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House of Lords

Monday, 30th October 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Barclays Bank: Employment of School Students

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware of the plan by Barclays Bank to employ school students on cashiering and book-keeping work in its high street branches for six hours per week covering three evenings; and if so, whether they are concerned that this plan will be damaging to job prospects in the financial sector if expanded and will impinge on study time available to 16 to 18 year-old A-level students.

The Minister for State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, we have been following this development closely. There is no difference in principle between this and many other forms of work which students do outside school hours. Indeed, that initiative offers valuable work experience which will benefit both students and Barclays Bank and therefore have a positive effect on job prospects.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. What safeguards exist to prevent Barclays from utilising those young people as cheap labour in preference to adult employees? Is he not aware that the chairman of Barclays has said that the young people concerned will be doing actual jobs and that that can result in casualisation of employment within that sector? Is he aware also that it has been estimated that some 50,000 employees in clearing banks are currently doing cashiering and book-keeping work? If that spreads, such work will be severely endangered. That must be of interest to the Government.

Lord Henley: My Lords, as regards the allegations that Barclays are recruiting those young people merely as cheap child labour, it may be best to quote the chairman of Barclays who said:

    "This is amazing rubbish. It is a work experience scheme which we have had for many years and anyone who believes that teenagers are exploited by working four or six hours a week must be barmy".

I agree with the chairman of Barclays. It strikes me as an extremely imaginative scheme which will provide positive benefits for all those involved. It will improve their job prospects in the long term.

Lord Renton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is better for students to do that work for a couple of hours, three nights per week rather than squandering their pocket money in amusement arcades?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I have no idea where the youngsters might or might not go if they were not working

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at Barclays. However, my noble friend is right to say that the work can act as a very great motivator and, as I made clear earlier, provide useful work experience.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, are the Government issuing any guidelines regarding the hourly rate paid to those youngsters by such organisations as Barclays Bank, bearing in mind that we now have a reputation for being a low-wage economy as a result of the Government's present policies?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we are not issuing guidelines. We do not believe that it is proper or appropriate to issue guidelines. It is entirely a matter for Barclays. The allegation that we are a low-wage economy is simply not true. We are a low-cost economy where the non-wage labour costs are kept well below those of our European compatriots whereas the workers very often take home exactly the same amount of money.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, in view of the noble Baroness's supplementary question, will my noble friend help the House and define what are not "actual" jobs?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not sure that I can answer that question. All I know is that Barclays Bank provides a great number of jobs and a vast amount of training for its employees. It spends some £300 million per year and intends to invest something in the order of £3 billion on technology over the next few years. Its profits are considerable and from those profits comes a considerable sum in corporation tax.

Baroness David: My Lords, can I ask the Minister if there has been any consultation with head teachers or principals of sixth form colleges to find out whether they thoroughly approve of this scheme for students who are taking A-levels?

Lord Henley: My Lords, it is not a question of consulting head teachers. There is no evidence that children suffer when they do part-time work. That is something that children have been able to do for many years. On this occasion, Barclays wrote to a number of schools in the Reading and Slough area to ask whether they were interested in taking part in the scheme. I believe that Barclays should be commended for such an imaginative idea.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as many of today's teenagers are more competent than their elders at operating computers and electronic screens, might it not be wise for the Bank of England to make use of such help since it seems to need all the help it can get in at least two of its functions: first, in regulating the activities of British banks; and, secondly, in formulating advice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on interest rates?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, fortunately I do not answer for the Bank of England from the Dispatch Box but I am sure that note will be taken of the points made so well by my noble friend.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, further to the supplementary question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, will the Minister assure the House that, following those developments, there will be a great

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improvement in the service provided by the banks and we shall not see occurring those juvenile errors which apparently have occurred among their elders and betters?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not think that I can take the noble Lord any further. However, I note the point that he has made.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, perhaps I may just return to what the Minister said. Is the noble Lord aware that at the time Mr. Buxton, the chairman of Barclays Bank, said that anyone who believed that it was cheap labour must be "barmy"; he also said that the individuals concerned would do an actual job rather than just stand around watching someone else working? However, there was no indication in that statement that the bank had any plans in mind for training those people; they were going to do an actual job—a job, moreover, that, in normal circumstances, would be done by an adult member of staff. Is not the Minister concerned about the possible effect of this development on adult employment?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the best form of work experience would be an actual job. To say that school students will destroy jobs for other people merely by doing six hours a week on rare occasions is, I think, economics of the Stone Age. The noble Baroness simply ought to realise that it is a highly imaginative scheme which can only be of benefit both to Barclays Bank and the children involved. It is a scheme which will positively improve their job prospects in the long term.

GPs: Dispensing Payments

2.44 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will refund to dispensing doctors the difference between the scale rates of the Discount Abatement Scheme introduced on 1st April 1995 and the Revised Discount Abatement Scheme introduced on 1st October 1995.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): No, my Lords.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that rural dispensing practices are now very hard pressed? Doctors in the larger practices have lost something like £10,000 in six months. Moreover, they are having to pay extra money for staff funding because FHSAs are not reimbursing them; they cannot increase their capitation fees because they have a mainly statis population: and they cannot do clinical duties because they are so far away from hospitals. Will the noble Baroness please look again at the problem? That £10,000 could have gone to patient care, especially when one compares it with the £68 million which is being held by fund holders at present in excess.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I should make the point that GPs who take on the responsibility do so

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voluntarily. When the BMA recently had a survey, only one in four GPs actually wanted to carry out dispensing. We recognise some of the problems that the noble Countess has mentioned. In fact, as she will know, we reviewed the scheme which was agreed by the BMA because we appreciated the points that it made. We have altered the scheme, and we now understand that the BMA is satisfied with it.

EU Nationals Remanded in British Prisons

2.45 p.m.

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many nationals of other European Union member states are currently on remand in the United Kingdom awaiting trial on charges brought against them here.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, on 30th June 1995 there were 235 nationals of other European Union member states held on remand in prisons in England and Wales. Separate figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland are not available.

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