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Mr. Lammy: Given that the hon. Gentleman has said that he would abolish tuition fees and that we should create a situation of unmanaged growth in additional student numbers, is he saying that the Liberal Democrat
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position is to cut the unit of resource in order to fund extra places? What I said was that there would be growth. There is growth this year of 18,000 places, and there will be growth, but the Government have to look carefully at managing it, while listening to universities.

Stephen Williams: The Minister has questions for me, and at the next general election we can by all means have those debates, but the sector has questions for him. In particular, will he agree that the cap that has been put in place this year could be lifted? If so, will the places be fully funded so that quality is maintained? At the very least, will he agree to be flexible with universities? This year, for the first time, they will face financial penalties if they depart from the caps and constraints that have been put on them.

Mr. Lammy: Is the hon. Gentleman really telling the young people of Bristol that they have to wait until the next general election to know how the Liberal Democrats would fund extra places?

Stephen Williams: No, and I think the record will show that that is not what I meant in response to the Minister’s earlier intervention—but it is he who has got us into this mess. The Government’s botch-up over the number of people who would qualify for student grants last year has forced the cut in the planned increase in places this year. That will affect people who started their A-levels or other qualifications two years ago and are now waiting for their results and hoping for a place. The Government have moved the goalposts.

To emerge from this recession, we will need a skilled work force at skilled technician, post-apprenticeship and degree level. We also need to protect those currently in apprenticeships, which is why we favour diverting growth in the Train to Gain budget to funding employers’ off-the-job training costs. We also need a national bursary scheme to incentivise students to take subjects that are critical to this country’s economic future. We need higher education itself to be more flexible to enable adults to study part-time, and we need the financial regime that those adults face to be on a fair basis and equal to the regime for those among their peer group who study on traditional, full-time degree programmes.

Of course, all that needs to be underpinned by independent advice and guidance, as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings and I have mentioned so many times in debates such as this, so that people can be steered into the subjects that we will need for this country to prosper in future, particularly engineering and sciences. That is essential if we are to have not just a sustainable economy but a sustainable society, and have any chance of meeting our 2020 climate change targets.

The previous Labour Government are remembered in history, as they entered their final months, for the winter of discontent. This Labour Government, as they enter their final phase, will be remembered for a summer of despair for the young. With unemployment heading towards 3 million, we know that this Prime Minister and this Government have not abolished boom and bust. The Prime Minister has said—I heard him say it in the Chamber a short while ago—that he came into politics in the 1980s because of unemployment. We
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should therefore all be sad—and he and his Government should be particularly sad—that unemployment will now be part of his legacy.

6.5 pm

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams), and to take part in the debate. I have been the chair of the all-party youth affairs group for about a year, I am currently the honorary president of the British Youth Council and I have been a trustee of the UK Youth Parliament. Youth issues, and at the moment especially the plight of young people during the recession, are therefore particularly close to my heart.

I wish to pick up on a number of things that hon. Members have said, but I first make the general point that when I meet young people, as I do quite frequently during the course of events here in Parliament, I find that one really important thing is to ensure that we give them a bit of hope. What I have heard in the debate has been depressing, because without a doubt young people fare far worse during a recession than anybody else. That has always been true, and it will be true in future.

However, we must not talk down the possibilities of what young people can do, especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. We need to give them hope and identify what they can do, not just to support them through the recession but to give them some idea about what they can do at the end of it. We can offer them possibilities during the recession that mean they are far better equipped to get much better work and opportunities at the end of it.

I wish to say a big thank you to YMCA, the Foyer Federation and especially the Institute for Public Policy Research, whose youth tracker report on young people and the recession, which I hope everybody here has read, has been absolutely invaluable in considering how we can better gear our policies to ensuring that young people are not only looked after and supported through the recession but better equipped at the end of it.

Professor Gregg of the University of Bristol said in the youth tracker report something that is worrying and that we must all bear in mind. He stated:

We all talk about our personal experiences of recessions, but what happens to young people in the current recession will have an impact on their lives when they are in their 40s. When we look back at the policies and legislation that have been put in place in former recessions and see where people in their 40s are, we see the significance of ensuring that we look towards the future. It is in the next 20 or 30 years that the impact of the recession will become clear.

We have to take a long-term view. That is the role of Government, and it is why the Government have put forward many of their policies. I want to emphasise the positive before I lay down some markers about things that I would change during the recession. What we are doing will support young people and give them the hope to get through the recession.

We should use the recession as an opportunity to put right discrimination against young people, who have always been slightly discriminated against. If we consider unemployment in the past two decades, we see that
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when it was at a record low of 5 per cent. for the general population, the figure for young people aged between 18 and 24 was 10 per cent. That is a dramatic statistic, which shows how we as a society view young people.

I have a criticism to make about the national minimum wage. We should use the recession to examine differential minimum wage rates. If we are considering raising the school-leaving age to 18 and if we accept the need for some sort of apprenticeship minimum wage rate, there is no excuse for a developing rate. From October, 16 to 17-year-olds will be on an hourly minimum wage of £3.57; the rate for 18 to 21-year-olds will be £4.83, and the adult rate will be £5.80. For me, it is a straightforward matter of equality. If people are doing equal jobs, they deserve equal pay. We should use the recession to tackle that.

We should also examine the 16-hour rule. We should encourage young people, including older young people, to study, stay in education and get trained in the skills that they need to get out of the recession. As my hon. Friends know, the 16-hour rule means that people can stay at college for only 16 hours a week before being classed as studying full time. A student studying full time is said not to be available for work and cannot therefore claim benefits. We want to get the most disadvantaged to study, but they need the support and security of benefits to know that they can do that, and they are massively disadvantaged by the 16-hour rule. It means that either they study too slowly to get the qualifications that they need to make them employable or they start dropping out. If I could choose only two things to re-examine seriously, they would be the minimum wage and the 16-hour rule.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend accept that many among the group that she mentioned suffer learning disabilities and mental health problems, and that we should encourage those young people in particular back to work through study? They are currently disadvantaged by the 16-hour rule.

Natascha Engel: That is a good point. Young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds—for example, those from broken homes, those who have been homeless and are encouraged back into studying, those who have chaotic lives—benefit from the security and safe environment in which to learn that studying can provide. My hon. Friend mentioned people with learning difficulties and mental health problems. When security is taken away from vulnerable groups of people, their problems are exacerbated. If we encourage more young people into further education and apprenticeships that provide a secure environment, that can only be to the good.

The recession means that many more people will go to Jobcentre Plus and claim jobseeker’s allowance. Hon. Members mentioned that, this summer, a group of school leavers will be searching for training opportunities and jobs. As school leavers, they will be less experienced and tend to have fewer qualifications, so they are far more likely to end up in jobcentres. We must therefore ensure that jobcentres are fully equipped and have staff who are fully trained to deal with young people. Not only being unemployed, but going into a jobcentre can be terrifying at that age.

Let me revert to the message of hope and to considering the motion and the amendment. It is silly to say that the September guarantee, whereby all 16 and 17-year-olds
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will be guaranteed an apprenticeship, or a college or training place, does not give hope. Encouraging people to stay in some sort of education—apprenticeships, training or schools—until they are 18 is a good thing. It is not a tick-box exercise, and I think that the recession will ensure that the target is reached naturally.

The future jobs fund is also a good idea that will give many young people hope. However, unless it has employers’ full support, it will not work. Young people who have been out of work for 12 months will be guaranteed a subsidised place for six months, but I do not think that the amount of time is so important. It is important that employers take some responsibility and ensure that they mentor the young people in those workplaces so that they either stay there or move on to something else in which they are involved. It is important to ensure that they learn something and get something out of the experience.

We must take a more holistic approach to getting through the recession, give young people, especially all those who are now between 16 and 25, a message of hope, but appreciate that we are not talking about a sausage factory for getting children from school into work. Although work is fantastic, we must also recognise that recessions hit families hard, sometimes leading to marriage breakdown, arguments, children running away from home or simply leaving home without the support that they need. We must look at the bigger picture and ascertain how to help children and young people who are between 16 and 25 and ensure that they are okay when they leave school and attend jobcentres, start training or, hopefully, go into some sort of further education. We must consider how we make sure that we look after their mental and physical well-being, give them the maximum number of opportunities and the hope that is necessary to see them through.

6.17 pm

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): We are lucky to have present so many Front Benchers, who have given so freely of their time and made such lengthy analyses of the problems that the recession has caused young people. My analysis will, of necessity, be much briefer. As I see it, we have a huge shortage of skills and jobs—we are losing approximately 2,500 jobs every day—and a large surplus of people coming into this country. Net migration is about 237,000—of course, gross migration is much higher. As some people come in, others decide to leave. However, of those who come in, some unfortunately go on the dole and are supported by the British taxpayer through different benefits, but others find jobs, some that British people could doubtless fill, as the Prime Minister originally suggested.

What are we doing wrong? In the short time that I was on the internet looking through university degrees this afternoon, I managed to discover the problem. Many degrees that we offer will simply not lead to the jobs to which people aspire—indeed, they will probably lead to no jobs. The work of 10 minutes revealed that the University of Plymouth offers a degree in surf studies. I do not have a degree, but I spent 20 years surfing, week in, week out in Wales, and I know that there are only about four jobs that one could get with a degree in surfing: surf instructor; working in a surf shop; surf board designer, which simply requires a practical frame of mind, and surfing professional—a
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handful of people manage that every year, and nobody checks whether they have a degree. That is not much use to anyone.

Thames Valley university offers, among the film and theatre studies that one would expect, a three-year science degree in culinary arts management. I asked myself, what is that? It is something to do with being a pastry chef. Under the section headed “Career progression”, we learn that

I think that is some sort of trainee chef—

So there we are: a three-year science degree and what can people hope for at the end? It is to become some sort of trainee chef.

My favourite example was from Metropolitan university, which is offering something called game studies. For a minute, I optimistically thought that it might be something to do with game theory, a respected branch of economics, but no. One clicks on the link to read that

blah-de-blah, “contemporary culture,” and so on, and that the course will

but with “theoretical” and “practical approaches.” Apparently, the course

whatever that is—

Mr. Lammy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David T.C. Davies: I would be delighted to give way to the right hon. Gentleman—does he want to apply for a job?

Mr. Lammy: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has nothing against, for example, the music industry. Will he acknowledge that the games industry is now a bigger part of our creative economy than the music industry?

David T.C. Davies: I have nothing against the music industry or the games industry. I have nothing against PlayStations either; indeed, I used to have one. What I have a problem with is people writing a thesis on how to get to level 10 on “Grand Theft Auto”. I do not think that that is a good use of three years or of the taxpayer’s money, nor do I think that it will lead to a job. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to lecture me about economics, let me tell him that I see things in a fairly simple way— [ Laughter. ] Yes, I do not— [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

David T.C. Davies: I do not have a degree, but I am quite happy with that fact. I study history as an interest and what I have learned is that since man started herding animals together, all societies have had four requirements: food, shelter, construction and an ability to make tools to make life better for the next generation. Those are the basic fundamentals of any economy, but let us look at what goes on in 21st-century cities.
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[ Interruption. ] The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), laughs, but let me tell him something.

Let us take food. We still need food, yet what have we done to our farms and our farmers? We have absolutely destroyed them. We are now dependent on imports, with more than 50 per cent. of our food coming from abroad. What about shelter? We cannot find anyone from within this country to take part in major construction projects such as the Olympics. We have imported workers from abroad because we do not have the necessary skills. What about warmth? That was what stone-age men needed—I see it as energy today. We still have enough oil in this country to supply our needs, but we have to bring in lots of specialist people from abroad to fill the jobs on North sea oil rigs. We are dependent on the middle east for our oil and on the Russians for our gas. We do not even have a nuclear industry any more—we are dependent on the French for that, having destroyed our own nuclear industry. Those are jobs that we could have created. When stone-age man was making tools out of bones and things—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that in the time remaining the hon. Gentleman will concentrate his remarks on the motion.

David T.C. Davies: I will, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I have learnt that in 2007 the Germans were still running a €200 million trade surplus in exports. That is what we should be training up our young people to do, but we are not doing any of that, because, as the Minister said, we have decided to concentrate on the creative industries and financial services. Both of them—

Mr. Lammy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David T.C. Davies: No, I will not give way. The right hon. Gentleman had well over half an hour earlier and took all sorts of interventions that turned into mini-speeches. He mentioned the creative industries— [ Interruption. ] Yes, we have chased after creative industries, but in a downturn we should be thinking about the four areas that I have mentioned, in which there will always be jobs for people. However, we have had to give out thousands of work visas—this is on the Government’s figures—to people who know about things such as computer services, financial services and health and medical services. We are importing people from abroad because we do not have the necessary skills. We are shutting science departments in various universities, closing chemistry laboratories and stopping physics courses so that the right hon. Gentleman can push his idea of the creative industries for people.

It was the Prime Minister himself who talked about British jobs for British workers. There are still jobs out there, but they are not being filled by British people because they do not have the skills. We are pushing more than 50 per cent. of the population through university to do Mickey Mouse degrees—at great cost to the taxpayer and themselves, because they come out with all sorts of debt—yet we still cannot match the skills that are required to the skills that we produce. That is what is wrong. I look forward to somebody—anybody—following up on the Prime Minister’s promise and creating British jobs for British workers, but it will not be the right hon. Gentleman.

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