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Stephen Phillips: If I said that, I misspoke.

My understanding is that the terms of the pilot were that children travelling in school groups or with their parents would no longer be checked. Those were the terms that were agreed. They were no broader, in many ways, than the terms of the pilots and systems that were applied by the previous Government. What gives great cause for concern is that the terms of the pilot seem to have been exceeded without reference to Ministers. It is that that the British public need to know about.

We need to get to the bottom of this matter, forgetting the sheer opportunism and ill temper that have permeated this debate, and find out what has happened so that it does not happen again. I also think, if I may say so, that the previous Administration must recognise their faults in the area of immigration.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Many hon. Members still wish to speak, but we are running out of time—interventions are taking up a lot of time—so I am going to reduce the time limit again, this time to 4 minutes from the next speaker, in the hope that Members waiting to speak can get in. Perhaps those who have already spoken could apply some discipline and not intervene.

3.50 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): We have heard a lot about the intricate detail of this policy, but I want to pose two key questions. First, what is the role in the Government of the Home Secretary and her Minister for Immigration? The second question concerns the Government’s overall approach to immigration policy.

Let us wind back to the end of last year. The chief executive of the UK Border Agency announced that she would be leaving her post, and from January she took up another post in Whitehall. At that point, an acting chief executive was appointed, while several acting directors were also in post—as I understand it, some of them remain in post. Of eight posts, up to five at any one time were acting. All were operational posts—not backroom posts, but front-line operational director posts. On 26 September, the new chief executive of UKBA was appointed.

Ministers, and the Minister for Immigration in particular, had a strong responsibility to ensure leadership and continuity at a time when there were so many acting officials. It was his responsibility, in particular, to watch the detail, to ask the questions and to set the direction. Clearly the Home Secretary had a role, but I have been a junior Minister supporting a Home Secretary, and I know that the role of a junior Minister is to look at the detail and to ensure that the Home Secretary has what she needs to do her job. So why has the Minister for Immigration been so silent? Was he reading the detail of the briefings sent to him, and was he watching the Home Secretary’s back? She is protecting him now, and he should be very grateful. The named civil servants who have been condemned publicly in the House and elsewhere have not had the same cover. In his closing remarks, will the Minister tell us what progress reports he received from officials, what action he took to ensure that the pilot, as outlined, took place and where the pitfalls were?

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Immigration is a complex project, and it needs that oversight. On the approach to immigration policy, the talk was tough. “Let’s reduce the numbers,” they said, “to tens of thousands, and let’s go back to the levels of the 1980s and early 1990s.” They wanted to create a new border force, forgetting that, actually, UKBA was, in effect, that very thing. The rhetoric on immigration and migration was great, but the actions have been weak. At the same time as all this rhetoric, the Minister for Immigration, in a little-known side move as he abolished identity cards, abandoned fingerprint biometrics in passports. The reason he was appointed to the Home Office was to abolish identity cards, but in the process, he threatened the security of the British passport and, therefore, part of our immigration system. He threw out with the bathwater the precious baby of our security.

We have e-Borders, but only for some and only when it suits the Government. Then, let us look at the budget issues. We saw a 23% reduction in the Home Office budget, and it is naive to think that we can conduct a modern immigration service with fewer resources. I know, because I have been in such meetings in the past, that the Department for Transport, the airlines and the operators will have been putting immense pressure on the Home Office to reduce queues. However, the Home Office’s job is to maintain the integrity of security. It seems that it crumbled, but that is hardly surprising, given that it took its lead from No. 11 Downing Street, because, ultimately, those cuts to the budget led to a cut in service.

The buck stops with the Minister for Immigration, the Home Secretary and, ultimately, No. 10 and No. 11. By cutting too far, too fast and at any cost, the Government have put the security of our borders at risk.

3.54 pm

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I had the great pleasure of inspecting the border controls at Dover and at Calais with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. We went last year, and we were shown around by Brodie Clark and his fellow officers. It was a very interesting educational journey, and we saw the hard work of the officers on the ground.

Whatever the brickbats from Members on both sides of the House in relation to what did or did not happen in the Home Office among the high-ups and all the rest of it, we ought to pay tribute to the front-line officers at the UKBA, who do a fantastic job standing at our border, keeping watch and keeping guard come rain or shine. It is a difficult job—a very hard job—that requires a lot of experience and knowledge, and the longer they are there, the better they get at just knowing, deep down by instinct and experience, who to stop, and which lorries to stop.

The Home Secretary’s pilot is not a bad idea. Opposition Members say that it is weakening controls, but I am not sure that that is right. It is a different method of border control, which takes a risk-based approach, and if we take such an approach we are saying that we will rely on the experience of those front-line officers to determine who should and who should not be stopped. We are relying on their intelligence and on intelligence gathering.

It is quite significant that, since the pilot was introduced a year or so ago, we have seen a rise in the number of illegal entrants being caught, so we should be slow to

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say, “Let’s just chuck this pilot out.” Instead, we should carefully and thoughtfully evaluate and consider it, and see whether that way of organising our border controls might actually be the best way.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and in this debate we must be careful not to become too party political, as has already happened. Is it not important to ensure that all three investigations that the Home Secretary has put in place are thoroughly undertaken, so that they can lead into what my hon. Friend is saying?

Charlie Elphicke: That is a fair point. There are several important ongoing inquiries into what happened, and they are the right thing to do. It is right that the new boss of UKBA should have the licence and ability to supervise his staff—and that includes Brodie Clark. If the new boss takes that view, and the Home Secretary endorses it, that will be the right execution of the chain of command. The House should respect that, and it should respect the need to let the inquires go through and be conducted properly. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) may not agree, and may want all the papers published on the internet immediately, but the proper processes should be followed and dealt with. We should ensure that we have the most secure borders possible, because our constituents are deeply concerned about what has gone on.

I talk to people on the doorsteps of Dover who tell me, “I am really unhappy about the fact that we have had so many people come into this country,” and it is a matter of public record that about 2.2 million have done so. European Union citizens have in broad terms a free right of entry to come and go, but that does not apply to people outside the area.

Andrew Bridgen: Without trying to be too opportunistic, I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees that when the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) told the House that concerns over immigration, border controls and asylum were just “nonsense” and apparently “huff and puff” in many of the tabloid newspapers, he showed that he has no credibility on the subject—and neither do the Labour party.

Charlie Elphicke: I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and he is right. The hon. Gentleman discussed the matter in a question on the EU constitution, and in fairness I should read out his entire remarks. He said to the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett):

“The Home Secretary may well have heard over recent days much huff and puff in many of the tabloid newspapers about the draft constitutional treaty and what it will do to border controls and asylum and immigration in Europe. Will he ignore all that nonsense”?—[Official Report, 16 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 15.]

The then Home Secretary replied: “Yes, I agree entirely.” One gets a perspective from that, but I do not want to labour what is a partisan point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to read out more of what he said—he did go on; indeed, he does go on—when he gets his own chance to make some remarks.

I shall close with the concerns of my constituents. We need more controls for people from outside the European Union. The figures reported by the labour market survey

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show a total increase of 966,000 in employment between quarter 1 of 2004 and quarter 3 of 2010—that is, 966,000 people not born in the UK. UK-born employment fell by 334,000, while foreign-born UK employment rose by 1.297 million. Of those, 530,000 were born in the EU8 countries. The essential point is that the majority—800,000—were born outside those countries. We see immigration as somehow an EU problem, but there is a bigger problem with people born outside those areas—people for whom we can take controls. I hope that in time we will not only do that, but do more to make the Home Office fit for purpose, after the mess of the past 13 years.

4 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The issue before us today is not what Mr Brodie Clark did or did not do—although I hope that before the end of the debate we will hear from the Front Bench that the Government will put no obstacle in the way of his attending the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Today we need to focus on the arrangements for which the Home Secretary has now admitted she was responsible. She claims that she authorised a pilot to establish a risk assessment approach. It was evident from her statement to the House on Monday that she was more than a little shaky on the details of the pilot—a secret pilot—which was actually a scheme to relax border controls at every airport and port of entry in the country. From the end of July to the beginning of November, literally millions of people passed through our borders without being subject to normal controls. By her own admission, she has no idea how many drug couriers, terrorists, people traffickers or gangsters got through.

A pilot is where we trial a new activity and assess it against the conventional approach, but the Home Secretary did it everywhere. She told us that a risk-based assessment was used, but we know that staff were advised that the measures were to deal with summer pressures. Far from being a pilot, it was a sleight of hand. She wants us to believe that the first she knew of the problem was last Thursday, but there is an operations log that is reported to the Home Office weekly. From July until September, when she authorised a further extension, she had weeks of information at her disposal. Why did she not look at it?

The Home Secretary came to the House on Monday and attempted to deflect the blame for the fiasco on to Mr Brodie Clark. That is a smokescreen designed to blind us to her negligent and inept behaviour. She is responsible for our borders and the security of the British people. As I put to her then, her colleague the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) dispatched Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, on the basis that he was culpable for putting the security of the British public at risk. Sadly, I had to accept that the right hon. Gentleman was right; and, for exactly the same reason, his words are right today. Not only has this Home Secretary failed to protect our borders; she has sought to deflect blame, dump on others and throw a smokescreen over Parliament, rather than admitting that she is guilty of a gross dereliction of duty.

I of all people understand the efforts of Government Whips and the pressure that will be brought to bear on Tory Back Benchers today to speak up for the Home

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Secretary. I understand the sense of personal loyalty that some will feel, just as I felt it to Charles Clarke. However, if the Home Secretary cannot be relied on to protect our borders, if she cannot be relied on to give a straightforward account to Parliament and the Home Affairs Committee, if her instinct is to blame others when she is caught red handed, and if she puts fear of queues above fear of terrorists, then she is no longer fit for this great office and she should go now with dignity. She can make a clean break today and agree to make available all the information requested in the motion, or we can prise the details out a bit at a time. I doubt that it will save her. I call on her to do the decent thing. This House is good at persuading people to do the right thing. She should do it now.

4.4 pm

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Since coming to office, the Government have initiated a series of reforms to try to get a grip on the chaos they inherited, such as the cap on non-EU migration, the crackdown on abuses of the student visa system, the accreditation for colleges and the focus on the family route. However, we need to be clear about the size of the task we face after 13 years of open-door immigration, because under the previous Government, as much as Labour Members huff and puff, net migration was more than 2 million.

Mr Watts: That is not the issue!

Mr Raab: It is the issue, and we will come to why.

The lack of control under the previous Government was illustrated by periodic catastrophes. They could be dismissed as one-offs—I am sure that that is the intention of Labour Members—but this Government inherited serial, systematic failings that they must clean up. Under the previous Government, the Home Office ignored warnings that visa claims were being backed by forged documents; 1,000 foreign prisoners were released and not considered for deportation; illegal immigrants were cleaning the Home Office; and 12 illegal workers were given security jobs in the Metropolitan police, one of whom guarded the site where the Prime Minister’s car was parked.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Raab: I will not give way, because of the time.

We know from Brodie Clark that the relaxation of current checks dates back to 2008. One obvious question is whether the former Home Secretary—the former right hon. Member for Redditch—knew about or authorised the relaxation at that time. That is the institutional context and the legacy that the Government inherited.

I welcomed the Home Secretary’s statement on Monday. One thing remains clear: we still have a long way to go to repair the inherited fractures in our border controls. The big picture, however, is that the Government are dealing with the operational strains that result from the strategic error of one Labour Home Secretary, who said that he could see no obvious upper limit on net migration to this country, being compounded by another who confessed that the UKBA was not fit for purpose but

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failed to clean up the mess. There are unanswered questions and we need to get to the bottom of each one—that is why three reviews are in place—but we need right answers, not rushed ones.

The motion is so patently a fishing expedition to find something—anything—that might cause political embarrassment. It has little to do with sound public policy; it is all about cheap politics. The net is cast so widely as to be deeply irresponsible on security and the burden on officials, who are working hard to rectify the mistakes that have been made. To demand the publication of every item of official advice and every record of exchange would have a chilling effect on the candour and flow of advice to Ministers. The risk is more of the informal advice and sofa government that we had under the previous Government.

Opposition Members cannot on the one hand cry that Ministers are exposing officials to the harsh glare of media limelight and on the other ask for every official utterance immediately to be released to the public. Things might be different if the shadow Home Secretary were asking specific, focused questions, but she is not. It is irresponsible to ask officials to drain the swamp in search of vignettes for Labour party press releases.

Frankly, the motion trivialises an important debate and the serious scrutiny that the House should exert. All hon. Members should be seriously concerned about the recent failings at the UKBA, but no hon. Member who is concerned could credibly vote for the motion.

4.8 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) is right that many questions remain unanswered. That is why it was good to have the Home Secretary before the Select Committee on Home Affairs yesterday to answer questions for more than an hour on this important issue.

It is right that we should have this debate today. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have described it as an ill-tempered debate, but I have been a Member of the House for 24 years, and no debate on immigration is not noisy, because these are controversial matters. It is right that the House should look at what the Home Secretary has done. Yesterday, she took absolute ownership of the pilot scheme and made it very clear to members of the Committee that anything beyond that was the responsibility of Brodie Clark.

In the few minutes I have available, I should like to update the House on what the Committee will do in respect of the inquiry. Of course, there will be an independent inquiry set up by the Home Secretary and led by John Vine. The Committee rates John Vine, who has done a terrific amount of good work. In a sense, we wonder what would have happened had he not turned up last week at that terminal in London to find out what was going on. We would certainly not be having this debate today. The fact that he is conducting the inquiry is therefore welcome. I am not absolutely certain that there is a need for two other internal inquiries, but I will go along with the Home Secretary on that. If she feels that they will be useful, let us hear what they have to say.

On Tuesday, the Select Committee will hear from Brodie Clark. I am extremely grateful to him for responding so readily to our invitation to come and speak to us. He

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has made it clear that he will not make any statements outside the Select Committee hearing or give any newspaper interviews until he has had the opportunity to answer questions from members of the Committee. As what he said yesterday was basically in direct contradiction of what the Home Secretary said, it is important that we hear the views of all sides before coming to a conclusion. We have also asked Rob Whiteman, the new chief executive of the UKBA, to give evidence to the Committee, and when the Immigration Minister gets back to the Home Office, he will see a letter from me inviting him to give evidence to the Committee as well. It is important that he should have an opportunity to tell us what was happening on a day-to-day basis.

The Select Committee has a long record, under successive Governments, of producing reports on the UK Border Agency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) will remember that we also criticised the agency’s operation when he was Home Secretary. The key thing is that, when recommendations are made, they should be implemented. That is why I was heartened to hear what the Home Secretary said about the need for the UKBA to change. This has been a crisis, and it will not be resolved until we have all the answers, but she should use it as an opportunity to look at the organisation. It has been fundamentally flawed for a number of years. I do not go back to the crucifixion, as some hon. Members have done; I go back only to 1987. The agency has been flawed since the day I entered Parliament and discovered, during my very first campaign, that there were bags and bags of unopened mail. It is very important to see what is happening today in that context, and to ensure that we make the necessary changes. All that we ask in the Select Committee is that our witnesses are open and transparent, and that they give us the answers so that we can prepare a good, timely report for the House.

4.12 pm

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I have been a Member of this House for 17 years—five years in opposition, 12 years in government—and I have been privileged to be a Minister in various Departments. Which was the most toxic Department? The Home Office, for the reasons that have already been given by former Home Secretaries and former Home Office Ministers. I am an ex-Minister in the Home Office, and it beggars belief that the Immigration Minister did not follow this matter through in the way we would expect. There has been a major change to a flagship policy. Immigration and counter-terrorism have been strong policies that, as the Prime Minister has often said, are at the heart of the Government’s response. They have been flagship policies because we need to keep our borders safe and secure, but it has been accepted that there has been a change of policy in the guidance. We have now been told by the Home Secretary that Ministers did not see what was happening. I cannot believe that, but the Immigration Minister will have an opportunity to respond and tell us exactly what did go on—or will he?

I have been around here for 17 years, as I said, and I spent three of those in the Whips Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) will also recognise the Whips’ operation in action. Most of the Conservative Back Benchers who

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have spoken today have not talked about the issue concerning the Home Secretary; they have talked about immigration policy and the differences between us in that regard. That is their fault, in the sense that they turned immigration into an election issue. They said that they would reduce the amount of immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament, but that is not going to happen, because the Government are hitting the problems that all Governments face because of the complexity of the issues. None the less, we will have debates on immigration and on who was at fault.

This is also about the role of the Home Secretary in dealing with members of staff. It was appalling that she attacked Mr Brodie Clark in the way that she did on Monday. People should be given the opportunity to make their case. It is right that we have the inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee and the other inquiries, but the questions that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary asked need to be answered. The answers need to be in the public domain, because it is grossly unfair for somebody to be criticised and castigated as Mr Clark was without having the opportunity to reply. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Home Secretary, said, Mr Clark will have his day in court; and he will win, because what the Home Secretary did was constructive dismissal.

The debate will end with Government Back Benchers being loyal and the Government carrying the day. The good news for the British public is that the affair will not end today; it will continue. The truth will out. It is never good to see Ministers having to resign after holding on to power for as long as they can, as the Defence Secretary did recently. The Home Secretary should do the honourable thing and resign. The security and safety of our borders is paramount for Government.

4.15 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): It is always far easier to find a scapegoat than it is to find a solution, and we have heard some scapegoating this afternoon. We have heard scapegoating of individuals in the Home Office and we have heard scapegoating of the past. Even the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), normally such a seraph of sweetness and light in the Chamber, tried to introduce the suggestion that the previous Administration had an amnesty for asylum seekers. Madam Deputy Speaker, you know that at the last election only one party stood in favour of a “keep your head down and everything will be all right” amnesty: the Liberal Democrats, with the mendacious mush of pusillanimity that ended with them swallowing their principles and their pride and selling their souls to the Conservatives.

It is no good scapegoating the Home Office as some evil organism that takes the good and the innocent, and corrupts, kills and throws them out again, like the reactor room of K-19—the infamous Russian nuclear submarine from which no one ever emerged alive. That is not the situation.

We have an intensely difficult problem, dealing with human beings prepared to risk their lives, and in many cases to lose their lives, to come to this country. Any

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amount of legislation or fine theory comes up against the fact that some young lad from Afghanistan will hang on under a lorry, even though he has a 60% chance of dying, to come to this country.

We are dealing with people for whom the situation is in that order of seriousness, so we should grow up and stop going for the stupid false nostrum that we can pull a wall around this country, even around the forgotten frontier that stretches from Foyle through Belfast lough to Strangford. We cannot build a wall around the United Kingdom—[ Interruption. ] I appreciate that some may wish to do so, but it is not physically possible.

This summer, Raed Salah, a man banned from this country by the Home Secretary, wandered in through customs with a cheery wave and a tip of his hat—I was going to say that he stopped off at the duty-free, but he probably did not. The current structure is indefensible. How on earth can we possibly justify it?

I end with one positive thought. I speak not for my party on this; in fact, I think I may have more in common with the Home Secretary. Is it not time for us to revisit one of the sanest, most sensible, positive and productive proposals ever heard on the Floor of the House? Identity cards. Is it not time that we looked again at those proposals? Otherwise, we shall never know how many people entered the country this summer until they either rock up in MPs’ surgeries, claiming that their overstay should be regularised, or appear in court. When they are asked how they came into the country, they will reply that it was during those sweet balmy days of summer when people could wander in and nobody said a word. The way to find out is to be like my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who carries his ID card in his wallet to this day. As does he, so should the nation.

4.19 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): There have been many striking things this afternoon. The most striking one at the beginning was how few members of the Cabinet came to offer their support to the Home Secretary. I have been in this Chamber on many occasions when people have called for a resignation. I have nearly always on those previous occasions seen at least half the Cabinet present. I presume that she does not have much longer, in light of the support from her colleagues.

There have been a great many contributions. I think I am correct in saying that we have heard from three members of the Home Affairs Committee—the hon. Members for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), although I know she is unable to join us now, and, of course, the much-respected Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). We have also heard from a former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw).

We heard, too, from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). I must say that when he said he thought the Labour party should have taken a humility pill, I thought that was—well, talk about “pot” “kettle” “yellow”! The Liberal Democrats should be swallowing a humility pill in respect of a whole load of things at the moment—but I think we will leave that to the electorate.

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Other contributors were my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) and for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael); my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound); the hon. Members for Stourbridge (Margot James), for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab); and the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips).

All spoke and made interesting contributions, but what have we learned today? First of all, we have learned that the Home Secretary experimented with lowering our border controls—and unlike the Home Secretary, who made up her contribution, I am not making this up—in the year before the Olympics. She chose to experiment with border controls in the year before the Olympics!

Secondly, we learned that the Home Secretary did not even know what she agreed to in the first place. We saw that classically on Monday afternoon, when Members asked whether the experiment applied to Manchester airport, to Glasgow or to Belfast, and she did not know. She did not have the faintest idea; she was completely clueless. She still does not know today how, where or when her experiment with our border controls was applied. Even after days and days of this issue being the main one in the media, she has not chosen to brief herself to find out how it was applied.

The one member of the Cabinet who was here to provide his paltry support was the Secretary of State for Education. [Interruption.] Oh, sorry—I forgot about the Secretary of State for Wales, because we always do. We have heard that this was a pilot, but I would have thought that a pilot would be introduced in just one airport to see how it worked out, not become an experiment in changing the whole policy on our border controls across every single airport and port of entry into this country. This was no pilot; it was a change of policy.

We have also learned that the Home Secretary extended the experiment for a couple of extra months without even getting a view from the front line on how it was operating. It was only because John Vine happened to go along to Heathrow that we were able to find out exactly what was happening. [Interruption.] The Minister for Immigration says that Ministers cannot be expected to do inspections, yet we heard from the hon. Member for Dover that at least he has been able to go and visit. [Interruption.] Yes, the hon. Gentleman went, but the Minister did not bother.

Charlie Elphicke rose—

Chris Bryant: I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman; he has already spoken.

We also learned today that data do exist. The Home Secretary admitted that for the first time this afternoon, but she is refusing to publish them. [Interruption.] She is looking confused again; of course she is, because she has not bothered to burrow down into the detail. We want her to publish the data as soon as possible. She also admitted that the interim operational instruction, which we have referred to over the last couple of days, represents Government policy and that it does not stretch Government policy at all.

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We have learned today, too, that the Prime Minister and several hon. Members who have been given Government Whips’ handouts think that this policy was a good idea. Well, if it was a good idea, are they going to do it again next year? I suspect not because they know it was not a good idea in the first place. What have we seen in this country?

Stephen Phillips: The pilot caught an extra 10% of illegal immigrants who were trying to enter the country, so why was it not a good idea?

Chris Bryant: It is interesting, is it not, that the only pieces of data that Government Members can come up with are the pieces of data that they think will help their argument. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants the House to have data, let him publish the whole set of data, so that we can know exactly how successful or unsuccessful the operation was. He may wish to present a private Member’s Bill next year, in which case I look forward to seeing how many Government Members support him.

What have we seen in the country, though? One person from the neighbouring constituency of Cynon Valley contacted me, having arrived at Heathrow in the summer. He said that

“all those with biometric passports were called up and just waved through”.

That is precisely the opposite of what Ministers have been saying. I also have a piece of paper from the chief operating officer at Heathrow, who writes:

“Within the passenger environment the highest risk currently at Heathrow is the onset of the student season, which brings with it large numbers of people”.

She goes on to explain how she and her colleagues will be dealing with that. It is, of course, one of the main issues with which the Minister for Immigration is meant to be dealing. The chief operation officer writes:

“We have a number of ways of mitigating that risk, and these are now in place: use of Level 2 measures”—

in other words, the lighter touch—

“with the opportunity to use additional measures where required”.

That flies directly in the face of everything that the Home Secretary has been saying, and everything that the Minister has been saying.

We also know that some operations were suspended which the Home Secretary says were not. On Monday afternoon, she said:

“First, biometric checks on EEA nationals and warnings index checks on EEA national children were abandoned on a regular basis, without ministerial approval.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 45.]

That is her basic defence. Yet the very document that she says reflects her policy states:

“We will cease…Routinely checking all EEA nationals under 18 years against the Warnings index”.

Those children’s passports were not swiped. The warnings index was not involved. That is directly contrary to what the Home Secretary said on Monday.

As for the Immigration Minister, who has been notable by his absence over the last few days, I think the whole House would agree that he is a nice man. I myself would argue that he is nicer than his politics. However, the fact remains that he has been completely absent. I should have thought that an interventionist Minister—

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Will he calm down? I should have thought that an interventionist Minister who wanted to introduce a new policy on border controls and had organised an experiment would be ringing up members of staff at Heathrow, Gatwick and Calais to find out exactly what was happening. In my view, the Minister has been so hands-off that much of this problem is directly his fault.

I note that this afternoon, when the Prime Minister’s spokesman was asked on eight separate occasions whether any Minister other than the Home Secretary had sanctioned the extension to further areas, the spokesman expressly chose not to answer the question. I suspect that that is because it was the Immigration Minister himself who gave a further sanction to the extension of the regime.

Government Members would love to talk about anything other than the fact that what has happened is due to two decisions that were made on their watch: the decision to cut the number of staff in the border force by 886 this year and by 1,552 by the time of the next general election, and the decision to suspend some border controls throughout the summer. This was not a pilot; it was a change of policy. It has blown up in the Home Secretary’s face, and she simply has not the decency to own up.

All that my constituents want to know is this: did anyone dangerous or criminal enter the country this summer at a port or airport near them? Sadly, we will not know the answer unless the Government do what our motion calls on them to do and publish the facts in black and white.

4.29 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): This is a serious subject, which deserves serious contributions. Sadly, the shadow Immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), has just characteristically walked the line between opportunism and hypocrisy, as he so often does, believing apparently—[Interruption.] He apparently believes—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sure the Minister was not making any personal comment as to integrity or behaviour, but he might wish to rephrase his remarks.

Damian Green rose—

Hon. Members: Withdraw.

Damian Green: No. I chose my words very carefully, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I have no intention of withdrawing them because they are the truth. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not need to shout to say the truth. It is a shame that he adopted the attitude that he did, because this is a very serious issue, but it is not surprising given some of the other contributions from Opposition Members, which, unfortunately, attempted to blame the fall of the Berlin wall, my noble Friend Lord Howard and the late Lord Whitelaw for problems in the current immigration system, not recognising for a second how much their Government weakened border controls. We heard no recognition of how their Government allowed warnings index checks to be suspended on EEA children and adults, no

9 Nov 2011 : Column 358

recognition of how their Government threw open the border at Heathrow, and no recognition of their uncontrolled immigration policy that allowed net migration to this country of 2.2 million. There is only one phrase the British people need to hear from the Labour party on immigration, and that is, “Sorry—sorry we left such a mess.”

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out in detail once again for the House the exact nature of the pilot that she and I authorised to target investigative resources on intelligence-led checks. The shadow Immigration Minister said he assumed that I had authorised the unauthorised extensions. I am happy to be able to assure him and the House that I did not. Under the pilot, instead of always checking children travelling with their parents and in school groups against the warnings index of terrorists and serious criminals, and instead of always checking European nationals’ second photographs in the chip inside their passport, in limited and specific circumstances border force officers would have been able to use intelligence and operational judgment to decide which children to check against the warnings index and on which adults to open the second paragraph.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The Home Secretary talked about risks. I have been in correspondence with the Minister and the Home Secretary, and we disagree about the internal port at Stranraer and Cairnryan. Following the withdrawing of UKBA funding there, people arrive—[Hon. Members: “Speech!”] People arrive there, they are illegal and they are identified by the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary. Arrangements are then made with—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. If Members rise to intervene, they should make an intervention, not deliver a short lecture. I call the Minister.

Damian Green: I know how strongly the hon. Gentleman feels about the Larne and Stranraer issue, but it is not an international port. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom; boats that come from Northern Ireland to Scotland are not crossing an international boundary. That is a fact that the hon. Gentleman needs to recognise.

The pilot was designed to improve security at our ports and to strengthen our border. Several Opposition Members said they believed that it was not being monitored and that no information was being passed to the Home Secretary or me during the course of the pilot, but of course that was not the case. We were getting regular information from management about what was happening, and it was telling us that there was a 10% increase in the detection of illegal immigrants, a 48% increase in fraudulent documents detected, and that cocaine seizures and illegal firearms seizures were up.

Yvette Cooper rose

Damian Green: Before I give way to the right hon. Lady, will she answer the following question? If the figures for the pilot had gone the other way—if detections were down, the number of fraudulent documents detected were down, and drug seizures were down—would she not be calling for a debate to argue that the pilot was a failure? Why is she calling a debate now when, as far as we can see, this pilot was a success?

9 Nov 2011 : Column 359

Yvette Cooper: If the hon. Gentleman’s pilot was such a success, he will need to explain why he has now suspended it. There is an important question that the Home Secretary ducked earlier about the management data that were available—I refer to the information about how many times the checks were downgraded to level 2. How many times did that take place over the summer? Has the Minister seen that information? If so, will he publish it? We know that the information exists.

Damian Green: That is precisely the information that the various investigations are looking at, but what the right hon. Lady has to recognise is that, without the authorisation of Ministers, senior UK border officials are alleged to have ordered the regular relaxation of border checks. They also went beyond the pilot that Ministers had agreed. Biometric checks on European economic area nationals and warnings index checks on EEA national children were abandoned on a regular basis, without approval, and adults were not checked against the warnings index at Calais, without approval.

What the pilot was designed to do—I hope that there will be some consensus on this across the House—was to have a risk-based approach. I say that there should be some consensus, because having a proper risk-based approach to immigration control has been the basis of our policy on both immigration and wider security since 9/11. I was grateful for the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on that point. It is obviously sensible to concentrate our effort and resources in those areas where they are likely to have most effect on making our borders safe. I cannot believe that there is a Member in any part of this House who disagrees with that. That is what we approved.

On the point about queues which was raised by several hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), there is of course permanent pressure for shorter queues; there is pressure from Members of this House. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that whenever I come back in the autumn—I suspect this was the case for any previous Immigration Minister—I hear tales of woe about queues at Heathrow, but it is absolutely the first responsibility of the Home Office to make sure that we do not compromise security. That is what this pilot—that is what a risk-based approach—is designed to do.

What happened that went beyond authority was that the verification of the fingerprints of non-EEA nationals from countries that require a visa was stopped on regular occasions, without approval.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP) rose—

Damian Green: I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way.

Let me quote what Rob Whiteman, the chief executive of the UKBA, said:

“Brodie Clark admitted to me on 2 November that on a number of occasions this year he authorised his staff to go further than Ministerial instruction. I therefore suspended him from his duties. In my opinion it was right for officials to have recommended the pilot so that we focus attention on higher risks to our border, but it is unacceptable that one of my senior officials went further than was approved.”

9 Nov 2011 : Column 360

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab) rose—

Damian Green: Do sit down; you have not been in the debate.

If Brodie Clark had not admitted that to his immediate superior, he would not have been suspended. That is why he was suspended.

Let me turn to some of the points raised by hon. Members. The serious point that the shadow Home Secretary made was about staffing cuts, so let me quote for her from the UKBA business plan produced at the end of the previous Government’s term in office. This was her Government’s policy, and it says:

“Our workforce projections indicate that there will no longer be a business need for the same number of staff in certain locations by the end of March 2011…within Border Force it is imperative that frontline services are maintained but changes to the way we work mean that this will be achievable with targeted reduction across the grade range.”

In other words, the previous Government were planning to reorder the way the border force works so that it could be effective with fewer people. That is why I said that the hon. Member for Rhondda was walking the line between opportunism and hypocrisy—I was not referring to him personally at all.

Indeed, my predecessor, Phil Woolas, said:

“Providing more flexibility and powers for the deployment of officers in tackling those threats at the border will enhance border security and therefore the protection of our country.”––[Official Report, Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2009; c. 5.]

That is what Labour’s last Immigration Minister said, and I agree with him. It is pretty disgraceful that his successors are now attempting to say that it is somehow improper to follow that example.

For many years, the UKBA has needed to be reformed. We have reversed Labour’s open-door immigration policy; we have capped economic migration; we have clamped down on student visas; we have restricted family migration; and we are breaking the link between temporary migration and permanent settlement.

Chris Bryant rose

Damian Green: I will give way once, to the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Bryant: I am very grateful. The one thing that neither of the Ministers has revealed today is what will be published at the end of these inquiries. On Monday afternoon, the Secretary of State changed her original date for producing the inquiries—by January—to the end of January. What exactly are the Government going to publish? Will they publish all the important decisions—obviously, with the redactions that were referred to earlier—so that we can see in black and white precisely what they sanctioned?

Damian Green: Obviously, all the relevant papers will go to the inquiries, and it is for John Vine, who is an independent inspector, to decide what he should publish. That seems to me the sensible way to do it. If there is an independent inspector holding an independent inquiry, it is not for me to tell him what to do.

For the first time in 15 years, we have a Government who are willing and able to deliver a controlled immigration system. Because of the shambles we inherited, it will take longer than I, this House or the British people

9 Nov 2011 : Column 361

would want, but we will improve the UKBA, we are bringing immigration under control and, unlike the Labour party, we will continue to take immigration as seriously as the British people do. This is a shameful motion promoted by a shameless party, and I urge the House to reject it.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 247, Noes 300.

Division No. 393]

[4.41 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lloyd, Tony

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr David Hamilton and

Susan Elan Jones


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Duddridge, James

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Shailesh Vara and

Norman Lamb

Question accordingly negatived.

9 Nov 2011 : Column 362

9 Nov 2011 : Column 363

9 Nov 2011 : Column 364

9 Nov 2011 : Column 365

9 Nov 2011 : Column 366

Youth Unemployment

4.54 pm

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House believes that the Government’s policies of cutting spending and raising taxes too far and too fast have resulted in the UK economy flat-lining for 12 months, well before the recent Eurozone crisis; notes that unemployment has reached a 17-year high and youth unemployment has hit a record level of 991,000; further notes that slower growth and higher unemployment makes it harder to get the deficit down and that the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts £46 billion more borrowing than the Government planned; further believes that with long-term youth unemployment up by 64 per cent. since January 2011 it was a mistake to abolish the Future Jobs Fund and urgent action is now required to stop a generation of young people being lost to worklessness; agrees with the IMF’s warning that ‘consolidating too quickly will hurt the recovery and worsen job prospects’ and that the Government should have ‘a heightened readiness to respond, particularly if it looks like the economy is headed for a prolonged period of weak growth and high unemployment’; and calls on the Government to adopt the Opposition’s five point plan for jobs which includes using funds raised from a tax on bank bonuses to guarantee a job for 100,000 young people and build 25,000 affordable homes, bringing forward long-term investment projects, temporarily reversing January’s VAT rise, a one-year cut in VAT to five per cent. on home improvements and a one-year national insurance tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers.

I am glad to have the opportunity to open this Opposition day debate on youth unemployment, but sad not to see the Secretary of State in his place on the Treasury Bench. This is the second such debate we have had on youth unemployment, and it is the second such debate in which the Secretary of State has not been in the Chamber to present the Government’s argument. I am glad we have the opportunity to debate the motion today because next week we will see figures that could show youth unemployment has risen above 1 million, but I hope that it will come down. Today we have a chance to force the Government to come to the House to explain their complete failure to address the crisis now unfolding in almost every community in this country: the crisis of youth unemployment and the re-emergence of scars that we thought had gone from communities, never to return.

When we debated this issue in February, we heard some pretty complacent arguments from Treasury Front Benchers. Indeed, we had the spectacle of a Minister trying to blame the rise in youth unemployment unfolding on his watch on what happened five years ago. I hope we do not have that spectacle again this afternoon, because it is about time that the Government had the guts to take responsibility for their decisions.

In the past few weeks, the chorus of voices raising the alarm about youth unemployment has grown loud and wide. Yesterday, the Trades Union Congress confirmed that youth unemployment has now risen in 97% of communities. Last Friday, the Work Foundation urged Ministers to take urgent action to help the lost generation or risk a crisis in Britain’s communities. Last week, the CBI said:

“youth unemployment presents a specific and urgent challenge.”

Last month, the chief executive of the Prince’s Trust said that the number of unemployed young people is now twice the size of the population of Manchester and:

“If we fail to tackle youth unemployment now, we risk losing this talent forever which would be a tragedy.”

9 Nov 2011 : Column 367

My constituency has the highest level of youth unemployment in the country, and throughout the summer residents have been telling me that we have got to do more to help our young people—people like Deborah Gillespie from Shard End who said:

“I’ve been looking since June for a job for my 16 year old. No jobs for him! He is a hard-worker. No-one will give him a chance.”

One of her neighbours has said:

“As I am an older person, I must say I do feel sorry for out-of-work youth. My own 24-year-old is out on the dole. They lose what little self-respect they once had.”

When I asked what young people needed, my constituents’ answer was pretty straightforward: work and to help them feel worthy. I know that what my constituents have been saying to me will have been echoed in constituencies around the country.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why youth unemployment increased by hundreds of thousands when the previous Government were in office?

Mr Byrne: The hon. Gentleman will know that I am familiar with his constituency because it is where I grew up. What his constituents want to know is what this Government are doing about the rise in long-term youth unemployment in his constituency. I hope that he will use the opportunity of this debate to press his Front Benchers to do more for some of the young people like the people I grew up with in his constituency.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I thank the Minister for giving way—[ Interruption. ] He is now a shadow Minister and will probably never be a Minister again—[Hon. Members: “ Oooh!”] Well, I talk to my electorate and that is what they are telling me. Although the right hon. Gentleman is right that we must do more about youth unemployment, the fact is that it was under his Government, from 2000 onwards, that the trend started to rise, and it was under his Government that the gap between the top 10 and bottom 10 performing schools, one of which I was teaching at for a number of years, increased. This is not something that can be laid at the door of any particular Government; it has been happening for a considerable time.

Mr Byrne: What the hon. Gentleman’s constituents want to know is what the Government are going to do about the crisis of youth unemployment unfolding in constituencies—[ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. For goodness’ sake, I am losing my voice. Mr Browne, you will not stand at the Bar and shout across the Chamber. Thank you.

Mr Byrne: What the hon. Gentleman’s constituents want to know is what this Government are doing for unemployed people in his constituency now. He might like to live in the past; his constituents want to know what he is doing for them today.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): One of the things this Government can do, and are doing, is to provide more apprenticeship places. Does the right hon. Gentleman welcome, as I do, the 70% rise in apprenticeship places in Crawley that has just been announced?

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Mr Byrne: That is such an important point that we will dwell on it at length shortly.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend please ignore Government Members? They are in denial about what is happening to young people in this country. Young people are always the ones to suffer most in a recession. Does he agree that outside some parts of London and the south-east, we are in recession? We are in recession in Huddersfield and in his constituency, and we have to do something about it, but the Government are doing nothing.

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Under the Labour Administration, youth unemployment was 300,000 lower on average than under this Government today, even while the economy is supposed to be in recovery.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I recall writing a letter to my local newspaper in November 2009 berating the then Labour Government, whom the right hon. Gentleman served, for a 59% rise in the latest unemployment figures. Although he does not want to talk about history, does he accept that context is very important and that his own Government had a lot to answer for in relation to youth unemployment?

Mr Byrne: Let me remind the hon. Lady that under the previous Government, even at a time of recession, youth unemployment and long-term youth unemployment were coming down. That is because in the face of a crisis we chose to act. The question that she has to answer—

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Byrne: I might finish responding to the hon. Lady first.

The question that the hon. Lady has to answer for her constituents is why under Labour, even in recession, youth unemployment was coming down by 38%, and now, over the course of this year, long-term unemployment is up by 68%—on her Government’s watch. What is she going to say to those on the Treasury Bench about what further action they must take?

Mr Jones: The right hon. Gentleman tells us how well the previous, Labour Government did on youth unemployment, but that is not how the figures look to me. From 2004, youth unemployment was rising, and when the Labour Government left office it was higher than when they took office in 1997. How does he work that one out?

Mr Byrne: The hon. Gentleman is an astute observer of current affairs, and he will have noticed that the worst international financial recession was under way—

Mr Jones rose

Mr Byrne: Let me just answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. He will know that the worst global recession since the 1920s was under way, yet despite that, before the election, youth unemployment was coming down. He must answer this question: how is it that this Government are doing so well, when since the beginning of this year long-term youth unemployment has risen

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by 68%? Hundreds of constituencies around the country have seen long-term youth unemployment double. If he has the right plan, can he explain exactly what is going so well?

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): As we know, the scar of unemployment on young people lasts through their lifetime; it has a tremendously negative impact. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is getting the tone of this debate correct. In truth, in the years of economic boom on his watch, youth unemployment stayed resolutely high before peaking and rising following the crisis. We need to look at what we can do better to understand the youth employment market. He must at least acknowledge the steps that this Government are taking on training and apprenticeships. It may not be enough, but let us not use this as a party political football; let us try to be constructive.

Mr Byrne: I am grateful, at last, for a consensual note. [ Laughter. ] The hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friends might laugh, but the fact that long-term youth unemployment in his constituency is up by 48% this year is not a laughing matter. This debate is an opportunity for us to interrogate this Government on what they are doing to get youth unemployment down and how, ahead of the autumn statement, they should negotiate with the Chancellor for more resources to get our young people back to work.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that almost one in seven young people in Rotherham are looking for work and out of a job? It is one of the 10 worst-hit areas since this Government came to office. The question that people are asking is how much worse this waste of talent has to get before the Government are shaken out of their complacency, accept that what they are doing is not working and change course.

Mr Byrne: My right hon. Friend has experience of this matter at the sharp end. Long-term youth unemployment in his constituency is up by 78% this year. I know what a difference programmes such as the future jobs fund made in his constituency. That is why it is such a tragedy that before the evaluation was in, this Government chose to cancel the project. That is why this debate is so important.

The Opposition do not believe in half measures when it comes to getting young people into work. At the end of the recession, youth unemployment was down by 38%. A year and a half into the recovery, youth unemployment is up. This year, long-term youth unemployment is up by 64%. When we were confronted by the great increase in youth unemployment, we did not stand idle but did something about it. The future jobs fund worked because it helped to create 100,000 opportunities for young people all over the country. When we met to debate this matter in February, the jury was still out on the results. We now have the Department’s own evaluation and the judgment is categorical:

“for many participants their reported experiences had been to such a high standard, that they could not think of any improvements to the scheme.”

The Government cancelled it anyway.

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Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): In my constituency, unemployment among 20 to 24 year olds is now at nearly a quarter. Members across the House should be alert to the cohort challenge, because a whole cohort of graduates is being hit hard. The unemployment rate for new graduates in the third quarter of 2010, according to the Office for National Statistics, was 20%. One in five recent graduates who are economically active and looking for work is unable to find it. That is almost double the rate from the start of the recession, which was 10.6%.

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which echoes that made by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart). We know that if people are out of work when they are young, they are more likely to be low paid in the course of their career, more likely to suffer ill health and more likely to be unemployed again. That is why the Prince’s Trust and others are right to focus their attention on the crisis of youth unemployment that is unfolding in our country.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Not only is there the spectre of unemployment and the prospect of no jobs, but many of the young people who are not in education, employment or training are under medical supervision. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that almost 30% of the young people who are unemployed are facing depression and are suicidal? Does he feel that we have to address that issue along with unemployment?

Mr Byrne: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valuable point, which I hope he will develop in the course of the debate.

When this Government were first in office, at a time when the economy was fragile, when the recovery was in its first stages, when they were launching the biggest programme of Government cuts for many years, and when there was a risk of rising unemployment, as was made obvious by the Office for Budget Responsibility, they chose, at huge expense, to take out the key back-to-work programmes that we had in place, which were keeping unemployment down. That will stand as one of the worst judgments made by this Administration.

I know that the Government will in a moment protest that they are taking action. The Secretary of State, who is not here today, reeled off a list of programmes at Question Time last month, when he said that there are

“work clubs, work experience, apprenticeship offers, sector-based work academies, the innovation fund, European social fund support,”—

it is nice to see the Secretary of State supporting Europe on something—

“the skills offer, the access to apprenticeships programme, Work Together, the Work programme, Work Choice, mandatory work activity and Jobcentre Plus.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 4.]

It is not clear how Jobcentre Plus is an innovation of this Government, but none the less it earned a place in his list.

The only problem is that none of these programmes is making a blind bit of difference, so let us take some of the key measures one by one. I want to start with the flagship package of measures launched last May. So important was it, so pregnant with opportunity, so sure

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was it to make a difference, that the Deputy Prime Minister himself was allowed to put out the press release. Those measures came replete with a total budget of £60 million over three years—a grand total of £20 for every unemployed young person. Or we could look at it as 5p a day to help—

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling) rose—

Mr Byrne: I shall give way in a moment, because I would like some questions answered.

That is 5p a day to help workless young people. In total, the scheme costs less than the Department spends on stationery—what an insult! Will the Minister tell us how many people the Government have got back into work? Just give us the number.

Chris Grayling: Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify that the measures announced in May were for 16 to 18-year-olds? He is misrepresenting the statistics. Will he also acknowledge to the House that his Government provided no support to 16 to 18-year-olds?

Mr Byrne: This is the Minister whom the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority once wrote to about his casual use of statistics, so I shall take no lessons from him about statistics traded across the Dispatch Box.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman advise me on the future jobs fund, which he heralds as a great creator of opportunities? Owing to EU rules on wage subsidy claims, posts offered had to be newly created; they could not be normal vacancies. How many young people got real, permanent jobs out of the future jobs fund?

Mr Byrne: The hon. Lady need only look at the statistics, including those for her area. This year, long-term youth unemployment has risen by one third in Solihull. The future jobs fund was helping to bring youth unemployment down. To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), we have to help young people stay close to the labour market because if we let them drift into long-term unemployment, they have a bigger chance of being unemployed in the future, of being low paid and of drifting into ill health. That is why the right decision for her constituents, as well as mine, is not to do nothing, but to act.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman did not answer the question from my colleague, the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt). We are fooling ourselves, if we think that this problem is simply to do with this Government or the previous one. This is a long-term, growing problem of youth unemployment. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) is looking for the statistics for my constituency. I can tell him: it is up 24%. As we look for solutions and as economies across Europe are being destroyed because of their excessive debt, my question is: what can we do that does not incur additional debt for the Government? Will he support our schools reforms? Will he support our efforts on apprenticeships? Will he support the reductions in taxation and regulation on small businesses indicated by the Government?

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Mr Byrne: Long-term youth unemployment in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is up this year by 133%. That is a serious increase. I am happy to share with him the figures produced for us yesterday by the House of Commons Library. Those statistics speak to one key point: we need action to get youth unemployment down, and we need it now.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): In my constituency, the figure is 36% year on year. I was delighted to read in The Times today the figures to which the right hon. Gentleman just referred on long-term youth unemployment. I made the point of getting the figures from the House of Commons Library, so that I could see what the figure was in my seat. Is he aware that in 235 constituencies, youth unemployment, by the measure that he requested, has fallen since May 2010, and that in a further 41 constituencies, it has remained static?

Mr Byrne: I can tell the hon. Gentleman the figures in his constituency. Long-term youth unemployment in his constituency has risen by 233%, and that is an extraordinary increase, but surely he will agree with the judgment of the TUC, the CBI and the Prince’s Trust that now is the time for urgent action to get young people back to work, including young people in his constituency.

Paul Maynard: As the right hon. Gentleman has again mentioned my constituency, I note that according to the Library the unemployment figures rose from 75 in May 2010 to 100 in September 2011. I represent a coastal community. Has he ever heard of seasonal unemployment?

Mr Byrne: The figures are seasonally adjusted, as the hon. Gentleman will know, but surely he is not saying to the House and to his constituents that he is seriously relaxed about the rise in long-term youth unemployment in his constituency. I simply do not believe that that is his position.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Byrne: I will give way to hon. Members in a moment, but first I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick).

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): The reality on the ground in my constituency is, I am sure, the same as that in many other parts of the west midlands and the black country. In my constituency, a store opened recently with 20 vacancies, and I wonder how many Government Members are able to tell us how many people applied for those 20 vacancies. I shall tell the House how many: 500. That is the reality: people desperate for work—and denied it by this Government.

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend speaks with some passion, because he is right. We cannot tolerate any longer a situation in which long-term youth unemployment continues to rise at today’s pace.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr Byrne: I shall, because the rise in long-term youth unemployment in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is three times the size of the rise in mine.

Nick de Bois: If the right hon. Gentleman is as interested as I am in developing sustainable long-term jobs to deal with youth unemployment in particular, does he agree with and welcome rolling back the heavy hand of employment rules and legislation, including vexatious employment tribunals, and will he commit his Front Benchers to do that and even go further, so that it is easier to employ people?

Mr Byrne: Before I became a Member, I started a business. I know what it is like to start a business with two people around a kitchen table, to grow it, build it, take on new staff and do well, but dealing with regulation was the easy bit; selling and making a profit was the tough bit, and that is why we need urgent action to get growth back into the economy.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Byrne: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) for the last time, and then I shall turn my attention to the Government’s flagship Work programme.

Andrew Percy: I thank the shadow Minister for giving way. He is being very generous and deserves credit for that, but is he honestly saying that, on this important issue, to which he is doing a great disservice, the upward trend in youth unemployment under his Government, the increased gap between the best and worst performing schools and the increased number of young people growing up in families where nobody has ever worked are totally and utterly unrelated to youth unemployment today? If he is, he is being completely and utterly incredible.

Mr Byrne: The hon. Gentleman’s constituents will want to know why he is living in the past, and what he is doing to take to his Front Benchers the argument about what more they are going to do in the autumn statement to get our young people back to work.

We have heard about the great success that is the flagship youth programme. Now let us turn to the Work programme.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Byrne: In a moment. I shall just tell the House a little about the Work programme.

We have debated before the virtues of the Work programme, and I understand that young people can now be referred to it early. I shall put aside for one moment the Work and Pensions Committee’s conclusion that it is one third smaller than previous programmes, because the Minister has strong views about that, and I shall put aside also the Social Market Foundation’s analysis that the DWP offers providers of successful outcomes a maximum amount of money that is 25% less than the flexible new deal, because those facts are not the worst of it. The worst of it is that the Department itself expects three quarters of people to flow straight

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through the programme and straight back on to the dole, so I ask the House, how is that going to make a difference?

Mr MacShane: Do we not have to nail one lie—that there is some magic deregulation out there which solves the problem? European countries such as the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Germany—the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) is aware of this—all have stronger regulation and active labour markets, so it is a huge lie to say that the poorer young workers are and the worse they are treated, the more jobs there will be.

Mr Byrne: I know that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is curious that while unemployment is going down in America, the eurozone and Japan, it is going up in this country.

Nick de Bois: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr Byrne: I will give way in a moment, because I want to turn to apprenticeships, which the Minister has mentioned. Apprenticeships have sometimes been seen in this debate as the Department’s silver bullet, so let us be clear: ours was the party that rescued apprenticeships. We inherited 65,000 apprenticeships; the figure was over 260,000 when we left office. This year, 85% of new apprentices will not be young people, but people over 25. Leaked documents seen by The Guardian show that Ministers have been warned that apprenticeships are actually a re-badging of existing jobs. It turns out that about 11,000 of this year’s new places have gone to 16 to 18-year-olds. I should point out for the House that 205,000 of those aged 16 to 17 are now on the dole. If they all applied for one of those apprenticeships, they would have a 5% success rate. Getting into Oxford university is less competitive than that. Given those figures, an ally of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that the Chancellor thought that apprenticeships were

“a rare piece of good news, but it’s turning out to be a con”.

The unnamed ally is right: it is a con. We have a Work programme that is all programme and no work, a youth jobs scheme that costs less than the stationery budget and an apprenticeship scheme that is harder to get into than Oxford university. No wonder overall long-term youth unemployment is going through the roof. Let us hear an answer from the Minister.

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): I am very happy to tell the right hon. Gentleman all about it, but I wonder whether he will acknowledge that today there are more apprentices under 25 than the total number of apprentices when his Government left office and that the two-year growth in apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds over the last two years is bigger than at any time when his party was in office.

Mr Byrne: Will the Minister intervene again and say whether it is more competitive to get into Oxford university or to get on one of his apprenticeships? Just tell us: which is easier?

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Mr Hayes: I am not sure that that is particularly relevant to the question that I asked, but I will ask the right hon. Gentleman another question. His Government commissioned the Leitch report—[ Interruption. ] It was probably the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) who commissioned it—he was running the show in the Treasury then, or so he now pretends. What does the Leitch report say? It says that we need to upskill and reskill the work force and that apprentices are a critical way of doing that. Is the right hon. Gentleman now denying that? Has he changed his mind, or does he in fact think that we need to use apprenticeships for that purpose?

Mr Byrne: I want apprenticeships for young people, and it is this Government who are not delivering them. That is why, all over the country, we now see long-term youth unemployment rocketing up. Some 233 Members of this House now represent constituencies where long-term youth unemployment has risen by over 100% this year. Overall, long-term youth unemployment is up by 64% since the start of the year. All over Britain, scars that we thought were gone for ever are reappearing, and not just in Labour constituencies, but in places such as North Dorset, Aylesbury and Stevenage. Some 238 of us now speak for constituencies where, since the election, youth unemployment is up by 20%.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con) rose—

Mr Byrne: In a moment.

The bad news is that business is saying that it will get worse before it gets better. In October, BBC Radio 1 surveyed the business community. It found that two thirds of firms surveyed said that the situation would get worse for young workers before it got better. Half said that the Government should do more to train young workers. That is surely a sentiment that the hon. Lady will agree with.

Dr Coffey: I think everybody in this House shares the sentiment that it is a tragedy for any young person who wants to work not to be able to get a job, but we are trying on that. What I would like to understand from the right hon. Gentleman is this. Under the last Government, people who were unemployed for 12 months were moved on to a training programme. That meant that they moved out of the unemployment figures, but they went back if they were not successful in securing a job. This is an opportunity for a genuine debate about the future of our country, but I am afraid that some of the—how can I put it—casual use of certain statistics is not helping us to achieve that.

Mr Byrne: Is the hon. Lady seriously denying that a crisis in youth unemployment is unfolding now? [ Interruption. ] I am glad that she says from a sedentary position that she agrees that there is a crisis, because the question now is what we do about it. That is the answer we want from the Government.

Before I set out what the Opposition believe is the right next step, let us remind ourselves who is paying the bill for this failure. Since the Government came to office, the benefits bill alone is projected to rise by more than £12 billion, which is £500 for every house in this country. To pay that bill for the new workless, the

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Government are having to squeeze working people through cuts to child care and tax credits, and the acceleration of the rise in the state pension age. Good people who are doing the right thing and who are trying to get on and go up in life are being squeezed to pay the bill for people who have been put out of work by this Government.

Mr Sheerman: Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a massive plan for young people in our country, because this problem will get worse? We need education and training leading to work in the community and the environment. We need something bold and imaginative. The fact is that Government Members know that it is cheaper to keep young people on the dole.

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right—

Robert Halfon: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Byrne: No. I could speak about this all afternoon, but I know that many hon. Members want to speak, so let me draw my remarks to a close by outlining what the Opposition believe should be done.

The Opposition believe that the starting point should be a new tax on bank bonuses. That is what this country is crying out for. There are only a few weeks left before the Chancellor’s autumn statement. The Secretary of State is not here but I hope he reads Hansard. Let me give him some advice about what he should negotiate for. He should be putting on the table the five-point plan that my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has set out before the House.

Let us set out what that plan means for young people in this country. Many people in this country deserve a tax cut, but our country’s bankers are not among them. The scale of the imminent bank bonus round is already in the news. I see that there is a bonus pot of £500 million at Royal Bank of Scotland—shareholder: Her Majesty’s Government. Here is a sentiment with which most hon. Members can agree. Lord Oakeshott, the former Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson said:

“I don’t want my taxes going to pay for hundreds of RBS investment bankers taking home millions in bonuses as their profits tumble.”

Many hon. Members would agree with that. The Opposition advice is simple: let us have a fair and sensible tax on bankers’ bonuses. That could create a fund of £2 billion, which we believe could help to get 800,000 back to work, including 11,500 jobs here in London; 5,000 in the south-east, the region of the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling); and 8,500 in my home region, the west midlands. That is the kind of action that the Secretary of State should propose.

Chris Grayling: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Byrne: I will give way in a moment. Let me tell the Minister this: that policy would be popular. Over the summer, I asked my constituents whether the bankers ought to share their blessings a little more generously and whether they should do more to help get young people back to work—97% of them said yes. That policy would be popular, so why is the Minister not proposing it?

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Chris Grayling: I wonder whether I could just clarify a point. The Leader of the Opposition has previously announced that the bank bonus tax money will be spent on additional infrastructure, reversing child benefit cuts and paying down debt, and, I believe, seven other commitments. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether those policies have now been dropped?

Mr Byrne: If the Minister wants a full breakdown of the costs, I will be happy to provide it for him; and if he wants me to support him in his negotiations with the Chancellor, I will be right by his side.

With that policy should come an acceleration of investment in capital infrastructure, as the CBI calls for today; a temporary cut in VAT to help families up and down the country; a one-year cut in VAT on home improvements; and a tax break for small firms that take on extra workers, especially young people, as proposed by the Federation of Small Businesses.

The whole country knows that this Government are failing our young people. This year, our country has seen one of the fastest ever increases in long-term youth unemployment. When the TUC, the CBI, the Prince’s Trust and the Work Foundation are telling the Government to change course, surely it is time for them to act. Before the Minister for Universities and Science, the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), was encumbered with the cares of office, he wrote a book about the baby boomers. In the introduction, he writes that

“the charge is that the boomers have been guilty of a monumental failure to protect the interests of future generations”.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is not here today, is—believe me—a baby boomer. If he does not change course, and fast, he will stand before the House guilty as charged.

5.29 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): I regard youth unemployment as one of the most difficult parts of the legacy left to us by the previous Labour Government. In 2010, at the time of the general election, 930,000 young people in this country were unemployed. When Labour left office, there were more young people not in education or employment than when it took office in 1997. Labour also left behind one of the most difficult sets of economic circumstances that any incoming Government have ever faced. Indeed, we do not need to use our own words to describe that; we remember clearly the words of the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who left a note behind saying, “There’s no money left.”

Mr Byrne: Will the Minister just remind the House what level youth unemployment stands at today? Will he confirm that it is the highest figure on record?

Chris Grayling: Actually, youth unemployment—genuine youth unemployment—is not at the highest level on record. When we exclude from the figures full-time students looking for part-time jobs, the level of youth unemployment today is not the highest on record. However, I regard any level of youth unemployment as unacceptable, and something that we should work to try to solve.

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Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): In researching for this debate, I found an Office for National Statistics summary of labour market statistics. In one of the columns dealing with youth unemployment figures, under the heading “Last time higher”, I found, in bold writing, the word “Never”. That figure has never been higher.

Chris Grayling: When we exclude full-time students in colleges of higher and further education, the level of youth unemployment today is not the highest on record. I reiterate, however, that I regard any level of youth unemployment as unacceptable. It is a challenge and a priority for the Government. We have to remember that the problem goes back a decade. Youth unemployment started to rise in 2003-04, and it has been rising steadily since. Even in good years, the previous Government’s policies failed to deliver solutions. Eighteen months ago, we inherited a series of failed programmes that had failed to deliver real solutions for young people, and we are trying to turn that round.

Robert Halfon: Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem has been the failure of our primary schools over the past decade? Under the last Government, 500,000 children left primary school unable to read or write. Is that not part of the reason that we have a skills problem today?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend has highlighted one of the many challenges that the previous Government left behind for us. There was a total failure to equip young people for the workplace and for a working life, a failure in our education system and many other failures, not least of which was the disastrous economic inheritance. When the Labour Government left office, they were borrowing £1 in every £4 that they spent. Our first priority remains sorting out the challenges in our public finances. Does anyone seriously believe that, if we were in the same position as some other European countries in failing to deal with our deficit, business would want to invest in this country rather than cutting jobs and moving elsewhere? It is my clear view that, had we not taken action to deal with the deficit, unemployment would be higher than it is now, rather than lower.

Mr Byrne: Can the right hon. Gentleman just remind the House by how much the Government have had to revise upwards their borrowing forecast over the past few months?

Chris Grayling: The right hon. Gentleman talked about international challenges, but let me remind him that, three months ago, youth unemployment was falling and was below its level at the time of the election. He should also remember that we are now in the middle of the biggest financial crisis in the eurozone in decades, perhaps in modern times, and that our labour market is not immune to that. However, we are now turning round the set of failed programmes that existed under the previous Government and putting in place measures that will make a difference to the long-term unemployed.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that containing, controlling and reducing the structural deficit is a prerequisite for economic growth and job creation?

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Chris Grayling: It is my view that had we not taken those steps, interest rates would be higher, investment would be lower and unemployment would be higher than it is today. I know it is a point of difference between the two sides of the House, but Labour’s alternative strategy would simply involve Britain borrowing more money. I do not understand how it is possible to solve a crisis created by too much borrowing by borrowing even more.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that youth unemployment is to a large extent symptomatic of the fragility of the wider economy, but will he also acknowledge that the Government’s approach to the wider economy is not working and is actually exacerbating youth unemployment?

Chris Grayling: I do not accept that. I shall briefly set out some of the measures we are taking on the broader economic front that will make a difference to unemployment.

The regional growth fund is now delivering investment to parts of the economy where the private sector is too small, and where we want to see private sector growth, and the research and development and investment in infrastructure that creates jobs. The introduction of enterprise zones in parts of the country where the private sector is weak will encourage businesses to grow and develop. The cut in corporation tax will deliver the lowest headline rate in the developed world. Those are examples of measures that will help to make Britain a better place to do business.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): The Minister talks about the regional growth fund and enterprise zones, but those words will mean little to young people in my constituency who have seen long-term youth unemployment rise by 192% over the past nine months. Can he tell me in plain English what he will do for those young people in Lewisham?

Chris Grayling: I can indeed, and I shall carefully go through the different measures we have taken to tackle the youth unemployment problem. It is also important to note that we are targeting investment and support on parts of the economy where we want private sector growth so that jobs can develop.

It is worth remembering that the previous Government fiddled the figures on youth unemployment; they claimed to have abolished it. When people moved on to the new deal, they had a period of work experience and were transferred to a training allowance, at which point they no longer showed up in the figures. By that mechanism people who remained out of work for long periods temporarily disappeared from the figures, so long-term youth unemployment was, according to the previous Government, “abolished.” That was absolute nonsense.

Mr Sheerman: I have known the right hon. Gentleman for a long time, and he is a reasonable man. People outside this place want a positive initiative, to which we can bind other parties. They want an adventurous and innovative scheme to give young people the chance to get off the dole and into training and work. That is what we are waiting to hear. If the Minister comes up with a scheme like that tonight, we shall support him.

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Chris Grayling: I shall be delighted to talk about some of the specific measures we are taking, but before I do that, let me address the issue about the future jobs fund. It had two key flaws. The first was that it was entirely in the public and voluntary sectors; it did not take young people into the private sector, where there has been employment growth over the last 12 months. That was a fundamental flaw. The other one, in a world where, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill said, there was no money left, was that the FJF was by far the most expensive scheme; it was four times as expensive per job outcome as the new deal for young people, and massively more expensive than previous schemes. We have developed a better package of support; it will be more effective and more cost-effective. Through the various schemes that I am about to explain, I estimate that we shall provide support for about 350,000 young unemployed people over the next two years, to make sure that nobody is left without the help they need to try to get themselves into work.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): The Minister has referred to a number of issues about the future jobs fund. In Inverclyde, when I was council leader we were the second most effective constituency in using the fund, putting some 400 of our young people into employment, mostly in private sector jobs. In Inverclyde, we are putting our money where our mouth is; on our own backs, we are continuing the future jobs fund for a further year, with the target of putting 500 young people into jobs. The future jobs fund worked, and it is still working.

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Gentleman knows, this Administration believe in localism, and a local authority is free to do what it wants to support the unemployed. I welcome any local partnerships to deliver that. I would still say, however, that the reality is that the future jobs fund cost massively more than comparable schemes, and we believe that the package we put in place is more cost-effective and likely to deliver better success rates.

Mr Byrne rose

Chris Grayling: I shall give way once more to the shadow Minister, but then I am going to make some progress in explaining what we are doing.

Mr Byrne: If the right hon. Gentleman believes the future jobs fund was too expensive, is he by implication saying that he is prepared to see youth unemployment go up, because that is what has happened since the election, after which he abolished the programmes? Is he saying that youth unemployment is basically a price worth paying?

Chris Grayling: One reason this country is in its financial predicament is that the previous Government did not understand value for money. They believed in throwing money at a problem, not trying to do the most cost-effective thing. That is one reason for the right hon. Gentleman leaving that note behind, saying, “No money left”.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): One of the key things I believe is important is rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing and engineering, which focuses,

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of course, on the private sector to make sure that it provides jobs. I see evidence of that happening in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that that kind of initiative is critical to ensuring that we deal with youth unemployment?

Chris Grayling: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the failures of the previous Government arises when we talk to engineering firms that want to recruit young engineers and cannot find them. I think that the previous Government 's skills strategy was fundamentally misplaced. That is why the work being done by the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is in his place beside me, is so important.

Robert Halfon: Talking about the future jobs fund, although it created 90,000 jobs, almost half of the people involved were back on the dole seven months later.

Chris Grayling: What the future jobs fund did not do for many young people was provide a clear pathway into long-term employment. As to apprenticeships—my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, too, will talk about them later—we believe that they are a better strategy.

There are three elements to the work we are doing for our young unemployed people. The first is helping those who have been unemployed for a shorter period of time to overcome that classic challenge—“If you haven’t got the experience, you can’t get a job, but you can’t get the experience unless you have got a job.” What we have done is launch our work experience scheme and its sister scheme alongside it—sector-based work academies. We launched those in the spring. Figures published this morning show that more than 50% of the young people who go through the work experience scheme are off benefits within a month of it finishing—at a cost that is a tiny fraction of the amounts spent on previous programmes.

Employers and Jobcentre Plus are working together around the country in a way that is hugely positive to deliver real opportunities for young people to get their first steps in the workplace—and it is making a real difference. I am confident that as we come forward and expand the sector-based work academies with a mix of training and work experience, we will see a similar result. That is a very good start for the scheme.

Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend inform me why the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) should be laughing at such a scheme, when I have seen it working in my constituency? I would say that substantially more than 50% of people involved with it have got into real jobs.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right; I am baffled as well. This is working far better than we expected and provides a significant piece of evidence to show that if we can get a young person into the workplace quickly to get them their initial experience, it can make a real difference. I am proud of what that scheme has achieved, and I would like to pay tribute to members of the

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Jobcentre Plus team up and down the country who are working with employers to find those work experience opportunities.

I had occasion a couple of weeks ago to meet a group of young people who are actively looking to try to get work experience opportunities because they believe it is a real route for young people to get into employment. We are now working with that campaign to make sure we help all the young people involved to get work experience opportunities. We are, as I say, a Department providing work experience opportunities to a large number of young people, and I believe this is an important ingredient of the support we provide to those who have just entered the labour market, who are trying to get into work after a short period out of work, to make a difference for that group.

Mr Graham Stuart: Does my right hon. Friend agree that a generation of young people were betrayed by vocational qualifications that were inappropriate, as the Wolf report indicated earlier this year? It is ironic to see the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer among the Front-Bench team, because when he came before the Select Committee, which used to be chaired by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), he refused to listen when he was told again and again that the diploma was going to be a hugely expensive mistake. He refused to listen, spent millions of pounds of public money and let down young people with a diploma programme that was not fit for purpose.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend has made a good point. To be honest, I do not know why any of us listens to this lot. They were a disaster in Government, and the country is well rid of them. What we are trying to do now is repair the damage caused by 13 years of mismanagement.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Will the Minister give way?

Chris Grayling: I want to make a bit progress first.

Let me now deal with the second element of our strategy: how we will deal with long-term youth unemployment, a problem that has become much more acute now that we have stopped massaging the figures and hiding the real picture. I believe that the Work programme will make a real difference to those young people. It has been up and running for four months—

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Chris Grayling: I think that the programme is doing good work. I have visited providers throughout the country—

Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister give way?

Chris Grayling: I extend an invitation to Members on both sides of the House to visit their local Work programme providers. They can contact my office if necessary to arrange the introduction. I think that they will be impressed by the work that is being done.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister give way?

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Chris Grayling: We will publish details of what is happening in due course, but I can tell the House now that more people have been referred to the Work programme than we originally projected, that it is growing fast, and that a large number of providers are having a great deal of success in getting people into work.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister give way?

Chris Grayling: I pay tribute to one of our providers, EOS in the west midlands, which has just achieved its 1,000th job placement. I congratulate all its staff on their success—

Mr Byrne rose—

Chris Grayling: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will visit them.

Mr Byrne: I should love to do so, and when I do I shall ask EOS for its performance statistics, because I understand that the Minister has banned their publication. If he is so confident about the performance of the Work programme, he should tell the House what it is delivering.

Chris Grayling: The right hon. Gentleman is, classically, trying to have it both ways. On one hand he tells me off about national statistics, and on the other he tells me off for not obeying the rules on national statistics. What does he want? These are national statistics, and they will be published in line with national statistics rules. He will just have to wait.

What I will say now is that so far I am encouraged by the progress that is being made. All of us—Members in all parts of the House—need the Work programme to work and to make a difference for the long-term unemployed, and I am confident that it will do that. For the first time we are giving the providers genuine professional freedom to do what works for our young people, and I believe that if we trust the professionals and do not tell them what to do, as the last Government did, we are much more likely to be successful.

Neil Carmichael: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way a second time. This time I want to emphasise the importance of a proper interface between the education and business sectors, providing experienced, professional contact, so that people understand that they are receiving the kind of education that will lead them into jobs.

Chris Grayling: Absolutely. The Department for Education is working hard to remedy the failings of our schools system in partnership with my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is working with the FE sector to try to deliver a much better quality of vocational education. That, along with the partnership that now exists between my Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will ensure that the unemployed are presented with a genuinely joined-up offer of an opportunity to obtain the skills that they need, and it represents a real step change from what we saw in the past.

The third element of the support—

Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister give way?

Chris Grayling: I will.

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Sheila Gilmore: I am obliged to the Minister for finally noticing me.

Is it not the Minister himself who is trying to have the question of the Work programme both ways? He does not want to publish figures on a national basis, but when he chooses, he will use figures plucked from we know not where to prove that the programme is working. Can he explain exactly how a work programme ever creates any jobs?

Chris Grayling: The point of the Work programme is very straightforward. We have a team of organisations throughout the country helping people to get into work. We pay them if they succeed. Fortunately, they seem to be making a good start. In due course, when I can do so, under national statistics rules, I will publish information for the benefit of the whole House. I want to expose to the whole market who is doing well and who is doing less well, so that there is competitive pressure on organisations to become the lead provider. I will publish those figures as soon as I can according to national statistics rules, and as soon as the programme has been going long enough for them to be reliable.

The third point—

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Chris Grayling: I will give way once more, and then I must make some progress and wind up my speech.

Sarah Newton: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been very generous in giving way. Does he agree that this is all about local partnerships? Organisations such as Cornwall Works will help the 105 young people in my constituency who have been unemployed for more than six months to get back to work. Those young people will benefit from the new apprenticeships created in my constituency in the last year—more than 660. Local partnerships enable such people to find real jobs with real employers.

Chris Grayling: Local partnerships are immensely important, and now the Work programme providers have complete freedom to forge partnerships that will make a genuine difference.

The third element of our strategy is apprenticeships. Over the past 12 months, we have launched 100,000 new apprenticeships. I believe that more apprenticeships are now available in this country than ever before. We have many apprenticeships that are targeted at young people. The previous Government’s track record on apprenticeships was, as usual, full of rhetoric but lacking in delivery. They repeatedly made promises for an overall number of apprenticeships, and they repeatedly failed to deliver what they promised. We are hitting targets for apprenticeships. That is the first time in a long time that that has happened, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning for that.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): How many of these apprenticeships are reserved for 18 to 24-year-olds?

Chris Grayling: In the Budget, we announced an additional 40,000 apprenticeships targeted at the young unemployed, and the overall number of young people under the age of 24 on apprenticeships is greater than

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the total number of apprenticeships that were available under the previous Government. My hon. Friend will walk us through the details of that when he concludes the debate; this is very much his baby, and he should take credit for what he has achieved.

I might also mention the support we are providing for the short-term young unemployed through the work experience scheme, our sector-based work academies and the work being done through Jobcentre Plus. The Work programme is the biggest ever welfare-to-work programme of its kind in the country. We have the biggest payment-by-results scheme in the world, offering tailored, personalised support to help young people actually get into work right now. There is the opportunity to move through into an apprenticeship, which is an appropriate path into work for many young people. Never before has this scale of apprenticeships been provided in this country.

I believe these measures represent a coherent strategy to deal with a problem that was left behind by the previous Government, and that has been made more challenging by a difficult set of international circumstances. Unlike the previous Government with their failures, we are determined to tackle this problem, and to succeed.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Many Members wish to speak. The winding-up speeches will start at 6.40 pm, so there is not a lot of time. Although there is a four-minute limit on speeches, I ask Members to speak more briefly than that if they can do so. I also ask Members to show restraint in making interventions, so as to avoid doing others out of an opportunity to speak.

5.52 pm

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): We are having a debate about the economic situation and its impacts on young people. My constituency has felt the chill winds disproportionately, as has the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne). My local authority, Sandwell, has the third highest rate of youth unemployment in the country. We also endured high youth unemployment under the previous Conservative Government. The Labour Government made substantial inroads, but the problem is now back with a vengeance.

On the general economic situation, some of the Government’s measures are aggravating the problems, which are a by-product of our poor economic performance. The higher education proposals, for instance, will disincentivise young people from low-income, low-aspiration backgrounds from entering higher education, and there is a great danger that young people from areas such as mine will look to take an alternative route, such as vocational training and apprenticeships. That is not in itself bad, and it may well be of great benefit to the economy, but the cohort of young people who previously would have gone into apprenticeships and training will find that they have nowhere to go. That is already being reflected in the increase in the number of NEETs in the country as a whole, and certainly in my area.