Orders of the Day — Youth and Community Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st February 1974.

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Photo of Mr John Cordle Mr John Cordle , Bournemouth East and Christchurch 12:00 am, 1st February 1974

I, too, warmly congratulate and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Haselhurst) on introducing the Bill, and I know that the country as a whole will welcome it after giving the measure its full consideration.

I am not one of those who tend to knock the youth of today. There is a great deal to be said for them and for the way in which they are conducting their affairs. They have much more leisure at their disposal and a great deal more money to spend than our generation did, and perhaps it is an indictment of this country that, because we have not until today introduced a Bill such as this, they lack guidance and direction. Judging by the number of organisations which have written to me about the Bill, I have no doubt that it is giving a great deal of publicity to what is needed most.

At the present time of national crisis it is commendable that this House can look beyond the immediate problems and consider a long-term idealistic measure such as the Bill. This measure seems to have two distinct facets. First it contains provisions for the benefit of young people, and secondly it affords advantages to the community as a whole. Although those two facets are interdependent, I should like to talk about them separately.

The first four clauses of the Bill impose a binding obligation on local education authorities to provide services for young people. Regrettably, Clause 7 prohibits any grant from the central Government towards the cost of those services. The local authorities will, therefore, have to find the money.

Nevertheless, the effect of the Bill will be to realign our priorities in spending and to realign them in the way that is needed most, because it is the "young people"—that is, persons ranging in age from the early teens to the early twenties—who are the most mercurial in our society. They are breaking, or have broken, away from their ties with their parents. Some of them may have put down roots of their own, but the majority have not.

This is the age group which contains the greatest percentage of delinquents and persons who rebel against any kind of authority. It also contains idealists and youngsters who will voluntarily go out from their schools, homes or colleges to help the old and the handicapped. For so many young people, the real choice is between themselves and extremes. They can either involve themselves in the service of the community or they can rebel against it. The object of the Bill is obviously to promote the former course of action.

I should like to mention one creation of the previous Government which has worked well and successfully, namely, the Young Volunteer Force which was set up as groups to work with 20 or 30 local authorities around the country. The purposes of these groups are similar to the objects of the Bill, namely, to coordinate and encourage community service by young people, to provide social education and to help those youths who become detached and rootless, if possible by occupying their time.

Any organisation such as the YVF depends largely for its success upon constant and smooth liaison with local authorities. Indeed, the YVF groups operate only in areas where the local authority has invited them. If the Bill is passed, and I hope that it will be—imposing as it does mandatory obligations on local authorities—the YVF and similar groups will gain in terms of money and prestige, must surely be a good thing, and they will therefore become more effective.

There are, of course, numerous organisations which cater for young people. Some are sponsored by the Churches while others, such as the Boy Scouts, are secular in origin. Obviously the local authority in each area will deal mainly with the larger and more influential organisations. In my view, it would be unfortunate if any religious denomination were to gain a monopoly or exclusive control over the operation of this new law in any given district, but I have enough faith in the Churches and local authorities to be sure that that will not happen.

As to the second aspect of the Bill, it serves not only the young people but also the community. Although we are a sophisticated Welfare State enjoying a higher standard of living than any former generation, the fact remains that official State agencies are incapable of catering for the welfare of all those in need, and our young people have a need today. Our dependence on voluntary work is very great. I have in mind people who visit the elderly, run hostels for ex-prisoners and do countless other tasks which the State cannot perform. Hopefully, the Bill will give recognition to the work that people do. Hopefully, too, it will increase their number.

I strongly support the Bill as a valuable piece of social legislation aimed at the age group which needs it most. If it does anything to reduce the incidence of alienation amongst the young, it will be worth the extra expenditure which local authorities must incur.

In my view, the Bill will increase the facilities that our community provides for the young and will foster the services which young people render the community as a whole. Therefore, I urge the House to give the measure its full support without loss of any time.