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Lord Swinfen: I wonder whether my noble friend would be kind enough to send me a copy of the regulations because I would like to see that. I feel that this is a rather dangerous and difficult area because one does not want, in my view, to encourage not extra-marital relationships but unmarried relationships that will not be stable over a long period. However, I look forward to reading the regulations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: If Amendment No. 22 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 23. I now call Amendment No. 22.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 3, line 9, leave out from ("of") to the end of line 14 and insert ("16").

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The noble Earl said: It is part of the price of having a tight timetable that some amendments come up at inconvenient times on which one nevertheless cannot soft-pedal. This is one such amendment. It attempts to reverse the disentitlement of 16 and 17 year-olds to benefit which was brought into force in 1988. It is the first chance we have had to address this issue in primary legislation since 1990.

I may as well say now, since I think it will simplify the discussion, that I cannot let this go and let the Bill leave this House without taking this issue through the Lobbies. Whether I do so now or whether I do so later depends on whether I think that our timetable will allow a more convenient time in our proceedings later in the Bill's progress. What I will say to the Minister now is that I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment. If he gives me that leave, I shall take it that he has listened to his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter as regards the timetable. If he has not listened to him and chooses to negative the amendment, then we shall go through the Lobbies.

One of the key points here, I think, is that the Government relied, for disentitling 16 and 17 year-olds, on a justification which this Bill makes obsolete. So the Government can now afford to think again if they wish. I have here the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on the Second Reading of the Social Security Bill 1988, when he introduced the disentitlement. He said:

    "the expectations of young people leaving school should never include unemployment. Not only is it demoralising but it usually leads inexorably into the so-called benefit culture. This is a one-way street leading to a dead end and we believe that the entrance to it should be sealed off. We owe it to our youngsters to channel them in the right direction and to steer them away from getting drawn into a benefit culture from which it can be difficult to escape. That is why ... we would take steps to withdraw entitlement to benefit from those who deliberately chose to remain unemployed".—[Official Report, 25/1/88; col. 412.]

That is very much the same aim as that which the Minister announced as the aim of this Bill when we discussed Amendment No. 3. If this Bill is adequately designed to achieve that aim—and I presume that the Government must think that it is—then it does not need a separate disentitlement for 16 and 17 year-olds. Every 16 and 17 year-old who would be drawing the jobseeker's allowance would necessarily be undertaking a jobseeker's agreement, actively seeking work, producing diaries of applications and so forth. There is not much room for any benefit culture there.

The Bill removes the reason for the original introduction of the disentitlement. That should create a chance to think through this issue from the beginning.

When he addressed this issue briefly at Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, invoked the youth training guarantee as a reason why the disentitlement might be justified. I shall believe that assurance about the youth training guarantee when the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, can do four things.

First, I shall believe it when he can tell me that there are not 15,849 people waiting for a youth training place. That is quite a lot of people. Secondly, I shall believe it when he can apply to the youth training guarantee the proper Citizen's Charter principle that, if a guarantee is

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not met, one receives compensation. In other words, if 16 or 17 year-olds register for youth training and do not receive it, they should have an instant entitlement to income support while they are waiting. If the noble Lord said that, he could call it a guarantee.

Thirdly, I shall accept the assurance when the noble Lord is prepared to up-rate the youth training and bridging allowances to restore them at least to their value in 1988 when they were introduced. Those allowances have never been up-rated.

Fourthly, I shall believe his assurance when there is suitable training for those who apply for it. We do not have slavery in this country. There should be at least some very vague suitability in what people are forced to undergo. I shall briefly give three examples, all of which have been mentioned previously in this Committee. A young man who said that he wanted to work with animals was sent to work in an abattoir. If that happened in Brightlingsea it could be conduct liable to provoke a breach of the peace. Another young man who was an asthmatic was required to work as a painter. Finally, in 1991 Blairgowrie in Perthshire had 15 people waiting for youth training and there was one youth training place in the town. Even if they have access to a car, 16 year-olds are not allowed to drive, so they cannot get a place unless it is somewhere they can reach on foot or on public transport.

The object of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has not been achieved by this entitlement. We still have unemployed 16 and 17 year-olds. According to the official careers service figures, 6 per cent. of them are unemployed. That is probably a considerable underestimate. There are still 16 and 17 year-olds living away from home. According to the MORI sample 65 per cent. live away from home because they have been thrown out. In the Centrepoint sample that figure is 86 per cent. Those are not people idly wandering away from home. Those are people whose parents have chucked them out.

Crisis, in its study of London beggars, found two cases which are typical of many. One had been thrown out because she would not agree to her mother's insistence that she should give up the name of her divorced father. I believe that that is something on which she has a right to insist. She was disentitled in 1988 and in 1994 she was still there begging. That is to throw away a life. The other case involved someone who wished to cease to be a Jehovah's Witness and whose parents would not allow him to continue to live at home if he did so. That is an issue of freedom of conscience.

This is the one place where we have some research on what people do if they are totally disentitled to benefit. It is usually crime, selling drugs or prostitution, and prostitution in both senses. I am not particularly squeamish. However, if there is one thing that one finds more disconcerting than being forced into prostitution it is being forced into prostitution against one's sexual orientation. There are 16 and 17 year-old rent boys who sell unprotected sex because it is more profitable. The free market truly takes some very strange forms. I do not need to go into the medical risks of that practice.

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According to the figures produced by the careers service among 16 and 17 year-olds there are 6 per cent. unemployed and 6 per cent. unknown. If one looks at the census validation studies, those are probably underestimates. Large numbers of 16 and 17 year-olds simply disappear. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, knows some of the difficulties presented by the figures. I am extremely grateful to him for the help that he has given in trying to get through them. I believe he appreciates that there are likely to be many more lost, stolen and strayed 16 and 17 year-olds out there than are indicated by the official figures. Young people these days are a scarce resource. If we waste them for two years they are liable to stay wasted. That is something that this country cannot afford. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I should like to raise one other issue that is related to a matter about which my noble friend Lord Russell has spoken. I do not know how many Members of the House are associated with the groups that look after the homeless in this country, particularly in the cities, or who have taken the opportunity to talk to some of those who live in cardboard boxes under the National Theatre and elsewhere. If they do, they will come across another very tragic phenomenon, rather similar to some of those of which my noble friend has just spoken. I refer to young girls and boys who run away from home because of sexual abuse within the family. There has been a substantial increase in the reports of sexual violence and abuse in the family, admittedly largely because it is now more acceptable than hitherto to make these matters public. If one speaks to some of the groups that deal with homeless families, and homeless young people in particular, one finds that this phenomenon is not so small that it can be dismissed. A young girl or boy who is subject to sexual abuse will run away from home. It is no good pretending that they can be forced back home by refusing benefit. That may apply to only a few thousand people, but those people deserve our sympathy and mercy. I should like an assurance from the Minister that cases of this kind will be regarded as falling within the reference to special regulations in the Bill at the present time. Although this is not widely spoken of, it is a real issue. To force these young people back to their families will not help them, their families or, for that matter, their futures.

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