Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am happy to explain to the noble Baroness how we set about ensuring that the training is reasonable.

The safeguards in the system on training start first with the careers service, which decides whether or not a training place is suitable for the young person. Under

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1064

arrangements made under the Employment and Training Act 1973, as amended by the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993, the service is bound to provide impartial guidance to young people. The careers service will not offer the young person a training place unless it meets his or her needs, circumstances and ability. It will take into account anything which might limit the type of training which the young person might accept, including the young person's preference, aptitude, level of approved qualifications at which he aims, and the duration, proximity and availability of the training.

With JSA we are introducing a new system of internal review which may take place before a direction is revoked—I mentioned that earlier in my main contribution—on the ground that the young person has refused a suitable training place. The young person will be given the opportunity to request a re-examination of his case by the Employment Service before a direction is revoked. The service will consider all the circumstances carefully. If it finds in a young person's favour, the direction will not be revoked.

If the young person is in a training place and is not happy with his training, he has a number of courses of action. He can raise the matter with his training provider. I accept that it rather depends upon the complaint; he or she might not be the appropriate person with whom to raise the matter in some circumstances. But the young person can raise the matter with the TEC which arranges for the provision; or he can go to the careers service and raise his concerns about the training course and its suitability. Again, the matter will be looked into very carefully indeed. If it is found that there is a problem and that the course is not suitable, another place will be sought for the young person.

On the question of the quality of training, like everything else in life the quality of training will vary. There will be very good, mediocre and not so good. But that is the same with all education—dare I say? We want to make sure that none of it is downright bad and the TECs are obliged through their contracts to implement quality assurance arrangements according to standards set by the Secretary of State. Those standards (I am sorry to introduce some quite technical jargon) are known as the TEC Quality Assurance: Supplier Management requirements—needless to say, reduced to TQASMs, which apply uniformly to all TECs. TECs are also obliged, through their contracts, to take any action required as a result of the quality audits that they undertake on training. If they find problems they are obliged to take action.

I hope that those assurances will help the noble Baroness to understand that we take seriously the need to ensure that the training course is of a reasonable quality, and that it matches the needs, aptitude, and so on, of the youngster involved.

Baroness Seear: I thank the Minister. However, I raised the point that under previous administrations it was possible for provisions to be made for a youngster, if there was no appropriate training in the area in which

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1065

he lived, to move in order to take the appropriate training elsewhere. Is it still possible for that to be considered?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not sure, I need to check. I would not like to give an answer off the top of my head, in case I was wrong. I am receiving indications that the answer is that the provisions still exist and a youngster in the circumstances outlined by the noble Baroness could receive help if he had to move.

Earl Russell: I recognise the Minister's sincerity. It is a pity that he believes everything he reads in the papers and that the only papers he reads emanate from the Department of Social Security. He is new to the subject; we have been here for quite a long while. Has he read the MORI report published by his own department in 1991? Has he read any of the series of reports from the Coalition on Young People and Social Security? Has he read the report of the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, or of Church Action on Poverty, or the series of reports from the citizens advice bureaux?

If what the Minister says is correct, why is it that he has been totally unable to make it clear to anyone else who has studied the subject? The number of expert reports we have had on it has become so large that I gave up counting a long time ago. The half century was up well before I stopped.

The Minister says that we are merely dealing with a small number of people. That is a real example of only believing the figures which come from his department. There are problems with the figures, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, knows. He has been extremely helpful in trying to do something about it. This year's returns from the careers service show that 6 per cent. of 16 and 17 year-olds are unemployed and the whereabouts and occupations of 6 per cent. are unknown. That makes a total of 12 per cent. I ask the Minister whether he has read the report published by South Glamorgan TEC on 16 and 17 year-olds not in education, training or employment. The figure varied from 16 per cent. to 23 per cent. of the age group. That is not a small number.

The Minister says that they would be better off in education, training or employment. So they would. The question is whether we are prepared to give them the choice between starvation and crime, if they are not.

It is also a question of whether training is available for them. The amount that the Government have spent on youth training has fallen. The number of places has fallen. At present, there are 15,000 16 and 17 year-olds waiting for a place. It is no good saying that they should be in training if the training is not there. It is no good if the training is in a place they cannot reach. Since the Government have not uprated the youth training allowance since 1988, it is no good telling youngsters to take training if they cannot live on the allowance.

The Minister mentioned discretion. He may exercise discretion but I am reminded of the remark of Edward Hyde in another place that it sounds as if discretion were but one remove from rage or fury. You cannot eat discretion.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I listened with interest to the Minister's reply on Amendment No. 125.

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1066

I was astonished at some of his comments. It is no comfort to the small number of people—even if it is a very small number—that they are outside the provisions of the Bill. Those people are just as important as a large number. We cannot ignore and forget them. That brings social problems.

We all agree that young people are better off in training. There is no doubt about that. But what about the 15,500 people who were not in training last October and not in training today? What about the 1,000 who have been waiting for a training scheme for over six months and are still waiting? It is no use the Minister continually telling us about the amount spent by the Government on training. Alongside that and balancing it is the fact that throughout the United Kingdom the budget has been considerably reduced. There is no doubt about that.

Perhaps we may examine what the amendment would mean. The clause states:

    "If it appears to the Secretary of State that a person has reached the age of 16 but not the age of 18, is not entitled to a jobseeker's allowance or to income support, and is registered for training but is not being provided with any training or other assistance "—

all of which will be defined in regulations, the content of which we do not yet know—

    "and that severe hardship will result to him unless a jobseeker's allowance is paid to him, the Secretary of State may direct".

I suggest that in the prescribed circumstances defined in the Bill the Secretary of State shall direct, as suggested in the amendment. That is quite straightforward.

The Minister mentioned appeals and said, "Well, there were 132,000 last year and 85 per cent., 112,000, were allowed. Therefore, you should have total confidence in our system." I do not have confidence that there is such a person as a perfect employment officer, any more than there is a perfect human being who cannot make mistakes. We all make mistakes. We have seen that when appeals take place under various aspects of the law. The Child Support Agency is a good example of no appeal system being provided.

Perhaps we may consider the converse argument. If the number of applicants who succeed is so high and those turned down so few, then the number of appeals under the system which we provide will equally be few. It will be no great burden on the system. However, it will give the opportunity for a second look at a vulnerable group in our society. That is why the amendment has been put down—on the basis of equity, fairness and compassion for that small group.

The Minister says that it is not necessary to have regard for the welfare of a young person because that is exactly what the officer will do. If officers will do that in the course of their work, why not put it on the face of the Bill as a responsibility? "Have trust in me" does not always work. We have reams of statistics to prove it.

The Minister generously said that it is clear that we feel strongly about the aspects affecting young people on this side of the Committee. We do. On that basis, I seek the opinion of the Committee and commend Amendment No. 125.

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1067

5.58 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 125) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 101.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page