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Miss Widdecombe: Under the clause which deals with training, they would not be cut off from benefit unless they decided not to apply and to re-enter the system. They would suffer a reduction in the personal rate of their benefit. That would not affect any other income-related benefit, such as housing benefit, that they might be receiving.

Ms Lynne: I understand that, and I am grateful.

I wish that the Government would take on board the idea of restoring benefit to all 16 to 17-year-olds, with proper training. Some of the training packages today are very good; some are extremely good, but some are poor. Instead of pushing youngsters into poor training that is often inadequate, with no job at the end of it, I wish that the Government would reconsider restoring benefit for all 16 and 17-year-olds. The new clause seems to want to make it more difficult for young people instead of trying to get them back into the job market. I shall therefore vote against new clause 6.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): I shall comment on one or two of the points made by the hon.


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Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) in his 50 minutes of understated analysis. I asked a question in an intervention after the first 10 minutes of his speech. In the light of his observations about 16 to 18-year-olds and their financial circumstances and his assertion that not all claims for hardship were granted, I asked whether he was saying that the jobseeker's allowance should be available for all l6 to 18-year-olds or that all claims for hardship should be automatically allowed. The hon. Gentleman promised me that he would come to that, but 40 minutes later I have no more information than at the beginning of his speech. He has failed to answer the question.

5.30 pm

When I made that intervention the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said that it was monstrous for me to laugh when the hon. Member for Makerfield said that he would give his reasons later. I laughed because that was so characteristic of the hon. Gentleman. When an intervention is made and a question asked of him, we receive another 40 minutes of his speech, but the question is never fully answered.

It is right to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne). At least she is prepared to say that she would extend the jobseeker's allowance to 16 to 18-year-olds. Of course, it is then incumbent on her to say how she would pay for that in the unlikely event of the Liberal party coming to power. It is a great pity that we did not have the benefit of her observations in Committee. I do not think that she is the only Liberal Member; there must be others who could have served on the Committee.

Ms Lynne: We will be giving a fully costed programme before the general election, as we did before the last general election, when we had a menu with prices, and we will have the same again. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) will be able to read it to see how we shall pay for the restoration of benefit to l6 and 17-year-olds.

Mr. Heald: It is reassuring to know that that ammunition will be available to us when the general election campaign begins.

Ms Eagle: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heald: I shall continue, if I may.

On the subject of completing courses, all members of the Committee agreed that it was important that young people should obtain something worth while from their training. The point being made by my hon. Friends in Committee was not that young people should spend their training time scrubbing floors, but that they should be encouraged to complete their training courses. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; those who complete training courses, obtain successful outcomes. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, 78 per cent. of those who complete their courses achieve a successful outcome. The battle is not to provide excuses for young people, but to ensure that more young people complete their training courses.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heald: No, I shall continue for a minute or two.

The difference between Conservative and Opposition members of the Committee was that we were able to field some members of the Committee with practical


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experience as employers--people who had employed hundreds and, in one case, thousands of employees. They said that most young people--the vast majority--are hard workers who want to learn, but a small number are not prepared to work or train. My hon. Friends' advice was that a firmer and more structured approach should be adopted towards such young people, who should be encouraged to complete their courses.

Mr. Streeter: Does my hon. Friend agree that the only conclusion that we can draw from the speeches of Opposition Members is that they would impose no sanctions on young people who do not wish to train and do not choose to spend their time productively? The Opposition would allow them to sit at home, idle, at the taxpayer's expense.

Mr. Heald: Only yesterday we heard from the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) that we should be looking for a responsible society. How is it responsible to tell young people that if they do not meet their obligations to the taxpayer they will still receive the money? How is it responsible to tell young people that if they make a hardship claim, but are not prepared to train, it makes no difference and they will still receive the money? What sort of message is the Labour party giving to young people? They are saying that it is a something-for-nothing society where one does not need to train or work, but can get something for nothing. What sort of society is that?

I know that the hon. Member for Makerfield would not deliberately seek to mislead us, but why did he say that young people receiving benefits for hardship would have housing difficulties, when housing benefit is passported from the allowance? Their council tax is paid. It is not as though young people who are living in hardship are not being catered for. The purpose of clause 13 is to deal with people who are under 18 and suffering from severe hardship.

The purpose of new clause 6 is not to deprive young people of the allowance completely, even when they have failed to complete training courses time and again. The Government make provision for young people in many ways, not just through the jobseeker's allowance. They do so through the general national vocational qualification initiatives and the modern apprenticeship scheme. The Government introduced those initiatives for the sole purpose of helping young people.

In his diatribe about unemployment, which is a serious problem, the hon. Member for Makerfield did not mention the fact that in the past year unemployment has fallen by 400,000 and there are 263,000 more full-time jobs. When he spoke of apprenticeships he did not mention the aspect of the 1960s that I remember. My recollection of the 1960s is that the trade unions were the first to want to scrap apprenticeships so that they could push up wages. In the 1960s the trade unions wanted a higher platform for the differentials. We have all learnt a lesson and, after all the years of Conservative government, the Trades Union Congress has learnt a bit of sense and strongly supports the modern apprenticeship scheme. I welcome that, as must all hon. Members.


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Mr. Burden: Will the hon. Gentleman give the House any evidence for his statement about the attitude of trade unions to apprenticeships in the 1960s?

Mr. Heald: If the hon. Gentleman wants, he can discuss the subject with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), who was an apprentice in the 1960s and can tell the hon. Gentleman about it. I cannot expand on that subject for too long because this is a short debate-- [Interruption.] I have one or two further points that I hope to make -- [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. There are too many conversations taking place and too many interruptions.

Mr. Heald: Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Makerfield mentioned independent advocacy as though the Department of Employment should be treated as an enemy or an authority that did not have the interests of young people at heart. He spoke of the Department as though it were not prepared to listen to young people, take on board their concerns and be advocates for them.

I have been to numerous modern jobcentres as a member of the Select Committee on Employment. I very much regret the fact that the hon. Member for Wallasey joined the Committee a little too late to make some of those visits. Those centres had open plan offices with staff trained to take seriously the concerns of young people. It was not as the hon. Member for Makerfield described it. The staff are keen to offer advice and guidance. Mistakes may be made and the hon. Gentleman may be able to pick out occasional cases, but the staff as a whole should not be pilloried by the hon. Gentleman. The staff make a serious effort to help young people and to be sensitive and understanding.

The jobseeker's allowance is not currently extended to 16 to 18-year-olds. I hope that the hon. Member for Makerfield will, for once, be prepared to tell us the Labour party's policy on that. Is he saying that it should be extended to 16 to 18-year-olds? I notice that he does not intervene. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that each and every claim for hardship allowance should be allowed, regardless of the circumstances? That is the logic of his argument; but perhaps he would like to intervene to confirm it.

Mr. McCartney: It is not a public school debate and the hon. Gentleman should take it seriously. No young person should be left vulnerable and destitute; under the Government's policies, 1,000 young people per month are left in that position. New clause 6 will make the situation worse. It is the Government's proposal and the hon. Gentleman should either defend or oppose it. The Government are trying to undermine the rights of 16 and 17-year-olds and we will continue to defend them. If he would like to give us a general election, we will test our policies for young people against those of the Government.

Mr. Heald: The hon. Member for Makerfield flatters me: that decision is not up to me. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for at least attempting to reply to my questions, although once again there were no real answers.


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I am happy to support new clause 6 because it will help those who have not helped themselves. In that spirit, I believe that all hon. Members will recognise that there is a place for a reduced payment, even among those who have not been prepared to assume the responsibilities involved with accepting taxpayers' money.

Ms Eagle: The hon. Gentleman talks about the responsibilities of those who take the taxpayers' money. Does he think that there are similar responsibilities on employers who deliberately pay low wages in the knowledge that they will be topped up with taxpayers' money? Do employers have responsibilities in that regard?

Mr. Heald: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for confirming that she believes that the Government should abolish family credit. I smiled at her remarks; perhaps she might like to smile occasionally. I said yesterday that I do not believe that the new Labour party will present that policy at the next general election. I would be jolly pleased if it did.

New clause 6 will assist young people. It is incumbent on a responsible Opposition to propose their own policies and it is sad that Labour Members have not been prepared to engage in constructive debate.

Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham): The latest figures from the Department of Employment's own labour force survey show that in the summer of last year the unemployment rate for 16 and 17-year-olds in mainland Britain stood at 23.8 per cent. That general figure disguises considerable regional variations. In London, part of which I have the honour to represent in Parliament, the rate was the highest in the country--an enormous 38 per cent.We know from other sources that at a more local level unemployment among that age group is higher still: in some wards in my Streatham constituency it is as high as 60 per cent. and it is worrying to note that those are the wards with the highest concentrations of so-called ethnic minorities.

The labour force survey figures show the reality of unemployment among young people and expose the total inadequacy of the Government's reliance on the claimant count as an indicator of unemployment. In summer 1994 the Government's official figure for youth unemployment was 17,000 whereas the total figure was 180, 000--10.5 times greater than the official count. Some 90 per cent. of young people aged 16 and 17 years had no form of income in the summer of last year--the highest figure recorded since 1988, when the Conservative Government abolished the general entitlement to benefit for that age group.

The tiny figure of 17,000 claimants receiving severe hardship or bridging allowance illustrates the extreme difficulties that young people face in securing any form of benefit. Many thousands of young people fall outside the youth training guarantee, making nonsense of the Government's official claim that no 16 or 17-year-olds are unemployed and that a benefit safety net is therefore unnecessary. The truth is that life is already very tough indeed for large numbers of young people and the provisions in new clause 6 are likely to make it even tougher.

Opposition Members have repeatedly expressed our concerns about the considerable new powers for arbitrary judgment that the Bill will confer on Employment Service


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officials. The most obvious of those is the discretion that the Bill allows for judgment about the behaviour and appearance of claimants.

5.45 pm

The provision for benefit sanctions if a young person leaves a training programme "without good cause" raises further anxieties. What constitutes "good cause" and who makes that decision? What assistance will young people receive in plotting their way through the rules minefield described by the Minister in her opening speech? How long will young people be made scapegoats because of the obvious inadequacy of training provision?

Accounts of weaknesses in the youth training provision are legion. I will relate just three cases supplied by the Coalition on Young People and Social Security. A youth housing association and hostel provider in Gloucester stated:

"In the last 12 months none of our residents has secured a job at the end"- -

of a training scheme placement--

"and probably 95 per cent. are on placements that were not indicated as a choice".

A National Children's Home project in Scotland reported:

"Three young people on YT at present on occasion have been sent home at 9.30 after arriving at 9.00 and being told there is nothing for them to do. No incentive is given to attend and little commitment to training is shown by the trainers. The young person is not in a position to leave as Income Support would not automatically be paid".

The youth housing association and hostel provider in Gloucester continued:

"One resident has not found a placement and just goes in to the office for training. He is often sent home after a morning, and feels it is a waste of time".

It is not surprising, therefore, that the outturn in terms of job placements is both limited and highly variable. Even for those who have completed their job training, on average only one in three finds employment and the figure can be as low as one in five. The latter figure applies to the East London training and enterprise council. Of course, they are lucky to have a TEC in east London; we have lost our TEC in south London and the Government have made no effort to replace that essential service in an area of massive deprivation. It is also not surprising that there is a great deal of scepticism about the programmes and that many young people simply abandon them in disgust. Are we to conclude that the Government wish to coerce young people into attendance at often worthless courses by means of the threat of benefit sanctions as set out in the new clause? The Government have created mass unemployment among young people and they have responded to that crisis with a totally inadequate training provision.

Mr. Heald: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. How would he compare the situation in the UK with that in France or Spain, where youth unemployment is far higher although those Governments have pursued the policies that he advocates?

Mr. Hill: We have heard that argument many times before. The reality is that we would be comparing different situations with different historical bases.

Mr. Burden: On Tuesday 7 February the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) made exactly the


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same point in Committee. I asked him how he knew those unemployment rates as the Government officially do not count the figures for people between 16 and 18. He replied that he would be happy to provide me with further information when he had researched the matter further. I wonder whether he has done so.

Mr. Hill: While we are talking about figures that we do know, I must confess that during the two months of our deliberations on the matter I was waiting for the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) to intervene on me, as he has intervened on other Opposition Members, to talk about the Government's remarkable success in reducing unemployment in my constituency. As he has not done that, I will put it on record that unemployment in Streatham is 16.7 per cent.--twice the national average-- and male unemployment is 22.5 per cent. In the three years since the last general election, the unemployment rate in Streatham has risen by 10 per cent. and since 1990 it has risen by 100 per cent. So there can be no rejoicing about a reduction of unemployment in Streatham. On the contrary, I make a rock solid prediction that new Labour will bury old Tory at the next general election with an electoral avalanche because of old Tory's appalling performance on unemployment in Streatham and in south London generally.

In conclusion, the young want meaningful training at work. They are the victims of the Government's failure and they will be further victimised as a result of new clause 6. That is why we oppose it.

Mr. Burden: Yesterday I questioned the legality of the Bill under article 4 of the European convention on human rights because, under menace of penalty, the Bill seeks to force people into jobs, irrespective of the level of remuneration being totally unreasonable.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman goes too far, I remind him that we are dealing with one new clause and his remarks must relate to it.

Mr. Burden: I was about to say that new clause 6 falls foul of precisely the same problem. Again, under menace of penalty, it is trying to force young people into something that they do not wish to do and which would be unreasonable.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged that new clause 6 affects only a limited number of young people. The main reason for that, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, is that the Government have ruled out the vast majority of young people from access to benefits.

When Conservative Members glibly talk about the alleged levels of youth unemployment in Britain compared with other countries they should get their facts right or at least be consistent with their own Ministers. I repeat what I said in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) asked the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security what the cost would be of restoring income support for 16 and 17- year-olds. The Minister's reply was that he did not know. He said:

"The information is not available."--[ Official Report , 3 February 1995; Vol. 253, c. 878. ]

The Government do not know how much it would cost to reinstate income support. The only conclusion we can draw from that is that they do not know how many


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unemployed young people there are between the ages of 16 and 18. Estimates of youth unemployment in Britain have been given which have yet to be disproved by Conservative Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) gave the figure according to the International Labour Organisation: about 180,000.

A large number of young people are excluded from benefit, but a small number of young people could possibly receive benefit in particular circumstances--lone parents, people with disabilities, and those who qualify for severe hardship payments.We should be clear about the severe hardship payments that Conservative Members want to remove. We are talking about the princely sum of £27.50 for those who live at home and £36.15 for those who live away from home. I have yet to find anyone with no income who is not in severe hardship, but according to Conservative Members the young person apparently has to prove severe hardship. That is matter of great concern to young people.

A recent report by the Coalition on Young People and Social Security draws attention to the real problems of access to the severe hardship allowance. A selection of reasons was given by young people for failure to complete claims. I will read out a few examples: "He did not complete his claim because the jargon used was too difficult, and he felt they were talking over his head . . . Claimants often get confused. They are intimidated by the procedures . . . One young man became annoyed at the lack of direct, clear, concise information and despaired at the procedures . . . One of our clients was appalled by the `hassles' involved in making a claim. Enquiries were made into his relationship with his male flatmate who was working. If the DSS could prove they were a couple, no benefit would be payable. They weren't a couple, but he was very angry." I wonder why that has occurred. Conservative Members accuse us of blaming the staff of the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency, but we have never said any such thing; it seems that the procedures and the cultures of the organisation, imposed from the highest level, are at fault.

When the Minister replies to the debate, will she clarify one point? It has been drawn to my attention--I hope that it is wrong--that the guidance procedures and, indeed, the blueprint issued to Employment Service officers implementing the jobseeker's allowance severe hardship provisions actually states that it has to be the young person who requests and applies for a severe hardship payment, and that it is not the role of a member of staff interviewing young unemployed people and finding out about their circumstances to suggest that they may qualify for severe hardship payment. I hope that the Minister will clarify that. It has certainly been put to me there are procedures which suggest that it has to be the young person who asks and it cannot be a member of staff who offers advice. If that is true, it is a real problem. Those are the people who are threatened by the new clause, along with lone parents and people with disabilities.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) said that we were on the wrong track when we discussed the number of young people who did not achieve qualifications. I shall say something about that in a moment. First, I want to take up his point that 70 per cent. of young people complete their training courses.

Mr. Heald: I said that 70 per cent. achieve qualifications.

Mr. Burden: The hon. Gentleman said that 70 per cent. emerge with qualifications. I am grateful for that


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intervention as without it my point would have had no force whatever. There is another way of looking at that statistic: it means that 30 per cent. of young people who complete training courses do not emerge with qualifications. That is a high and worrying statistic and it might have been more constructive if Conservative Members had tried to do something about that statistic, instead of penalising young people who fall foul of the system.

Some 30 per cent. of people who complete training courses do not get a qualification. In total, about 50 per cent. do not end up with a qualification either because they drop out or because they fail to achieve a qualification. Conservative Members say that that is a problem for the young people themselves, but Labour Members disagree with that analysis and we are not alone in doing so.

Studies have suggested that the United Kingdom's performance in vocational training is much worse than that in Germany, producing 50 per cent. fewer people with qualifications, particularly at the lower technical levels. That information was from the Centre for Economic Performance. Literacy and numeracy is cited as a problem for United Kingdom employers and is particularly acute among young people, according to the British Chamber of Commerce. The introduction of non-vocational qualifications has not been smooth and the system is still facing teething troubles, being considered "inappropriate" for unemployed school leavers. That comes from the National Institute Economic Review 1994. In 1993, Professor Smithers from Manchester university, an expert in the field, described the introduction of national vocational qualifications as

"a disaster of epic proportions".

There are major problems with the quality of training provided in Britain. Rather than do something about that, however, the Government prefer to attack young people. The Government's response is to say, "Hang in there-- don't worry about the quality of the training because if you give it up you risk losing benefit."

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I was pleased to hear the Minister of State say today that there would be a review. If a young person said that training was inappropriate or unsuitable, procedures would be instituted for a review. I was also pleased that, in answer to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), the Minister gave examples of what might be good cause for dropping out from a course, including conditions at the workplace, such as health considerations, and so on.

I want to test whether Conservative Members are as free thinking as they claim. Because of the problems of training provision, particularly with regard to conditions in training situations for many young people, many trade unions take their responsibilities to trainees very seriously. They make a major effort to represent trainees in the workplace and to improve their conditions, and they do a good job.When the Minister replies, will she say whether the refusal of an employer to recognise a trade union at a workplace in which a trainee was operating, even if the request for trade union representation was supported by a majority of employees and wished for by the trainee who was a member of it, would or could be good cause for dropping out of a training course?


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The Government seem to recognise that some things would constitute good cause for giving up a particular training course that was not of good quality. What worries me about that is that if the Government are prepared to institute such procedures and if they are as reliable as the Government say that they are, why, when Opposition Members sought to introduce an amendment in Committee to ensure that training is of a minimum acceptable quality, did every Conservative Member who was present on that day vote against it? It was rejected by 10 votes to nine.

That was the one time in Committee that we could have inserted into the Bill a provision specifying that there should at least be a bottom line with minimum quality conditions for training. The amendment was not prescriptive. It did not set out conditions which had to be met. It simply said that minimum conditions should be prescribed for training. That could be dealt with by way of regulations. Conservative Members love regulations. The Bill is littered with powers for Ministers to specify this or that by way of regulation. Yet when it came to an amendment saying that there should be an obligation on the Government to lay down minimum conditions for quality of training, the Government refused to accept it and they were backed up in that refusal by every Conservative Member who was present that day.

I hope that what the Minister is saying is right. I hope that the reviews do work. Given the Government's performance in Committee and the sort of arguments that Conservative Members have put forward today, however, I am sceptical about that and young people will be fairly sceptical about it, too. They know that that same Government wiped them out from the unemployment statistics, removed a large majority of them from any access to benefit at all and, when they had the chance to lay down proper training provisions, did not do so. And the same Government have turned a blind eye to all the evidence that they have received from bodies such as the Coalition on Young People and Social Security, Youth Aid and the citizens advice bureaux on the operation of the severe hardship provisions and the lack of quality training in Britain.

All those groups have provided ample evidence of the real problems facing young people today. Despite all that evidence, however, the Government have failed on Report to insert any provision in the Bill to improve the quality of training. All that they have chosen to insert is a measure which will penalise young people. Faced with that, I am pretty sceptical about the Government's motives and I am convinced that young people outside will be as well.

Mr. Streeter: This is also the Government who have enabled more young people than ever before in the history of this nation to take part in higher and further education and to further their own lives. This is the Government who have done more in the past two years than any Government in history to bring unemployment down and to create jobs for young people.

It is no wonder that members of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill do not understand the labour market. They do not understand that young people want meaningful jobs. Not one of them has had any experience of the private sector or of job creation. Before they came into the House, all of them languished in the public sector.


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I support new clause 6. I understand that the Labour party opposes it, but Labour Members should tell us what sanctions the Labour party would incorporate in its proposals for the small minority of young people who prefer to sit at home, who do not want to get a job or to go on to higher or further education, who want to leave school but are not prepared to go on reasonable training courses, in order to ensure that they have the incentive to take training for their own benefit.

I visit many schools in my constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, as do you. Most young people are super. They are highly motivated. They know that they want to train for their own benefit and they are committed to their careers. But we have to accept that a small minority of young people drift through life between the ages of 16 and 18. I was concerned recently to learn about some of the messages of despair and hopelessness sent out by some modern day pop groups. We have heard recently of the suicide of Kurt Cobain and one or two other music leaders of this generation.

What kind of example is it to say to young people, as the Labour party appears to be saying in its opposition to new clause 6, that it is all right to stay at home, to remain idle and to take taxpayers' money while doing nothing with their lives--

Ms Eagle: Before the hon. Gentleman gets too much into the hit parade and grunge, will he explain why the Bill treats all those who are unemployed as if they are part of the minority who are work shy about whom he is talking? Is that a fair attitude to take to the entire pool of the unemployed?

Mr. Streeter: I am delighted to reply to that intervention. Young people who are motivated to train, to obtain jobs or to stay on in higher and further education can survive blissfully under these provisions. These provisions are intended for the small minority who do not wish to better their own lives. Anyone who is keen to motivate himself and take up reasonable training need not worry in the slightest about the proposals. That is the one thing that Labour Members do not understand. They cannot tell us how they would deal with the minority of people who prefer to remain idle at home wasting their lives at taxpayers' expense.

Mr. Spring: Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an important principle? The Opposition say that this is a vicious attack on young people. They claim to be the defender of young people. Establishing that is an absolute principle in their opposition to the Bill. Is it not immoral that the Labour party gives absolutely no indication of what it would do in the circumstances to put the matter right?

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes a valuable point. I would go further: the Labour party will not even tell us today--in the unlikely event of it getting into

Government--whether it would repeal the measures in the proposed legislation with which it strongly disagrees. Much rhetoric has floated across the Chamber, but Labour Members do not have the guts to tell us tonight whether they would repeal the measures set out in the Bill.

It is important that we encourage our young people to make the best of their lives. They are our seed corn. We should invest in their lives for the sake of the nation and


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for their own sake. The Labour party has offered nothing tonight to help young people in this country but has continued to undermine them.

I strongly support the new clause and this measure.

Mr. McCartney: On behalf of the Opposition, I shall take a few moments of the House's time before the Minister replies for the Government.

I thank all my hon. Friends for the excellent contributions that they made following the devastating attacks by the Government in Committee. As in Committee, the Government have shown no concern for the position of young people. They have shown extreme callousness in dealing with these matters and an inability even to understand the extent of the problems faced by many vulnerable young people as a consequence of unemployment and displacement in their lives. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) made a professional and clinical exposure of Government failures in housing and employment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) highlighted the shambolic nature of the Government's knowledge of unemployed young people.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) has come to be known by Opposition Members as an absolute jobseeker--for a position on the Government Front Bench. One cannot think of any occasion when the hon. Gentleman has not been a supporter of the Government. Even when they fly in the face of overwhelming evidence, he is there. He is one of the faithful going down with the ship. In his contribution, he tried to equate the needs of young people in the 1990s with some spurious attack on trade unions in the 1960s. I speak as someone who was lucky enough in the 1960s to be able to have training in the private sector. I lived and worked in the private sector. It is interesting for children of the 1960s to remember that, when we left school on the Friday, we could start work on the Monday. In fact, over Saturday and Sunday I remember that I had two choices of apprenticeships: I could have been either an apprentice seamen or an electrician in the colliery.

I decided to be an apprentice at sea. In the intervening period after leaving school, I trained as a seaman at the National Sea Training college at Gravesend. I had another job during that summer period--at a proper rate of pay, because it was a trade

union-organised place. That was in 1967--a wonderful year as I remember, with flower power and all the rest of it.

Today's young people are the first generation not to be guaranteed a training or job opportunity when they leave school. They are the first generation of people who are unable to be certain that they will advance in social and economic terms, unlike their parents or grandparents. That is the Government's responsibility. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North said that the measure was necessary to stop abuse, yet he gave no evidence, not a single case. How many cases have there been? What is the cost of the abuse? Ministers, with all the panoply of the civil service and two of the largest Government Departments--the Department of Employment and the Department of Social Security--could not give us a single instance of abuse with regard to 16 and 17-year-olds. Not a single penny has been misused, yet they propose to undermine the rights of 16 and 17-year-olds.


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