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House of Commons

Thursday 27 October 2005

The House met at half-past Ten o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

EDUCATION AND SKILLS

The Secretary of State was asked—

"Youth Matters"

1. Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): How she expects proposals in the "Youth Matters" Green Paper will provide incentives for young people to engage in positive activities. [22041]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): We want to put more power into the hands of young people to give them more say. We will support local authorities to pilot opportunity cards to enable young people to take part in more positive activities, and we will provide a local opportunity fund, backed by a capital fund, to be spent in conjunction with young people. We will ensure that provision meets national standards and responds to local demand by placing a statutory duty on local authorities to secure access for young people to positive activities.

Stephen Hesford: I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that answer. I welcome the Green Paper "Youth Matters", but more importantly students in my constituency welcome it. As she may know, I have carried out a consultation in four schools in my constituency, three of which I have visited and one of which has made a written submission. In the light of the enthusiasm that they have shown for the questions posed by this enlightened Green Paper, will she assure me that the avalanche of responses that she will have from my students will be fully taken into account?

Beverley Hughes: Indeed I can. I thank my hon. Friend and colleagues throughout the House who did a great deal during the summer months to talk to young people and to give them the young people's version of the questionnaire, which I am sure has made a big difference to the number of responses. We have had about 3,000 responses so far from young people alone,   and I expect that to double by the end of the consultation. Young people are broadly very positive about the proposals in the Green Paper and we shall certainly take their views into account when we give our response.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the role that the
 
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Green   Paper can play in engaging young people in services? The all-party group on youth affairs met for the first time in this Parliament yesterday and had a lively and interesting discussion with the young people who attended. One of the points that they raised was their hope that the Government's vision included not just demand-side subsidies through the opportunity card, but a commitment to supply-side investment in young people's services. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that in the years ahead the Government will be making more of a priority of investment in young people's services?

Beverley Hughes: The supply-side mechanisms that we have included in the Green Paper are important, precisely because they will require local authorities and others to take account of which activities young people decide to take up. So that has been an important ingredient. However, I take my hon. Friend's point that the supply side is also important. It is encouraging to note that during 2003–04 and 2005–06 local authorities increased their funding by 12 per cent. and the out-turn for 2003–04 was considerably higher even than the budget requirement. There is a growing recognition that more needs to be done to invest in activities and opportunities for young people, and local authorities are taking that very seriously.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): What does the Minister think that it says about the Government's commitment to young people's participation in democracy that we invest in giving citizenship education to young people up to the age of 16, but deny them the right to use a vote until they are 18?

Beverley Hughes: Clearly, there are many views on the issue. I spent some time discussing it with young people   during the consultation process and there is considerable support for a vote at 16, but I do not think that anyone would want to introduce that until we could ensure that young people would use it in significant numbers. As we know, there are tremendous pressures on young people, and that is not top of the list for many 16 and 17-year-olds, although I accept that it is an issue for some. We will have to go down that route when we are sure that that is what the majority of young people would not only want but use.

Local Services (Young People)

2. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What measures she plans to put in place to enable young people to play a greater role in decisions on the provision of local services. [22042]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): Involving young people in decision making is essential if we are to ensure that services meet their needs, and local authorities are required to consult young people while developing their   children and young people's plan. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families has just been saying, the new youth opportunity card, announced in the "Youth Matters" Green Paper, will   develop that involvement further. I urge all hon.
 
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Members to encourage their local authorities to involve young people in decision making. I draw attention to the participation works initiative, launched only yesterday, which provides online useful services to help young people involved in participation.

Rosie Cooper: In West Lancashire, there are 118 unemployed 16 to 18-year-olds and just 20 live vacancies. I want the local authority and various organisations and partnerships to be very much involved in planning services that best meet their training, education and employment needs. How can the Minister help me to do that?

Phil Hope: As my hon. Friend will know, young people become disengaged for a wide variety of reasons. They often need individual personal support to work out their needs and to gain access to opportunities such as education, training and jobs. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that local partnerships such as children's trusts should provide opportunities for young people to access those services at the best time and in the best place. She might like to consider ways in which young people can be involved in planning such services by taking part in discussion and working groups with youth workers and others to find out what their needs are and how to meet them. In Lancashire, some of those   partners are setting up an internet TV project to generate views about such issues so that services can be responsive to their needs.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Is the Minister aware that in the City of Westminster the council recently threw open swimming pools across the borough for young people between the ages of 11 and 18 to use them after school free of charge? Is not that exactly the type of provision that should be available under opportunity cards, and will the Minister commend it to other excellent authorities around the country?

Phil Hope: I am glad that some of our policies are making a splash at last. We often identify examples of good practice where local authorities and partners listen to the needs of young people and open up opportunities for them to participate. That is a great thing to do. I only wish that in the Tories' manifesto at the last election they had bothered to mention the participation of young people—an absence that spoke volumes about the priority that they give to young people's needs.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): In light of what my hon. Friend says about the importance of involving young people, will he join me in welcoming an initiative in Northfield, where a young people's forum has been set up and given a budget top-sliced from money devolved from the city council? Does he agree that putting in such material resources can help, but that the challenge of reaching hard-to-reach young people involves more resources going into young people's services globally?

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend is right. It is good to hear of another example of local authorities devolving budgets to young people to enable them to take responsibility for resources and to work with other
 
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young people in their communities to ensure that their needs are met—particularly the needs of those who are disengaged or alienated from the education system.

Another scheme that has been set up in various parts of the country is that of youth banks, whereby young people control resources and have to decide which grants should go to other groups of young people in the community. That is real empowerment of young people who are participating and taking more control over their own lives.


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