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Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until I get further into my speech. We are discussing a specific aspect of hardship relevant to the new clause. If the hon. Gentleman supports the new clause, he should at least read it. I know that he supports the Government absolutely in any circumstances and tends to crawl to the Minister at every opportunity, but he should not fail to read the new clause.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey): Does my hon. Friend, like me, find it distasteful that Conservative Members seem to find this subject amusing and sit there laughing while he makes extremely important points about some of the most vulnerable teenagers?

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is quite right, and it is merely a continuation of what happened in Committee, where Conservatives laughed through eight weeks of debate about the needs of young people. They laugh because they have no experience of the problems. It is not their children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews who will be affected by the changes; they are protected by privilege. They make sure that their children have access to training or education--they purchase it. This change in Government policy does not affect the children whom they come across, so they not only regard this as a joke and a jolly good wheeze, but are wholly uninterested in the needs of young people. If they were anything other


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than disinterested, they would not have made such a proposal. The new clause would never have got out of the locker from which it came.

It is interesting to note that in Committee not one Conservative Member was prepared to stand up and defend the interests of 16 to 17-year-olds. As I told the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) yesterday with reference to one of his interventions, he should be ashamed of himself.

If the Government training programme is so successful, why has there been such a dramatic increase in the number of claims for severe hardship payments? The truth is that training for 16 to 17-year-olds has failed dramatically because teenagers are still experiencing severe problems in relation to their access to, and the quality of, training and their access to employment opportunities following training.

Only 31 per cent. of young people were in work six months after leaving training, and 30 per cent. leave training without a qualification or a credit towards a qualification. The percentage of young people leaving training who get a qualification or a credit has hardly increased since 1990 and, even now, barely half of all leavers come out of the scheme with some form of qualification.

The Government are not dealing with the crisis in training, with the crisis in the quality of training or with the lack of full-time employment opportunities at the end of training. Instead of tackling those problems by introducing new measures in the Bill, they blame the victim. The language in which the Minister of State proposed the new clause was revealing--it was the language of blame. She used negative language about young people and how they view the Government's proposals and talked of the need for coercive tactics in dealing with young people. Those coercive tactics bear no relation to the plight of young people and their attitudes to work and training, which I shall come to in a moment.

The figures that I quoted say nothing about the quality of training provided. The trends are set against the decline of more traditional forms of structured training for young people. For example, the number of trainees and apprenticeships in manufacturing has declined by 60 per cent. since 1979 and 150,000 apprenticeships in engineering have been lost since the Government began deregulating the market. What other Government, in changing their labour force, in trying to develop new skills and new techniques, in promoting engineering as part of a drive for exports and in trying to improve the country's economic competitiveness, would allow 150,000 skilled training posts to be lost? No other Government would allow that. It is economic madness and, in response to the needs of young people to develop career opportunities, it is callous in the extreme.

Those appalling outcomes show that this Government's policy is clearly not working. The Government must tackle the twin problems of youth unemployment and lack of skills among young people. The Minister's solution is simply to force young people on to schemes and deny them benefit if they refuse to go on them because the schemes are poor, unsuitable or exploitative.

The hon. Lady has created a serious problem with what she has said to me in Committee and confirmed today. We are to have two classes of schemes and attitudes


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towards young people. Those who are lucky enough to have access to quality training and work opportunities will be given a guarantee that during that work experience, training and minimum standards will be maintained. But for those who, for various reasons, are unable to secure that quality training or access to employment opportunities, such standards will not be maintained.

The Government will force young people to take jobs that do not include any training or minimum standards whatever. What does that say to young people? What does that say about future investment in training for young people? If it is wrong to provide young people with jobs without training and minimum standards, it is wrong, full stop. The Government are therefore introducing a further measure of coercion with which to attack young people. They are not only reducing the right to hardship payments in 40 per cent. of cases, but they are attacking young people from a different angle. If young people have access to job opportunities, they cannot rely on the Department of Employment to protect them, in either quality of training or minimum standards.

That is perverse logic in anyone's language. It can serve only to encourage bad employers to operate outside the system and feel no obligation to provide training for our young people. Why should young people be given manual jobs with no skill element? Bad employers will simply need to sit and wait for the first opportunity that the Government take to throw young people out of the system. The first young people who are removed from the system will be automatically offered jobs by bad employers, who will not have to spend a penny on training or minimum standards and who will be outside the policing arrangements for dealing with and providing work for young people. A similar argument arose yesterday about minimum pay. The Government are giving a green light once again for bad employers to exploit young workers through levels of pay, training and standards. What a set of options to offer young people.

Miss Widdecombe: The hon. Gentleman heard me say very clearly in the House yesterday that the Employment Service is not in the habit of and will not in the future be in the habit of offering people inappropriate vacancies. That applied to young people as well. 4.45 pm

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Lady has been somewhat disingenuous, to say the least. In Committee, we spent hours giving her evidence of case after case of such practices. She could not refute such cases because they were either pending appeal, had already been heard or had been provided by citizens advice bureaux, the Coalition for Young People, the Unemployment Unit, youth organisations and churches. We could go on for hours today, but the point was well made in Committee. Young people feel abused by the system. The system does not meet their needs when they inevitably complain and the trainer or the organisation that placed them in that vulnerable position is not dealt with. The young person is guilty until proved innocent. Only when young people prove themselves innocent are they entitled to some form of benefit. Little or no action is taken against the employer who was exploitative in the first place.

Ms Eagle: Does my hon. Friend recall some of the comments made by Conservative Members in Committee


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to the effect that, if training for young people were to consist of scrubbing floors, it would be acceptable because it would teach them discipline?

Mr. McCartney: A number of inane and disgraceful comments have been made as the Bill has progressed. It is interesting to note that the hon. Members who made them are not here. Perhaps the Government have made them take a vow of silence and stay away so that they do not embarrass the Government with their views on young people. The point was well made by my hon. Friend.

We have a dossier of Conservative Members' views on young people. On Second Reading, comments made by well-heeled, millionaire-type Tory Members of Parliament on young people who were seeking employment and could not get it were revealing. A range of views was expressed, and between now and the next election we intend to use them to the full. [Interruption.] Would the Whip, the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), like me to embarrass his hon. Friends? Perhaps he would, but I will not-- [Hon. Members:-- "Come on."] No. I have not gone soft, but I have not notified the hon. Members concerned that I intend to mention them in the Chamber. If the Minister would like to go and get them--I am sure that they are in the House--I would be more than happy to discuss their views on young people.

The point that I am trying to make--

Mr. Heald rose --

Mr. McCartney: I shall give way in just a second.

The Government should be looking to the new options and training opportunities that they can provide to improve the system. The direct result of the Government new clause will be to halve the choice of training and opportunities for young people to look round and find a suitable scheme. The Minister confirmed that in her explanation of the new clause. The Government are reducing by 50 per cent. the chance of young people to come out of a scheme or a training opportunity when they find, having been placed in it for a range of reasons, that it is unsuitable.

Will any hardship payment or benefit be provided for young people who are waiting for a decision on an appeal? The Minister made some concession during her short introduction to the new clause when, for the first time, she referred to an internal review. I assume that that was introduced--it was not mentioned in Committee--to take account of what my hon. Friends and I said about the need to protect young people in the process of turning down an opportunity or coming out of a scheme in which they had already been placed. The hon. Lady did not say whether young people who are disallowed payments after that internal review will be given a formal opportunity for an appeal process. If they are given that opportunity, will they be allowed to claim some form of benefit until a decision is made?

How long will a claimant be given to consider a training offer? That is important, because it would be totally unacceptable if young people were told that, if they did not immediately accept a training position, action would be taken against them by the Department. A young person needs a period to reflect on the proposals put to him. How long will that period be? Will it be a day, two days, a week or a fortnight? Will the second offer of training be a different placement, as a matter of course? What I mean by that--


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Miss Widdecombe indicated assent .

Mr. McCartney: Then I shall not proceed with that question. It is important that people are not offered the same placement as they originally turned down.

Miss Widdecombe: I shall answer the question so as to get the facts on the record. The answer is that if someone has turned down a placement, the same placement will not be offered a second time.

Mr. McCartney: I thank the Minister; that is another improvement since the Committee stage.

Where training is unsuitable or of poor quality, it becomes a euphemism for exploitation, and a cheap job with poverty pay. Training is a pretence for young people in such positions. In many areas assessment has become a sham, because in truth there is none. Few or no resources go into checking what happens during the training process.

In Committee we gave the Minister ample evidence of that state of affairs, and it is now incumbent on the Government to say clearly what investment and what procedures will be attached to the regulations under the new clause to ensure that young people are protected in their placements, and that a regular check is made on the quality of provision. Young people could then have confidence that they had an independent person to turn to if difficulties arose. Without such independence, they will continue to be left in dangerous circumstances.

We must also ensure that schemes are tailored to meet individual needs and requirements. The Minister suggested earlier that the Government might be moving in that direction. She said that there would be checks on trainers, and that the review procedures would be examined. Will that include ensuring that part and parcel of a young person's jobseeker's agreement will be total control by the young person over the final decision? I shall explain what I mean by that in a minute.

It is important that as the Government introduce the new arrangements they ensure that young people feel that they are part of the process and not simply a cog in the Government's wheel. The agreement should be made between two equal partners. When the Committee was to discuss the jobseeker's agreement per se, we tabled many amendments, which the Government rejected, to ensure that the balance of power between the Department's officers and the claimant would be equal, and that both parties would find the eventual agreement positive in terms of the individual's needs.

For the outcome to be successful for young people, they must feel from the outset that the agreement is as important to them and for their development as it is to the Department as a tool and a weapon for refusing them access to the benefits system. It is therefore vital that the Minister sets out clear and specific arrangements whereby young people can with some confidence enter discussions and negotiations on their agreement. I do not see why she cannot do that today. If it cannot be done at all, the agreement will not be worth the paper that it is written on, but will be seen as just another coercive document to be used against the young person.

Those of us who have teenage children, or whose children have already been through that difficult period in their lives, will know that teenagers react more positively if they are dealt with on the basis of an equal partnership. Growing up is difficult enough in the teenage years, but


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it is even more difficult if people are out of work and feel alienated, and the person sitting opposite them seems totally unsympathetic to their position. Even worse, that person has the power to determine major aspects of the young people's lives, including eligibility for housing and access to income, training and employment. That is an uncomfortable position for anyone, let alone a vulnerable 16 or 17- year-old.

Department of Employment services must be seen not simply as a policing arrangement for young people, but as a positive aid to help to meet their needs. Rather than moving the goalposts towards assisting young people, the Government, both in Committee and now, by tabling the new clause, have done the opposite. They have moved the goalposts towards an indifferent approach that will alienate young people further and will, in a coercive way, undermine their abilities and their rights of access to the Department's services and to income, where they would have been eligible for income.

The new clause does not deal with the causes of distress and financial hardship for young people; it merely attempts to deal with the symptoms. The Government have chosen to ignore the real issues facing youngsters in the 1990s, who are the victims of the Government's economic failures.

There are three things to say about the new clause. First, it allows for a continuation of the exploitation of young people. Secondly, it does not protect minimum standards or guarantee quality training and education. Thirdly, it reduces choice for young people at a time when they should have more choice and more opportunities. Why have the Government not used the opportunity to deal with the high failure rate, and with the number of people who do not complete the course and thus do not have appropriate qualifications? That is the real issue, and that is the damning indictment of the Government. For many young people, the current training programme has not worked. Yet rather than deal with those problems, the Government have decided to attack young people instead.

The Government have a poor record in dealing with young people, most of whom are desperate for work, training or a mixture of the two. If they sign the young jobseeker's agreement in good faith and then find that it is detrimental to their well-being, what will the Government do to ensure that sanctions are not taken against them, and that the Department acts on behalf of young people rather than on behalf of the people exploiting or attempting to exploit them? The agreement will remove current safeguards against low-paid employment and benefit disqualification, and reduce young people's rights. Current Employment Service guidance states clearly that although advisers should ask claimants to sign, people should not be pressed to do so against their will. But now we know that the new agreement will do precisely that. Without a signature in advance on the agreement, young people's access to training and to a range of Department of Employment services will be reduced or ended. The young person's JSA is to be used to increase pressure on young people who are especially vulnerable to take up low-paid work, with or without relevant training. The Minister confirmed that again today, because


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she said that the Government will pressurise young people to take up opportunities where there is no training element. That is totally unacceptable.

Miss Widdecombe: At present there is no safeguard at all for a young person who wants to turn down a job on the ground that it does not contain training. We have now announced that in the future, unless someone has already turned down two training offers, he or she will be able to turn down a job on that ground. Only after someone has abused the system and either turned down or walked out of two training opportunities shall we revert to the present system, so we have improved the position for young people. Will the hon. Gentleman welcome that?

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Lady has not improved the position; she has created a further two-tier system, as she has again admitted. She uses the word "abuse", describing the young person as abusing the system, whereas we are talking about young people being abused and seeking assistance from the Department to have the exploitation stopped. At that point, when young people approach the Department, under the Minister's new proposals they will run the risk of losing their right to benefit.

The Minister's explanation went even further, because she said that if a young person wanted to get back into the system, any right to protection would have been forfeited. The hon. Lady is quite prepared to place young people in vulnerable positions, either because of the exploitative level of pay involved or because of the fact that there is no training element. She is offering skivvy jobs, with low pay and low levels of attainment. The Government's economic policies are undermining the rights of young people.

Young people have suffered particularly under the Government's policies. More than one in three 16 to 17-year-olds are paid less than £1.50 an hour. Almost half are paid less than the national insurance threshold of £57 per week, and the Government's proposals will force even more young people into skivvy pay and exploitation. Eight out of 10 jobs for 16- year-olds and almost seven out of 10 for 17-year-olds pay less than £2 per hour.

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Since 1990, hourly pay rates have fallen in real terms by 15 per cent. for 16-year-olds and 11 per cent. for 17-year-olds. The reason is that the Government withdrew the legal rights of protection for young people under 21 from exploitation by employers. The Government were the first in a century to remove the legal right of young people not to be paid exploitative rates of pay. Within a few years of that legal right being removed, young people's pay has fallen further. That is the Government's policy.

The Minister stated in Committee how the labour market conditions for young people who are entitled to severe hardship payments will be assessed. I want her to tell me what labour market conditions will have to be satisfied by 16 to 17-year-olds in order for them to qualify for hardship payments. Can she define what the market conditions will be? Will the conditions be more about satisfying her Department than about satisfying the needs of young people? There seems to be a dilemma for a young person who does not want to fall foul of the new clause. If a young person does not agree with the


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Department of Employment's view about labour market conditions, a range of sanctions will be introduced against the young person, irrespective of his needs.

If we are serious about dealing with the needs of 16 and 17-year-olds, we must ensure that the conditions will assist them in relation to the labour market and will not assist the Government in their ideological drive to lower wages and reduce working conditions in the marketplace.

Miss Widdecombe: The Government want higher wages.

Mr. McCartney: The Minister knows that that is not the case, despite what she says from a sedentary position.

The Minister is the same hon. Lady who, yesterday, gleefully denied people on benefit the right to a minimum level of pay if they come off benefit to go into work. She is prepared to allow people to work for £1 an hour, or thereabouts. If they do not take such jobs, they could--under the jobseeker's agreement--lose their right to benefit after 13 weeks. What the Minister hates is that the public are beginning to realise what the consequences of the legislation will be for them, their families and their young children.

The Minister fails to accept evidence that has been provided to the Department with regard to 16 to 17-year-olds. Almost half those claiming severe hardship payments had no money when they claimed and were totally destitute. That situation has arisen since 1988, and was precisely predicted at that time. If the Government remove from young and vulnerable people their access to income, they will be left destitute.

One third of those young people had been thrown out of the family home, or had been living with relatives and friends who could no longer support them. One in 10 had been in care. Some 22 per cent. had been physically or sexually abused. Severe hardship claims have risen 20-fold between 1988 and 1994 because of the Government's callous proposals. Some 45 per cent. of all claimants have slept rough.

What an image for Great Britain in 1995. What an image of what we are doing to a generation of young people. Who would have believed that we would approach the turn of the century with a Government whose policies after 16 years deny young people who have been physically or sexually abused access to income? One in 10 young people who have been in care are being denied access to income, and 45 per cent. of 16 to 17-year-olds who need severe hardship payments are homeless and sleeping rough. What a crisis for our young people. What is the Government's response? It is a clause that denies young people further access to income and responsibility in terms of employment.

The Government have ignored not just that survey. The Coalition for Young People carried out a survey, which was presented to the Minister, of how young people view the activities of her Department. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of young people said that the Department of Employment had been unhelpful to them in its advice and assistance. A majority of young people felt that the Department was not on their side, and that the Department's staff were acting as police officers rather than as advocates on their behalf. A large proportion of young people did not, in the end, claim severe hardship payments because of the complexities that were put before them by the Employment Service and by benefit officers.


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That is a damning indictment of how the Government view their relationship with young people. Given that background, it is no wonder that so many people are afraid of the new clause, which is one of a family of measures that are attacking young people. In a survey about young people's attitudes to the Benefits Agency, young people said that they felt intimidated, and that even when benefit was granted, they were made to feel that they had been done a favour. They complained that they were not listened to, and were often flatly refused permission to apply or seek advice.

That illustrates the need for young people to have an independent advocacy service, and the Minister has again failed to address that matter in relation to the jobseeker's agreement. At 16 or 17 years of age, many young people are not articulate and cannot speak up for themselves.

The Minister knows that the vast majority of the 16 to 17-year-olds with whom the Department will have to deal are young people who have been abused in one form or another. They will have come out of care, and may be suffering social stress because of the physical or sexual abuse that they had to endure. Many of them will be young people with perceived needs, but they may be unable to articulate those needs. It is those young people--the very young people whose interests we are supposed to be here to protect, enhance and promote--who will be undermined and who will lose out in the system that the Minister is proposing.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): The hon. Gentleman will agree that the vast majority of young people are keen to get work, and to take on appropriate training. Therefore, new clause 6 will apply to very few young people. Does he agree that there is a small minority of young people who are workshy, who do not want to go on training courses and who would prefer to sit at home and receive taxpayers' money? If the hon. Gentleman does not like new clause 6, how would the Labour party ensure that that small minority of young people who are idle were given incentives to do something with their lives?

Mr. McCartney: If the hon. Gentleman had been here for the beginning of the debate, he would have heard me praising young people for their attempts to get work and to promote themselves. It is completely untrue that lots of young people want to live off taxpayers' money. Tory Members such as the hon. Gentleman, who have a great deal of bile and negative attitudes towards unemployed young people, try to promote that fallacy, but it is not the case.

Mr. Streeter: What would Labour do?

Mr. McCartney: I shall come to that, if the hon. Gentleman will let me answer. The clause deals with young people who go to the Department or to their training provider and ask to be released from their training because of exploitation, or because the scheme is inappropriate to their needs due to disability or other factors. They may ask to be removed because they feel that the scheme proposed for them will not fulfil their needs.

The hon. Gentleman was present when I gave eloquent testimony to the number of cases in which young people had legitimately sought an alternative scheme. When the Minister introduced the jobseeker's scheme, she said that


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she had been disappointed about the low outcomes. She has that problem because the schemes do not work for the vast majority of young people but, instead of dealing with the problem of poor schemes, the Government have decided to tackle the young people. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is so.

Miss Widdecombe: If the schemes are so appalling, how come 78 per cent. of those who complete them have a positive outcome, and how come the recent youth cohort survey shows that 78 per cent. of trainees rated their training as either excellent or good and only 5 per cent. rated it as poor? Ask the young people themselves, and they say that those schemes are good.

Mr. McCartney: The Minister severely doctors the figures. Like many other figures that the Department provides, the cohort of young people is not taken as a whole. The figures represent a percentage of those who completed training and do not reflect the total number who started or sought training. They are therefore highly selective. The real figure that the Minister should have quoted is that, on average, 50 per cent. of young people do not find success through the training schemes.

When the Minister introduced the young jobseeker's agreement in Committee, she expressed disappointment about the outcomes. That is on the record.

Miss Widdecombe: I expressed disappointment not about the outcomes, which are extremely good for those who complete their courses, but about the number who fail to complete. Before the hon. Gentleman tosses around figures of 50 per cent. failing to complete, will he acknowledge that one third of those people fail to complete only because they go into a job or a different sort of training scheme?

Mr. McCartney: Again, the Minister wriggles. She brought forward the proposal in Committee because the Government were unhappy about the outcomes. At that time, we challenged her for attacking the symptom rather than the cause. The cause is the fact that substantial numbers of young people are exploited through those schemes. The outcomes for them are far from perfect, because of either a lack of qualifications or a lack of job opportunity at the end of the course.

The Minister should have introduced proposals under the new clause to tackle those problems instead of introducing further draconian measures that undermine the needs of a specific group of young people with special needs and aspirations and, as the Government did in 1988, attacking 16 to 17-year-olds. This Government are good at attacking the vulnerable, and the proposal will affect another group of young people.

In Committee, the Government gave no sign of what the jobseeker's agreement for young people will include. My hon. Friends and I therefore tabled a new clause to try to get the Government to elucidate on the agreement. Is it not a scandal that the Bill is about to leave the House before the Government have published their proposals? They talk about parliamentary accountability, yet before publishing their proposals they pass a clause that undermines young people if they do not sign an agreement that the Government are not even prepared to bring to the House for scrutiny.


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The Minister should clarify her intentions on a range of issues. For example, will the jobseeker's agreement deal with provisional help for housing needs? What is the outcome of the Government's survey on the needs of young people in terms of training and employment opportunities? The overwhelming majority of 16 to 17-year-olds are tied up with their housing needs. Those who are houseless or living in poor housing conditions invariably cannot or do not finish training schemes. Their housing needs are so overwhelming that they affect their capability of accepting training places or entering full-time employment.

5.15 pm

Miss Widdecombe: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that young people who are on benefit because, for example, they do not live at home and have good cause not to live at home, will get assistance through housing benefit and council tax benefit, in some cases up to 100 per cent? Will he acknowledge that that is a comprehensive package? To take advantage of it, a young person must simply abide by the rules that we set.

Mr. McCartney: Once again, the Minister's comments have a sting in the tail. She described all those safety nets and then spoiled it all by saying that a young person must have the right key to open the door. She admitted that all those safety nets will be withdrawn from young people if they fall out with her Department in respect of this agreement. Moreover, she has not said why her Department is still refusing 1,000 young people a month, who are currently homeless, houseless or coming out of care, access to hardship payments.

Miss Widdecombe: I answered the hon. Gentleman's specific point about young people coming out of care in my speech, which I should have thought was short enough for him to have taken it all in. I said, that for eight weeks, their position on JSA is protected and that, after that, they can establish severe hardship and remain on JSA. That was made extremely clear. Who are those young people who come out of care and somehow do not get a single penny?

Mr. McCartney: Again, the Minister attempts to paint a rosy picture. Those 1,000 young people a month exist. It is a Government figure--the Department's refusal rate. The issue is their inability to be accepted for hardship payments. They must be accepted before they can have access to those passported benefits. The Government are leaving thousands of young people in potential destitution, which the clause will exacerbate.

There is one question which I thought the Minister would answer this afternoon and which I raised in Committee. We pressed her on ensuring that young people had access to transport costs for training courses, and she said that it should be simply a matter for the training and enterprise councils, as trainers. That is not an acceptable answer. If she accepts that it is a reasonable proposition that young people should have that assistance, she should at least be prepared to ensure equality of access to the provision. Why should a young person in my area, for example, have access to it while a young person on exactly the same scheme in a borough down the road does not? It is either right to give access to transport costs or it is not. Given that the Minister has accepted the principle that it is right, she should ensure equality of access for young people, irrespective of where they live or where the scheme is held.


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Through this proposal, the Government have sunk to a new low. During the Bill's passage over the past eight weeks, they have made numerous proposals that undermine the rights of the unemployed, including the loss of benefit after six instead of 12 months and cuts in people's benefit. The proposal before us, however, beats them all. By denying many young people, including those who have been sexually and physically abused, access to rights, the proposal will lead them to destitution. That is unacceptable under any circumstances. Absolutely no one could defend the proposal. It shows how out of touch the Government have become with reality--with what is happening outside the House. They are out of touch with the public's perceptions and feelings about the way in which we want to invest in young people, not damage them as a result of the failure of Government policies. It is a mean and nasty proposal, which my colleagues and I will vigorously oppose in the Lobby tonight.

Ms Lynne: I shall be fairly brief. I want to tackle the detail of new clause 6 and obtain clarification about some of its wording. Subsection (1)(a) appears to give wider powers to vary circumstances when benefit could be reduced than are provided for in subsection (3), which is confusing to someone who has just begun to consider the clause in detail. I wish to know what other circumstances the Government have in mind in which benefit could be reduced.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds): It is gratifying to hear some comments from the Liberal Benches. It would be of great interest to us to know why, in view of the hon. Lady's interest and her comments, no attempt was made by the Liberals to participate in the Committee proceedings.

Ms Lynne: If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House yesterday--it appears that he was not, at least for the majority of the debate--he would have heard my remarks on that subject. I was on the Committee that considered the Disability Discrimination Bill, which was just along the Corridor, and I was unable to attend both Committees. I would not have been allowed to serve on both Committees. However, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would realise that those of us who were not in Committee do have a right to question things. That is why we have Report stage. If he would not mind, I should like to make progress with some detailed questions about new clause 6. Subsection (2)(b) allows either of two conditions to trigger the section, not both. Read with subsection (3)(a), that appears pointless because, if the direction is made under clause 13, and that has been revoked already, surely a young person will not be in receipt of anything anyway, and how is it possible to reduce nothing? I think that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) will find that that is so, but I should be grateful if the Minister would give me some guidance on that.

Miss Widdecombe: If a direction is revoked, the individual concerned, as now--it follows the same rules, although there is slightly different terminology--may make an immediate application for a new direction. That direction will be granted, provided that severe hardship is established. The question under consideration of revocation, therefore, refers to the former direction.


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I am sure that the hon. Lady understands that, at present, someone who turns down a second offer theoretically leaves the guarantee group but can in fact be re-admitted immediately. Those provisions continue that.

Ms Lynne: Is the Minister saying that, if someone refuses the second offer, they are not entitld to benefit and they will be denied it?

Miss Widdecombe: If someone refuses a second offer, or leaves a scheme without good cause, the direction will be revoked. I suppose that the person could choose to wander away, but it is most unlikely. They would apply for a new direction. They would obtain that new direction, but for the first two weeks of it they would suffer the sanction. If subsequently it was decided that they had good cause and they obtained a Secretary of State's certificate, the amount of the reduction would be reinstated.

Ms Lynne: I am grateful to the Minister.

Perhaps I may now discuss certificates. Under subsection (3)(b), what will be the procedure for the issue of certificates? Subsection (4) mentions "good cause", and the Minister said that the Employment Service would decide. Would that be in consultation with the careers service?

Miss Widdecombe: As I said in my short introductory speech, the careers service will decide whether a course is suitable. It is important to understand that a person does not have to walk off a scheme and then ask, "Please may I have that scheme ruled unsuitable?" A person who is already on a scheme can apply to the careers service, saying that the scheme is not suitable. If it is then found not to be suitable, it will be as though that young person had not received the offer.

Ms Lynne: That is as a result of the Employment Service and the careers service consulting together. I am grateful for that. Will a young person apply for a certificate before leaving the training service or can they apply retrospectively? Perhaps the Minister would prefer to answer when she replies to the debate, because otherwise she will be bobbing up and down.

Miss Widdecombe: I am bobbing up and down because the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has a habit of taking up an awful lot of time. Therefore, I am trying to take every possible opportunity to answer the questions. The individual concerned--

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Lady chose to speak for a short time instead of half an hour.

Miss Widdecombe: If I had done that, no one else would have had a go.

The individual concerned will have a choice. He or she can either apply while on the scheme--in which case, if it was agreed, they would not suffer any sanction--or, having left the scheme, can claim good cause at that stage.

Ms Lynne: I am sorry to go through the new clause in such detail, but we need clarification of specific issues.

I wish to know what constitutes "good cause" in subsection (4). Will it be prescribed in regulations, as it is currently for over 18-year-olds, or will it be included in good cause provisions prescribed under clause 15 of the Bill? Perhaps the Minister would answer that later.


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What should constitute good cause? Might something that damages the health of a young person be good cause? I believe that it should be. Might poor treatment by the employer or trainer, such as the wrong type of directions, the wrong way of issuing directions, a rude method of approaching that young person-- [Interruption.] I assume that that would be debatable for a good cause, from what the Minister is saying from a sedentary position.

The Minister has discussed the inadequate training element--when a course does not increase skills. I assume that that would constitute a good cause if it could be proved that the training course had no skill incentive and that it provided no improvement when the young person emerged at the end.

The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) spoke about homeless people. I am concerned about the effect on the completion of training of homeless young people being unable to obtain accommodation. More support and understanding should be given to a young homeless person in the completion of a training course, because if one is homeless it is extremely difficult to turn up on time or to do many things within a training course. Some young people need to visit a probation officer or to attend youth service appointments. I hope that those will be included in the good cause element. I assume that they will be, but I need clarification as we are debating a new clause. I wish to mention various other matters, especially about homeless people, who have very special needs. I fear that, as a result of the implementation of the new clause, more young people would become homeless and more 16 to 17-year-olds would suffer severe hardship. Invariably, they obtain severe hardship grant because they cannot afford to pay for food and other essentials. If they are cut off from that benefit, they will be in a very difficult position.

I know that the Minister has explained all the reasons, but a small number of people will be cut off. I am extremely worried about them--worried about where they will go, where they will end up and whether they will end up turning to crime.


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