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Mr. Burt : No. What we say is-- [Interruption.] --No. I do not believe that is true. The guarantee does work. We have an enormous of number of people in youth training places now. As I said, the figures for Scotland show that there are youth training place vacancies. For a number of reasons, people might fall vulnerable and need severe hardship allowance. We make it available and have it as a safety net, but if no one was receiving it, I dare say that, as my colleagues appreciate, Opposition Members would argue that the benefit is so difficult to obtain that no one can claim it. Because we have taken genuine steps--I was grateful for the remarks of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson)--to try to make it more available to people in need, the hon. Gentleman criticised us because people actually take it up. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have it both ways.
We continue to monitor the arrangements closely and we have every intention of making further improvements where necessary, although we need to see how the job seeker's allowance will operate before making any further moves.
In conclusion, the Government have no plans to restore a blanket of income support to 16 and 17-year-olds.
Mr. Salmond : I have been listening carefully to the Minister, and I still have not received an answer to my very simple question. Why, in spite of the picture of a world of opportunity that the Minister has been painting, with all those improved schemes, does Shelter estimate that 5,000 Scottish youngsters slept rough at some time last year ? It is a simple question. The hon. Gentleman is reaching the end of his speech. May I have an answer ?
Mr. Burt : As I said earlier--when perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not quite concentrating--there is a variety of reasons why people might find themselves in need of severe hardship provisions. I am convinced that there is absolutely no reason why any single youngster should be on the streets of Scotland tonight. Assistance is available from the Government for benefit and for need. The numbers of people who might sleep rough on the street in any one night are hundreds rather than thousands. It is a matter of regret to all of us, but the hon. Gentleman knows of the variety of circumstances that lead people to be there, from the various surveys that are done.
The Government have played their part, by making resources available and pursuing initiatives to try to help find homes for single people. Statutory responsibility rests with housing authorities. They should review their policies and priorities to ensure that they deal effectively with the problems that confront homeless and roofless people.
However, being responsible for severe hardship allowance, knowing the way in which it has been applied in the past couple of years and knowing the efforts being made by hard-working and well-meaning staff to ensure
Column 524that it is available for those who need it, I do not believe that anyone who is genuinely in need would be refused that benefit. The success rate of 90 per cent. shows that.
Mr. Wilson : I am grateful to the Minister, and I shall quote figures later that bear out what he said and show what an enormous change there has been in the way that severe hardship applications are treated, but the Minister should reciprocally recognise what a brutal policy that was in the first place, and what astonishing cruelty was visited on tens of thousands of young people before those changes took place. Those young people could not apply for severe hardship payments, and, as a result, they were cast thoughtlessly on to the streets.
The benefit has always been available and could always have been applied for. My feeling, as perhaps one of the least brutal Ministers that the hon. Gentleman might come across--it is not my style--was that I saw a benefit that was available, about which the original intention of Government was entirely correct, but which, for some reason, was not working through to the people who needed it. That is part of the job.
Opposition Members constantly ask the Government about eligibility for benefits and the need to ensure that those people who are eligible can claim. Those Members speak about claimants' campaigns and everything else. I saw a position in which the benefit was there, in which people were in need and lobby groups would come to me and say, "I think this should be available, but I can't seem to get it and no one knows about it," and so on. I said, "It is there, and it can be done." Other people simply did not know that the benefit was available because they had not gone and obtained the information, and the information was not disseminated. So we worked to do that. For me, that completed the circle. One has a Government who are offering, in a growing, expanding economy, jobs, training, further and higher education, which are being accepted by more youngsters than ever before. One has a positive picture for youngsters and, in addition, one has two safety nets--a safety net in statute for the vulnerable and a safety net through severe hardship benefit for others who have slipped through for any other reason. I think that that is the complete picture.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Is my hon. Friend aware that when the benefit was available freely to all, I had a large number of complaints from parents in my constituency whose daughters were staying on at school after 16, saying that they were shacked up in Morecambe with their boyfriends at the expense of the Department of Social Security ? That was the type of thing that the Minister rightly has prevented from happening.
Mr. Burt : My hon. Friend is right and, indeed, as I mentioned earlier, there was a culture that, no matter what one's family background, if one was in a position to claim benefit, one did, whether one needed it or not. At the same time as politicians were walking the streets, urging people to ensure that their taxes were well spent, they were covering a position in which there was widespread misuse and no one wanted to do anything about it.
Column 525We ended that, I think, and I think that removing automatic entitlement to benefit for all 16 and 17-year-olds and replacing it with a system whereby we encouraged them to do their best, encouraged them to take advantage of the opportunities that we then increasingly made available, to improve their opportunities for jobs and skills in the future, was the best way forward. I still believe that, and I also still believe that we have protected the most vulnerable people and ensured that they do not slip through the net.
We have no plans to restore a blanket of income support for 16 and 17-year- olds. To do so would be to concentrate on the wrong area and would be poor targeting of resources. It is far better to invest in high-quality training than to provide benefit for people who are not looking for work or training, thus encouraging unnecessary reliance on the benefit system.
Instead, we are concentrating our efforts on more positive and productive policies, such as improving the education system to cater for young people's needs and abilities, and encouraging young people to make the most of their potential through education or training. We are providing good- quality training places to equip young people with the skills that they need to enter work and build successful careers. Those are the best ways for young people to begin to lead independent and productive lives.
The hon. Member for Moray spoke of young people being independent through having automatic entitlement to benefits. What sort of independence is it when one is dependent on other people ? It is far better that we encourage young people to be truly independent and to have the skills that they need for the future. It is better for us to provide that so that they can participate in a growing and positive future.
Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central) : I always enjoy listening to the Minister. We play in the parliamentary football team together--I think that he plays inside left. However, what worries me is that the longer the Minister works in the Department of Social Security, the more like his boss he becomes. That is an alarming prospect, particularly for the Minister.
The intervention of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) suggested that such mischievous prejudice promotes and fires Tory youth policy, which is shocking. It is a slur on young people to pretend that one can build a policy around so many prejudices when young people are looking not for a dependency culture, which the Government wean them on, but real opportunities. Those opportunities were not mentioned in the Minister's contribution today.
The subject is important because young Scots face a crisis, and their predicament is mirrored throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. An important process is at work. The youngsters of 16, 17 and 18 are making the transition from school to work--they are being integrated into society. The transition from childhood to adulthood should also be a transition from dependency on parents and others to independence. Such an important process shapes the formative years of virtually every youngster in Britain, but the Government have shocking policies to deal with it. It is vital that the Government take seriously all facets of the process.
Column 526The main question in today's debate is why young people in Britain are being sold short by a Conservative Government. No society, no Government and no political party can take the matter lightly. What happens in those critical two years can influence the nature and lives of young people. Equally important, it can influence the nature and lives of the wider community, so we must take the subject seriously. The Minister's comments smacked more of a smokescreen than of concern for the deep-seated problems in Britain.
The subject of benefits and financial support for young people is important. There is a crucial distinction between the old-fashioned policies of the nationalists and the prejudiced policies of the Tories. The Labour party wants opportunities for young people. We want to move the culture further on-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) is, as usual, mouthing from the Back Benches, and saying that the Tories are for freedom, choice and independence. If that is true, why has the number of people on income support in Scotland, as compared with the number of people who were on the old supplementary benefit, increased by 88 per cent ? Some 1 million Scots are living on the breadline because of the Tory Government. Does that suggest independence or greater dependency ?
Mr. Kynoch : The hon. Gentleman was talking about different sorts of policies. What is the policy of the Labour party ? As the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) said, there is no Labour party policy.
Mr. McLeish : I shall answer. We have the old alliance between the Conservatives and the nationalists. The party of nationalism thrives on the back of Conservatives, who fear that the nationalists might desert them in difficult times.
I shall now explain Labour party policy. The position is clear : the Conservative party is the party of dependency. No matter what Conservatives claim, every fact suggests the opposite of what they say. I shall give the figures later to outline that point. I shall make Labour's position clear-- I see that everyone is now sitting up. A Labour Government will ensure that there will be no young Scots, or anyone else in Britain, without a place in mainstream education, a place in further or higher education, a place in work with training, a training place or a form of income.
We must move the debate away from the old, tired view of dependency to talk about giving young people opportunities.
Unlike the present Government, we shall give young people the benefit of training opportunities. The best policy is to take young people seriously, not constantly to steep the argument in dependency.
Column 527Conservative party over many years, including those in Tayside and in other regions of Scotland. They show where the Labour party stands. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour party is committed to ensuring that benefits will be available to 16 and 17 -year-olds at an uprated level ? Is he prepared to give that financial commitment tonight on behalf of his party ?
Mr. McLeish : I will not take lectures from a party of protest when Labour is preparing to be a party of power. Will the financial commitment of the Scottish National party to Scotland's young people come after the funding of a separate Scottish army, separate Scottish navy and separate Scottish air force ? It is vital not to get sidetracked by such issues.
A Labour Government will ensure that no young Scot is without a job, a training place, a place in education--higher, further or mainstream--or a form of income. That is crystal clear to me.
Mr. Burt : For those of us who are dimmer and have not quite got hold of what the hon. Gentleman said, may I ask him to repeat it and make it clear ? Is he saying that there will be an automatic entitlement to income support for all 16 and 17-year-olds under a Labour Government--yes or no ?
Mr. McLeish : I am surprised that the Minister should criticise himself as being dim, and I do not accept that he is. I shall clarify my remarks still further. I anticipated that the issue would rouse the sleeping partners on the Government Benches. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party said :
"Labour's priority is to make sure all young people get work, or good quality training. But if they cannot there must be some assistance--we are looking at these issues through the Social Justice Commission at the moment."
That is the important issue that develops the debate.
"If you're asking us what our plans will be on day one of a Labour Government, obviously we'll have to make the detailed plans nearer the time".
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that view of Labour party policy--which we think is closer to the truth--has been overridden by what he has said ? The hon. Gentleman has still not said whether automatic entitlement to income support for 16 and 17-year-olds is to be restored. Will he answer yes or no ?
It is vital not to let the debate get bogged down in the Tory agenda. The dependency culture has always been alive and well under this Government, yet they seem to want to keep on talking about it--because as soon as they
Column 528move to training or education they are on shaky ground. What is actually happening in Scotland certainly does not square with the Minister's speech this evening.
The self-worth of our young people is crucial both to society and to their sense of well-being. They want to work, as the Minister would agree. What is more, they want to be trained and educated. They want to be successful, to build up careers and to start families. The problem with keeping the debate at a superficial level is that we may overlook the fact that young people are facing severe difficulties at a time of massive social, economic and employment adjustment. The labour market is changing. The Minister may say that a recovery is in progress, but looking around Scotland it is difficult to see where the jobs are being created. The Government's own quarterly employment figures show very little growth in employment. Young people now have fewer opportunities in the labour market, and it is changing qualitatively too. It is very difficult for them to break into it and--despite the rhetoric about skills--mass deskilling in much of our manufacturing base is also going on. The Government do not talk about apprenticeships these days. Although they have introduced a new concept using that name, they do not collect the figures any more. We know that there has been a massive reduction in the number of quality training places in manufacturing. Apprenticeships in my constituency were often the avenue of progress for many young Scots.
The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) highlighted the problems of homelessness in Scotland, but the Government will not acknowledge that the nature and structure of families are changing. There are hon. Members on both sides who want to moralise about that, but the hard facts, meanwhile, have to be dealt with in public policy development. I refer to the linking of homelessness with family breakdown and other family difficulties. All this is part of the changing culture of Scotland and of Britain, and it reinforces my point about treating issues affecting 16 and 17-year-olds with sensitivity.
There is mass unemployment in Scotland. Even on Government figures-- manipulated and altered 30 times in 15 years--nearly 3 million people in Britain and 250,000 Scots are out of work. What kind of environment does that offer young people ? When I was 16 or 17--or when the Minister was, come to that--we could choose from quite a large number of jobs. There was no housing problem either, and probably no difficulty with finding training. Now, mass unemployment has changed everything. I must tell the House with some passion that bright, dedicated youngsters in my constituency who want to work are painstakingly looking for work, but in Fife there were only 18 vacancies, at the last count, registered at the careers service. I appreciate that they were not the only vacancies available, but looking for work is a soul-destroying business nowadays.
Mr. Kynoch : How does the hon. Gentleman account for the fact that the unemployment rate among those under 25 in the United Kingdom in April 1994 was 5 percentage points better--that is to say, lower--than the average rate in the European Union ? Is he aware that a recession has been going on around the world, and that the policies of this Government have generated greater employment and prospects for our young people ?
Mr. McLeish : In the world that I inhabit, in my constituency, those sort of comments do not square with the facts of life. We can talk about differences between European nations, but the figures are compiled differently-- [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may hum and haw all he likes, but he clearly does not want to hear the answer. The Italian and Spanish figures show up significant differences for this age group, but the figures are compiled quite differently. What matters is that young people in my constituency want jobs and are little interested in what happens elsewhere. We should therefore dispense with bogus analogies that do not stand up to examination.
Another point about unemployment is that youngsters are trading down their expectations, and that is bad for their sense of self-worth. Young people in my constituency who have qualifications are doing jobs that require none, and those who have been doing jobs that needed no qualifications are doing no work at all. That depresses them, and it should give us cause for concern.
Another problem derives from people's attitudes to young people--a point emphasised by the intervention from the hon. Member for Lancaster. People have their prejudices and then build them into sweeping generalisations, which can then sometimes motivate public policy. I do not believe that young people in Britain have changed, but they are surrounded by great change, and we have a Government who have walked away from facing up to the consequences of that change. I am pleased to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), is here for the debate. Ministers often talk about youth unemployment. I have with me some figures from the Department of Employment computer which have not been published. They show that, at the last count, nearly 10,000 young Scots were classified as unemployed but not included in the official figures. Why not ? The Government believe in an opportunity-led, laissez- faire, free-market Scotland, so perhaps they can explain the discrepancy in the figures.
I have another question for the Minister. Unpublished figures from the Scottish Office show that, on 14 March 1994, 7,831 young Scots were eligible for youth training, 5,551 were covered by the guarantee, but 5,428 were without a start date. How does that fit in with the central proposition by the Secretary of State for Employment, who speaks eloquently about only 150 young people in England and Wales not having had their requirements met by the guarantee ? If that number is right, why is the number 5,500 in Scotland ?
The hon. Member for Moray also discussed the severe hardship allowance. My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has already pointed out that the benefit is widely available and its take-up is being increased, but that many young Scots, not because they are in desperate hardship but just because they need the money to live on, are applying for it. If the Government view the benefit in that light, why cannot they take a more enlightened view of the whole question of financial underpinning for young people ? Figures supplied by the Department--an excellent Department it is--suggest that between 500 and 600 young people each quarter are applying in my constituency for the allowance. Multiplied by a factor of 15, we arrive at a crude figure for the whole of Scotland of about 8,000 applications for the SHA.
Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman is approaching a point at the heart of this debate with which I strongly agree. What he is saying is that, because of the pressure of events, this selective, discretionary benefit is becoming a universal benefit. That being so, why do we not agree to make it a universal benefit, end the pretence and stop people slipping through the safety net ?
Mr. McLeish : I am delighted that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) agrees with the central theme. A central problem for the Government has now been raised by the Opposition parties. The benefit is now available although it was applied brutally at the start. Young people were coming to me who simply could not get hardship allowance on any criteria because the Government were pushing their free market ideology and hoping that the benefit would not have to be paid. That has changed dramatically and I leave it to the Minister to think through the ultimate consequences.
The other important point about the financial support of young people is that it is simply a mess. The Government tinker with child benefit and extend it ; they have a bridging allowance which moves like a ship at sea ; there is severe hardship allowance and then there is youth training allowance. Does the Minister think that the incoherent application of public money in such a way is the best and most productive method of helping young people and society ? I suggest that it is not.
To finish my catalogue of concern about young people in Scotland, why do the Government provide no minimum wage protection for young people in the workplace ? They decided to get the wages councils off the backs of young people and let the market flourish--in their eyes--knowing full well that for young people it meant simply a cut in wages and further exploitation in the workplace.
Why do we have the poorest employment conditions for young people in Europe where rights are undermined and access to tribunals is simply non-existent ? It is obvious that there are major problems for young people in Britain. Their greatest worry is the central problem of lack of economic independence and from that flow all the consequences in terms of poverty, homelessness and, in some inner cities, crime-related difficulties.
Mr. Burt : As the hon. Gentleman would expect, I am following his argument closely. I cannot see, however, that if he tries to return to a system of universal access to benefit, he is helping with the problem of dependency. If the opportunity exists and is provided universally, the determination to be on training schemes and the like may not be there. I do not see how making the benefit universally available would get over the problem of dependency. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there should be some form of selection, to what extent is he offering something different from what the Government are offering ?
Mr. McLeish : The Minister may have been following the arguments, but that is not the issue at stake. The Government sought to strike up a partnership with young people after the abolition of universal entitlement in 1988. They have not honoured their commitment to young people. On 14 March, 5,500 young Scots had been guaranteed training, but the Government have reneged on that guarantee. That issue has to be taken seriously. It is not
Column 531about universality or the dependency culture ; it is about the Government who have simply sold young people short and reneged on their commitments.
We are concerned about reneging on commitments because we need training and access to employment opportunities in every facet of Scottish society. The Government cannot have it both ways and most young Scots are being denied, or having to go through obstacle courses to get, certain forms of minimum income. At the same time, they are being denied opportunities for training that they were promised in 1988 and beyond.
The Government have smashed any partnership and destroyed young people's confidence in their ability to deliver. The debate is about moving the country on so that we do not patronise young people, but see them as a positive resource ; it is all about encouraging opportunity and getting away from the sole issue of trying to make it as difficult as possible for young people to be financially independent. A YTS place paying £29.50 does not provide independence, but it produces self-worth by putting young people in a workplace environment ; they are meeting other workers and are seen to be building and shaping their own future.
The Government must appreciate that it should be the right of every youngster between 16 and 18 to be given a chance. They should not be bogged down with keeping young people without financial support, and as part of that, reneging on their guarantee. That is unforgivable and the Government stand condemned. If they want to practise as well as preach independence, choice and freedom for young people, it must be about positive opportunities rather than keeping them hooked on dependency culture.
We need a complete rethink on youth policy in Britain. A number of facets of that crisis have been identified tonight--some of them have been raised by hon. Members--but we need an inquiry into the condition of young Scots and a fundamental review of youth training. We hear nonsense from the Minister about there being more places available than young people taking them up. In my constituency, there are a large number of YT places, but no one in his right mind would want to go anywhere near them. That experience is mirrored throughout the country. Volume has to be linked to quality and when the Minister makes statements about large numbers of vacancies, he should look at the quality of vacancies and ask himself the following question : if he were that age, would he be happy to go into an environment where health and safety protection is non-existent and exploitation is high on the agenda ? That is the nature of some of the YT places.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that it is totally out of proportion to suggest that health and safety protection are non-existent in any training place in any factory, given the interest that the health and safety inspectorate takes in every workplace in the country ? Has not he gone over the top ?
Mr. McLeish : If the hon. Gentleman had listened properly, his comment about going over the top would not apply. I made the point in response to the Minister's claim that there was a massive number of vacancies. I could take the hon. Gentleman to so-called vacancies in Scotland ; young people are right not to go near them. Careers
Column 532services are often coerced into putting such places into the statistics to satisfy the Government, but, given a free rein, they would not do so. There are places where young people are being exploited and lack of health and safety provision is one aspect of that. I did not say that it was the same in every workplace, but a large number of vacancies are in that category.
I made the point that youth training needs a fundamental review. We have to change our attitude to young people. It must become more positive and less prejudiced and we should think in terms of opportunity rather than dependency. We also need to move to the concept of making young people as fully productive as possible. It is all about full employment in a modern context and allowing the self-worth of all youngsters to be generated in the way that they want--not in the way that Governments or employers determine--and to allow them to work in an environment of opportunity to give them the best possible start. We want positive young people with potential to be able to develop that to the fullest.
We believe that the Government's current policies on benefit and training simply do not satisfy the wishes of young people and, of course, we want the Government to tidy up their act on statistics to give us more facts and less smokescreen.
Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : I come to the debate on three different footings : first, as a former employer in Scotland ; secondly, as a former director of a local enterprise company in Scotland-- Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey local enterprise company ; and, thirdly, as a parent of a daughter aged 20 and a son aged 17. One of my children has passed through the 16 to 17-year-old stage and the other has just left school and wants to go on to further education, so I am sympathetic to the problems that 16 and 17-year-olds have to face.
I am also here as an hon. Member representing constituents, seeing just what is happening in my constituency and my part of Scotland. The unemployment rate in the Grampian area, for example, at about 5.4 per cent. at present, is the best in Scotland.
This debate is not about costs but about the completely different attitude to employment and life in general of Conservative Members on the one hand and Opposition Members on the other. The Opposition parties have different complexions. At the Monklands, East by-election the Labour party fought hammer and tongs with the Scottish National party. I give my condolences to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for not quite making the winning post. However, I must also extend my condolences to the Labour party for its significantly reduced majority.
Mr. Wilson : Do the hon. Gentleman's condolences to the nationalists extend to regret that the 799 Tory votes did not go to the Scottish National party, in which case the Labour majority would have been lower ?
Mr. Kynoch : I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I was not responsible for the way in which Conservative voters voted in Monklands, East. However, general elections can often be a completely different matter from by-elections. I am drifting slightly from the point, but I am
Column 533sure that the by-election concerned the employment prospects of young people and the way in which they are treated in Monklands, East.
Mr. Gallie : Does my hon. Friend agree that many in Monklands, East simply were not Tory voters--probably gey few. Is not the Scottish National party now seen as the tartan socialists, the real socialists in Scotland, and was that not a factor in the election ?
Mr. Kynoch : My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) has a valid point. The Scottish National party is clearly the Scottish socialist party. The philosophy that it is putting forward today is one of total dependency. Young people who are leaving school are being offered the chance to go on to social security immediately. They have no incentive to make their own way.
I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) when he talks about the transition period for 16 and 17-year-olds between full-time education and going out into life as adults, having to pay their way and live in the outside world unprotected. It is important that there should be a gradual transition. They should not be given an easy route forward. They should not be given a benefit and do nothing in order to claim it. We need to provide the right environment in order to encourage Scots to better themselves and lead the industries of the world, as they have done in the past.
Not every 16 and 17-year-old needs to go down the benefit route. Many go on to higher education. The Government have already achieved their goal to have 30 per cent. of young people in higher education by the end of the century. In the 1970s, under a Labour Government, the proportion of young people in higher education was a mere 17 per cent. We must be doing something right in encouraging people to do what is better for them.
The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is no longer in her place, but she talked about when she was at university with a full grant. She said how things had changed and how students were no longer able to exist on their meagre takings through the grant or the loan system. I was at university at approximately the same time and I can remember only too clearly that when they were at university all students picked up part-time work. The hon. Lady implied that that was no longer possible, but my daughter, who is now at Heriot-Watt university, and her colleagues all manage to find part-time jobs. They do so because they want to and because they want extra pocket money. They want to go out and do it themselves ; they do not want it handed to them on a plate as Opposition Members seem to wish.
Mr. Salmond : I am sure that Opposition Members will think, "Jolly good for George's daughter." The hon. Gentleman refers to young people in Scotland as "them". Will he consider the logic of his argument about the dependency culture ? Why should his argument stop at withdrawing benefits from 16 and 17-year-olds ? Would not the logic of his argument be to pick on the adults as
Column 534well as the young people ? What defence does he put for the safety net of universal benefit provision for adults ? Is not the logic of his argument to withdraw it from everyone ?
Mr. Kynoch : The hon. Gentleman is trying to say that we should be encouraging people to get off benefits, with which I heartily agree. It is right that we should try to have an economic environment in which we can get conditions right so that we can get employment up and unemployment down so that benefits are not required. However, we must still have that safety net for those undergoing severe hardship. That is exactly what the Government have done. It is hypocritical for the Opposition parties to talk about the dependency culture as they have when they want a dependency culture.
Mr. McLeish : This is an important point. Can the hon. Gentleman give us an idea of what proportion of Scots between 16 and 18 do not want to work ? What is soul-destroying about a debate such as this is the presumption that young people do not want to be trained ; do not want to work ; do not want to get up in the morning. My experience is the opposite. I believe that the overwhelming majority of young people have enterprise and initiative. The predicated argument is always that in some way we must do down young people by putting them through a rigorous, punitive, coercive benefits regime because otherwise they may become dependent on benefits and may not want to go into the outside world.
Mr. Kynoch : I never said that. The hon. Gentleman talked about the difficult transition from the dependent, protected society of school life into the outside world. If young people are suddenly cast into the outside world without the gradual transition of guidance and encouragement to better themselves through training or further education, the tendency for some is, unfortunately, to fall into the trap of dependency on the state. That would not be serving our young people to the best advantage. It would not be fair on young people and it would not fulfil the objectives that the hon. Gentleman has tried to put forward tonight.
I followed part of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but the big problem with the Opposition parties is that one has clearly made a commitment and has said that in the unlikely event that it was in power in any shape or form it would have universal benefits--the nationalist party. I must be significantly dimmer than my hon. Friend the Minister because I am not clear whether the Labour party is advocating universal benefits. If it is, the hon. Member for Fife, Central would have his fingers smacked by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) because there is the edict that the Labour party cannot pledge anything at present. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is doing a wonderful presentation job with no substance. Like the hon. Member for Fife, Central, he, too, would gloss over an issue such as this and we would hear nothing of substance.
We are talking about more than just benefits. We are not talking about costs. We should not be looking at costs ; we should be trying to provide an environment in which British industry becomes more competitive so that it can flourish and gain trade in opposition to other nations. Page 30 of the Government's recent competitiveness White Paper, "Helping Business to Win", states :
"Hard working people with high skills and the knowledge and understanding to use them to the full are the lifeblood of a