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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I think I can provide the reassurance that my noble friend seeks. The Government are committed to making this issue a major priority. These figures relate to young people who are not doing anything. They are not at school; they are not in further education; they are not in any form of work-based training; nor are they in any form of full-time or part-time education. It is a terrible waste. We have to crack this long-standing problem. We are determined to do so and we are putting forward a comprehensive package in order to reach these young people.

Lord Tope: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the findings of the Children's Society report entitled Still Running that some 16 and 17 year-olds who are forced to leave home by their parents are unable to obtain severe hardship payments of income support because they are unable or unwilling to contact their parents to obtain the necessary documents to verify their identity? Do the Government have any plans to alleviate that problem?

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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Government are aware of the Children's Society report and, indeed, were aware that some young people in this situation face problems in getting not just the financial help but also the advice and support that they may need. The Government are tackling this issue and are putting together a comprehensive integrated service that will support such young people. However, the Government believe that they should be in education and training. The Careers Service therefore has a crucial role to play not just in providing them with advice about education and training, but also in helping them to get the financial support that they may need if they qualify for hardship JSA.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that recently published figures for Scotland show that 31 per cent of young people on New Deal programmes have disappeared without trace, 15 per cent have moved on to other benefits and 22 per cent have left for reasons other than a full-time job? What are the comparable figures for England?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness specific comparable figures in such detail, but I should be very happy to write to her. What I can say is that the New Deal has been a resounding success in providing job opportunities for more than 125,000 young people.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, since in many parts of Britain, as my noble friend will know, unemployment among disabled people seeking work is up to six times higher than for other people, does she have any figures for the number of young people with disabilities who are still neither in employment nor in training or education?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, once again I cannot give the precise statistics for the number of disabled young people in that category, but I am happy to write to my noble friend. The Government have done a number of different things to improve opportunities for disabled young people, including making available allowances for those who have disabilities and who are full-time students.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, what effort is being made to match these young people with areas of work where there is still great need? The noble Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned disabled people. There are many disabled people who want someone to come and care for them, or even merely to be a presence with them in their own home. Now that there is a basic minimum wage, there is no suggestion that this would be an underpaid occupation. What effort is being made to match the requirements in the health service for many more care assistants with these young people, who would be well suited to train and proceed with these activities?

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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Government are concerned about skill shortages in general, wherever they may be. The task force has been asked to advise the Government on ways in which vacancies can be filled in areas where there are shortages, both regionally and in particular occupations. I entirely accept the noble Baroness's comment about the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities who need either full-time or part-time care should be given proper support. Many young women in particular are interested in doing this work, and training programmes in this area are being extended.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords, recognising the importance of further education in alleviating these difficulties and helping to reduce youth unemployment, I ask my noble friend whether he can confirm that there has been an increase in the number of students in further education.

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, there has been a very substantial increase. The Government have a commitment to a further 700,000 students in further education, and there has been a 15 per cent increase in the numbers entering further education over the past four years. Moreover, the Government are also making it easier for 14 to 16 year-olds in full-time schooling to spend some time out of school in work-related training in FE colleges, which we believe will help to motivate some of the more disaffected young people.

Wales: EU Objective One

2.51 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether progress is satisfactory towards implementing the programme for the European Union Objective One area of Wales.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, progress to date is in accordance with the timetable set out in the European Structural Funds Regulations which apply to all member states.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. However, is she fully aware of the crisis that is looming in Wales as a result of the scathing response that the Welsh cabinet has received from the European Commission to its plans for spending Objective One money and the continuing uncertainty with regard to the availability of match funding from the Treasury in order to access the European funds? Can the noble Baroness do anything to dispel the gloom?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to dispel the gloom of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. With regard to the application to the Commission, I can assure the noble Lord that the reports and rumours that he has heard

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are merely part of the normal negotiations. All member states submit a plan and a proposal, followed by a period of months during which discussion takes place at official level to flesh out those plans to meet the Commission's requirement. We are fully confident, because the European Commission agreed last November, that the Welsh plans fully meet the admissibility criteria.

I am also able to set the noble Lord's mind at rest with regard to funding. Given that the Government secured for West Wales and the Valleys a total amount last year of 1.79 billion euros, and that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor negotiated through the night in Berlin to obtain that amount, I can assure the noble Lord that there will be no problem at all in the area of necessary funds to meet the part that it is appropriate to meet with government funding and public sector funding.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the negotiations concluded by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor should not be under-estimated? They achieved what the previous government either did not attempt or failed to achieve. Secondly, will she agree that the Prime Minister's statement that he would not let Wales down is very reassuring?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Yes, my Lords. Some of the press reports about alleged problems in funding may be related to an issue that will be resolved in Ceredigion on Thursday.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the principle of additionality requires that structural funds are not to be used merely to replace national funds, and that the £35 million of match funding announced by Mr Alun Michael, the First Secretary, had already been announced as part of the 1998-99 Supplementary Estimates of the Treasury to meet pressures in roads programmes, the family health service and the schools inspectorate, and had nothing to do with European money? Will the Government undertake to grant matching funds which are additional to the existing Welsh Assembly budget?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government and the Welsh Assembly are fully confident that, for the first year, funds are available in the budget stream in the normal way. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, will remember, within the funds available to the Welsh Office there was always the necessary money to meet particular needs identified with regard to European funds, etc. However, noble Lords should also be aware that representations are being made by the Assembly and the Secretary of State to the Treasury as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review in

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order that the case can be fully considered in the light of the overwhelming success of the Government and the large amount of money involved.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, bearing in mind that for every £2 that the United Kingdom sends to--

Noble Lords: Cranborne!


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