Young People (Employment)

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1976.

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Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Ormskirk 12:00 am, 21st June 1976

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) was mistaken when he suggested that there was an air of defeatism in the debate. It was simply that he had the misfortune to be preceded by the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Loveridge) whose dozy speech would have engendered a sense of frustration and defeat in anyone. It may have been his whole purpose to defuse the debate.

This has been a strange debate. We have heard eloquent speeches from both sides of the House about the problems of unemployment in particular constituencies. The paradox of what I shall speak about was summed up in the speech by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) who was so embarrassed by his speech that he spent half the evening away from the Front Bench and has now left the Chamber. He wanted to show the apparent concern for the unemployed and to shed the crocodile tears which are so often the pretence of the Opposition when they want to score political points. At the same time he is a member of the Shadow Cabinet of a party which wants to put up rents, cut social security, cut unemployment pay, cut public expenditure and—and the right hon. Gentleman even called for this in his own speech—see a reversion to the Samuel Smiles type of self-help philosophy. That is all we get from him. Even the manner in which he spoke showed that his heart was not in his speech. His speech appeared to have been cobbled together in a taxi on the way here this afternoon. There were no positive proposals. He had a bleeding heart one moment and was calling for cuts in public expenditure the next. He had no specific proposal for dealing with this serious and tragic situation.

In my constituency 2,000 school leavers are now unemployed in the area of the borough of Knowsley. The total for the United Kingdom is 37,000. A total of 5·5 per cent. of all the unemployed school leavers in the United Kingdom are in my constituency. That is the seriousness of the situation.

More than 2,000 school leavers in my constituency are unemployed. More than 770 of them come from the relatively small town of Kirkby and, of those, 235 left school last July. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft talked about 309 young people in his constituency who are unemployed after leaving school a couple of weeks ago. In a small area of my constituency there are 235 young people who have still not found jobs after leaving school nearly a year ago.

We have 2,000 already unemployed and a further 2,000 will be leaving schools in the borough of Knowsley next month and going on the register. They will all be competing for the three vacancies which I am told existed in the area on 25th May.

Of course we have received help, including the training award scheme, the community industry scheme and the school leaver recruitment subsidy. In spite of this assistance and the fact that Merseyside is a special development area, we still have these depressing figures and a very bleak and depressing overall picture. Prospects are very poor for the majority of my constituents, especially those who are about to leave school. The situation in the past week has been bleak and depressing. The prospect now is even worse.

It is a terrible and tragic waste of young people's lives, talents and abilities and of the nation's resources that so many of them should have nothing more to look forward to on leaving school than joining their fathers in the dole queues. It is not just that there are no jobs for them. Their whole future careers are blighted if they do not get the appropriate apprenticeship or training at the appropriate time. It is no good a young person getting a job at the age of 18 if he has not had training before that age.

When I was 14½ and at secondary modern school, I was concerned about whether I would get an apprenticeship. The anxiety I shared with my colleagues at school was not whether apprenticeships would be available but whether we would be good enough to get one. My constituents have no prospect of an apprenticeship and still less the prospect of a job.

It is not surprising that these circumstances ignite resentment against society or that young people feel alienated from society and indulge in anti-social activities. They see a society which is apparently uncaring. It is not unusual, in these circumstances, to find hostility and cynicism being bred.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Kirkby not only has the highest incidence of vandalism, petty theft and crime per head in the entire country but also suffers low pay, poverty and the highest rate of male and juvenile unemployment in Western Europe. Is it just a coincidence that all these things come together or are they, as I suspect, part of a vicious circle out of which the people there find it extremely difficult to break? They reject—in many cases quite rightly—the values of a society which defines them, by their idleness, as social rejects. I do not want to make too much of this, but there is something offensive about the junketings at Ascot and the like when they are contrasted with the opportunities available to my constitutents and with their life styles.

I wish to refer specifically to some of the proposals mentioned today and to the palliatives and temporary expedients introduced by the Government to allesviate unemployment, particularly among young people. We have the job creation scheme in my constituency, and I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to its value. I do not accept the strictures of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East. Of course it would be preferable if it included an element of training so that young people acquired skills which would give them greater opportunities of getting a better job, but it is preferable for a person to be usefully employed to the benefit of the community, even with- out acquiring skills, than to be socially wasted, in a criminal manner, in the dole queue to the benefit of no one.

We want more job creation schemes and on another occasion I shall be urging that the criteria should be loosened in order to enable more schemes to be approved. Several schemes in my constituency have failed to get through what appears to be a fairly tight set of criteria. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland could take the opportunity tonight of announcing that this scheme will become permanent, particularly in areas of special need.

Even when talking about temporary measures and palliatives, perhaps we should distinguish between those which are necessary now in response to the national crisis and those which may be necessary as a permanent feature of the economy, particularly in economically deprived regions. We want more training award schemes. Perhaps the Secretary of State could announce the allocation of new schemes tonight.

There is a great deal of uncertainty about the future of this scheme, just as there is about the future of the school leaver recruitment subsidy. I hope that my right hon. Friend will announce that the subsidy will continue and will apply to young people who left school last Easter or who will be leaving this summer. There has been great disquiet and concern in my constituency because we have had no announcement about the future of the subsidy, which applies only to those who left school last year.

I appreciate the Government's problems. They fear that if they made this announcement it might prohibit employers from offering jobs they would otherwise have offered, but this is such an important issue that an early announcement should be made.

I wish to reiterate what has been said by other hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend for Thornaby (Mr. Wriggles-worth), about the need for a massive injection of resources into training and retraining. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, we are lagging behind most other countries in the provision of training for young people. A particularly gross disparity exists between the facilities at the disposal of the most able and talented—those in further and higher education—and the paucity of resources allocated to those who leave school at 16 and often go into dead-end jobs with no training or prospects for promotion or advancement. It is as if we decided to devote our National Health Service resources to the most healthy rather than to the sick.

We should have a reversal of priorities and a switch of resources away from universities and higher education to the 16–19 sector for day-release courses, apprenticeships and training. The palliatives will temporarily alleviate the situation, but we need a fundamental restructuring of our priorities, attitudes and, most of all, our economy.

We recognise that Merseyside is a special development area, but it has always had a bad record in terms of employment. Even when things were good in the rest of the country, things were bad on Merseyside. There has never been a good time on Merseyside. There has never been full employment there. There never will be full employment there unless we fundamentally alter our attitude to the way in which we exercise control and direction over the economy. We wanted those schemes a long time ago, and they are needed now.

Many people say "We shall wait for the upturn." That has been said again today. That is the real element of defeatism—wait for the upturn. This miracle may never take place. We have been waiting for it for a long time. It is like waiting for Godot. It has not always come, and it has not come on Merseyside where we have been waiting for generations. In the last few years Merseyside has had a net job loss of 80,000, despite all the paraphernalia of special development area status, advance factories, and all the rest of it.

What is to blame, despite protestations from the Opposition to the contrary, is the whole ethos of private enterprise. There is too much of a presumption, even in the Government, in favour of private enterprise. Our economic, political and parliamentary activity is still too largely confined to bailing out private enterprise when it is in trouble, to ironing out the temporary difficulties that occur, and to stimulating the economy when it flags. That is neither sensible nor Socialism.

We should act not after the event, but in anticipation of it. We should be moulding that event to serve our purposes. We should be using more effectively now than we have done in the past our political power progressively to take into control the main streams of economic activity and to drive them in a public direction. We should be planning for the benefit of the community and for the regions in a way that private industry has shown itself to be incapable of doing in the past.

It is no use giving the response that that would destroy the free market. We do not have a free market now. It is governed by monopoly and by transnational companies. Hence, we have a choice between commercial authoritarianism or Socialist planning. To me, the latter is not only sensible but preferable and essential. Perhaps we shall soon have the courage to direct industry according to the criteria of social justice and need. Industry and capital should be directed where it is required. It should not be left to the vagaries and whims of a private enterprise market which has shown itself incapable of efficiently organising the economy and has shown no regard for the welfare of individual citizens.

The National Enterprise Board is a start, but it is not enough. Unless we get more positive intervention in industry on the grounds of socially determined criteria, my constituents will reject not only the society that they are already rejecting but the Government that they put into office.