 1980–81, more than £20 million was paid out to 16 to 19-year-olds by those two methods.

Everyone should welcome the increase in the staying-on rate. Indeed, I think that we all wish it to increase yet more substantially. But does the Minister accept that people such as careers officers and careers teachers are afraid that it will simply mean an even bigger bulge in two or three years' time, as there is no evidence that staying on will qualify anybody better for a job?

That comment takes me back to my earlier accusation that the hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that education was pointless if a job could not be guaranteed. That is an extraordinary suggestion, and I think that everyone will accept that it is absolute nonsense.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment will be dealing later with the relationship between the Department of Education and Science and the Manpower Services Commission. That relationship is very close, not only on the youth opportunities programme but on the unified vocational preparation programme, which I believe is one of the best examples of good practice in this area, and from 1983 there will be the new youth training scheme which will succeed the youth opportunities programme. I think that there is some misunderstanding in this country about this. I repeat that the MSC schemes are complementary to and not competitive with the provision of full time education in our schools and colleges. There may be common features and the age groups may be the same, but the programmes are not identical and the aspirations of the youngsters are probably quite different.

The Government's objective has been and continues to be to offer to all youngsters at the age of 16 the maximum range of attractive options that they can take. I hope that they will take them, as I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should like many more to stay on in one way or another. Unless one resorts to compulsion, which we completely reject, the way to achieve that is to offer a range of attractive options and to ensure that there is something of interest, importance and help to every youngster reaching the end of the compulsory period of education. The Department is deeply involved in the planning of the MSC schemes. We have an observer on the working group announced in the White Paper and on the MSC's special programmes board. Planning for on-the-job education and training at further education college level is for the colleges themselves, the local education authorities and the MSC locally.

The Labour document "16–19: Learning for Life" has a completely black cover and makes remarkably dull reading, but, if one sticks with it, it is quite interesting. There have been numerous proposals in recent years, and we all welcome that, as it shows that the subject is important. In my view, however, this document is marred by a typically political flavour. Nevertheless, I shall encourage the Opposition by telling them of some of the proposals with which we agree and which the next Conservative Government will no doubt pursue.

We agree that more youngsters should stay on. That is already happening and we, unlike the Labour Government, are providing resources for it. We agree that vocational education and training should be increased, and we are doing that. We agree that the curriculum for 16 to 19-year-olds should provide work experience and careers advice. I have already mentioned the extraordinary reference to the effect that in the education world the careers service excludes careers teachers. That is the normal terminology, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman has changed his terminology. We agree, too, that provision for the 16 to 19 age group should, as far as possible, be planned as an entity.

We part company, however, and violently, when the political undertones become political overtones—where Labour Party dogma and centralist planning take over. I shall cite some instances. So far as I can see from the document—and here is one person who has actually read it—it assumes that parents, students and local education authorities should have no role in deciding education and training for the 16 to 19-year-olds.

They will be told what to do. Indeed, they are told in the document how the system should be organised. Will the Labour Party never learn that imposing dogmatic schemes nationwide is not the way for education to prosper? I contrast the Labour Party's, to my mind, rather repulsive approach with that of the Macfarlane review which emphasised the variety of local conditions and the fact that no one solution is appropriate everywhere.

According to the Labour document, for instance, sixth forms as we know them will cease to exist. They will be expanded to include vocational and part-time courses, regardless of the wishes of the community or the availability of sixth-form provision elsewhere. Sixth-form colleges, too, will cease to exist. They would have to become tertiary colleges, regardless of the wishes of the community, the students, or the staff. Again, that is dictatorship from the centre.

A-levels, which have served the youth of Britain so well, would cease to exist and would be replaced by a vague concept of broad study and in-course assessment. What would happen to standards without external examinations? I wonder what the Labour Party has in mind when it proposes to abolish A-levels?

When a Labour Party document admits that it requires enormous resources to implement the proposals, that is saying something for it. I suggest to all those who take the trouble to read the document that it shows once again the tendency towards petty dictatorship, the refusal to trust the people and the refusal to allow the wishes, the views and the aspirations of those who are involved to play any part in the decision-making. The Government are moving fast and efficiently to meet the needs of the 16 to 19-year-olds. I recollect the point of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) about university cuts. He is quite wrong, because what we are talking about is a reduction in total student numbers of 5 per cent. by 1983–84 compared with 1979–80, or a reduction in total populaton by about 20,000 compared with 1980–81. That will mean that the total number of university students will be about the same as in 1977–78, which, if I am not mistaken, were the flowering years of the Labour Government.

The Under-Secretary of State has entirely omitted the fact that the number of applicants has greatly increased, is still increasing and will do so next year. Therefore, the number of people who can have higher education will have fallen as a proportion of the whole under the Conservative Government.

What the hon. Gentleman has just said does not accord with his earlier prophecy of gloom and disaster.

I do not suppose that Labour Members realise it, but the document demonstrates the cloven-hoof of petty dictatorship.

Will my hon. Friend address himself to the unemployment part of the motion? Employers in my constituency have told me that a great problem in expanding youth employment is the fact that trade unions have forced youth wages up so high that they find it much more economic to employ married women, who are efficient and who do a good job. Unions are responsible for pricing young people out of work.

Order. It is not my job to arrange debates, but I am anxious to give all hon. Members who are trying to catch my eye the opportunity to speak. Long interventions make long speeches even longer and I ask for some restraint.

Of course I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern and he has a good point. However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment will deal with that later in the debate.

The Government are moving fast and efficiently to meet the needs of the 16 to 19-year-olds with the resources and the necessary innovations such as the new 17-plus and, democratically, along with the wishes of the people. I suggest that we are meeting the challenge of the future and putting right some of the consequences of the past.

10.54 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) on having chosen this subject and on the way in which he presented it this morning.

I found the Under-Secretary of State's speech profoundly complacent. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), he did riot mention what I believe to be the central and most important problem for young people, which is unemployment, and that is what I intend to concentrate upon in my speech. There is, however, merit in the fact that the Under-Secretary of State has read "16–19: Learning for Life", the excellent document produced by the Labour Party. As a commercial, may I say that it costs £1·25 and is a very good buy as a consultative document, with 120 pages.

As the Under-Secretary of State said, we must listen to everything that is said. I am certain that the Labour Party will listen to all that he said as part of the consultation on the document, although when he referred to the "cloven hoof of petty dictatorship", even he could not avoid laughing at the phrase. One wonders who wrote it. The Under-Secretary of State seemed to find it funny halfway through.

I do not intend to make an amusing speech. The main visible achievement of the Government in their three years of office has been the creation of over 3 million registered unemployed. If we count the out-of-work women for whom registration is pointless, and if we count the October figure of about 719,500 people kept off the unemployment register by temporary part-time work and special employment schemes, we are talking about over 4 million unemployed.

Young people have been hit hardest by the terrible result of the Government's economic policies. I do not underestimate for one moment the personal tragedy for adults, family men and those in their fifties who may never work again, or for the multitude of people now working for firms over which hangs the cloud of uncertainty about redundancy, but the fact is that people aged under 25 make up 40 per cent. of those unemployed. Over 440,000 have been out of work for more than six months and face little prospect of getting a job. This is a desperately serious matter, and I was staggered that the Under-Secretary of State, although he is from the Department of Education and Science, did not mention the actual unemployment figures, which are at the heart of my hon. Friend's admirable motion.

Each year a new wave of school leavers are added to the pool of people looking for work, and each year the chances of finding a job grow smaller. In 1981, one in two school leavers could not find work or went into youth opportunity schemes. Tragically, for most of those on youth opportunity programmes, it simply postponed going on the dole.

My hon. Friend said that one of the first actions of the Conservative Government was to cut the funds available for the youth opportunities programme, and it was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) say in an intervention in my hon. Friend's speech that that was not so, and that it was simply a matter of expectations and plans. Although the hon. Gentleman is not here now, he can read in Hansard tomorrow that on 12 June 1979, only five weeks after the Conservative Party came to power, the Government announced a £25·2 million reduction in the YOP budget for 1979–80. Savings were to be effected primarily through shifting provision towards the less expensive opportunities—those provided on employers' premises—and by reducing slightly the time that people remained in the programme. Let it be clearly on the record that that was one of the Government's first actions.

Last year only four of every 10 young people went on from YOP to full-time jobs. It is estimated that next year only one in three school leavers will be able to find work. We all know that young blacks are the most seriously affected. For them the rise in unemployment is 50 per cent. higher than it is for their white contemporaries.

Why do we have such massive figures? Is there no work that needs to be done? It would be nonsense to suggest that. We know that there is work to be done—in social services, housing construction and road construction and repair. If one looks around at the decay that has occurred in the past three years one can see that there is work for hundreds of thousands of people—if only the Government had the guts and determination to do it.

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the work that needs to be done, for instance on road construction and repair, but what did his Government do to reduce the level of general unemployment and the number of young people out of work? When it was within their power to reduce unemployment they did not do it.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. In the final 15 months of the Labour Government unemployment came down month after month. We were getting on top of the problem. We recognised that the level of unemployment, at over 1 million, was too high.

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention is that he must know that the housing construction and road repair programmes of the Labour Government were of a different order from those of the present Government, who have virtually slashed the housing programme and dramatically increased the numbers on housing waiting lists. We all know that. Even the hon. Gentleman must be aware of that from experience in his advice bureaux.

Are we short of skilled people to do the work that needs to be done? Of course not. We have people who, through training and work, have had great experience, but they join queues of 100 people chasing one or two jobs in city after city. The supposition that the 3 million or 4 million unemployed are all unskilled, unwilling or untrained is incorrect. I have met in my advice bureaux people with years of experience and training who have no opportunity to put their skills to use.

Let me illustrate the massive increase in youth unemployment with figures from Norfolk and Norwich. Those are not areas of traditionally high unemployment. Under the Labour Government there was virtually no unemployment problem in Norwich. I do not suggest that no one was unemployed, but the unemployment figure comprised mainly those who were moving from one job to another. Problems of serious unemployment were unknown in the city.

The increase in unemployment at all ages in the East Anglian region between May 1979 and November 1981 was 122·4 per cent. In Norwich, only 107 youngsters between 16 and 18 were out of work in 1979. That figure has now multiplied by six, to 624, and that excludes the 703 in YOP programmes.

It is no wonder that Mr. John Harvey, the principal careers officer of Norfolk county council, told a meeting of the further education sub-committee on Wednesday that 1981 was "a year of despondency". Taking the county as a whole, he said that in November 1979 only 250 school leavers were unemployed, but up to last November 3,000 Norfolk youngsters were still without paid jobs. That was more than 10 times the figure under the Labour Government. A recent report showed that in Norfolk people became unemployed younger and stayed unemployed for longer.

Perhaps the most important and worrying aspect of our present position is the effect of unemployment on the personality, behaviour, conduct and approach to society of young people. It creates a deep sense of frustration, injustice and hopelessness and a feeling that if society does not care about them, why should they care about society.

A Conservative Member suggested earlier that parents have a responsibility. That is true, but it is difficult for the parents of an unemployed youngster or youngsters to use their influence to guide the young people into constructive paths, especially if the youngster is part of a family where the father is also unemployed. There is then a double problem—an unemployed family, not only an unemployed individual.

The difficulties of a middle-aged man or a younger man with children in living through a long period of unemployment not only have great effects on him, his mental health, his approach to life and, often, his relationship with his wife, but they seriously affect his relationship with his children. We are bringing up a generation of youngsters who are unemployed and who live in families where the principal breadwinner is unemployed. I suggest that in some years time it might be possible for us to identify the youngsters who came on to the labour market during the Government's tragic term of office.

Youngsters who do not have the opportunity to fill their time inevitably move towards crime. No one can be so blinkered as to suggest that the current crime trends among all ages, but especially among young people, can be divorced from the massive increase in unemployment.

In the last three years of the Labour Government crime fell year by year. There was a steady and encouraging process, which was welcomed on both sides of the House, but the current trend is steadily upwards, and not because of a shortage of policemen. The crime trends are linked with, more than anything, rapidly rising unemployment. The party of law and order is now the party of violence in the streets.

The Minister says "Nonsense". He knows perfectly well that the position concerning law and order today is far worse than it was three years ago. He has only to look at the statistics published in the past few days. The figures apply not only to London but all over the country. My constituency of Norwich is affected, as are the constituencies of most hon. Members here, unless they live in some secluded area where all the youngsters go off to boarding schools.

In Norwich there are elderly people who are frightened to go out of doors, especially at night, for fear of some form of assault. That is not because there is a high proportion of coloured or black people in Norwich. There is not. It is tragic that this should happen in a lovely, ancient, civilised city. It is the direct result of the Government's economic policy.

It is no wonder that one of our most able county councillors in Norfolk said the day before yesterday:
"Making our youngsters unemployed—that is what this Government is all about".
What future is there for our young people? What hope have they? As long as this Government are in power, young people can have very little hope for the future.

I was amazed by the response of Conservative Members on the Front and Back Benches following the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget speech on Tuesday. Wets and hardliners alike were waving their Order Papers as though in some way the Chancellor had achieved a great miracle, as though God had handed the nation a bonanza, and as though the problems of the nation had been resolved by the Chancellor's speech.

The poll to which reference has been made was taken the day after the Budget, before people had started to make their calculations, and before they had put it in the context of what is to happen as a result of the statement in December on national insurance contributions.

Except for a few people on very high incomes, the majority of people will be worse off. There will be rising unemployment. There will be fewer apprentices. I was talking only yesterday to experts on this subject in my constituency. They told me that there was a steady decrease in the number of apprenticeships.

There are now fewer students in our universities and technical colleges than there used to be. Certain universities and colleges have suffered more than others, but the university of East Anglia faces a 13 per cent. cut, and that means almost immediately a reduction of 500 in the number of students. There is a cut in the technical college in the city.

Conservative Members seem to take the cuts with great complacency. They do not seem to be really worried about what is being done to university education. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) will no doubt go into the details of the cuts.

The vice-chancellor of the university of East Anglia invited all the hon. Members for Norfolk and Suffolk who are on the senate of the university to a meeting to explain to them the effects of the Government and the University Grants Committee cuts on the university's programme. The only people who attended to hear him were two Labour Members. Not one Conservative, Liberal or Social Democrat Member turned up, although they were all invited.

Only a few days ago the National Association of Small Businesses protested that, having brought 35 people to London, it had been a wasted visit because the Members of Parliament were not there to meet them. The association invited 19 Members. Ten replied to the invitation, five turned up and two left very early. The association did not invite Labour Members. It was as though Labour Members did not need to hear of the problems of small businesses. The people who were invited and did not turn up were Conservative Members.

The day after the Budget in East Anglia the president of the National Asociation of Small Businesses said that he was disappointed in the Budget measures to help small businesses. I was not surprised at that.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman on rather thin ice when he is talking about the numbers game? Throughout the debate so far on youth education, employment and training, there have never been more than four Labour Members present. That is not very impressive.

I expect that most of my hon. Friends who are not present are in their constituencies, where they are having to face the problems resulting from the Government's policies. However, I do not know why the Minister should choose to intervene in my speech. I do not think that his criticism can be aimed at me.

I am fascinated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's scheme to enable school and college leavers to start their own businesses. I should like to see the details of the scheme. Perhaps the Minister will tell us about it when he replies to the debate. The Chancellor suggested that there would be opportunities for school and college leavers as sub-contractors in the building industry. It sounds to me suspiciously like the "lump", but perhaps the Minister will be able to give a convincing answer.

Young people today are squeezed on all sides. They are squeezed by lack of employment opportunities, by the new social security 21-hour rule, and by cuts in student grants. In the coming year the increase in student grants will be only 4 per cent. At the same time, they are faced with increases in student rents.

In Norfolk there is to be a 20 per cent. rise in rent for students at the Norwich city college. The day before yesterday that rise was branded as "outrageous" by a county councillor. He said that to give students an increase of only 4 per cent. in their grant and then to land them with a 20 per cent. rise in the rent of their rooms was "disgusting". I agree with that comment. When that is taken together with the cutback in discretionary grants and the reduction in student grants in many local authorities, it is clear that, contrary to what the Minister said, we are moving towards a situation in which opportunities for higher and further education will be confined more and more to those whose families have a significant income.

The opportunities for working-class students and students whose parents earn very little or are unemployed are very limited. We are faced with an ever downward spiral, so to speak. I understand that the reason for increasing the rents at the Norwich city college was that the number of students was falling, and the hostel had to increase the rents to maintain its revenue.

The Labour Party has set out economic, educational and training alternatives, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty will deal with them. The essential need is to give a real boost to our economy and to end the downward spiral that we have seen year after year under the Conservative Government.

When we talk of youth opportunities, basically we mean job opportunities. I was very disappointed to note the Chancellor of the Exchequer's response to the plea made by a group of well-known charities, many of which are concentrating their services largely on young people. The Spastics Society, Mencap, the National Children's Home and Barnardos had come together and received a large measure of all-party support, in an early-day motion, seeking to persuade the Chancellor that he should zero rate or in some other way reduce the rate of VAT on those charities providing services almost identical to those provided by local authorities.

The Chancellor's concession, amounting to the removal of development land tax from charity developments and a rise in tax exemptions on legacies from £200,000 to £250,000, were written off as only minor changes by the VAT reform group set up by eight charities to campaign against VAT. Tim Yeo is chairman of the group. He is director of the Spastics Society. He is also a former Tory parliamentary candidate. I wish that he had been successful.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will amend his wish. Mr. Yeo fought me in the last election and nearly lost his deposit.

I had not realised that a man of such ability had been put in to challenge my hon. Friend, where his chances were negligible. After Mr. Yeo's comments on the Budget, he will not be selected as a Conservative candidate in Bedwellty or any other part of the country.

"We find it completely incomprehensible that the Chancellor could not accept our proposals to exempt charities from VAT at a cost of some £30 million when he accepts representations from the tobacco and spirits industry to limit tax rises on drink and tobacco."

I hope that hon. Members on the Government Benches who signed the all-party early-day motion, of which I was an initiator, will have the courage of their convictions. I hope that on the Finance Bill they will force changes on a Government who are being petty in their approach not only to young people, but especially to children and young disabled people. We shall hear much more about the latter.

11.22 am

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment. Another engagement may prevent me from hearing his response.

Since I came to the House in 1974 I have spoken frequently on youth and educational matters. All the issues that the Opposition whinge about have been part and parcel of the debate since I have been in the House. During that time apprenticeships have declined steadily. The paramount reason is that the unions have been unwilling to reform the apprenticeship system. It has been outdated for too long. Young people are the victims of adult selfishness. Unions remorselessly press for higher starting wages for apprentices. We have no differential worth speaking about between them and full-time workers on a standard average industrial wage.

The problems are long-standing. The school curriculum is too academic. We need more opportunities for young people who have left school to have further education and training. The previous Government began to tackle some of the problems. The UVP programme was only a pilot scheme. In Opposition, week after week, I attacked the right hon. Lady who is now the Member for Crosby (Mrs Williams) to find out what was happening to the pilot programme after two and a half years. At least it has now become important and has great potential.

When the Government came to office they introduced the youth opportunities programme, which has catered each summer for a higher proportion of young unemployed people. We have begun to move towards
"a comprehensive, unified and continuing tertiary system"—
to use the words of the motion—which we have called for for years. At long last we have a programme worth £1,000 million, the bulk of which is for training.

It makes me mad when I read the memoirs of the former Chief Secretary, the right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett). He tells us that a scheme to extend educational maintenance allowances to 16 to 18-year-olds was first attempted by the right hon. Member for Sheffield Park (Mr. Mulley)—who is now being pushed out by the Left-wing. It was totally rejected by his Cabinet. It was brought back by the right hon. Lady. The right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton states:
"The Prime Minister was angry with Shirley for having as he saw it, built up pressure for her scheme."

The right hon. Lady had been talking about schemes for the entire age group costing £1½ billion, but she went to the Cabinet sub-committee for a scheme costing only £100 million. The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that the Chief Whip, who rarely spoke, felt strongly against it and that the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) was totally opposed to the scheme. The right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton ended up going to the Cabinet and getting the backing of the Prime Minister. The scheme, which involved only £100 million, was thrown out. He states:
"I felt it was not too bad an end to a difficult issue in a difficult year."
That shows the previous Administration's compassion and concern for young people.

We now have £1,000 million. The scheme can be improved and refined, but we are making progress. The concept in the motion that we are regressing is absurd. It says that the adverse policies will be
"prolonged by the recent Budget".
The Budget will not only stimulate the economy, which will ultimately give jobs to young people, but within the education budget there is a 25 per cent. increase for the non-advanced full-time further education sector. There is extra money in the Budget for an additional 50,000 places.

I have two specific questions. I was extremely distressed to hear today that there has been a change in the judgment of what constitutes 21 hours a week. I have hammered at both Governments that that aspect was a potential source to encourage young people to stay in education and training. DHSS local officials could never be persuaded to be sufficiently generous in letting young people take the courses and keep their supplementary benefit. Often the courses for which they could get approval were not qualification courses, but they were better than nothing. It was better than giving them supplementary benefit to hang around the streets. At least they could do something, if only basic maths and literacy, which could help them later on.

We are now told that the new flexibility of 21 hours, brought in by the Department of Education and Science to what was a three-day provision—it was an attempt under the previous Government to stimulate the area and to encourage young people to stay in education, particularly when rolls were falling at the top secondary schools—will not be 21 teaching hours, which would be sufficient to do anything in a given week, but will include meal time and play time. That is garbage. I shall do everything that I can to get the Government to change the interpretation of the regulations.

The £1,000 million for the youth training scheme could also affect the 21-hour rule. The withdrawal of supplementary benefit for school leavers would mean that 16-year-olds would lose the option of remaining in courses for 21 hours a week. They could not keep their supplementary benefit if they did not have it to start with. Seventeen and 18-year-olds will still have the option.

We are faced with that situation when the Department of Education and Science has at long last commissioned a report to find out what is happening to the 21-hour rule. I am vice-chairman of the youth aid group. The tragedy is that too few people have taken advantage of the opportunity. We should make sure that it is not lost.

It is crucial to get placements for the £1,000 million scheme. The young people will do some training off the job, but the key is to give them work experience. They need the discipline and the smell of being in a work place. It is an important part of education that they do not obtain if stuck in a school or college. Finding a placement is crucial. I have always argued that, instead of creating a new adjunct of the MSC, the training advisers of the ITBs constitute one of the best instruments available. It is of great concern to me that we seem to be drifting into a vacuum between the abolition of the ITBs and the establishment of the new voluntary bodies.

I should like to know from the Minister whether it is true that the CBI has urged the Government to stop talking about voluntary bodies and to start talking about non-statutory bodies because of its concern that the word "voluntary" means that most industrial sectors will do nothing about it. It is dangerous that no effective voluntary body has yet appeared in sector after sector that I have examined. We have not managed to replace the ITBs with people on the ground who will ensure that the placements are found. It is crucial for the Minister to make sure that the voluntary arrangements contain a training adviser role and that an instrument with a cutting edge exists to provide placements in companies. It seems that 30 per cent. of the furniture industry will not be covered by any voluntary arrangement. Many placements are going begging.

We should ensure that apprentices are trained up to engineering industry training board standards. Who will ensure that the 1,000 apprentices in the food sector are trained up to EITB standards? The EITB, which is preserved, lacks the capacity and is not engaging extra people to monitor and judge standards in these other sectors. This situation, together with the 21-hour rule, seems to prove something important. The Government have moved forward more than the previous Labour Government, but there is a danger that they will stumble on the way simply because the operational side is not right and that all sorts of difficulties, hindrances and bottle necks will be allowed to emerge. This can involve bureaucracy over the interpretation of the 21-hour rule, the vacuum on the ITB sector front and doubts about whether the right people are in the right place to judge apprentice standards. These critical matters have to be resolved.

Youth unemployment and youth opportunities constitute the greatest single problem facing this country. I recognise the problems of long-term unemployment, but the biggest problem relates to the despairing attitude of young people who turn to vandalism when they come out of education only to find themselves on the scrap heap. The Government are tackling the problems. The schemes exist. The need is to ensure that they operate as quickly as possible.

11.32 am

The Minister clearly came to the House today over-excited even before he reached the colour pin-up in the Daily Star. I shall only say about the MORI poll that, once the tinsel wears off the Budget and people see it for the deflationary Budget that it is, he will find that the polls change yet again. I was also surprised that the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) should be so robust in his defence of the Budget and so critical of the motion. I can assure the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) that if he divides the House, I will have no problem going into the Lobby with him.

The Minister's speech was typical of the bluster and bombast that has been the hallmark of his Department. I prefer the judgment of the Budget made by The Times Higher Educational Supplement, which described the reaction as generally resigned and cautious. It is terrible, at a time when effort and initiatives are needed to prepare a generation for rapid technical and social change, that the Government have created resignation and caution in higher education and training. That is the real epitaph of the Government's efforts. One has only to recall the delegations from all sections of education and training that have visited the House in the last few months complaining of one aspect or other of the Government's policies.

Hon. Members heard today from the Minister a robust defence of the A-level but precious little about what is happening or the thinking that is taking place in the Department about the development of a new examination. There has been some indication of 17-plus testing but the rumour continues to circulate that the Secretary of State is dithering yet again about a commitment to a new, more broadly based examination. This can only create uncertainty in the system.

Likewise, there is the hot and cold attitude to sixth form colleges and tertiary colleges. Education authorities have little idea of what the Secretary of State believes. The hon. Member for Ripon, in the latter part of his speech, put his finger very much on the problem and the doubts that exist among parents, students and educationists. They fear that the Government have no overall concept of what they want from the education and training systems. Both the hon. Member for Ripon and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South referred to apprenticeships. It is true that £1 billion has been found for the new initiatives. But apprenticeships are falling catastrophically. In my constituency of Stockport, a traditional engineering town, the fall in apprenticeships has been staggering. This will cause problems later, if there is an upturn in the economy, in terms of skill shortages.

It is tragic that the apprenticeship, still one of the most accepted forms of training, is cut back at the very time that new and untried schemes are being put forward. A scheme seems to have been announced in the Budget, introduced at the last minute, clearly without any real planning or forethought going into it. I suspect that it was cobbled together around the Cabinet table, after which the Secretary of State for Employment was sent away hurriedly to try to put some logic behind a hastily made commitment.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the cuts in university and higher education. I would have more respect for Ministers if they would accept that they are cutting back the university system. It is no use the Minister trying, as he did, to juggle the figures and statistics in order to pretend that there is some great and higher meaning to what is only a Treasury hatchet job. It is not true that good courses are not being axed. In some areas of the university system the opportunity is being taken to rationalise.

It is not good enough for Ministers to say that their action, over the next few years, will not mean cuts in the university system. As the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) once remarked about unemployment, for the individual, talk of 6 per cent. or 10 per cent. is meaningless. For him, it is 100 per cent. For a whole generation of students in the next few years, the Government's policies mean that they are denied 100 per cent. access to higher education and universities when previous generations with similar qualifications would have had that access. I would respect Ministers much more if they accepted this situation and admitted that they were carrying out a Treasury hatchet job, with the repercussions that this means for individual students.

I hope that Ministers, if they can rid themselves of some of the political banter that studded the Under-Secretary of State's speech, will realise that we are entering a period of a fair amount of national consensus about what needs to be done. It is perhaps fitting to remember, in the week in which Lord Butler died and in which our minds are focused on the great Education Act 1944, that, although that Act was great, the commitment to the over-l6-yearolds was never fully carried out. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South and the Minister cited the damning statistics that 300,000 to 400,000 children leave our education system at the minimum age and never again come into contact with education or training.

It is always fun to pick on the failures of previous Administrations, but there is a growing feeling that the distortion in our education system did not occur in the 1960s or 1970s but is 100 years old. In the 1980s we are being asked to put it right. I echo the apposite remarks made by the hon. Member for Ripon. Top priority must be given to our 16 to 19-year-olds. There are strong arguments for infant schools and pre-nursery provision, but with all-party support we could introduce new initiatives for the 16 to 19-year-olds and make an impact on Britain's economic future and on social stability.

The Minister fairly cited statistics relating to our failure to provide sufficient education and training and fairly compared the efforts of our more successful industrial competitors. It is no accident that West Germany, Japan and the United States of America have, over the decades, consistently invested much more than we have in that group.

The Minister was stonewalling about the 21-hour rule. I appreciate that he wishes to await the report, but if he has any political antennae he will have noticed the deep concern throughout the House. If he has any private contacts, he might do well to say that there will be a major storm if the regulations are tightened in the way suggested.

There is a national consensus that training and education for those aged 16 and over must be much more flexible. The Minister showed great enthusiasm for A-levels, but our system has tended to structure the education system at 16-plus and to narrow the base at too low an age. I welcome some of the suggestions about flexibility made by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). The Minister seems to be attracted to the idea of a leaving certificate for all students. From my discussions with teachers at the sharp end, I know that they will fully endorse what the hon. Member for Bedwellty said. If the document and the job are to be real and worthwhile, there must be resources. Otherwise, the system will not work or be respected by employers.

I hope that we can break down the rigidity between the academic and the technical and give more incentive to those who may have acquired training qualifications to return later to the educational sector. I hope that training and education will become increasingly blurred together so that people will be able to make choices later in life.

I greatly welcome the nudge that the Secretary of State for Employment has given and the little carrot and stick that he has offered towards looking at our apprenticeship system. An overhaul of our apprenticeship system is long overdue and there should be more flexibility in the time scale and the age of entry. I hope that the Minister will maintain his pressure to achieve that long overdue reform. His view is shared by Lord Scanlon. Indeed, trade union leaders tend to favour reform of the apprenticeship system once they have ceased to hold office.

I hope that we shall achieve a broad consensus, because there is a genuine desire for reform. I did not find the paper offered by the hon. Member for Bedwellty as distasteful as the Minister did. Indeed, the Minister worked hard to find little bits to be pernickety and churlish about. However, the Government should not complain about "black papers", given the damage that certain black papers did. The paper is worthy of deep thought by Ministers. It displays the hard work done by the hon. Member for Bedwellty. Indeed, the paper is so well thought out that his membership of the national executive has been called into question! I hope that it will be considered seriously. [Interruption.] The paper stands out as a nugget compared with some of the outpourings of recent months and I hope that Ministers will consider it in that light. I hope that my remarks have not done the hon. Member for Bedwellty too much damage.

We should not be too worried about talk of vocational training. The education profession should examine its conscience, because it defended too strongly and firmly the purity of education and was unwilling to think broadly enough about vocational aspects. There is no harm in giving children experience of the work place at an early stage, as the hon. Member for Ripon said. There should be greater flexibility and a broader approach both before and after the age of 16 and, as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South said, we should ultimately provide the maximum opportunity, as of right, for further education and training. Of course, that will be expensive and will demand further investment. That is why many of those who have spoken in the debate and who see a national social and economic need for such investment must be prepared to argue the case for backing such investment and to mould public opinion in our favour.

11.48 am

I hope that the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. McNally) will forgive me if I do not take up many of his points. Although the hon. Gentleman thought aloud about the subject, he did not offer us a constructive proposal that I could seize on and respond to by saying that I hoped that the Government would consider it.

I shall deal with apprenticeships later. However, the hon. Gentleman said many things that most of us know and I think that he will find that my comments on apprenticeships are not too dissimilar from his.

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson), who has been successful in having his motion debated today. I am sorry that, having made his speech, he apparently felt that that was the beginning and end of his involvement. He might have wanted to hear what other lion. Gentlemen had to say about his motion, which is broadly drawn and condemns the Government. However, since his speech was a rather vacuous performance —just an attack and not very constructive—perhaps he feels that he has done all that he wishes to do.

I find the words of motion difficult to swallow. To suggest, as the hon. Gentleman does, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer completely ignored the problems of young people aged between 16 and 19 is to assume that he heard a different speech from the one I heard on Tuesday. The hon. Gentleman will surely be aware that a whole section of the Chancellor's speech was devoted to the training and employment of young people.

Not only did my right hon. and learned Friend refer to training and employment for young people, but he told the House that there would be a £1·5 billion expenditure on special employment and training measures in 1982–83. He also explained that by 1984–85 the Government were planning to spend £1 billion on the new youth training scheme, which is to come into effect next year.

The Chancellor outlined the community service proposal, which I, for one, applaud. I say with modesty that it is not far different from the proposal that I made in a speech some months ago in the House. We should all want to congratulate the Chancellor on proposing that young people should do something for their community while waiting for jobs of their choice. It is a sensible and worthwhile proposal and will probably mean that a multitude of small jobs that need to be done, but which would not have been done because of high-priced labour, can now be tackled.

We have recently set up in Newbury the Berkshire youth action group its officials are employed by the county council and it is sponsored by the Manpower Services Commission. It is tailored to help the 16 to 19-year-olds, for whom it will provide a training in building and maintenance, painting and decorating. At the end of the course, if I may use that expression, the trainees will receive certificates to show their accomplishments.

Young people will be voluntarily recruited into task forces, which will each be six strong and have a qualified instructor. The task forces will be available to help to do repairs and such things as decorating old people's houses.

Service with the action group will last from six months to a year and young people will receive at least £23·50, although I suspect that that figure will probably rise to £25 or more as a result of the increase in unemployment benefit.

The Berkshire youth action group is a practical initiative. Judging by the multiplicity of jobs in West Berkshire, it will not have much time on its hands. Not only will it help the elderly—running errands for them, collecting prescriptions and helping with gardens—but it will be doing community tasks, such as keeping the common land in Berkshire clear of litter, and I hope that it will help in institutions such as schools and hospitals.

As a result of the Budget proposals, a shortage of jobs in preferred industries—which is how unemployment might reasonably be described—is replaced, in return for their unemployment benefit, by young people helping the community until a preferred job becomes available. This proposal will be of great benefit to communities throughout Britain, and it will particularly help the elderly and those who cannot afford to have jobs done at home because of high wages. Therefore, the community will benefit and the young person will benefit by learning a skill instead of kicking his or her heels with nothing to do. What is more, the young will discover that the lives of many old people in Britain are much more difficult than perhaps many of them imagine, particularly during the winter. It must be beneficial for young people to understand the world in which they are growing up.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on providing £150 million for a pilot scheme of 100,000 job places. Volunteers will gladly come forward, but if they do not I hope that the Chancellor will not rule out the concept of a measure of compulsion, because this sort of community service could have long-term benefits for Britain.

I have twice referred to those jobs that are not being done because the cost of doing them is too great for too many people. I shall continue that point in order to raise, again an old chestnut which my hon. Friend the Minister will have heard many times from Conservative BackBenchers—wages councils and the minimum wages that they set, particularly the differential in those minimum wages between what is given to those over and those under 18 years of age.

It became clear to me in my constituency when I spoke to those whose industries came within the remit of the wages councils that the minimum wage levels set by wages councils, as they apply to young people, were being set at too high a figure and were acting as a brake on young people getting jobs. That point was stressed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment earlier this month when he told the House that a 10 per cent. differential was all that separated the minimum wage laid down by the wages councils for those under 18 and adults working in the contract cleaning and laundry industries. He added that
"employers will not take on inexperienced school leavers aged 16 or 17 at wages close to the adult rate"—[Official Report, 2 March 1982; Vol. 19, c. 137.]

That point was forcefully brought home to me by a local trader who runs a newspaper shop in Newbury. He wanted to employ a 17-year-old girl, but when told by the wages council what he would have to pay her he dropped the idea. As he told me, had he paid her that wage he would have been unable to stay in business. He subsequently visited the girl's parents and told them that he wanted to employ her, and between them they agreed that she should be self-employed and therefore able to assist him. Fortunately, that girl now has a job, but it is a job as a self-employed person.

It is incredible that we must adopt devious plans and deceits to allow young people to have jobs, when, as all hon. Members will agree, this morning we are concerned with youth unemployment.

What I am trying to say was best summed up in a letter to the editor of the Retailer and Caterer:
"Sir—…My wife and I recently opened a small supermarket and as we are not Government funded, every penny has got to be found from our pockets. Consequently it is a struggle to get on our feet. The problem is further aggravated by the wages increases that we are told we have to pay"
by the wages council.
"Why should we be forced to pay these rates with legalised threats of fines etc., if we do not comply?…At the moment we employ two full and one part-time staff. Should the proposed increases become law, at least one full-timer will have to go. I cannot just say to my customers 'Right, as from now there will be an increase in all goods you buy to pay the wages', so where does the money come from?…Surely someone on the Wages Council can see this all helps in creating the unemployment situation."

As we know, under the relevant Acts wages councils have a statutory duty to fix the minimum wages of the 2.3 million people at the 392,000 establishments for which they are responsible. I am not trying to suggest, and would not want anybody to think that I was, that the councils do not try to do a good job, but because they are free to fix minimum wages in any way that they wish, I am suggesting that they are not paying enough attention to the need to have a reasonable differential between what must be paid to 16 to 19-year-olds and what must be paid to adults. That is having a detrimental effect on youth employment.

It is all very well for trade unions to campaign for higher pay for young workers and for the wages councils to follow suit, but not if the price is lost job opportunities for youngsters. In 1970 the retail furnishing wages council fixed the statutory minimum wage for a 17-year-old at 49·4 per cent. of the highest paid adult. By 1980 that figure had risen to 57·8 per cent. That shows the trend in one industry, which in my view is working against the interests of the young people.

I return to the Budget, this time to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition. He said:
"The number of apprentices is lower than it has ever been in our history. That is a further example of the way in which the Government have sought schemes to present to the House, but at the same time undermined the real schemes that industry requires."—[Official Report, 9 March 1982; Vol. 19, c. 759–60.]

Like today's motion, those words show the Labour Party's over-willingness to put its head in the sand rather than upset the trade unions or move with the times.

In fact, in 1980–81 the Government provided £1·7 million out of public funds to help apprenticeships, and £7·5 million in 1981–82. However, the apprenticeship system has been weakening for many years, because training an apprentice costs about £10,000 for a three to four-year course and because too many trade unions will not allow an apprentice to be accepted as qualified, however high a standard he has reached, unless he has served the full period of three to four years. Therefore, whether or not the apprentice shows outstanding skill and after two years might be described as possessing all the skills that he is likely to obtain if he stays for another one or one-and-a-half years, he cannot end his indentures, but must stay an apprentice.

Because of that apprentices are being made more expensive than they need be. That is one reason why 5,000 apprentices were declared redundant last year. If an apprentice can attain his standard in two years, why make him do three? That makes no sense and it makes the cost to industry unnecessarily high.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South is present, because I have a few wise words for him, which may be valuable to him.

I do not intend to give way. I ask the hon. Gentleman to hear what I shall say. If he wants to intervene when I have said it, let him do so.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to improve educational and employment opportunities for young people, instead of making the negative and critical speech that he made this morning, he should advocate measures that rid industry and the trade unions of the inflexibility that prevents a young person under 18 from even being able to become an apprentice, and which prevents a young person of a high standard after two years from being able to give up his apprenticeship and take up full-time employment.

The hon. Gentleman might advocate measures that will suggest to the wages councils that they should revise their approach to the minimum wages that they are setting for those under 18, to ensure that the differential is one that encourages employers to take on young people.

Finally, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he might tell the Labour county councillors in Berkshire and their Liberal compatriots—the Labour and Liberal Parties work together on the county council in Berkshire—that if they choose to set the county rate 28 per cent. higher than last year the cost to industry is likely to mean that industry in Berkshire will not take on as many young people as it had intended. Those costs are likely to make industry in Berkshire find competing in the world in which we live much more difficult.

If the hon. Gentleman had advocated those measures, he could feel that he had contributed something to getting rid of youth unemployment. As it is, he has wasted his opportunity.

12.5 pm

It is about two years since the Prime Minister went to a church in the City and preached a sermon suggesting that inflation was sinful and that the Government's economic policies were intended to rebut sin. I believe that the greater sin is to make 3 million people, perhaps even 4 million, unemployed as a means of devising an economic policy which is alleged to lead to recovery. However, I doubt whether that policy will lead to the recovery that I would like.

The atmosphere in which we debate the future of 16 to 19-year-olds is conditioned by the Government's economic policy. I listened to the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) making his two criticisms of current Government policy, preceded by the obligatory attack on the Opposition for any Back Bencher who is about to criticise his Government. The hon. Gentleman failed to understand that he was not comparing like with like.

When the Government came to office, the rate of unemployment for 16 to 19-year-olds was about 12 per cent. It is now nearly 55 per cent. The Manpower Services Commission has said that over 60 per cent. of those who will leave school in July will not be employed.

I talked to people working for the careers service in York last week. Desperation was written on their faces. They said that it was like a Christmas present if a real job could be offered to a young person between 16 and 19. The rate of unemployment in York is only about 8·8 per cent. It is double what it was when the Government came to office, but it is still well behind the national average. The problem of youth unemployment has been growing enormously, even in York. The people on the careers service in York said that that trend began about 18 months ago—York is about a year behind the national picture. That is the picture that we must consider.

We are talking about a system of dereliction for young people between 16 and 25 which has been brought about by the Government's policies. As the Prime Minister constantly reiterates, it is true that the Labour Government allowed unemployment to double in their period of office. What she never goes on to say—I am surprised that my Front Bench does not remind her of this—is that about 20,000 fewer people were working at the end of the period of office of the Labour Government than at the beginning. The number of unemployed doubled because the number of people coming into the work force had risen considerably. Married women came into the work force.

The graph produced by the Department of Employment shows that there has been a sharp downturn in the number of people coming into the work force. Even allowing for that, which should have reduced the rate of unemployment, the rate has gone up. The number of jobs has been killed year by year under the Government. That is what is wrong for 16 to 19-year-olds. It may well be that, because of new technology and because that is leading to higher productivity, we shall never get back the 33 per cent. share of manufacturing that we had when the Government came to office. It is now about 26 per cent. Even with recovery, that figure might remain the same. Therefore, it seems likely that either we will produce jobs in the service sector to make up for that leeway or, much more likely, we will have to reduce the size of the work force or the length of the working week.

The size of the work force is material to the question of the 16 to 19-year-olds. I am willing to devise a scheme whereby people come into work only towards the end of that age group and not at the beginning, as at present. It is manifestly clear that we treat our people worse than they are treated in our competitor countries. About 45 per cent. of those of school-leaving age come out of school with nothing attached to their names—no piece of paper, whether it is a CSE or GCE qualification—which shows that they have done anything of merit. However, in Germany only about 7 per cent. leave school without any training or qualification. Therefore, the reason why we are not effective in competing with our main competitors is partly our lack of investment in machinery and partly our lack of investment in people. We should invest especially in the 16 to 19-year-olds.

I welcome any attempt to create a system of training and education for the 16 to 19-year-olds. I welcome the carefully argued paper which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has produced on behalf of the Labour Party. I welcome also the scheme that has been introduced by the Government in so far as it is an attempt to create a system of training and education.

Although we are all united on the need to provide a system of education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds that will be comprehensive, the Government have damaged the credibility of that which they have introduced by introducing a compulsory element and making it impossible for children to claim supplementary benefit if they refuse to participate in the courses. It is inevitable that that will cause young persons to think that they are engaged in a form of compulsory service.

It would have been far better if the Government had paid a reasonable rate of maintenance for children who went on the courses. The children argue that all that is happening is a continuation of school, save that it is taking place in a work place or in college. To give children £15 a week in those circumstances is to make the situation better for those who would have stayed on at school or who were going to be unemployed.

The Government failed to recognise that they would make matters particularly difficult for the children of the poor. That is what is so offensive about the scheme. It is extremely difficult for the children of poor parents to go on to the sixth form. That is why we all accept the principle of an education maintenance allowance, even if we cannot yet will the resources.

It is equally clear that it is difficult for a child of 16 with poor parents to be able to say, if he or she is given the choice, "I want to go on for training rather than find work. The parents will depend upon some form of income for him or her. If that child is to go into education and training in the system that has been devised by the Government and is to get only £15 a week, whereas under the present supplementary benefit scheme he will be getting about £22 a week, the inevitable sense of frustration that he and his parents will share will cloud his attitude to the training initiative. He will think that he is being robbed of a week by having to take part in a scheme that he regards as compulsory.

It is no good the Government saying that the scheme is not compulsory, because it is. It was designed to he compulsory. It was designed with a compulsory element because the Government would not will the resources to pay the trainee a reasonable allowance. We all agree that there should be a reasonable allowance for all children whether they are in education or in training. I would extend the allowance to those in sixth forms. Middle-class children do so much better at getting into sixth forms and into universities because the children of the poor cannot afford to stay on, or could not in times of high unemployment.

It is therefore desirable that we make the period between 16 and 19 years an appropriate time for education and training and provide as much of it as possible. By giving 16 to 19-year-olds the necessary resources we shall enable them to live reasonably during that period. If we do not, we shall place an appalling strain upon poorer families when their children go through this. period, whereas for rich families it will be an optional extra for their children to go into training or education.

The Government must be persuaded that they need not create that difficulty. The argument that is advanced by Conservative Members is "We are willing £1 billion for this and £1 billion is a good deal more than the money that has been made available hitherto." I accept that. The Minister has argued that £1 billion is necessary and the small allowance is also necessary because there is a higher training content.

The training content depends upon employers and the training initiative is not confined to colleges of further education. We are talking about training and a work experience programme and most of the children will spend most of the time in employment. They will be doing productive work in that employment. Therefore, there is some benefit to the employer in their presence in the workshop.

It will not be an entirely negative contribution by the employee in the work experience setting. Employers will get some benefit afterwards. They will not pay wages for the productive work that is performed. They will get some material benefit out of the production of these young people and they will not pay any wages for it. In those circumstances there should be some contribution by the employers quite apart from the training element that will be provided by them in the workshop. We must recognise that we shall not necessarily be training future budding engineers. Some of the work will be very much semiskilled and some of it will be hardly skilled. The training element in some such circumstances will not be very expensive.

I am glad to say that the CBI is not as reactionary in its view as the Government. The CBI has accepted the position that I have outlined. I understand that it is prepared to make some allowance to the child in these circumstances. If the Government are to provide only £1 billion for the training initiative, let the CBI and the TUC, within the MSC, work out a decent scheme whereby the child can be paid more than £15 a week.

Better than that, there should be a basic rate of pay for all trainees. If the productive element in the trainee's job is worth more than that basic rate of pay, the unions should be able to negotiate a higher return from the employer, by consent and agreement between the employer and the unions, to add to the basic sum. That would give a sense of involvement to the unions and make it possible for the trainee to feel that he was getting a productive return from his efforts. That would encourage him to go on to more active involvement in the type of work that he has trained for.

I understand that the TUC is prepared to do that. The CBI is also thinking in those terms. If that is the position across the breadth of industry, I hope that we shall not be stopped by dogma about the high costs of wages for young people, which is becoming almost the gospel that is propagated by Conservative Members.

Last year I asked some questions of the Department of Employment about the rate of return on the employment of young people and the margin between that and adult wages. I was told by the Department that over the past 15 years there has been little increase in the rate of return as a proportion of adult wages from children aged between 16 and 18. If my recollection is right, the gap widened slightly so that there was a fall in the proportion of wages that went to children aged between 16 and 18.

If that is true, it belies what the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wison) said about wages councils. It is true that the councils set a minimum rate of return. It is a rate that is no higher than the proportion of adult wages that was operative in the early 1960s. That is not the reason why people are unemployed. People are being made unemployed by the Government's economic policy. In a time of unemployment it is far more difficult to negotiate reasonable wages and there is a tendency to argue that because some people are unemployed those who are employed should take less. No less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer was arguing that last week. Trade unions would be against that in any circumstances. One cannot argue that there should not be a reasonable return for labour simply because people are out of work. It is not the fault of people who are in work that others are out of work.

I do not accept the correlation between wages and employment that is so commonly put forward by Treasury Ministers. Unemployment can be and is being used as a bargaining counter by employers. The rates of pay that have been negotiated during the past 12 months have been much lower than the rate of inflation because of unemployment. We all accept that. Conservative Members who claim that a new realism has entered into negotiating structures should recognise the resentment among working people that it is being forced on them by the unemployment created by the Government. Once people are no longer unemployed they will want to get back the living standards that they lost. That certainly happened in much less difficult circumstances in the late 1960s and 1970s. When incomes policies reduced living standards for a time, there was a clawback in the immediate aftermath. The problem is that that may happen again.

I may not be right about the resentment of people who are in employment, but I am absolutely right about the resentment that is being engendered among 16 to 19-yearolds by what is happening now. Conservative Members do not recognise that the kind of unemployment that we now have is wholly different from that of the 1960s and 1970s. We are talking about long-term unemployment, which is destructive of personality, ambition and dignity. It is true that in the 1960s and 1970s about 60 to 70 per cent. were unemployed for less than a month at a time. They became unemployed, but then they found a job. That is no longer true.

Long-term unemployment in this country is much greater than in our competitor countries. It is now fast approaching 1 million people. Those are people who have been unemployed for more than a year. The fastest rise is among people aged 19 to 25, who are outside the scope of these training initiatives. That generation is leaving school and finding nowhere to work. Its dignity is being destroyed. Those people will remember, just as the people who lived through the 1930s remembered. By the time they are 45, although they may be back in jobs, they will have been permanently marked by the scar of unemployment.

Conservative Members who argue that unemployment is simply an unfortunate accident that must be endured before the country can become competitive again fail to understand the social revolution that they are engendering. There may be a spin-off here for the Labour Party, if those people react against Conservatism and all that it means. However, I should not want to pay that kind of price to have a Labour victory in 1984 or 1988. The social price would be enormous. The trouble is that most of us do not recognise it. Up to now, most of us who are in jobs have not felt the pain and anguish of those who are out of jobs, although all the signs are that those people are deeply bitter. They are not at the point of revolution or at the point where they take to the streets, except in one or two areas in inner cities.

That is not the way that unemployment normally conditions people. It conditions them to destroy themselves, because they feel that somehow their own inadequacy has led to unemployment. They feel not that they have been destroyed by the system, but that they have been destroyed by themselves. No one can say what that kind of malaise will mean when people realise that they were destroyed not by themselves but by the economic policy of this Government. When they realise that, they will want to destroy not only this Government but all the institutions that this Government stand for. That is the price that this Government are paying, and at the moment they are paying for it with the 16 to 19-year-olds. Unless we find a way to reverse that development, I fear that we are creating a holocaust through which none of us would want to live.

12.25 pm

In following the characteristically thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), I must point out to him that, without a diagnosis and without planning a way out of the current problems, we are engaging in no more than a hand-wringing exercise.

I do not disagree with the words of the motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson), when he calls for an improvement in training prospects
"which compare unfavourably with those of other developed countries, and calls for the introduction of a comprehensive, unified and continuing tertiary system of education, training and employment".
I do not object to the wording of that proposal, except that the hon. Gentleman is three years too late. The Labour Government did not introduce the plans that he calls for; we, the Conservative Government, have done that. There are people who are just as sincere and compassionate as Labour Members. I think of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. They care just as much, and they have done something about it. Indeed, we shall introduce a system of training for 16-year-olds leaving school. So one must get away from the unreal atmosphere of this debate in which people are wringing their hands about the problem without putting forward a proposal or even a diagnosis.

First, I shall say a word about the diagnosis. Most people in this country still do not recognise that our traditional industries have been undermined for decades. If one visits the Far East—Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and Hong Kong—we see how steel, textiles, shipbuilding, motor car construction—all the traditionally profitable industries in which this country specialised and which provided many jobs for our people—have been taken away by those emergent nations. We should not imagine that they simply provide the labour, the unskilled work, because the literacy rate in many countries in the Far East is as good as or even higher than that in this country.

Secondly, the price of oil quadrupled between 1973 and 1974, from roughly $2½ a barrel to $10½ a barrel, which affected world trade by slowing it down. Between 1979 and 1981, the oil price rose again from $15 to $34. In quantum terms, that is far more important than the percentage increase in 1973–74. So again we had a massive constriction of world trade, which also affected employment.

Thirdly, 200,000 new jobs a year are needed in this country. We should remember, too, that more married women are employed in this country than in many countries.

Fourth, we are paying ourselves and have consistently paid ourselves too much. Between 1970 and 1980, pay roughly doubled, whereas productivity rose by only a quarter compared with 50 per cent. in other Western industrialised countries.

Fifth, we have a record of poor productivity. The classic example is the number of man hours that are taken to construct a Ford motor car. Moreover, we have restrictive practices which prevent people, particularly young people, from obtaining employment.

Last night, I was musing about the age bracket 16 to 19, and I remembered that before I was 20 I had worked as an electrician's mate, a Christmas postman, a baker' s roundsman, a supplementary school teacher, and a tailor'sassistant. I also qualified as an RAF pilot before my twentieth birthday. I wonder what the electricians' union would think of employing a young man during school holidays at 75p per week, as I was employed. The answer is, of course, that one would not wish to see that.

The hon. Gentleman and I were students at roughly the same time. The difference between now and then is that the jobs have now disappeared. That is why people are not doing as he did.

I remember well that the hon. Gentleman and I were students at the same time. I believe that he was president of the Oxford University Conservative Association at the time when I was chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. We are indeed contemporaries.

I put it to the hon. Gentleman that restrictive practices have made it more difficult for young people to obtain casual employment, and casual employment is helpful in providing a working environment for young people.

The result of all these factors is unemployment, which is particularly bad among the young. What R. L. Stevenson described as
"an adventurous and honourable youth"
has become for many a period of sullen unemployment. The implications are serious. First, there is the lack of money, because they are not paid. Secondly, there is the lack of occupation and experience, and of the experience of travel to other parts of the country and perhaps to other parts of the world. Thirdly, there is the lack of training for future work and life. We must cope with all those issues.

Listening to Labour Members' speeches, I am reminded that proposals were put forward by Labour Governments in the past to cope with those problems. The more perceptive of Labour spokesmen know exactly how much such proposals are worth. In The Sunday Times of 20 December 1981, the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who is now absent, said of the Labour Party's plans for youth training:
"it's tragic that the row (within the Labour Party) sabotages our chances of ever putting these things into practice".
We are putting into practice that which we preach.

Moving from diagnosis to planning the way ahead, it is clear now that the State cannot provide jobs. The days when a nation such as the United States could put forward a proposal such as the Tennessee Valley authority dams and improvements are past. That no longer works. If the United Kingdom proposed massive, State-sponsored employment schemes, it would involve so much Government expenditure as to raise Government borrowing and inflation and destroy the very jobs that it sought to provide. We must therefore accept that it is a family responsibility, an individual responsibility and a school responsibility to provide training for future jobs and life.

Youth unemployment is, of course, the most serious element, and 40 per cent. of the unemployed are under the age of 24. But, again, the problem is not new. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), when she was Secretary of State for Education and Science, said:
"We are seeing the increase of unemployment throughout the industrial world, and it is a problem for which we still have no real answer."
Although the right hon. Lady is no longer a member of the Labour Party, I believe that that is still true and would remain so if Labour were in power.

I turn to the solutions—for wages, training and industrial expansion. We pay a higher proportion of adult pay to younger workers than any other Western country. The Government have put forward proposals to cope in part with that through the young workers scheme, which will cost some £60 million per year. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has pointed out the problems caused by the comparatively high proportion of adult wages paid to younger workers, so I shall not repeat the points now.

The Government have put forward an unprecedentedly large scheme for youth training. About £1 billion of the £1·5 billion per year provided by the Budget will go into this area, and I welcome the fact that from September 1982 every 16-year-old will have the opportunity of a year's foundation training. That is extremely important for the future of this country.

Finally, in planning for training, employment and future prosperity, we must not try to recreate the nineteenth century. We do not want rows of people engaged in the type of labour which employed so many people then. The way ahead lies in new techniques and computer technology. It lies in embracing the opportunities offered by micro-computers and new technology. I therefore very much welcome the special schemes for the introduction of computers into secondary schools and now into primary schools, and the fact that of the £1·5 billion provided by the Budget for the expansion of the economy two-thirds will go directly to industry, because it is the regeneration of industry and the rewinding of its mainspring which in the long-term will provide job opportunities for the 16 to 19-year-olds.

12.36 pm

The House should compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) on giving us the opportunity to debate youth unemployment. During his momentary absence from the Chamber, he was criticised by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who did exactly the same—made a speech and cleared off. I presume that checking one's speech is important so that one's words reach a wider audience in a corrected form, although the Hansard writers are people of high competence. The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said—wrongly, in my view—that the State cannot provide jobs. He said that this was a family and a school responsibility, and perhaps it is that, too. As a democratic Socialist, I would argue strongly—others would argue even more strongly—that the State has a responsibility—indeed, an obligation—to create jobs and that it can create jobs. The many documents produced by the Labour Party clearly describe what can be done by the State in the creation of jobs.

There are now 3 million—perhaps 4 million—unemployed. Whether they are unemployed as a result of Government dogmatism, malice or ineptitude, whatever the motive, the current rate of unemployment is disgraceful and reprehensible and must be properly remedied. A total of 1 million youngsters not in full-time employment is an appalling indictment not just of the Conservative Government but of a political and economic system which throws people on to the economic rubbish heap at such a tender age.

Some of the prescriptions that we have heard today border on idiocy. To elevate wages councils to the status of the villains of the piece is nonsensical beyond belief. One might have had the impression that they had been setting wage levels far in excess of the average, but we know that wages council levels are well below average wage levels. To comment on wages councils in such terms is nonsense and gets us nowhere.

Perhaps the Government's record on youth unemployment is not as bad as many of their critics would have us believe. Neither is it anywhere as good as the "hurrah chorus" would have us believe. Hon. Members should be sensitive to the problem of both youth and adult unemployment because they are the potential next generation of the unemployed. The concept of marginality has changed because of the upheavals of the past few years. When constituencies such as Gosport and Sevenoaks are considered marginal, one realises that we must be sensitive to the problems.

I have spoken many times about unemployment in my constituency, which is now over 17 per cent. in an area historically the engine house of the West Midlands economy. This power house has been suffering in the past decade and the decline has been accelerated by the Government during the past few years. Perhaps this industrial heartland is being prematurely pastoralised by the Government. That may be good for environmentalists, but it is disastrous for everyone else.

Everyone has been hit. Middle-aged people believe that their chances of getting a job are zero. The ethnic minorities have major job problems as do women, who have suffered acutely because of the Government's policies. The disabled are cast aside without the chance of a job, as is the unskilled worker. The managerial class is experiencing for the first time the ravages of unemployment. All those forms of unemployment are bad, but surely youth unemployment is the most disastrous of all.

In schools in rundown areas, youngsters are asking what chance they have of getting a job. Those who get jobs are often stampeded into taking the first job that comes along and therfore they are set in a career that will not result in them fulfilling their talents because of the initial mistake. The fear of not getting a job means that they will take almost the first job that comes along. The Government have diminished morale among young people and have attacked the education system at almost every level. Our postbags are filled almost every day and we receive telephone calls and delegations from the universities and polytechnics, from junior and secondary school teachers and training instructors, all of whom have been hit hard because of Government policy. Now that the gurus of monetarism are applying their rather perverted skills to education the problems will become worse.

We have solutions but not panaceas. The document that has been referred to many times this morning—"16–19: Learning for Life"—is an excellent document which disproves the old adage that Oppositions must do no more than propose nothing, oppose everything and try to turn the Government out. Here we have some sensible policies from the Opposition. They clearly could not be implemented overnight should the Labour Party come to office. They are obviously long-term policies. I congratulate all those responsible for the production of the document because it will be a blueprint for the future in dealing with this important age group.

We must overcome a legacy of neglect that goes back many decades. If we consider the deficiencies of our education and training systems and then consider comparative figures, a low percentage of young people is emerging from schools and from training, such as it may be, with qualifications commensurate with the needs of contemporary society. In my area—I recall putting down a question about it a few years ago—we had the lowest level in the country of young people leaving school with qualifications and entering further and higher education. The position has been partly remedied, but it shows the task that we must fulfil.

As the hon. Member for Gosport said, we visited South Korea in the brief, wonderful period of that country's history when it was trying to establish constitutional rule, the former dictator Park having been murdered and before General Chun came to office. We saw clearly that Britain is being attacked by newly developing countries not only at the lower end of the market, but in the production of steel, ships and motor vehicles at the top end. In almost every modern industry we are being attacked successfully from abroad. The hon. Member for Gosport was right to point that out. We must produce from our education and training systems people with the right skills to allow Britain to survive in the difficult period ahead in the 1980s, 1990s and the beginning of the next century. Unless our education and training systems meet future needs, our decline will accelerate even more.

Those are some of the tasks that must be tackled by our schools. It has often been claimed that our schools and universities are too academically oriented. I do not suggest that we should remove from the curriculum anything that is not connected with training for a career. We must have classicists and students and teachers of non-vocationally oriented subjects, but education must continue on the route that it has taken recently of providing more skills for those who will go into industry.

It is particularly galling to see the sufferings of universities such as Aston and Salford, which focus on the vocational element. As a former polytechnic lecturer, I know that such institutions bend over backwards to provide qualified personnel for administration and industry.

The West Midlands college in my constituency has been so undermined by cuts in Government grants that, if the local authority refuses to fill the vacuum, it may have to close or have its abilities so impaired that it will become superfluous to the needs of the local community. Teachers will not be retrained and it will not be possible to train students in recreation management skills. That is one example of how the Government are cutting further and higher education.

At a time of high unemployment among young peoples, we must maintain further and higher education, not merely to fill the lives of young people, but because society needs trained manpower. The Government must do much more to achieve that.

We have heard much about the decline in the number of apprenticeships. Employers must be given more encouragement, and indeed be obliged, to expand their own training. I believe that there will be an increase in the number of apprenticeships when a Labour Government come to power, and every effort will have to be made to provide universal education and training for young workers, whether skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled.

I congratulate the many individuals and organisations in my constituency who are striving to find jobs for young people. Last week I visited the Glebe centre, where hundreds of young people have been provided with jobs. There is Government funding, but those successes are largely the result of initiatives of local people in creating and finding jobs and developing skills among young people.

I compliment local authorities and their careers services. Not many jobs are available, but those services are doing a valiant job. My local chamber of commerce deserves congratulations for being in the forefront of training in this country and it is also important to compliment the good employers who are using the job creation scheme constructively and not merely as a source of cheap labour. They deserve our congratulations.

If we drift on as we have over the past decade, youngsters will be imbued with a spirit of aimlessness and frustration. The crime rate will increase and we shall create not merely the Belfast generation in Northern Ireland, wondering how the decade of violence will affect their physical, mental and spiritual development, but a similar generation in this country, as a result not of bullets and bombs, but of the frustrations of unemployment and the improbability of their difficulties being remedied.

Those young people will be alienated, support for the institutions cherished by Conservative Members will diminish and we shall store up for ourselves problems the like of which we have not seen for centuries. The best recruiting sergeants for the extremists of Right and Left are any Government who perpetuate the abomination of youth unemployment.

We must create jobs by getting the economy moving, which will mean planning, expansion of public ownership, greater control by individuals over their working lives and, without doubt, increased public spending.

Jobs must be created in the private sector. I speak not as a dogmatic extremist but as someone who believes in a healthy private sector and a healthy public sector. The Government must set the framework within which the private sector can prosper and create jobs. I deplore the way in which the public sector—which in the past both Labour Members and Conservative Members endorsed—is being frustrated and diminished because the jobs are not there. In many cases those jobs will be lost for ever.

Therefore, it is important that we adopt a policy to deal with training and unemployment that is not partisan and will not be overthrown when there is a change of Government. We have a vested interest in this House, as the representatives of our constituents, in ensuring that real jobs are created for young people, so that they may avoid the abomination of unemployment. They must be enabled to develop their talents to the full. The needs of society can be served only by the creation of jobs. Only in that way can the social services and the education system be properly sustained.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South on initiating the debate. Although we cannot give the Government black marks for everything they have done—they must be commended for some of their actions—there can be no doubt that much more needs to be done for young people by the Government. I hope that, when the Labour Party achieves office, the document to which I have referred—"16–19: Learning for Life"—will be implemented, and that we shall have a system of education for young people of which we in this House can be proud.

12.52 pm

In recent weeks I have become rather used to preceding or following the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in debates, and I am glad to do so again today.

I welcome the opportunity—indeed, any opportunity—to discuss the educational training and employment opportunities of young people. The problems of the 16 to 19-year-olds are of major importance to all of us on the Conservative Benches.

All too often, debates on the economy or on unemployment tend to be an argument over causes and blame, and seldom address themselves as much as they should to solutions. Today we have had a clear difference of view as to how much increased Government spending could overcome the problem of unemployment, or whether increased spending has a relatively small effect on overcoming that difficulty.

It is my view that the steps that the Chancellor of the Exchequer took in his Budget, although cautious, are sensible in terms of moving forward to overcome the long-term difficulties of unemployment, while avoiding massive and immediate reflation that would in turn lead to increased inflation.

Our uncompetitive position in the world was well dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), and I shall not go over the same ground. We are now competing, as a result of world developments elsewhere, with countries which were not in a position to compete with us 10 or 15 years ago. Unless we achieve both higher production and, possibly, lower living standards, we shall not be able to hold our own in world markets. The alternative to either possibility is to concentrate our skills, energy and production on high technology, where we are still in a position to compete effectively with the best in the world.

The Government's new training initiative is a major step forward, but it does not go far enough to tackle the enormous problem of youth employment. I listened with great care to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon)—not when he was arguing whether wages councils contributed to the problem, but when he was describing the effect of being out of work for a year or more on young people, and on a generation. The points that the hon. Gentleman made deserve our deep attention. We should consider how it would feel to leave school and be out of work for a year, with the opportunity to get a job apparently receding over the horizon.

The Government's attempts to overcome the problem by expanding the YOP is a step in the right direction, but we need to go much further. What research is there into the type of jobs that it is expected will be available? What links are being developed among industrialists, researchers and educationists to clarify the types of jobs available, or likely to be available, to ensure that we properly train people for them?

I believe, too, that we shall have to move to a two-year rather than a one-year bridge to absorb and hold more people in youth opportunities schemes. The country must face reality. Older people in work must appreciate that, if we are to avoid social difficulties and the alienation of the young in an era of high unemployment, people in work must make sacrifices.

I repeat that the new training initiative is a move in the right direction. It is the first time that a Government have looked at a total training scheme for Britain. I have been in with training for many years. Never before has there been such a broad approach. The pressure has perhaps come from the good of wishing to improve skill training opportunities and from the evil of high youth unemployment.

We have had strong arguments about whether high wages for young people have a negative effect on employment. They are not the only reason, but in the years of high unemployment employers were prepared to pay higher and higher wages to youngsters. I was one of those employers. The unions, too, were pushing up wages for young people, again to achieve a higher standard of living for them. We must ask ourselves whether it makes sense, when many young people have no job at all, and when their financial requirements are not so high, for them not to accept a lower level of wages.

It may be argued that young people marry early and therefore need more money. Some do. I shall perhaps be nailed up as sounding thoroughly retrograde and out of date, but my question is "Is it sense that they marry so early?" Does the evidence in terms of stable married life encourage that sort of thinking? Is it wrong to think of a longer period before people build up to a wage when it is sensible for them to get married and set up their own home?

The pressure on young people now to earn high wages early is very different from the situation of 20 years ago. Commercial advertising suggests to a huge, later teenage market that one requires many things to enjoy a happy life. It is perhaps necessary to rethink whether this is a sensible approach. There is perhaps a need to re-educate young people into expecting a longer time span before they build up to a full adult wage and so increase their chance of having the opportunity to earn that wage at all.

1 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson). We so infrequently have an opportunity for a specific debate on 16 to 19-year-olds, their education and employment and the combined and cross-referencing importance of both those subjects that the whole House appreciates what my hon. Friend has done. I cannot, sadly, pursue the remarks of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), much as I should like to do so.

I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman pauses to consider the ideas that he and other hon. Members have put forward, and to reflect upon the most massive injustice that would be perpetrated and the most unacceptable system that would be established if the House were to adopt a particular approach. That would be that a certain proportion of young people should be denied, in a competitive, materialistic and capitalistic society, the opportunity of getting whatever they could in that society, while we acknowledged, that there will always be young people, relieved of the necessity of paying for themselves and earning their own living, who will continue to thrive in considerable prosperity with limitless choice when faced with all the tinsel and attractiveness of our commercial society.

So impractical and unjust would be the logical consequences of what the hon. Gentleman suggests that I hope that he, as a reasonable man, pauses and reconsiders his views before they gain currency in the Conservative Party.

This week has been a sad and bad week for education, first, because of the death of Lord Butler. I say, without any disingenuity, that Lord Butler was a man much admired—admired most, I think rightly, for the way in which he presided over the assembly and establishment of the Education Act 1944. It is tragic that, all these years later, we can provide him with the epitaph of only 27 per cent. of succeeding generations remaining in systematic full-time education after the age of 16, of a mere 12 per cent. getting into universities, only 14 per cent. getting apprenticeships and a bare 50 per cent. getting any form of systematic education and training in the three or four years after leaving school. That was not the ideal towards which "Rab" Butler, or those associated with him, aspired.

They sought to make provision in their Act for the establishment of the convention and the universal enjoyment of further education opportunities in so far as an individual needed and could use those opportunities. In the decades of parsimony, prejudice, underaspiration and underprovision that have followed under all Governments, the permissive hopes of sections 41 and 42 of the Education Act 1944 never came to fulfilment. We have failed to fulfil them and the consequences is mass youth unemployment, under-employment, mis-employment, mis-training, under-training and no training. We are trailing behind every competing nation in terms of the proportion of young people who have the advantage of systematic education and training after the age of 16. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) has drawn attention to that fact in his motion.

It is not plausible to suggest that the low provision of systematic education and training for adolescents is uniquely responsible for Britain's poor economic and commercial performance. Nor is it plausible to suggest that their better provision would be responsible, mainly or solely, for a better performance economically and commercially. However, we should take note of the incidence of participation in education and training after the age of 16 in France, Belgium, West Germany, America, Canada, Japan and Austria, and the way in which they are meeting, and in some respects better surviving, the onslaught of international trade depression. However, even their systems would be sorely tested by the incompetence and malice of monetarism as practised by the Government.

That brings me to the second reason why this week has been sad and bad for education—the Budget Statement. In general terms, it is a stagnant Budget, cobbled together by a bunch of political sleep walkers. It is about as much use to the British economy as a chocolate teapot.

Within the Budget's general proposals and expenditure plans on Tuesday there was, as usual, a section on education. My hon. Friend's motion has drawn attention to education and it has been mentioned by several speakers, including the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science. He cannot have been referring to the Government's public expenditure White Paper. I have it here, and I see that
"The Government look to local authorities in co-operation with their teachers so to manage the contraction of the teacher force as to minimise its impact on curricular opportunities."
That is in the very week that British teachers have embarked upon industrial disruption in pursuit of a wage claim that is not excessive, but is entirely justifiable. They are frustrated in their claim by the actions of a Government who have not only provided insufficient funds to the local education authorities that employ the teachers, but has actually changed the rules so as to forbid the provision of arbitration without the assent of both parties. If the Goverment honestly believe that local authorities or teachers will conform to their public expenditure plans in such circumstances they are living in an unreal world.

I read on, and I see that
"For costs other than teaching, the plans assume continuing constraint".
There is no basis upon which such an assumption can be made. There is continuing limitation, but the local education authorities, Tory and Labour, regardless of their political control, regardless of the standards of provision that they have set themselves—either currently or traditionally—are incapable of remaining within those limitations. We see substantial rate increases, and the use of reserves. Yet there is harsh criticism from Conservative councillors who know that it is utterly impossible for them to live and to provide, in accordance with "Rab" Butler's Education Act 1944 a sufficient education service on the basis of the allocation provided to them by Her Majesty's Government.

In December 1981 the Government announced that the Secretary of State would include an additional £20 million in 1982–83 in the rate support grant to enable local authorities to restore levels of provision, books and equipment to those applying in 1978–79 to make up for reductions in 1979–80 and 1980–81. To achieve, in real terms, the levels of 1978–79, the Secretary of State would have to provide not £20 million for books in schools and colleges in the maintained sector, but £120 million extra. That is not unrelated to the situation of 16 to 19-year-olds. In the much vaunted £1,000 million youth training scheme the Government have not made a spontaneous initiative and have not suddenly realised the deficiencies in our provision for adolescents, but have responded to the perpetual pressures—some academic, some reasoned, some well argued, some well costed and some displayed last summer on the streets of Brixton and Toxteth.

The youth training scheme money is not even new. In the past two-and-a-half years education has been cut by £1·4 billion. A substantial proportion of those cuts have been made in schools that deal with the needs of children under the age of 16. Schoolboy Peter is being robbed so that the same Peter—as an unemployed adolescent—can enjoy a year of indetermined and indeterminate training in the so-called foundation year of the youth training scheme. A substantial proportion of the money to be spent on that scheme should have been spent on strengthening the educational provision of those leaving school at the age of 16, who are inadequately equipped to search at such a difficult time in a difficult world for work that will satisfy their needs, fulfil their aspirations and provide them with decent training and a decent living.

I turn again to the public expenditure plans and to the point that has given rise to most references. The command paper states:
"the plans provide for an increase of nearly 25% in the number of 16 to 19 year olds on full-time courses in non-advanced further education. Over and above this, there will be additional students‖under the Government's Youth Training Scheme".
There may be a 25 per cent. increase, but there is no guarantee of that. However, as the Under-Secretary failed to acknowledge, the pressures of unemployment have increased by 10 per cent. in recent years the numbers of those aged over 16 who participate in full-time education. Without adequate financial support or an income, and with loss of benefit and the cuts in local government finance—which effectively remove from local government the power to give discretionary grants—I wonder whether there will be a 25 per cent. increase in the number of youngsters undertaking further education.

I hope that there will be an increase and that the figure will be even higher. However, the circumstances militate against that. Hope springs eternal and I hope that the youngsters will have the sense and the means and will be provided with courses to beckon them towards remaining in further education. I cannot foresee that, and, even if that were to come about, we are talking about a 25 per cent. increase.

Under this Government, the 1980s will see an increase from 28 per cent. to 33 or 34 per cent. in the numbers of those aged over 16 in full-time education. That is an improvement, but it leaves us lagging far behind our competitors and contemporaries in other parts of the world. An initiative on an entirely different scale is needed to change the basis of provision for our 16 to 19-year-olds. Sadly, there are deficiencies in the budgetary and public expenditure provision for education. The Under-Secretary of State wondered why the Government had been attacked on what the hon. Gentleman considered to be their greatest strengths.

If the 16 to 19-year-old provision is the Government's area of greatest strength, God help the rest of their programme. I suppose that that will make the announcement of President Reagan's visit a diplomatic triumph and turn Amersham International into a massive gain for the taxpayer. If this is an area of greatest strength, then all things are possible. The Under-Secretary went further and said that the Government were engaged in the business of fast and efficient provision, with the necessary resources and innovation, as a consequence of the policy set out in "A New Training Initiative: a Programme for Action", Cmnd. No. 8455. Is that the Government's area of greatest strength? What have they provided over the past three years for the young people of Britain?

The Government are cutting university places by 26,000 and their cuts in public sector higher education will also ensure the eradication of opportunities for probably a similar number of people; certainly running into several thousands of young people who would seek their future improvement and education through public sector higher education. As a further complement in this great area of strength for young people, there have been cuts in schooling and other educational provisions for the under 18s which have denied courses and essential materials for the development and abilities of young people. I see the Under-Secretary frown, but he should have taken a visit to Surrey last September, or to other areas, and seen the doors of further education institutions shut in the faces of properly qualified young people seeking further education. They were denied that simply because local education authorities were deprived or denied the resources to expand.

I see the Under-Secretary shaking his head in disagreement, but if that is not so, why did the Prime Minister announce an additional £60 million to help with the problems experienced by local authorities in their provision of further education? That was because even she, acknowledged the deficiencies in further education provision, as a consequence of cuts and the incompetence of a system judged by its scarcity of supply rather than by its generosity of provision. I questioned the Under-Secretary when he first drew that £60 million to our attention for the 16 to 19-year-olds and I still question him about it.

What possible guarantee has the Under-Secretary that local education authorities, deprived of hundreds of millions of necessary pounds in educational expenditure, let alone losses in social services, transport services and losses of support in all sorts of essential community services, will spend that £60 million on meeting the needs of 16 to 19-year-olds? Some will be spent on that age group, but he knows as well as I do that within that clumsy formula—the manner in which it was announced and the way in which it will be allocated—there is no guarantee that the young people of Britain will benefit as a consequence of it, limited as it is.

The Government, in that area of strength, are pursuing policies of unemployment. Consequently, there has been a disproportionate rise in youth unemployment. The Government made inadequate increases in the allowances under the youth opportunities programme, which meant that unemployed youngsters were condemned to continuing poverty and, in some cases, drudgery, exploitation and even danger because of continuing high unemployment and the inadequate allocations to work experience which the YOP is forced to give them.

Perhaps the most iniquitous is the so-called young workers' scheme which is a Government endorsement of the crude and inaccurate view that mass unemployment among young people is a result of high wages among young people. We have already heard this morning about the chief supplementary benefit officer's decision to recommend the withdrawal of benefits from youngsters undertaking educational training that lasts under 21 hours a week for those aged under 18 and under 15 hours a week for those aged over 18. That is a cruel and vindictive recommendation and I hope that the Government will disregard it. If they did not, it would mean that they would rather pay youngsters supplementary benefit to do nothing other than search for non-existent jobs than they would pay the same youngsters the same amount to develop new abilities by attending college courses for training and education.

There is another crazy irony. This year, if a youngster goes to a systematic course of education and training, and between eating meals, doing private study, going to the lavatory and serving other necessary functions, the number of hours committed to that course is over 21 hours a week the supplementary benefit is withdrawn. Next year the proposal under the youth training scheme is that if youngsters do not go on schemes of systematic education and training, the benefit will be withdrawn. What a crazy system that is. People talk about crazy mixed-up kids. The difficulties of perception of the young generation are as nought compared with the confusions that reign in the Government.

The youth training scheme, due to start next year, is a pre-election gimmick. It is nothing more than that. It has drawn criticism from everyone concerned with education and training of youth people, who understand that we need a highly and broadly skilled work force. The hope of that has been sabotaged by cuts. The modern reality of high youth unemployment has been met by a policy exhumed from the 1930s.

If the Government had only followed through the propositions of the Manpower Services Commission, with its examination of the circumstances, its accumulated experience after seven years of operation and its emphasis on unified vocational preparation—and especially if the Government had been prepared to pay the youngsters properly—we could have had a scheme worth supporting, endorsing and praising and on which we could have built a modern system of youth training and education for all youngsters from 16 to 19.

Instead we have an apology for a scheme that pays lip service to the recommendations of the MSC and then goes on an entirely deviant course, avoiding all the conclusions that the MSC and every other expert commentator, offerer of advice and analyst has put forward on the subject.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said that we did not want a scheme from the last century. We are having a scheme from the 1930s. My father and uncles were dismissed—or made redundant, although that word was not used at that time—from work in the collieries in the late 1920s and in the 1930s. They were young men. They sought to draw the dole. However, they did so conditional on their attendance at what were euphemistically called training camps, which were generally situated in the Home Counties. They had to leave their families and go to the training camps. They did dull, repetitive work that added nothing to their skills. It was foreign work to them, but as intelligent people, they were prepared to adapt. Many people had to adapt to the work that they were given. Some had to adapt to being killers and audacious members of His Majesty's Forces, and others had to become electricians and plumbers. Those people did all sorts of things, but not because of the training courses.

History repeats itself. First it is tragedy and then it is farce. I am not sure which it is now. The penalty for not attending those worthless courses was the withdrawal of all forms of income and the cancellation of the dole. That was in 1933 in my father's case, and 49 years later we are back in the same position with the youth training scheme—train or starve.

This is a dangerous period. There are obvious facts, with which the House is familiar, about the scale of the increase of youth unemployment. In the first quarter of 1979, which was the last quarter of the life of the Labour Government, 12 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-olds were unemployed. In the first quarter of 1980 17 per cent. were unemployed. In the first quarter of 1981 34 per cent. were unemployed and in the first quarter of this year over 50 per cent. were unemployed. The MSC tells us that, without a major stimulus to the economy, in the first quarter of 1983 70 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-olds will be unemployed.

That is the scale of and rate of the increase. In Britain over 548,000 young people under the age of 20 are unemployed. That is disproportionate in terms of their numbers within the total labour force and as part of their generation. The best way to demonstrate the agony that they face is to compare their position with that faced by young people in 1960. In the first quarter of 1960, 33,000 under 20 years of age were unemployed. I remind the House that in the first quarter of 1982, 22 years later, 548,300 are unemployed.

It is not sufficient to meet a change on that scale, a world-wide phenomenon that has had especially bad consequences in Britain, with the ill-thought-out, half-baked, casual and under-financed system of foundation training for a limited period on starvation wages that the Government try to pass to us in the form of the youth training scheme.

There are many other details of the nature of youth unemployment that I should like to take up, especially as the Under-Secretary wildly misquoted or misinterpreted—I do not know whether it is a question of accuracy or intelligence in the hon. Gentleman's case—the document produced by the Labour Party entitled "16–19: Learning For Life". I feel obliged to outline for the hon. Gentleman, for the House and for the public record the essence of our proposals for a different system of provision of education and training for young people.

We base our proposals on the view that there is an intrinsic value for society in the extension of organised learning that is related to the identified needs and interests of the individual. That conviction is long established and widely held, and regardless of immediate material consideration, can be justified on grounds of the emancipation of abilities and the employment of human talents. That has always been so.

Secondly, we base our propositions in "Learning For Life" on the view that the need for and the opportunities of conventional employment have diminished and will continue to dwindle, and that the only constructive alternative to mass unemployment among young people, the only dependable preparation for the demands of new forms of employment and the best source of instruction on the creative use of time and energy outside work in a world and at a time when there is an infinite future during which attendance at work will become a smaller and smaller necessity, is systematic education and training, especially for the young. Accordingly, we propose that all young people, whatever their qualifications, interests and talents, will be entitled to a tertiary stage of education and training.

Every local education authority will be obliged to ensure that sufficient provision is made institutionally, in terms of the number of teachers and in every other way, to ensure the fulfilment of the right to tertiary education. Obviously the Government must assume the obligation to provide the resources to permit local education authorities to discharge their function.

Thirdly, in order to make the right to tertiary education and training meaningful, we must pay an income to each and every member of the under-20 generation, regardless of whether they are in full-time education, unemployed or employed. That income must be paid in the form of a direct subsidy to employers who accept their statutory obligation to release youngsters for systematic education and training on no less then the equivalent of one a day a week and for no less than the equivalent of two years during their period of employment.

We want all young people aged between 16 and 19 years to have the status of student trainees. We want them and society at large to understand that they as individuals will indubitably benefit from the elongation and enrichment of their education and training in their adolescence.

We want them to understand that the country, the economy and society will benefit in terms of economic advance, social stability, urban harmony, technological mastery and cultural development as a consequence of the elongation and enrichment of these young people's education.

We want them to understand that because they are undertaking education and training that will benefit them and the country we should be paying them an income for undertaking that training and education and regard it as an investment in a more competent future for Britain.

Fourthly, we consider that courses and systems of certification must accommodate the variety of needs manifested by those exercising the right to tertiary education. It is foolish to continue with the idea that we can accept a system of education that runs on narrowing rails from the age of 5 to 18, and that only 12 out of every 100 of succeeding generations of young people shall be given the opportunity to fulfil themselves in higher education. It is foolish to rule education with an examination system and curriculum which relate to the needs of only 12 per cent. of the children of any generation. The purpose of an examination system should be to discover the weaknesses and strengths of the individual. The education system should then have as its primary objective the development of the strengths and the compensation and removal of the weaknesses. We cannot do that under the present examination system.

In the present system we have variations of status, esteem, currency, qualification and certification. It means, as the Under-Secretary said, that the bright youngster who chooses what has been called the vocational route, who manifests his or her talents manually, or in what are thought, by some extraordinary perversion of reality, second-rate professions—engineering, design and technology—is somehow afforded a lower esteem, fewer facilities and less support than his contemporaries who undertake what have been defined as academic pursuits.

We cannot change that simply by exhortation, no matter how genuine the exhortation, as it is in the case of the Under-Secretary. We have to change the constitution of the system that produces that kind of segregation and overestimation of the talents of some young people, while underestimating, under-using and under-fulfilling the talents of others—the large majority.

Those are the changes that we want. They do not mean a dictatorship from the centre. They do not mean a cloven hoof, or any other kind of hoof. If the Under-Secretary had paused to look, not just at the abbreviated conclusions of the report, but at its substance, he would have found phrases such as
"We would not wish to be prescriptive about any single type of institution on which such a tertiary system should be based".
We go to pains to say that we do not have the institutional availability or the amount of skilled teaching manpower or woman power to disregard or discard anyone's talents. When we establish the right to tertiary education, it can be carried out in schools, sixth form colleges, tertiary colleges and colleges of further education. It is all in this report.

Our term "tertiary education" is a definition of a right and purpose, not the specification of a particular form of institution. It would be folly for anyone trying to change our education and training system to say that it could be done in only one form of institution or in only one way.

Finally, I say in sorrow and anger, that we should contrast this scheme for comprehensive, universal, unified tertiary education and training with the incoherence of the Government's policy. We find, on the one hand, with scholastic education, that we are directed by an undefined maxim of proven worth, demonstrated in the extraordinary decisions of the Secretary of State in response to the applications from Manchester and Croydon for changes in their education provision up to the age of 16.

We have that undefined, vague, in my view prejudiced and ill-formed maxim on the one hand. On the other hand, we have the youth training scheme, which is an inadequately specified form of training—ill-thought out, half-baked, apologetic, gimmicky and under-financed—with no extra materials for classrooms, libraries, laboratories or workshops and no real extra commitment for newly-trained or retrained teachers or instructors in any part of the scheme. There is a dependence on employers who at the moment seem not to exist. If they did, there would be no mass youth unemployment?

The needs of this age group have not been seriously appraised by the Government, although they have the best available advice—from the MSC and from other organisations which do nothing but engage in intimate investigation of the needs of this age group.

There is no systematic or even sensible provision by the Government for the young people of this country, although there are forces at work within the Conservative Party, including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who would like to see major adjustments to the youth training scheme to bring it more closely into line with Labour's proposals for learning for life. I have had occasion previously to remark on the intelligence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I hope that he wins the case, because if he does not we shall be left with an inadequate scheme and ill-prepared, ill-provided young people in this country.

I hear the Financial Secretary to the Treasury huffing and puffing—wolf that he is—but I must tell him this. The costing of our scheme is £1,600 million. That is a lot of money for comprehensive provision for the education and training needs of all 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. It goes alongside our proposals for the stimulation of the economy and the encouragement of employment, which is one of the major contributions that we have to make towards removing the agony of unemployment from the backs of young people.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there is no choice between spending and not spending. The choice is between spending to create and spending to compensate. There is no choice between making generous provision for young people or making no provision for them. The Government know only too well that, either way, through their own inadequate scheme and in all the funds that will have to be provided to pay the cost of disruption, incompetence and uproar, it is they who will have to pay. It is the phenomenon of the modern State that mass unemployment is not free—it is more expensive than the provision of employment.

We should not spend our money and resources picking up the bits left after disaster, trying to compensate people and trying somehow to aid their recovery from adolescence. We must recognise where the real challenge lies. We must recognise the form of that challenge in education, training and employment. We recognise the needs of young people. We recognise that they should have the status of student trainees. We pay them because they are training—because they are students and because they are learning. Thus we provide ourselves with the only positive and creative alternative to the mass unemployment, social disruption and economic and technological incompetence that will afflict this country for untold generations if we do not make comprehensive, universal and unified provision for the education and training of young people aged 16 to 19 and do so very quickly.

1.39 pm

I join hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) on coming first in the ballot—

—and on deciding to put this important subject before the House. I shall try in the limited time that I have to answer all the points that have been made. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) will forgive me if I do not answer his question about the appropriate age for marriage. As I have reached the age of 37 without having married, I am not really competent to answer that.

I have no doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the high levels of unemployment, especially youth unemployment. The solution is where we part company. However, it is not all bad news. Twenty thousand people are finding a job every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, 70,000 people are leaving the unemployment register every week, 10,000 new businesses are being formed every month and 350,000 new jobs appeared on the labour market last year.

I hope that I understood correctly the remarks of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South about special measures. He contended that we cut special measures substantially in 1978–79 compared with 1979–80. The figures show something rather different. In the youth opportunities programme the increase was from £62 million to £121 million. In the job release scheme it was from £21 million to £85 million. In community industry it was from £11 million to £17 million and in the temporary short-time working compensation scheme it was from £900,000 to £24·4 million. There were substantial increases in those years and, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the increases have continued.

My point was that when the Government came to office they made cuts in all those schemes, but quickly recognised that their policies were not working and restored them.

The figures speak for themselves. They were not cuts, but substantial increases. Perhaps we can agree to differ about that.

At the latest count, 220,542 people aged under 18 were unemployed. That is an increase of just over 15 per cent. compared with January last year. I do not deny that those figures are serious, but one must consider them in a certain context. It might surprise some hon. Members to know that, of the 600,000 16 and 17-year-olds who left school in 1981 for work, about half of them had jobs by the end of October last year. Of the remainder, 200,000 were in the youth opportunities programme and 100,000 were unemployed. To read the newspapers, to listen to the radio and to watch television, one would not get that figure. I do not suggest that the position is perfect, but the fact is that many more were gainfully employed than were not.

There is an encouraging trend in the number of unemployed school leavers. Between October and December 1980—the months when unemployment usually falls—the fall was about 50,000 and between October and December last year it was 70,000. One can draw from that the inference that the position of young school leavers is improving. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, for obvious and understandable reasons, laid emphasis on the London area. His constituency is in the heart of London. Perhaps I might put the point the other way round. At the moment there are 250,000 young people in jobs in London and about 7,000 on a youth opportunities programme.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and for Sevenoaks touched on the key to the problem, which is that jobs will arise only in a competitive economy. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and I do not suggest that he wishes to mislead anyone, but it does no good to pretend to young people, school leavers and those approaching school-leaving age that jobs can appear out of mid air.

Jobs will appear only if we have profitable commercial and industrial enterprises and we shall get such profitable enterprises only if our inflation rate is well below that of our competitors. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will admit that, much as he may dislike the Government's economic and fiscal policies, they are beginning to work well in terms of productivity. That will have a far greater effect on youth unemployment than would spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money as the hon. Gentleman suggested. That would lead to more inflation and, in turn, to a substantial loss of jobs.

I do not pretend, and never have pretended, that money can be grabbed out of mid air. I am saddened that a Minister at the Department of Employment should so radically miscomprehend the nature of modern youth unemployment here and in comparable economies.

In order to deal with that new phenomenon, which has been caused technologically and economically, as well as by demographic shifts—and has been worsened by the change in the nature of work and production throughout the world—we must have comprehensive provision, rather than merely hoping for profitable industry, because that will not come about if we have an incompetent work force.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me credit for taking responsibility in the Department for the YOP and some of our other special measures, which demonstrate that the Department and the Government are concerned about the present situation. It is misleading to suggest that there is a simple solution. There is no easy way out.

The YOP was mentioned by a number of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South was rather scathing about the programme. That is not fair to the MSC, which includes TUC representatives, because over the years the commisson has built up a staggering number of places on the programme, rising from 162,000 in 1978–79 to 550,000 entrants this year—and the figure is still climbing. That has not happened by mistake. It is the result of much hard work and the efforts of industrial and commercial sponsors and voluntary organisations that have played a significant and important role.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that some of his remarks were perhaps a little more robust than he intended.

If the hon. Gentleman is so opposed to the scheme, perhaps he ought to say that he does not believe in it, although he would be out of step with his Front Bench, particularly the right hon. and hon. Members who launched the programme in the first place.

There are at present 230,000 young people on the programme and there will be 550,000 entrants this year, and that number will inevitably be marginally increased. As a demonstration to the hon. Member for Bedwellty that we do care, I should point out that in the current financial year the Government will have spent over £400 million on the YOP. That, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is a lot of money, and it demonstrates that we are very concerned about the youngsters.

When I questioned the Minister at Question Time he was very brusque, but the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) also raised the problem. Obviously £400 million is a lot of money. Is the Minister satisfied that all the schemes are giving the element of training and improvement to youngsters that is needed? There is a good deal of evidence coming to hon. Members that many opportunities under the scheme are not being taken up and that the element of training is missing. That is worrying.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I was rather brusque to him the other day. I assure him that it was not intended. I am satisfied that the training element of the youth opportunities programme is consistently being improved. As he will appreciate, it was not a training programme in its initial stages, but over the last four years it has been continually improved.

As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South said, the youth opportunities programme is, in effect, the father of the youth training scheme, and we believe that it is very important that the training element should be continually increased. That is why we have the development of the youth training scheme, although it is different, in essence, from the youth opportunities programme.

I cannot say in all honesty that every one of the 550,000 entrants to the programme have a perfect training content, but there is a general thrust by all those involved to improve the training element within the youth opportunities programme, and the Government will want to put their pressure behind it.

With regard to the youth opportunities programme allowance, in January and February this year 10,000 youngsters a week were joining the programme at the new level of allowance of £25. I visit many of the schemes and I do not get the same feedback as some Labour Members seem to be getting. If the young people did not think that £25 was enough, I am sure that I would have heard about it, and in no way can it be said to be a deterrent.

With regard to substitution or exploitation, if any complaints are received they are immediately investigated by officials from the Manpower Services Commission. If it is discovered that there is a case of substitution, the scheme is brought to an end.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. McNally) and other hon. Members mentioned apprenticeships. The Government feel that we should move away from time-serving and towards standards. It was suggested that we were nudging in that direction. I feel that I am heaving in that direction, because I believe that it is a matter of great importance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport mentioned youth wages. I agree with him that in many cases youngsters have been priced out of jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) also mentioned that point. We are trying to improve the position through the young workers' scheme.

With regard to the youth training scheme, my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon recalled what happened when the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) tried to bring a scheme before the previous Labour Government on very much more modest lines than those followed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on behalf of the present Government. It is intended to be a comprehensive training scheme.

The scheme will comprise five main elements: induction and assessment, basic skills, occupational base training, guidance and counselling, and record and review of progress. At least three months will be spent in learning and training off the job. That will, of course, place demands on providers of further educational establishments. One could argue that, as a result of the scheme, an equivalent of 80,000 full-time further education places will be needed.

In our White Paper we have given the MSC a considerable challenge. As I said, at present 220,000 YOP places, which last, on average, six months, are filled. We now aim to have 300,000 places, lasting for a year, filled by September of next year. The training content is also substantially greater. It is a big job for the MSC, especially to find sponsors. I hope that the voluntary organisations and everyone else involved in the YOP will, wherever possible, find further schemes.

I, and I expect other hon. Members, constantly receive representations from voluntary organisations that £25 is too little, so we can expect the same representations about the £15?

On the YOP, the average cost per trainee is £38 per week. On the youth training scheme the average cost per week for a 16-year-old is £53, and for a 17-year-old £63. The amount being spent per trainee is substantially increased. The reason for the £15 a week is substantially to increase the training element.

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue, which will continue to be debated. Although the Government are not going as far as he would like, I hope that he feels that we are moving in the direction that he wishes.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.