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3.45 pm

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): May I give the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) a little history of how the economy is affected from time to time in the United Kingdom, as it has been for centuries and will carry on being, because unforeseen things come along and rock economies, as we experienced in 2008-09 under the previous Labour Government? That should not cloud the issues before us in the motion that my Front Benchers have tabled and I support, because the figure of 2.638 million unemployed people in this country represents a massive amount of human suffering, costs the economy and will go on doing so for generations if it is not tackled. The hon. Gentleman asked whether people are leaving school with the right language, literature and other skills to go into the workplace, but, having been a Member for 28 years, I have listened to such debates, and at certain points we decided to tackle the major issues that needed to be tackled in order to ease the problems that mass unemployment has caused.

Today’s rise in unemployment is our biggest since July 1994. The regional breakdown for Yorkshire and Humberside shows that employment—not unemployment—has fallen by 70,000 over the last quarter; that unemployment has increased by 9,000 on the previous quarter; that it stands at 253,000; and that the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance has increased by 500 on the previous month. That tells me and most people that there is something seriously wrong with the path that the Government are taking to turn the economy around, and that a large amount of money will have to be paid from the public purse to keep the figures as they are.

Youth unemployment went up by 54,000 in the three months to October and now stands at more than 1 million, the highest level since comparable records began in 1992. I brought the matter up at Prime Minister’s Question Time today, noting that more than 22% of 16 to 24-year-olds who could be economically active are unemployed, an increase of 1.2% on the previous quarter. That has major implications for the British economy and, certainly, for young people.

Long-term youth unemployment has gone up to 141,200, the highest level since July 1997, and by 68,000 alone since January, a rise of 93%.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Government Members are obsessed with immigration, when there is youth unemployment and young people are leaving school without the skills to fill the jobs that are going to come up. In future we will have to bring more people to this country to fill those jobs for which we do not have the skills.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Lots of Members are doing this: when they make an intervention or speak they have to face the Chair, not turn their back to it. So, if everybody could remember that, it would be very handy.

Mr Barron: Long-term youth unemployment has increased. In Yorkshire and Humberside, it increased from 7,160 in January 2011 to 13,895 in November 2011. That is an increase of 94% in long-term youth unemployment. In my constituency it has increased by

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68.8%, while in the two neighbouring constituencies in the Rotherham borough it has increased by 125% and 80% respectively. We are talking about the life chances of young people in our constituencies being taken away from them. I have not seen such increases in youth unemployment since the 1980s, when my constituency and neighbouring constituencies suffered from the Government’s run-down of the coal industry, which not only put thousands of people on the dole, but struck off the life chances of people in education trying to get into work, as one of the major employers for young men in my constituency was systematically closed down. The consequences of that have run on not just for a few years, but for generations.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I do not doubt either the right hon. Gentleman’s sincerity or the fact that he believes the figures that he has been given, but let me tell him that they are simply misleading. What used to happen is that after a young person on jobseeker’s allowance had gone on a scheme, the clock would start ticking as though it were day one, which meant that they had disappeared from the long-term youth unemployment figures. The right hon. Gentleman is comparing figures that exclude those young people with those that include them, so the rise that he describes has not happened in the way that he believes.

Mr Barron: The idea that we should come here and dance around about whether all the figures are accurate, when there are 2.6 million unemployed people in this country, is not sensible. [ Interruption. ] I do not know: I am not a Minister, and I do not study the briefs that the Minister studies. What I do, and what I have done for over 28 years, is represent a constituency that is largely poor, with far too much deprivation in all sorts of areas, whether in terms of ill health, high unemployment or anything else. I saw that change in my lifetime, over a decade, which affected the lifestyles of many people in my constituency. I see from today’s statistics and what has been happening over the past 12 months that things are returning to how they were decades ago. It is wrong and it is unfair, and I am not going to come to this place and listen to a debate about “the national economy” this or “the national economy” that. We need to look at the crucial issues of how to help the young generation.

Mr Byrne rose—

Mr Barron: I will give way to my right hon. Friend, but I want to finish quickly.

Mr Byrne: My right hon. Friend is making a characteristically powerful speech. The truth is that the House of Commons Library is clear: in January 2011, long-term youth unemployment in his constituency was 160, but it is now 270, a rise of more than 68%. Under anybody’s definition that rise is unacceptable, and the Government should be doing more to bring it down.

Mr Barron: I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend.

If anybody wants to know the consequences of youth unemployment—not just now, but in the future—they could do worse than look at the article headed “Future costs of youth unemployment” on the BBC business news website, which refers to an academic paper by

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Paul Gregg and Lindsey Macmillan that sets out in great detail what happens to people who suffer from youth unemployment. It affects them for the rest of their lives, not only in terms of their jobs, but in terms of their incomes and everything else. It is not acceptable for us to sit in this House today and watch youth unemployment increasing to its current levels, which will disadvantage generations of people and their children, as well as the taxpayer, who will have to pay for it. I will not rehearse how much it will cost, but there will be a cost to the taxpayer—the cost to the individuals concerned will probably be far higher—that we should guard against.

I want to finish on this point. The Government’s ideology was about coming in and saying, “We get rid of the public sector”—I have seen the damage of that—“and we bring in the private sector.” However, for every 13 jobs lost in the public sector in the last quarter, only one has been created in the private sector. It is not good enough. The plan is not working. It is about time this Government tried to protect everybody in this nation.

3.54 pm

Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) (LD): Of course it is right that we are debating this important issue today. Everybody knows that unemployment is a serious problem across the country. We seem, however, to have had the same Opposition day debate over and over again. The same people have been in the Chamber repeatedly over the last few months, and every debate follows the same pattern. Labour never accepts responsibility for the economic mess in which we find ourselves and no new ideas on how to tackle the problem are offered; the same old failed ideas are repeated in every debate.

Fiona O'Donnell: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jenny Willott: No, I will not. There will be plenty of opportunities for others to speak later. I hope that by not giving way, as many Back Benchers as possible will have the opportunity to contribute.

The Government are trying to rebalance the economy left to us by Labour. Labour relied on the public sector for far too long to make up for declining growth elsewhere, and it did not support the private sector in the good times. Some areas have stratospheric levels of public sector employment. In Merthyr Tydfil, for example, more than 40% of people—more than four in 10—are employed in the public sector. That is clearly not sustainable across the country as a whole. We must work to increase employment in other sectors—the private sector has already been mentioned and other Members have mentioned the voluntary or third sector—to reduce our reliance on the public sector and ensure that we have a much better balanced economy that is better able to absorb shocks from the global economy and future recessions.

There is some evidence that we are starting to see progress. I would take issue with the figures of the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron). My understanding is that public sector employment fell last year by 276,000, but that employment in the private sector increased by 262,000—a difference of only 14,000 jobs. Almost all the jobs lost in the public sector have been replaced by an increase in jobs in the private sector.

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Fiona O'Donnell rose

Jenny Willott: I am not going to give way.

There are problems in the eurozone, problems with bank lending and so forth, which have a serious impact on job creation in the private sector, but we can say that we are starting to see some progress, and the Government are trying to encourage even more progress. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who is responsible for employment, announced in the autumn statement measures to stimulate growth. Rather than try to borrow their way out of a debt crisis, the Government are being more pragmatic and sensible. I welcome some innovative ideas for raising money—working with pension funds, for example, to unlock £20 billion of investment. That is better than the Government simply borrowing more and more money, which has been shown not to work.

I share the concerns of some Labour and Government Members about the level of youth unemployment. I know that this is a concern across the House. Under Labour, youth unemployment rose nearly 75% between 2001 and 2010, so it was a serious problem before this Government came to power. There has been an increase, however, in the number of young people who are unemployed, and I know that Ministers, too, are deeply concerned about that. I am glad that the Government are investing in trying to tackle it. We need to recognise that it is going to be tough for young people in the near future, and we need to do more to make them as employable as possible so that when jobs are created and become available, they can take them up.

We know from past experience, and from the experience of unemployed people today, that people who are seeking work and spending all their time going to the job centre and applying for jobs can find the experience hugely demoralising, and it can lead to depression and mental health problems. For decades, that has been a problem for people facing unemployment. We need to make it easier for younger and older people facing unemployment to volunteer in order to build their skills, to learn what they enjoy doing, to get useful information for their CVs, to get good references and to help keep them closer to the job market.

Jobcentre Plus and the Work programme providers could work with the local voluntary sector and others in many areas to identify more opportunities for those on jobseeker’s allowance to volunteer. There are already many opportunities across the third sector, which we have heard about in various debates on this theme. There are other ways in which unemployed people of whatever age can volunteer and build up their skills. For example, it is possible to become a magistrate at 21. That is a good way in which people can gain experience in an area about which they would not necessarily know anything otherwise, while also learning skills that they can transfer to employment. Charity shops are always looking for volunteers, who will have the opportunity to gain retail experience that they too can transfer to employment. The retail sector in my constituency still has a significant number of vacancies, and it is one of the sectors that are most willing to take on those who are furthest from the jobs market.

There are plenty of ways in which we can help people to develop the habit of working by getting up at the same time each day, finding out what they enjoy, learning

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people skills, and acquiring new skills that they can take into work when jobs are created. Some may be inspired to set up their own businesses—older people who have experience and skills that they can take into entrepreneurship, and young people who are brimming with ideas.

I accept that the unemployment figures are an individual tragedy for all the people affected, and I am sure that we all feel the same, but relying on the ability to borrow more money will not help us to find a way out of this situation. We need to see investment, and to see the Government putting their money where their mouth is.

4 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): The dire news presented by the latest unemployment figures should cause members of the Government to hang their heads in shame, but there are not many present to do that today. The Government have promised much, but instead of delivering on their promises, they have proceeded to devastate the lives of ordinary hard-working people—people such as nurses, engineers, chemical process workers, local authority employees, shop assistants and even members of our armed forces, some of whom return from action on behalf of our country to learn that their jobs are either gone or under threat.

We were promised a private sector jobs revolution, but, as the Prime Minister had to admit today when challenged by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, he has failed to deliver on that promise. His failure is proving expensive, not just for the millions who are unemployed, but for our country. Instead of investing billions in infrastructure, house building, new hospitals and other job creation schemes, the Tory Government are throwing that money away on escalating unemployment benefit bills which, sadly, are likely to increase even more in the future.

Gordon Banks: Is not one of the problems the fact that the Government seem to view the public and private sectors as two separate entities, although one cannot survive while the other is being cut to death?

Alex Cunningham: I agree. My hon. Friend provided an illustration of that earlier when he mentioned the job losses that have been announced in a company in his constituency. For some time the Tories said that we did not have a plan for jobs. They may have systematically dismantled our investment programmes for job creation, but it is not too late for them to adopt our five-point plan for jobs and growth.

Like others who have spoken, I shall concentrate on the subject of young people. The acceleration in the number of young unemployed people will help this Tory-led Government to go down in history as the Government who could not care less about our country’s most important asset.

Jim Shannon: It has been suggested that businesses should be given an incentive to employ people aged between 16 and 24, in the form of a £1,500 tax relief which would cover national insurance contributions for a year. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that such initiatives are capable of providing employment for unemployed people?

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Alex Cunningham: I welcome all schemes that will encourage employers to take on workers and, in particular, increase the number of young people in employment.

In 1997, my Stockton borough inherited from the Tories an unemployment rate of 14.9% among young people, while the national rate was 8.1%. Hard work by the Labour Government more than halved the Stockton rate to 6.7%, but since then the Tories and their Liberal Democrat allies have allowed it to soar almost to its previous level. It is now 12.9%, which, although it may not seem a huge number, represents 2,300 young lives.

In my constituency, I see countless young people wandering the streets of Billingham, Norton and Stockton, and I worry about their future. I see them peering into shop windows, knowing that all they can do is look. They certainly cannot buy, as they see no positive prospects. They know that there is no longer any support that would enable them to go to college, and that even if they had qualifications, possibly even degrees, their prospects would be extremely low in an economy that is stagnant at home and across the country.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend endorse the work done by Glasgow city council? It has launched a scheme aimed specifically at young graduates, and is using some of its pension fund to give them an opportunity to gain employment.

Alex Cunningham: I have always been a great admirer of Glasgow City council and I am certainly not going to disagree with my hon. Friend there, but it saddens me that for so many young people, the first taste of adult life will not be starting their first job and getting on the career ladder, but waiting in the dole queue and competing for the tiny number of vacancies available, while being lectured by the Tory-led Government that there are jobs out there for them if only they look hard enough. However, in my constituency there are 10 people fighting for every job vacancy. There are 2,335 jobseeker’s allowance claimants aged between 18 and 24—an increase of 18% on the previous year.

Earlier this year, the employment Minister singled out the north-east as his “top priority” in safeguarding and protecting jobs. However, the money received from the regional growth fund—believed to be the cure for all our economic woes—is but a fraction of what has been invested in recent years through the regional development agency. I am grateful for the money we did get in my constituency from the regional growth fund, and I was pleased to visit one of its recipients, Darchem Engineering, last week. It is a fine example of the great British manufacturer we need to encourage, and the Government cash will help to attract new investment to the north-east. However, while that one example is a positive one, the amount of cash available through the fund is extremely limited in my area, and many other companies with strong plans for growing their businesses and increasing the number of jobs found that the Government cash chest was slammed shut in their faces.

In my constituency alone, 166 young people aged between 18 and 24 took up employment and after 26 weeks, 162 of them—98%—were sustained in employment as a result of using part of Stockton’s allocation of the working neighbourhoods fund, thanks to our future jobs fund. Add to that the fact that those successful

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young people undertook 628 pieces of individual training and achieved 80 NVQs at levels 2 and 3, and we can celebrate an excellent achievement.

Labour also introduced the education maintenance allowance, which subsidised poorer students through the sixth form, helping 650,000 16 to 19-year-olds from low-income families and tackling the long-standing problem of a high teenage drop-out rate from education, particularly among poorer students. However, both these effective programmes were recklessly cut by the Tory-led Government, who dismissed them as bureaucratic and wasteful despite their strong success in helping young people to reach their potential.

The £180 million bursary scheme the Tories replaced the EMA with has instead succeeded in giving 70p extra a week to 12,000 of the poorest students—while at the same time taking away £30 from many of their classmates whose finances are only marginally better. It is simply insulting that the Secretary of State for Education believes that this is concentrating resources

“on removing the barriers to learning faced by the poorest”.—[Official Report, 28 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 52.]

I strongly urge the Government to reassess their priorities, given that they are currently bent on making access to education far more difficult and are cutting everything in sight—the very things that were helping young people. Such a blatant disregard for the future of young people really is shameful. We should be under no illusions about the damaging effect that unemployment among young people can have. Failing to harness the energy of the younger generations is eating away at the foundations of all our futures.

Work largely defines us and as a society, and we cannot afford to ignore the talent and potential of so many young people. Those one in five young people who cannot find work therefore often cannot leave home. They remain financially dependent on their parents and are trapped in a confidence-sapping cycle of application after application, rejection after rejection.

The current jobless figures are a wake-up call for the future for young people. Youth unemployment scars people for life, particularly if it is prolonged, and at today’s levels it will be costing the country millions of pounds a week. We must not let the scourge of unemployment leave a permanent mark on the hundreds of thousands of young people living through it today. We need to give those young people, and everyone else window-gazing in towns and cities across the country this Christmas, real hope for the future. They see very little of it now.

4.9 pm

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Listening to the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), one would have thought, “Oh, the Labour Government did a marvellous job. Then along came this coalition and they mucked it up.” One would never have thought it was the Labour Government who beggared this country, who borrowed and borrowed and borrowed again, who gave us the worst deficit in the G20, who doubled national debt, who sold our gold at a record low price—£23 billion down the drain—who took £5 billion a year out of our pension funds, and who gave back our EU rebate of £7 billion a year and got nothing in return. Then, there was the moment of salvation—the

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last general election. A moderate coalition Government came in and started to make the sort of decisions that needed to be made in the national interest—the sort of decisions Labour ducked. Now, though, we are told, “The consequences of those difficult decisions—they’re all your fault.” They certainly are not.

If we look at the Labour years, we see that, as always happens with Labour, unemployment went up—to 2.5 million by the time they left office. We see that youth unemployment rose by 270,000 under the Labour Government. Theirs was not a successful Government, but a Government who led Britain to the brink of bankruptcy. It is our Government—the coalition Government—who are rescuing this country. Of course it is not easy. It is right to say that every redundancy is a personal tragedy—of course it is. We must try to do all we can as a country to help people back into work, but my goodness, this Government cannot be blamed for the situation from which they are trying to rescue the country.

That Labour Government were also the Government who tried to hide from the realities. Take the vast number of people claiming incapacity benefit: it is this Government who are testing and ensuring that those who receive incapacity benefit are genuinely entitled to it, and that it is not being used to mask unemployment in areas where there is a particular labour market problem. Take Labour’s measures on long-term youth unemployment, where a training scheme was introduced after 12 months and the clock was started again, to mask what was happening in this country. Although 2.5 million extra jobs—half of them were part-time, of course—were created in the Labour years, they did not seriously affect unemployment, which was reduced by about 300,000. That is because the Labour Government were not really tackling the underlying problem of the 5 million people of working age who were not engaged in the labour market.

Fiona O'Donnell: Given that is now clear that the benefits bill will rise by £29 billion—higher than the Government predicted—does the hon. Gentleman think that the plan is working?

Oliver Heald: I think that this Government are making a serious, determined and honest effort to help people in very difficult times. The hon. Lady talks as though there is no eurozone crisis and the world is not experiencing the problems it is experiencing, but those problems are out there. This is a difficult time politically and economically, yet this Government are trying to help people.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in fact, the increase in unemployment in the eurozone has been much slower than the increase here?

Oliver Heald: The hon. Lady should talk to young people in Spain, where youth unemployment is very high—as much as 30%, I am told. The same is true in Italy. The fact is that youth unemployment is a European problem that must be tackled in the eurozone and right across the continent.

The Government are concentrating on a Work programme that, after 12 months, gives people individualised help to look at what skills and assistance they need to get them back into work, and that, for the first time, gives the

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disabled a chance of getting the help they need. That is a good thing. That programme and the youth contract, with its job subsidies and extra incentive payments, are not signs of an uncaring Government.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): Everything the hon. Gentleman describes counts for nothing if there are no jobs for those people to get. That is the problem that we face today: there are simply not enough jobs in the economy for everyone who is out of work to get into work.

Oliver Heald: The hon. Lady makes the very important point that we need growth in our economy, and that to achieve that we need a range of measures to stimulate growth. I agree, and that is what the Government announced in the autumn statement. She should not, however, treat the whole country as though it were the same. We have much lower unemployment in my constituency—indeed, it has fallen this month—and there is no doubt that jobs can be found, but that is not true everywhere. The picture is different in different parts of the country, but if one looks at the overall picture one can say, month on month, that we have more people in the work force than we had last month. We have seen an improvement in some parts of the country, such as the part I represent, so the picture is not hopeless. The Government have a difficult task and are tackling it seriously, but sometimes we should look a little more widely at the labour market and the trends within it. We are asking people to work to an older age and to take on jobs that they might not previously have done because they were on incapacity benefit or were otherwise out of the labour market. So, we are asking more people to try to find work against a background in which that is not easy, but I believe—certainly the research shows this—that it is possible for us to see our GDP rise and our people go into work. What the Government are doing is along the right lines.

Sir John Rose said in a speech about a year ago that in Britain we train people to be hairdressers when we need engineers and IT specialists. One of the good things about the Government’s apprenticeships and skills programme is that it is targeted on areas in which we have found it difficult to create skills and on areas that are hard to fill, so there is a better match between skills and vacancies. The number of vacancies runs at between 400,000 and 500,000 each month, about 40% of which are in areas with skills shortages or areas that are hard to fill. If we can better match the skills to the vacancies, that could help. Overall, I think the Government are on the right lines.

4.17 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Today’s employment statistics make extremely sobering reading. They spell out more clearly than any of our speeches today just how much our economy is struggling and how the recovery is faltering. We know from the Office for Budget Responsibility that the UK economy is already contracting in the final quarter of this year and we can predict with some confidence that there will be more turbulent times in 2012.

Fiona O'Donnell: Has the hon. Lady seen the latest statistics showing that Scotland had the second-worst unemployment in the UK in the last quarter? Does she

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think that her Government in Holyrood have any responsibility for those figures?

Dr Whiteford: I am certainly happy to look at that because the sharp increase in unemployment in Scotland is very concerning. However, over the past year as a whole, unemployment in Scotland has fallen and employment has risen. That compares very favourably with the record of the hon. Lady’s Administration. For most of the past few years, employment in Scotland has outperformed employment in the rest of the UK. That record contrasts sharply with the situation when Labour and the Liberal Democrats were in coalition in Scotland.

We have to look at the big picture and remember that when the Government set us down the path of austerity a year and a half ago, many of us warned that taking the feet out from under the public sector was not the way to boost employment and growth in the private sector. We said that the cuts went too far too quickly and it gives me no pleasure whatever to be proved right on that front. It is now abundantly clear that the medicine is not working and is not achieving the results we want. I accept that the Government have not been in control of some of the external circumstances, but nevertheless those risks were always apparent. The Government need to acknowledge that their plan is not working and that it is time for a change of direction.

What has been disappointing this afternoon is the very ideological and doctrinaire approach taken by Members on the Government Benches to their prescriptions. It would be helpful if we acknowledged the interdependence of the public and the private sectors. The bottom line is that the UK as a whole is losing public sector jobs faster than the private sector can create them. We all know that borrowing is still very difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises, which is a major source of potential growth. We know that business confidence is low, but in that circumstance it makes no sense at all to punish the public sector when the private sector just cannot keep up.

Paradoxically, that is the opposite of what has been happening in Scotland. One of the interesting things—

Ben Gummer: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Whiteford: Not at the moment, thank you.

It has been evident in Scotland over the past year that the growth of private sector employment has outweighed falls in public sector employment. We now have the highest share of private sector employment that we have had since the advent of devolution. [Interruption.] Although unemployment has fallen across the piece in the past year, it shows that the Scottish Government’s decision to boost investment in the public sector and in infrastructure as far as possible has been a way of offsetting the problems of investment that have been apparent in other parts of the UK—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) wants to make an intervention, I am happy to accept it. If not, perhaps he could stop heckling.

If we are serious about tackling unemployment, we need to accept that the cuts introduced by the Government are biting very hard indeed across the whole UK, and that the announcements in the Chancellor’s autumn statement do not go far enough. Crucially, they will not

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address the immediate challenges of high levels of unemployment and a high benefits bill. I am not sure how we will pay for that in the current circumstances.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Whiteford: I will not at the moment, thanks. Time is pressing.

In Scotland we are experiencing 32% real-terms cuts to the capital budgets and even after the announcements in the autumn statement, the Scottish capital budget will still be cut by £3 billion over the spending period. More importantly, 70% of the new consequentials announced in the autumn statement will not be available until the year after next. Waiting until 2013 will not deal with the problem that we need to tackle now. What we need is investment in infrastructure.

Much has already been said today about youth unemployment. For those of us who came of age in the 1980s there is a horrible sense of déjà vu. I was one of those who had to put up with the 1980s and see the problems at first hand. When I hear young people in my constituency bemoaning to me the prospects that they are now facing, I have great empathy. It was exactly the same in the 1980s, when we were all told that unemployment was a price worth paying, and a whole generation was relegated to the scrapheap. We are still living with the legacy of that and dealing with the social consequences of it. It was not just about economics. It was about our society and the prospects of a whole generation.

Across the UK we have seen diverse approaches to tackling youth unemployment. It is far too high everywhere, but, as we have heard today, there has been a range of approaches in the devolved Administrations. In Scotland there have been 25,000 apprenticeships, a significantly higher number than before. It even exceeds what the UK Government are doing. University and college places have been maintained. Efforts have been made to ensure that apprenticeships that fall through because companies have gone under as a result of the recession are continuing and those young people are getting back into work. The Opportunities for All initiative is making sure that every young person aged 16 to 19 will get a work or training opportunity.

I hope Ministers will take the opportunity to sit down with Finance Ministers across the devolved Administrations and look specifically at how we can tackle youth unemployment. There are different approaches and there are good ideas coming from different parts of the UK. It is such an urgent problem and such a challenge with such serious long-term consequences that I hope the Minister will take action. We were told in the 1980s that unemployment was a price worth paying. It was not a price worth paying. It is never a price worth paying. It must be the Government’s top priority.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. There are still 12 hon. Members remaining to speak. The debate must end by 5.36 pm. I am therefore reducing the time limit from now to four minutes for all subsequent speakers. That will just about get everybody in, unless there are lots of interventions.

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4.24 pm

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I shall take no interventions, given the need for brevity. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) that Labour Members seem to have collective amnesia about exactly how much they frittered away during the prosperous times for this nation and that they now claim that only they know how to fix it.

I am amazed that that flexible old chestnut, the bankers’ bonus, has been wheeled out yet again as a way of solving all the ills. This is from a party that did not tackle bankers’ bonuses in the good times, when there were plenty to tackle, and seems to have found them now as a cash cow that can be used many times—this is the sixth or seventh time the Opposition have proposed using that source of finance. They did not tackle bonuses then, yet they did abolish the 10% tax rate, which they seem to have forgotten about. Many women and low-paid workers were on that tax rate. Indeed, when I was knocking on doors during the 2010 election, many people told me that after that rate was removed it was hardly worth them working. There are still people caught in that trap, which the Opposition have collectively forgotten about.

The Labour party has also collectively forgotten that companies have been disadvantaged by the regulations it put in place. For example, Bombardier could not competitively tender because of the regulations that Labour put in print, which resulted in job losses. Unfortunately, it also presided over the lowest number of social house starts for decades. I read with interest that it now proposes building 25,000 affordable homes—again using the bankers’ bonuses—but with no new funding of the sort that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government has rolled out. At least this Government are making new funding available, rather than relying on the ever-flexible bankers’ bonus.

Albert Owen: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Main: No, I shall not give way.

I am also amazed that the Labour party, while talking about wanting to attack bankers’ bonuses, was so lacking in its support for what our Prime Minister had to do last week, which was to defend London against being raided by the European Union. They do not seem to want to do that either. I can tell Opposition Members that many bankers and wealth generators in the City would otherwise have upped sticks and gone, and there would be no bonuses for them to use in this flexible way.

Labour Members are asking us today to believe their statistics—this from a party that spectacularly underestimated the number of people who would come to the UK through its failed immigration policy at only 5,000. If they looked back at the figures, they would see that they completely underestimated the number of people who chose to come to Britain to work, so I have little faith in the statistics they regularly wheel out. They left us with the highest number of workless households in Europe and only now are coming up with ideas on how to fix that. It bears no credibility. They propose spending bankers’ bonuses multiple times and have few other ideas on how to fix the failed and broken economy

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that we inherited. They left this Government the note stating that they had spent all the money, but they had in fact mortgaged it. They mortgaged the future of many young people in this country.

I have only a few seconds remaining. If the Government were not taking these tough choices, more and more young people would be looking forward to a fruitless future without hope of social housing or affordable housing, because, unlike this Government, the Opposition had no appetite when in government to tackle the problems, and now they carp from the sidelines and apparently come up with solutions to fix the problems they created.

4.28 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am disappointed by the previous speech, because it repeated the yah-boo exchanges on what is, frankly, a generalised crisis that has touched us all. The notion that it is all the fault of either the previous Government, or of everything that has happened since May 2010, is simply not valid. In 2008, I wrote in The Daily Telegraph a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) stating that we should cut spending and taxes, and he ignored me, but the year before the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), then the shadow Chancellor, wrote in The Times that the model Britain should emulate was that of Ireland. I think that I was right, and I hope that Government Members think that the Chancellor was completely and utterly wrong.

In Rotherham we received news today that 597 more people are unemployed than there were this time last year, which is an increase of about 15%. This is profoundly serious, with families now facing a miserable Christmas.

I do not blame all those problems on this Government—it is absurd to do so. Around the world, we are facing a generalised crisis of the market economics—or, if one prefers, capitalist—model. There is Government debt but, as the remarkable graph put up on last night’s “Newsnight” by Miss Vicky Pryce, the distinguished economist, showed, there is far greater private debt. Everybody is going through the detoxification problem of getting out of debt, and we do not know how to handle it. Niall Ferguson—a distinguished conservative, right-wing historian—writes in Newsweek:

“In normal times it would be legitimate to worry about the consequences of money printing and outsize debts. But history”—

he is writing about how people handled the 1929 Wall street crash and the 1931 Credit-Anstalt crash; there was not one general crash but two—

“tells us these are anything but normal times.”

When Monsieur Hollande, the French Socialist candidate whom I wish to see elected President of France, says that we should be looking at spending more money and at job creation measures, he is shouted down, but I think he is right. Frankly, the Conservatives ought to be in their own little Euro-heaven. We have conservative Governments and conservative presidents of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament proposing fiscal austerity, balanced budgets, making the poor pay, and protecting bankers and the rich. I thought that that was classic liberal—in the Manchester sense of the word—Conservative policy. I do not know why the Conservatives are at odds with Europe, because Europe

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is doing exactly what they are trying to do with the policy that is having such disastrous consequences in this country.

We look to the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India and China—but growth in them is slowing down. Today’s figures from the IMF show that Russia, South Africa and Brazil have 3% or 4% growth and China and India have below 10% growth. There is a generalised crisis of world market economics. The United States is in disarray. The United Kingdom is part of the problem as well. We are not the solution to the European crisis—we are intimately part of it. There is no growth, no demand, increasing unemployment and increasing debt.

I am not going to say that this is all the fault of decisions taken since May 2010. I wish we had a Chancellor of the Exchequer of the maturity of Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe or Denis Healey; it is rather disappointing that we have a PPE graduate from Oxford who has just done a little bit of political research in his life. We are going to have to work these problems through internationally.

“No man is an island, entire of itself”,

as John Donne said; every man is a piece of the continent. We will have to find global and European solutions to this crisis or, believe me, we will all be sunk.

4.32 pm

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I agree with the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) that the world did not start in May 2010. There are 30 million people in the work force, and when they were educated, what they were educated in, and how they have skilled themselves throughout their lives makes a very big difference to their employment prospects today. Therefore, whoever the Government are, they are, to some extent, presiding over the legacy of previous Governments.

We all know that, as a country, there are some things we have done well and some things we have done badly. Being out of work is a tragedy for anybody, but over the past 10 or 20 years, this country has not done too badly in keeping unemployment levels below that of many countries in Europe. In Spain, for example, unemployment is at horrific levels. Where we have got it wrong is in having, for understandable reasons, a welfare system that has sometimes become a disincentive for people to take jobs. In the Government’s reform of the welfare system—I hope that it turns out on time and to plan—they are trying to take away the cliff edge from those who are out of work and perhaps not well skilled enough to get a high-paid job so that they can take a job because it is worth their while to do so. That is a very important part of the future of our nation. Over the past 18 months, we have still had people with skills coming in from abroad and taking jobs. Under the last Labour Government, about 2 million jobs were taken by people coming in from abroad. That meant that we have not been able to motivate our own people to take those jobs. Welfare reform must be part of that.

We must look at our education system and put a lot more effort into technical education. Since Beveridge and the Education Act 1944, this country has not done as well as many of those on the continent, particularly the Germans, in technical education, which was never properly developed. When I look at Germany, I am impressed by how well respected people are who have a

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good technical education and by how workers are trained to provide a highly skilled work force. The success of the German economy has a lot to do with that.

What the Government are doing about training and in trying to recreate the apprenticeships that fell into disrepair is very valuable. When I go around companies in Poole, including many successful companies, the managing directors are often not degree candidates, but people who started on the shop floor with an apprenticeship in engineering and have skilled themselves up throughout their lives. Unless we get back to having good technical education, I fear we will not produce a generation of decent managers and keep the standard of living that we want.

Welfare, training and education therefore need to be part of the picture. However, we need to have a stable economic environment for people to invest. We inherited a big deficit and it will take some years to sort things out. Things do not happen in a straight line. There will be good years and bad years, and good Budgets and bad Budgets. Clearly, this is one of the years when things are going a bit slower, and I suspect that over the next four or five years, there will be years when things go a bit better. I hope that, over that time, we can create enough jobs to take up the slack of the public sector and that we can provide people in this country with a decent living, but it is going to be hard.

Nobody in this Government underestimates the task. We have a coalition of two parties that agree that we need to sort the country out and to provide more opportunities. It is a moderate coalition of sensible people and I think that it will succeed in the end, but it may take all five years before people make a sensible judgment about whether we have succeeded.

4.36 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I want to tell the House the story of Chris, a young man in my constituency. I know his story only because a friend of mine gave him a lift home last night.

Chris works at Currys in Bury. Because his boss would not let him leave five minutes early, he had a 40-minute wait for the bus. Usually, when he gets into Bolton he has to catch two more buses. The whole trip takes him two and a half hours each way. If it had not been for my friend last night, it would have taken him nearly three and a half hours to get home. It is not as though it is a great job. He has a contract for six hours, which he believes is so that his employer can get rid of him easier. However, as he says, any job is better than none. It is no wonder that Chris is desperate to keep his job. With more than six people fighting for every vacancy in Bolton West, he knows that he is lucky to have anything.

People in my constituency are scared: scared that they will lose their jobs, scared that they cannot afford to pay their bills and scared that they cannot see anything getting any better. The Prime Minister is proud to state that interest rates are at an historic low, but he forgets to tell everyone that he inherited low interest rates. The much more important measure of the health of our economy is growth. What do we have? We have no growth, borrowing up, ever-rising unemployment and cuts to the public services that we all rely on.

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The figures today show that the Government’s policies, like so many people in Britain, are just not working. The economy is flatlining and ordinary people are paying the price. It is back to normal business for the Tories—the rich play and the poor pay. The Government want to blame everyone but themselves—it is our fault, it is the snow, it is the royal wedding, it is the euro. It is time that they took responsibility for their actions and time they accepted that their plans are ruining Britain and ruining the lives of people in my constituency.

It is not just young people who are suffering; long-term unemployment among the over-50s is up by 20%. Just at the time when people should be able to relax and enjoy their lives, and when they should be able to plan for retirement, they are thrown on to the scrap heap.

I have told the House before about the 10 years in the ’80s and ’90s when I worked with unemployed young people. That was the last time the Tories thought that unemployment was a price worth paying. I have told the stories of the young people who took their own lives; the young people who turned to drugs and alcohol; the young people who developed long-term mental health problems; and the young people who spent many years unemployed. It is the truth that when the economy eventually recovered, employers preferred to take on the 16-year-olds who were fresh out of school than the 26-year-olds who had spent most of the previous 10 years out of work with nothing to do and nothing to get up for. Those stories of 15 years ago are starting to repeat themselves. If the Government continue to follow their failed policies, we will have another generation with no jobs, no hope and no future.

The Government also ignore the health costs of unemployment. Unemployed people are twice as likely to have a psychological illness than those who are employed. Many studies in the ’80s and ’90s proved the links between serious diseases of major organs and unemployment. It is true that unemployment makes people ill.

The Government talk about making it easier to hire people, but in truth they mean making it easier to fire people. There are people in my constituency who are not only worried about their employers’ economic future but doubly worried that their terms and conditions could be changed on a whim and that they could be fired despite doing nothing wrong. How can they buy a house or make another major purchase that would get the economy working when they are fearful for their future?

I do not believe that Ministers get it. They do not understand the reality of people worrying about losing their job, or their fear of not being able to feed or clothe their children. It is not too late to change tack and, for the sake of our constituents, the Government should do so.

4.40 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): In my constituency, 997 people are unemployed, which represents 2.3% of those who are economically active. I recognise that that is a modest number compared with many constituencies, but it is an absolute tragedy for every single one of those individuals, particularly the 85 who have been unemployed for more than 12 months.

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I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) said about the tragedy of unemployment. It means a loss of self-esteem, poor mental health, losing the pattern and discipline of work and losing hope. Listening to the debate this afternoon, I have found it very difficult to take the charge that all Government Members believe that unemployment is a price worth paying. I do not, but I do believe that it is a very sad economic reality.

The question is how the Government should respond. Should they act as though they have all the solutions and can essentially buy a load of jobs to relieve the misery overnight? Would that be a sustainable solution for the affected individuals in six, nine or 12 months’ time? I do not think so.

Looking back to before the general election, I am certain that elements of the future jobs fund were worth while. However, when the Government are constructing a national scheme for getting people into work, there comes a point when they have to consider whether such a programme is the most cost-effective way of delivering sustainable skills and jobs that will lead people to full-time employment for many years.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Glen: I will not, because I want to give colleagues an opportunity to speak.

I believe that two significant matters need to be examined: supply-side reform and macro-economic stability. Many Members have already spoken about the excellent apprenticeship schemes, the work experience programme and the reforms under the new youth contract, but we need to recognise that if small businesses, such as the many micro-businesses in my constituency, are to be confident enough to take on new people, they need to feel that the Government are on their side. They need to know that the Government understand that they do not need so much regulation. They do not need the 14 new regulations a day that they had under the last Government. They want to know that we will exempt micro-businesses from new business regulation and EU accounting rules. Such issues influence whether a small business man takes the leap and takes somebody on in these difficult times.

We also need macro-economic stability. Low interest rates are important, because they condition investment decisions and how people feel about their finances. They cannot spend money that they do not have in a way that is expensive and does not have a secure outcome. The Government will not have all the answers, but they are on the right trajectory to relieve the misery, and I wish them well.

4.44 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): There has been some dispute about whether the coalition Government are the greenest Administration, but they are definitely good at recycling. In particular, the Prime Minister has recycled figures about private sector jobs in the past year and a half. Today, he said that the Leader of the Opposition was recycling jokes, yet he recycles the figure of half a million private sector jobs. Initially, it was half a million in the Government’s first six months;

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then, it was half a million in the year since they came to power, and now it is half a million since the election. The problem is that it is exactly the same half a million jobs. Half were created in the first quarter of the financial year that started in 2010. What caused that—the actions of the Government? I think not. It was the stimulus provided by the previous Government, whom the coalition Government are so fond of rubbishing. They do that consistently. After that burst of jobs, almost nothing has happened. The promise that if we squeezed the public sector, the private sector would rise up, take the strain and create jobs is not being fulfilled. Until we and our constituents see signs of that, we will simply not believe the Government.

As well as job figures, the Government are recycling ideas. Part of their approach since the election has been to suggest that unemployment is somehow a problem of individuals—of their not being willing, skilled enough or having the financial incentive to work because the benefits system is so generous. I was fascinated to come across a quotation from Sir John Anderson, who was head of the then Prime Minister’s Secretariat in 1930. At a time when people were worried about unemployment, he said:

“Unemployment statistics give an exaggerated view of the magnitude of the problem”.

Why? Because

“a large number of people really abused the Unemployment Insurance Scheme”.

I do not think that many would say that unemployment in the 1930s was caused by people abusing an extremely low amount of benefit. It shows that nothing changes. The Conservative party has always said that at times of high employment. Increasingly, its coalition partners are also saying it. It was said in the 1930s and it was not true then; it is said now and it is still untrue.

That is not to say that training is not important, but it is not new, either. In Edinburgh, the city council considered employment in the first decade of this century. We had historically low unemployment at that stage, but a residual number of people were out of work, some for a long time. We considered training schemes and specialised job academies. For example, we had a health care academy and a social care academy, and we know that taking action is not always easy. The trouble with the Government is that they think they are at ground zero with many things. They imply that we did nothing and that they have sprung into life to make things better.

Yes, we need to train people properly, but training is not a job. The Work programme does not of itself create jobs. We must be absolutely clear about that.

4.48 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): This debate is about unemployment and what can be done about it. However, the consideration of what unemployment means has been lost in some of our discussion. On Thursday, when travelling, we were delayed for an hour because someone had fallen in front of train in Alexandra Palace. I do not know whether it was a suicide attempt. At the weekend, we had the news in Leeds that a father had murdered his family and killed himself. Suicide is increasing and there must be a link with the economic situation. I hope that all hon. Members would deem that the personal disaster that it is.

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I find it deeply offensive that Opposition Members mocked this afternoon every time Government Members said that we were trying to do something for the unemployed in this country. They are laughing at the unemployed. Do you know why you are laughing at the unemployed? Because the left has always used the unemployed as a political tool. If you keep people down, you try to use them as a tool. And what did you do in 13 years of government? You borrowed huge amounts of—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about this, but he is addressing me, the Chair. He will not use the word “you”; he will please refer to “hon. Members”.

Alec Shelbrooke: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, but for 13 years, the Labour party bought jobs and did not lay a foundation for moving forward. It was left to this coalition Government—two of the major parties of this country coming together—to try to put in place the proper foundations.

The smiles of glee cannot be wiped off the faces of Opposition Front Benchers when there is bad economic news. That is reprehensible. Jobs cannot be bought by borrowing; economic stability that will last must be put in place. The difference between Government Members and Opposition Members is that we try to govern for the future of this country. Whether or not we are in power, we mean to ensure that we do what is right for this country. All the Labour party did was try to hang on to power, which is why we today face one of the biggest economic crises and the fastest growing level of unemployment in decades.

It is no good Opposition Members harking back to the ’80s and ’90s. We should not forget the very different circumstances, especially of the 1980s. The fact is that this Government have been dealt a terrible economic hand. I make the point again: it is not a Tory Government, as was said earlier, but a coalition Government of the two main parties of this country, which came together to sort this mess out. We have been mocked this afternoon. I have listened carefully and although the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) made a good speech, the most impassioned was by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron)—he was the one who meant what he said. Other than that, unemployment has been used as a political football.

Grahame M. Morris: If the hon. Gentleman is advocating a particular course, he might give his opinion on this question: would he pay his 15-year mortgage off in five years if it meant sending his children to school hungry and without shoes?

Alec Shelbrooke: My response to that rather strange analogy is that if we were to follow the route taken by the Labour party, interest rates in this country would rise, hard-working families up and down the country would be paying another £1,000 a month on their mortgages and their children would go to school hungry, because of the folly of Labour’s policies.

We have only to look at events around Europe. A 40% cut in public sector wages was proposed in Greece, but Ireland cut public sector wages by 15% to get on top of things, and yet all the Opposition say is that we should spend more money and buy jobs. That does not lay the foundations to move this country forward.

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Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. As a fellow Yorkshire MP, does he agree that if we are to tackle unemployment in the north, we must tackle the north-south divide, which sadly widened under the previous Administration?

Alec Shelbrooke: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We could list example after example of when infrastructure spending was removed from the north of England and brought down to marginal seats in the south in what can only be described as an attempt to hang on to power, not operating in the best interests of this country.

A bit of humility from Opposition Members would not go amiss in this debate. Very few Opposition Members have this afternoon spoken about trying to tackle the problem. I go back to where I started: when someone becomes unemployed, it is a massive tragedy for that family. Where will they find the money to pay the bills? Where will they find the money for Christmas? It is no wonder that there is a rise in suicide rates. Opposition Members should not dare say that Government Members believe that that is a price worth paying. We do not. We believe that we need to put in place the strong foundations for an economy that will work in the long run, and that will work for generations beyond the one that has been terribly let down by the previous Labour Government.

4.54 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I rise to support the motion in the name of my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. We are aware of the national figures, so in the limited time that I have I will concentrate on the picture as it affects Easington and the north-east region.

As Opposition Members are aware, the north-east has suffered more than perhaps any other region. Unemployment currently stands at 11.7%. In both the public and private sectors, unemployment is rising unabated as a direct consequence of the Government’s policies.

As we already know, the public sector is losing jobs more than 13 times faster than the private sector can create them. We were promised a private sector-led recovery. We were told that the public sector jobs that have been lost in the north-east—we have lost more than 32,000 so far—would be replaced by a growing private sector. That clearly has not happened over the past 12 months.

The latest job figures show that the north-east has lost a larger proportion of jobs than anywhere else in the country. We have 6,000 fewer jobs in the construction sector compared with the same period last year. Clearly, Government policy has had a direct impact on the private sector. Cutting infrastructure projects and the Building Schools for the Future programme has hit construction jobs. The figures produced by the northern TUC show that the public sector is losing 2,000 jobs a month.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) mentioned, the Conservative Government of the 1980s and early 1990s bear a heavy responsibility for the worklessness that exists in areas such as mine. When the traditional industries were still operating—in my case it was coal mining—the numbers of people who were employed were high and the numbers on benefit were relatively low. It was not until the pits

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closed that we saw significant increases in unemployment and incapacity claims. As hon. Members have already said, there is a human cost to unemployment. After closing the pits in Easington and in the north-east, the Conservatives left villages, towns and entire communities without work.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the unemployment statistics in Easington are very similar to those in Wansbeck? In my constituency, there is in excess of 30 people applying for each job vacancy and that is intolerable. The Prime Minister has kept one of his promises: before the election, he said that the north-east would be hit the first and hit the hardest.

Grahame M. Morris: Indeed. I share my hon. Friend’s concerns, and that has certainly been the case. We are facing a worsening of the north-south divide. It is also the case that the north-east has faced some of the worst increases in unemployment across the UK. The hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) said that there were 1,000 people out of work in his constituency. There is more than three times that number in my constituency. The number of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work in Easington has increased by 65%. For the over-50s, the figure is up 58%, which is just as concerning. The situation for those out of work in the north-east is much bleaker than in many other regions.

Unemployment and worklessness are not evenly spread across the country. Indeed, they are concentrated in particular pockets, largely the older industrial areas of the north-east, Merseyside, Scotland and Wales, and that makes unemployment far harder to deal with. I should like to commend the excellent work carried out by Professor Steve Fothergill and his colleagues at Sheffield Hallam university in identifying some possible solutions. I know that time is short, so I will bring my speech to a close.

There are real concerns about the Government’s intentions in relation to workfare. If jobs exist, why are they not being offered as real jobs with real wages? We need a plan from the Government for jobs and growth. Our Front-Bench team has a five-point plan to kick-start the economy, but the Government could go further. There are some helpful suggestions from the Institute for Public Policy Research for supporting employment, and I raised them with the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), in a recent Adjournment debate. I would point out, however, that the Government’s promises on jobs and growth are as hollow as a chocolate Father Christmas.

4.59 pm

Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): I want to begin by answering some of the accusations made by the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). I do not think that it is a price worth paying to see the failure of this Government just so that we can get any kind of political advantage. He should have withdrawn his remarks—Members were not laughing, we were saying that the Government’s plan is not working.

Jobs and employment are the biggest issue in my constituency and the latest figures now show that just under 2,000 people are claiming jobseeker’s allowance and chasing 191 vacancies in East Lothian. That means

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that if every Member sitting on the Government Benches went for a job, only one would stand a chance of getting one.

I also want to address the comments made by the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott). She spoke about the voluntary sector and her contribution contained a lot of sense and value. I concede that Government Members care about unemployment. I have no doubt that when the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions went to Glasgow East and saw what poverty and deprivation did that he was genuinely moved, but I think there is a real gap when it comes to introducing policies and systems that help and support people in getting out of poverty and long-term unemployment. The Government talk about the voluntary sector playing a role when they are cutting the public sector, but the voluntary sector, which played such an important role in the future jobs fund, is now less able to respond to people’s needs.

The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) made the most unhelpful remark in the entire debate when she said that the Prime Minister went to Europe to stand up for London. I remind her—even the Prime Minister knew this—that there are financial services sector jobs across the United Kingdom, not only in London.

Mrs Main rose

Fiona O’Donnell: I will give way, but I am going to try to be disciplined and not take the extra time.

Mrs Main: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and I completely agree with her. That is why I am sure that she is as surprised as I am that those on the Opposition Benches did not agree with the Prime Minister.

Fiona O’Donnell: What I had really hoped for was a little humility. We have been preached to about humility, but the hon. Lady completely failed to recognise that there are financial services sector jobs in other parts of the country. My constituency is heavily dependent on the financial services sector in Edinburgh, and we will see what happens. The signs since this Government came into office have not been good.

The Government offer us the Work programme. I have been to visit the providers in my constituency. A woman opened up a spreadsheet and said she was not sure whether she was meant to show me it. It was, in effect, a profit and loss account showing at each quarter how many people the providers need to help into work to get a return on the payments from the Government. The most depressing thing was seeing the percentage they expected not to find their way in to work at the end of the two years.

My fear is that providers will not invest the resources in supporting that percentage, whom we could probably all identify when they walk in the door, when they are the very people who need more help and support to take them back into work. This is where the Government do not get it.

I remember during the 1997 general election knocking on a door and meeting a woman who was still in her pyjamas in the early afternoon and trying to convince her that she could get out, vote Labour and make a difference. She did not even have a reason to get dressed. When Government Members hear of a case like that,

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they think in terms of a drain on resources, and resentment and a grudging feeling come over them. They do not think about how to support someone like that and what it might mean for someone to have reached that low point in their life when they do not think that they have any contribution to make to society.

I am also particularly concerned about the increase of 55% in the number of young people in my constituency who have faced no prospect of finding work since this Government came into power. The future jobs fund gave them hope. Government Members keep yelling that it did not lead to real jobs, but the hon. Member for Cardiff Central, to give her credit again for bringing some reason into the debate, talked about the elements of the fund. She described eloquently how it helped young people to break the habit of not getting up in the morning, to gain self-esteem and to feel not only supported but understood.

We take no joy in the Government’s failure to address the needs of people who are seeking work, or to create the jobs that could lift them out of poverty. It is not a price worth paying for the political advantage that we are benefiting from.

5.5 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): The latest unemployment figures are absolutely shocking: 133,000 in Wales alone; and, in some areas such as the Rhondda, 20 people are chasing every single job vacancy. As we look around our constituencies, we see people losing their jobs because of the Government’s savage cuts to public services, and because private firms that thrived on public procurement are seeing their order books empty. We see people losing jobs in the private sector because consumer confidence is low and demand is down, and we just need to look at our high streets and town centres to see shops closing, including those of big household names and local businesses.

If any programme to get people back into work, such as the Work programme, is going to be successful, and if people are going to have a chance of getting a job, the Government need to get their act together and get a growth strategy—now, before it is too late; now, before any more firms go bust; now, before any more shops on our high streets close; and now, before any more families suffer the scourge of unemployment.

But we see nothing from the Government that will stimulate consumer confidence or demand. On the contrary, we have seen this shameless coalition Government hike VAT up to 20%, despite the fact that just before the election, in April 2010, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems vigorously denied any intention of increasing it. Now, they are ignoring Labour’s calls to cut it.

The Federation of Small Businesses has described the Government’s abysmal attempts at a growth strategy as

“too timid and out of touch with the reality of the UK’s sluggish economy.”

Indeed, back in July the British Chambers of Commerce said that the Government’s deficit reduction plan was

“already dampening demand and adding significantly to the pressures facing businesses and individuals.”

It called on the Government to strengthen their efforts to stimulate growth. Did the Government listen then? No. Are they listening now? No.

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We have not seen the long-term strategies or the certainty that firms need in order to invest. Let us take the feed-in tariff fiasco. In my constituency alone, we are losing many jobs, because a new policy has been introduced in only six weeks, just like that, meaning that nobody has the confidence to put up the £10,000 to install solar panels on their roof. What other scheme do the Government have in mind whereby people put up £10,000 up-front to help to secure jobs in their local economy? I do not think they have one other idea.

In Wales we can show Members a better way—the one mentioned in the motion before us is being put into practice by the Welsh Government. The Labour Government in Wales are creating 4,000 jobs a year for young people in the private sector through the Jobs Growth Wales programme; helping to create jobs in the construction sector by continuing to build schools and houses; and helping businesses by making £55 million available in grants and loans to them. The problem, however, is that the Welsh Government are having to do this against the background of UK Treasury policies, which are making it very difficult for any business to flourish. We have a Chancellor who is determined to suck money out of our local economies, making it extremely difficult for local businesses to keep going.

We all know that people on the lowest and most modest incomes spend their money most rapidly in the local community, because they have to for their day-to-day needs, so let us look at a few examples of how the Government are squeezing hard-pressed families and sucking money out of our local economies. First, there is the VAT hike, which I have mentioned.

Secondly, there is the winter fuel allowance. Most pensioners, certainly in Wales and in many unemployment hot-spots across the UK, are not millionaires but need that £100, so they are transferring money that they would have spent in the local economy and putting it by to pay for their fuel. That money is leaving the local economy, with the economy in Wales alone losing some £31 million.

Thirdly, we have real cuts dressed up as freezes, such as those on public sector pay and on child benefit, and they are translating into money that people do not have to spend in the local economy. Fourthly, the 3% hike in pension contributions is taking £2.8 billion out of the economy; and fifthly, tax credits are being taken away from people who work less than 24 hours a week. But people just cannot, unfortunately, get those hours, and they are from some of the very poorest households. They are trying to work and to keep the family together, yet they are going to have even less money to spend and less money to stimulate the economy, so there are going to be even more job losses. The Government must do something now to put that right and get growth going.

5.9 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): The last Labour Prime Minister will be remembered in the economic history books as the man who in 2008, alongside President Obama, averted a depression of a 1930s quantum by invoking a fiscal stimulus. The current Prime Minister may well be remembered as the Prime Minister who prematurely used his veto to stop Europe putting together

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a plan to promote economic stability and growth, and avert a crisis in the euro and a national sovereign debt crisis across Europe. We all know that we did not want the financial transaction tax, but that could have been vetoed at a later date.

We have a deficit, as we all know, two thirds of which was the responsibility of the international financial markets and the banks. The remaining third was due to the excess investment over earnings of the Labour Government. There should be no apology for that, because that investment was in lower VAT, the car scrappage scheme and so on, which stimulated growth on the back of what could have been the worst depression since the ’30s, and reduced the deficit forecasts by some £22 billion. With the change of Government there was a change of focus, from growth to cuts. Growth has now stopped. The immediate judgment of the new Chancellor was to announce 500,000 job cuts and, for instance, 7% cuts in local government for four years. That meant that everyone in local government thought they were bound to lose their jobs and therefore stopped spending. The reduction in consumption and spending has meant a depression in growth. Now the deficit forecasts are not going down, but going up. They went up to £46 billion, and now they are £158 billion.

As for business and inward investment, the Chinese are coming to Cardiff tomorrow. They are concerned about a country whose growth is flatlining, which has strikes and riots provoked by the Government parties’ policies, where crime is rising for the first time and waiting lists are going up—again, through cuts—and where the educational standards of those going to university are beginning to fall off. In other words, this dualist idea—that if we get rid of the public sector, the private sector will be all right—is completely fallacious. The Labour party has a five-point plan. For example, the VAT change would stimulate £46 million in the local economy in Swansea, helping to create new jobs, while lower national insurance rates would also be helpful in stimulating building businesses.

I should mention that the interest rates that we now enjoy are thanks to the Labour Government making the Bank of England independent. We remember the last time the Tories were in, when interest rates hovered between 10% and 15%, so I will take no lessons from the Conservatives about how the austerity plans and unemployment are the reason for low interest rates. In fact, since the summer, interbank borrowing rates—that is, wholesale rates—have increased by 1%, so small businesses are suffering.

Finally, there is a glimmer of hope for the future in Swansea and Wales, thanks to the standard and quality of research and development in both our universities, which are working with UK Trade & Investment to network into international markets. However, with an enterprise zone in Bristol, parked on the gateway to Wales, we are not helped, frankly, by the continuation of rising tolls on the Severn bridge, especially when we see them being cut on the Humber. That is basically leading to disinvestment in many investment projects, whether in St Athan or the Severn barrage. There is hope, but we need a refocus on growth, instead of an endless focus on cuts. Anyone who runs a business that is making a loss needs to focus on revenue, not just

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cutting everything. The Government need to think again and remember the success of the previous Labour Government.

5.13 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Let me make a few brief points. There is a lot of emotion and pain about rising unemployment, for the many reasons that were eloquently expressed by many Members from across the Chamber, including, as the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) said, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron). We make those emotional points strongly not because we want to re-fight the class wars of the 1980s and 1990s, but because we want to ensure that we learn to understand the impact of letting unemployment rise unchecked without properly and effectively intervening. I therefore hope that Government Members will not misinterpret me when I say that one of the things that we should learn about—in addition to what happens when whole generations are lost, along with the insult and disrespect that they feel—is what that leads to, in terms of alienation and the kind of behaviours it can drive. When we look at the lessons from the interim report of the official inquiry into the riots, I hope that we will take note of the rising sense of alienation among our young people and ensure that our employment policies specifically address it.

I want to ask a couple of questions about the Work programme. It cannot resolve the shortage of jobs, but it can prepare people to be better able to take the opportunities if and when they are made available. It is a matter of great regret to many Labour Members that there is so little transparency about how the Work programme is performing.

I hope that the introduction of the wage subsidy, which it seems might be related in some way to the operation of the Work programme, will not mean a double payment to Work programme providers or a double cost to the economy. I hope the Minister can reassure us on that. I hope, too, that he will say something about whether providers continue to see Work programme contracts as viable. Providers in my region are certainly expressing the concern to me that the lack of jobs means that it will not be possible for them to carry on without coming back to have further discussions with the Government about the payment structure and rewards built into the contracts. We need to know just how Ministers see the economic and financial viability of the Work programme in these very different economic circumstances from those in which the contracts were designed and let.

The Minister should acknowledge that the payment structure in the Work programme does not reward people only for getting someone a job and keeping them there for two years. There should be interim payments all the way through. When we look at the way in which people are moving into employment, I am particularly concerned that we do not move them just to short-term, stop-go, sporadic episodes of employment, whereby Work programme providers pick up some of the payment and redesign their model to make it sufficiently economically viable for them to keep the contract manageable, but do not deliver the sort of long-term sustainable jobs that I think we all want.

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Finally, let me support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). The Government have tools at their disposal not to make the situation worse. I ask them to look urgently at two aspects of tax credits. The first is about the operation of the rule that, as my hon. Friend said, requires couples to work a minimum of 24 hours. We know that employers are not able to offer more hours in the current economic climate, and that rule is going to drive people out of the workplace. I also ask Ministers to look once again at the operation of the child care element of working tax credit. Aviva has shown us that about 32,000 women are leaving the workplace because they cannot make work pay. That is a false economy, and I hope Ministers will—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order.

5.17 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): We have had an interesting and worthwhile debate.

In June last year, the Prime Minister told the House that cutting the deficit faster would revive private sector confidence. That was the basis for the whole plan: private sector investment and jobs would surge, and new private sector jobs would outweigh public sector job cuts. We now know that that plan has not worked. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) were right to underline that the key assumption that confidence would surge has proved to be wrong. The new “Business Confidence Monitor” from the Institute of Chartered Accountants says:

“UK business confidence has collapsed…Confidence has declined across all sectors and all regions.”

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) was right to underline the seriousness of the crisis we face.

Nobody claims that the coalition strategy has worked to boost confidence. We will take different views about the reasons why it has not worked, but the fact that it has not worked is beyond dispute. Public sector job cuts now far exceed new private sector jobs—by 67,000 to 5,000 in the last quarter. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) was right to draw attention to the fact that Conservative Members like to look further back, closer to the election, when there were still beneficial effects from the previous policies. Today, however, private sector job creation has completely stalled.

The Office for Budget Responsibility tells us that more than 700,000 public sector jobs will go; already, for the first time, more than a million young people are out of work. My hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) pointed out what that means in communities around the country.

What are the Government doing? Not long ago, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) told us that all this fuss about youth unemployment was a distraction.

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Chris Grayling: May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who is a decent man, to go and look at the original quotation? If he does so, he will find that I said that the actual figure for youth unemployment was 730,000. The 1 million figure is not a true reflection of the position, because it includes a large number of full-time students looking for part-time jobs. I do not count those as being unemployed.

Stephen Timms: The Minister should take that up with the Office for National Statistics.

Last month the Government finally recognised that they had to do something and announced the youth contract, but they have not made up their minds about the details. There appears to be some haggling with the Chancellor about how it will work, and it is clear that the Government’s providers have no idea how they are supposed to be delivering it from next April. A year after the Deputy Prime Minister said—so he tells us—that something needed to be done, there has still been no action.

Although we do not know the details, we can say one thing for sure: it was folly to scrap the future jobs programme and allow youth unemployment to rocket. As was recognised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), and, indeed, the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), a generation of young people will bear the scars of that folly throughout their working lives because Ministers were asleep at the wheel. All along, we were assured that the solution would be in the Work programme—that it would solve all the problems—but the truth is that the programme was rushed and inadequately planned. As we pointed out at the time, there needed to be a plan for transition from the previous programmes to the new one, but there was no such plan.

So how has the Work programme fared? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston pointed out, Ministers have gone to extraordinary lengths to block the publication of data about what it is achieving. I am told that officials have threatened Work programme providers that if they publish any figures, they will lose their contracts. I well understand the concern of the provider in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) who said, “I should not show you this, because if I do I may lose the contract.”

Absurdly, the Minister of State claims that the purpose of the ban was to meet the requirements of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority. As we have been reminded, he has some form with the authority. However, its chairman wrote to me last week:

“The Statistics Authority has not been consulted on whether it would be appropriate for Work Programme providers to publish their own performance data.”

It was the Minister's decision to hush things up, not that of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority. As I told the Minister yesterday in Committee, the same organisations published their performance data in the flexible new deal, under the same United Kingdom Statistics Authority rules. They actually want to tell people what is going on and what is happening. The Minister must lift the ban.

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According to the foreword to the White Paper “Open Public Services”, signed by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the days when they used to agree with each other,

“it is only by publishing data on how public services do their jobs that we can wrest power out of the hands of highly paid officials and give it back to the people.”

How true that is, but in this case the Minister is resolute: they shall not know.

As it happens, it is possible to glimpse how the programme has been going by looking at the number of people coming off benefit each month. It is no surprise that the number plummeted in May, when the flexible new deal ended. The fact that it continued to be low as the Work programme got going should also have been no surprise, because that always happens. If we compare the months after May with the same period last year, we see that poor Work programme performance resulted in an estimated 86,000 people who should have obtained work not obtaining it. That is probably a permanent unemployment rise. The damage will be with us for years.

Incidentally, to deliver that worse performance, the Government had to pay out millions. I have heard that they had to pay tens of millions in penalty charges for early termination of flexible new deal contracts. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us how many millions of pounds the Government had to pay to prevent those 86,000 people from obtaining jobs.

The Government told us that the Work programme would enlist an army of voluntary organisations to give specialist help. To begin with, we were told that 508 voluntary sector organisations would be involved. By August, the number had fallen to 423. I met a group of them last month—superb organisations such as St Mungo’s, with a great track record in helping homeless people into work. They had agreements with three different prime providers in London. How many people had been referred to them for help under the Work programme in the six months since it started? None—not a single person. Dyslexia Action has Work programme agreements in six different areas. How many referrals has it received in the six months since June? I checked with it yesterday. None; not a single person; nobody at all. These are good organisations. They tooled up and acted in good faith on what the Minister said. He led them up the garden path; he has not delivered. The Merlin standards that he said would safeguard them have proved completely worthless.

Others who have had referrals told us that relationships in the Work programme are terrible. Prime providers are not talking to sub-contractors; jobcentres are not talking to prime providers; and as was rightly said earlier, there are persistent rumours of serious financial problems ahead in the new year. Can the Minister who is winding up tell us what contingency plan he has for the eventuality of a Work programme provider failure? The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has indicated that he is relaxed about that eventuality. What will the Department do if it occurs?

It is clear that we need a new approach. We have spoken about the alternative five-point plan, which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was right to underline. That, at last, would give us a chance, and it is a chance we desperately need.

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5.26 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): It is important in the few minutes remaining to put on the record some of the facts about the current situation, because there is a danger that the tenor of what we have heard from the Labour party might talk down the British economy and lead to an unnecessary depressing of confidence at a time when we need realism, not talking down the hard-working people in our economy.

Let me give an example. One would hardly believe from today’s debate that since the general election, the number of people in work in this country has risen by a quarter of a million. In fact, the number of people in private sector jobs has risen by more than half a million.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister give way?

Steve Webb: In a second. So when it is said that the private sector is not expanding, that is simply not right. People say that there are no jobs, but there are half a million additional private sector jobs. The hon. Lady made the point that that is looking over the whole period, so I will take her at her word. Let us look at the last month. In it, the number of people in work has risen by 38,000. Of course, we can all choose different time periods—Labour Members used the last quarter, for example—but my point is that selective use of statistics, such as that made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), creates a highly misleading impression and talks down the British economy in a way that is in nobody’s interests.

Mr Byrne: The Minister is characteristically generous in giving way. Surely he cannot celebrate the fact that employment over the last quarter has fallen by some 63,000, and that 13 times more jobs are being lost in the public sector than jobs are being created in the private sector. He cannot tell the House today that everything is going well, surely.

Steve Webb: Of course, I did not say that everything is going well, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that in the last month, an extra 38,000 jobs, net, have been created. We can choose different time periods. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the claimant count rose by 3,000 in the last month, but that is more than offset by the fact that people who were previously on incapacity benefit have been reassessed on to JSA, and lone parents have been required to look for work and moved on to JSA. In fact, without those policy changes, JSA numbers would have fallen in the last month. That is why my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to talk about signs of stabilisation in the job market.

As a number of Members on both sides of the House said—my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) and others—every single person on the unemployment roll is a person too many, but if we overstate the doom and gloom, we talk down confidence in the economy, which is to the detriment of all our constituents.

Let me respond to the claim made by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley and others that long-term youth unemployment is up—and I quote—“93%”. Labour

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Front Benchers have clearly supplied all their Back Benchers with figures for their constituencies. The only problem is that all of them are wrong. Labour Members might be interested to learn that what used to happen is that under measures such as the new deal, people had to move off JSA after a certain period and were paid something else—a training allowance—or they got a temporary job; then, when they went back on to JSA, as so many did, the clock started again. Hey presto—a long-term unemployed person had been converted into a short-term unemployed person. They had not got a job; they had just been taken out of the figures. We have stopped doing that. As a result, if all the factors are taken into account—the people who were excluded from the statistics because they were on training allowances or in temporary jobs—the number of long-term claimants aged 18 to 24 is about the same now as it was in 2010.

To hear Labour Members, one would think that the numbers had doubled. The right hon. Gentleman was very angry about that, and had they doubled he would be right to be so, but they have not doubled—in fact, they are roughly the same.

Mr MacShane: Yet.

Steve Webb: The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) said that it was “absurd” to blame all the problems on this Government. That was gracious of him, although I take great offence at his attack on Oxford PPE graduates, but to hear Labour Members today, one would have thought there would have been no public sector job losses at all had they stayed in power. They were planning tens of billions of pounds of cuts. How many public sector jobs would have gone had they gone ahead with their tens of billions of pounds of cuts? They have no idea—no idea at all.

Several hon. Members mentioned interest rates. We were told that we inherited low interest rates, and the Bank of England base rate was indeed low. The question was what decisions did we, as a new Government, have to make to get the fiscal position under control. Because we took the difficult decisions early—pretty much every one of which has been opposed, item by item, in the course of this debate—the interest rates at which the British Government are borrowing have stayed low while other countries’ debt rates have soared. As a result, in this Parliament we have saved £22 billion in debt interest—money we can spend on services and on helping the unemployed which would not have been available had we listened to Labour.

Early in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) said that we need to tackle red tape. He is right, and we have the red tape challenge, which has already resulted in substantial deregulation in, for example, retail and hospitality, with much more to come. I am grateful to him for making that point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott) highlighted the fact that pension funds will now be asked to invest more in the long-term infrastructure of this country—and rightly so. It is shocking that, for so many years, the money in our pension funds was not invested in our long-term infrastructure. This coalition Government are taking action to tackle that.

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The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) referred to the regional growth fund money in his constituency, and I am grateful to him for acknowledging the good that it can do. He asked about incentives to take on the long-term unemployed and the young unemployed. The youth contract is being introduced so that when people take on 18 to 24-year-olds from the Work programme—so they are long-term unemployed—they will get an incentive worth £2,275. That is more than a year’s free national insurance, so it is a valuable incentive. Unlike point five of this fantastic five-point plan we have heard about, which would reward small firms that take on anybody—including someone they were going to take on anyway and who would have got a job—our incentive is targeted on the long-term unemployed. That is the crucial point. Only one person in this debate has mentioned cost-effectiveness—my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury. The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said that it was a scandal, or something, to have finished up the future jobs fund, but he should know that that fund was costing more than £6,500 per place, whereas our work experience programme costs a twentieth of that and delivers the same sort of outcomes. Cost-effectiveness simply is not on the Labour party’s radar.

In the few seconds available to me I shall not have the chance to go through all hon. Members’ contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) flagged up the record national debt that we were left and my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) talked about the collective amnesia of Labour Members and asked why they did not tackle bankers’ bonuses. Just before the election, they introduced a temporary bankers’ bonus tax—

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 233, Noes 307.

Division No. 413]

[5.35 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

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

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

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 David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

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

Sarwar, Anas

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, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Yvonne Fovargue and

Nic Dakin


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

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

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

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

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Oliver

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

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Reckless, Mark

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

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

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Hunter and

Mr Shailesh Vara

Question accordingly negatived.

14 Dec 2011 : Column 888

14 Dec 2011 : Column 889

14 Dec 2011 : Column 890

14 Dec 2011 : Column 891

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

That the draft Jobseeker’s Allowance (Jobseeking and Work for Your Benefit) (Amendment and Revocation) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 21 November, be approved.—(Stephen Crabb.)

Question agreed to.


Park End Community Centre (Middlesbrough)

5.52 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Park End, Middlesbrough,

Declares that the Petitioners are concerned about the prospective closure of Park End Community Centre, which recently received £102,000 in lottery grant funding for a multi-games court, a skate

14 Dec 2011 : Column 892

park and a garden; that the Petitioners believe that this is a much-treasured community facility used regularly by residents of all ages and that the Petitioners are concerned that the closure of the centre will also have a negative impact on staff and users of the nearby Park End Medical Centre.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ask Middlesbrough Council to ensure that funding for Park End Community Centre remains in place and that the centre remains open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


BAE Systems (Humber Region)

5.53 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I rise to present a petition of 4,385 constituents and others from the Humber area against the proposed loss of 899 skilled private sector jobs at BAE Systems in Brough. While Members will be enjoying the Christmas break, Boxing day will see BAE Systems complete a consultation process on the loss of strategically vital defence jobs in a region badly hit by unemployment and a shortage of decent jobs, as we saw again in today’s jobless figures. Over 100 of the workers met the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today. We hope that this leads to an outcome that will save as many of the jobs as possible.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Humberside,

Declares that the Petitioners support workers at BAE Systems in Brough in their fight to save Humber jobs.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to support the defence industry by investing in modern manufacturing and regeneration around the Humber and to preserve skilled jobs and apprenticeships in the Humberside area.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Hinkley Point

5.54 pm

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I rise to present the petition of the Stop Hinkley campaign. Those who live in the area around Hinkley, particularly in Somerset, would like the Government to look at alternatives to Hinkley Point.

The petition states:

The Petition of supporters of the Stop Hinkley campaign,

Declares that the Petitioners strongly oppose the plan by EdF (Electricite de France) to construct a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset and declares that as an alternative, the Petitioners believe that a Government-backed programme of energy saving and clean renewable energy would combat climate change and avoid the risks of catastrophic accidents and dangers to health resulting from the storage of highly radioactive waste at Hinkley for 160 years.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to commit to an energy policy based on energy saving and clean renewable energy, in which new nuclear power stations play no part.

And the petitioners remain, etc.


14 Dec 2011 : Column 893

Pedestrian Access (Railway Stations)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Vara.)

5.57 pm

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): I am pleased to have secured this debate. I admit that the subject might seem a little obscure to some Members, but the Minister will know that it is of great concern not only to people in my constituency but to all of Sheffield. I am delighted to be joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). This issue has brought together an extraordinary coalition of local residents and local organisations who are united in their concern to maintain pedestrian access through our station.

I know that similar issues have arisen in other parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) has shared with me his concerns from further down the midland main line. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), who cannot be here tonight, has shared with me the issues in his city. I know that the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has had problems of a similar nature at a station in his constituency.

This evening, I will explain the problem facing Sheffield and make three points. The first is that established pedestrian routes for non-rail users through railway stations should be respected and protected, not blocked by ticket barriers. Secondly, I will look at the relationship between publicly funded stations and station improvements and the franchise arrangements that have passed the management of our stations to private rail companies. Thirdly, I will challenge the one-size-fits-all approach to ticket barriers of the Department for Transport, and the implications for pedestrian access. I will draw extensively—but not too extensively—on the long-running campaign in my constituency and in the city to maintain access through our railway station. I will illustrate that railway stations are not just places where people get on trains, but can be so much more, as in the case of Sheffield.

In advance of tonight’s debate, in an experiment in participatory democracy, I invited comments from constituents through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, and I was overwhelmed with responses. I should like to thank those who contacted me for their support, and although I apologise for being unable to use all their comments, I will draw heavily on their views tonight.

Sheffield has an open station without ticket barriers, and it is not simply a place to catch a train. It is connected to our Supertram network via a tram stop at the back of the station, and it is just one minute on foot from the main bus interchange. As my constituent, Roz Wollen, says, we have a

“joined up transport system of tram, bus and train, all linked.”

It is a model of an integrated transport hub and the only point in the city where all forms of transport come together, so the free movement of people around that hub is crucial.

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The station is not just a transport hub. It sits at the bottom of one of Sheffield’s seven great valleys. On one side is the city centre and on the other are the communities of Park Hill, Norfolk Park and beyond. The railway line runs down the valley, dividing the two, and the station is the natural link between the city centre and those communities.

The bridge that runs through the heart of the station is the only pedestrian route that unites the city. As Angela Andrassy says:

“The bridge also symbolises for me the joining of our area of the city to the city centre.”

It runs from the main station concourse to the tram stop, then to the communities beyond and to key institutions such as Sheffield college and All Saints school. For residents coming the other way, it provides direct access to workplaces, shops, cinemas, theatres and Hallam university. The bridge and station, as Mark Doel says, are

“part of the civic landscape”.

That landscape has recently been enhanced by the wonderful new South Street park, built with public money, which I was delighted to open in September. Footpaths come down the hill through the park and converge on the station bridge, providing the main route to the city for the communities that I mentioned.

The bridge was redeveloped as a main pedestrian route in 2002, as part of the £50 million redevelopment of the station and the adjacent Sheaf square. That redevelopment created the modern, accessible and award-winning station that we have today and the major pedestrian gateway to the city centre. Funding came from both the public and private sectors, with the city council, the passenger transport executive, Network Rail and the European Union all contributing.

That redevelopment not only transformed the station to give train passengers a fantastic first impression of our city, but crucially opened the bridge to more than 1 million people a year, at a cost of £7.5 million, giving pedestrians a safe and secure route to and from the city centre. Frank Abel, a pensioner, told me:

“I use the bridge several times a week walking into town…At all times of the day and evening there are people going up and down the new steps.”

Gavin Bateman said:

“I use the footbridge through the station daily and my daughters use it on a regular basis. It is my contention that there is not an acceptable alternative”.

As Viv Ratcliffe, who is wheelchair-dependent, asked me to point out:

“The bridge was built to integrate all aspects of transportation including pedestrians.”

The station is not just a pedestrian gateway, a transport hub and a place to catch a train, it is increasingly a destination in its own right. In 2009 the Sheffield Tap opened at the station, and it has won awards. It is a pub that has quickly become a firm favourite not only of the Campaign for Real Ale but of travellers and non-travellers. Its arrival and subsequent success perfectly demonstrate that the station is increasingly a community hub and, in my view, a model station. As Gareth Slater points out,

“removing the bridge will damage the passing trade of the shops”

that have been developed in the station.

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I echo the words of former Virgin Trains chief executive, Chris Green, and the president of the Town and Country Planning Association, Sir Peter Hall, who wrote in the introduction to their report for the Government in 2009 on how to improve our railway stations:

“Stations are deeply entwined with their local community and effectively act as the gateway to both town and railway. They leave passengers with their lasting impressions of both.”

Sheffield station’s success is, however, entirely predicated on its being an open station, with pedestrian access right through it. When East Midlands Trains took over the management of the station in 2007 under a new franchise from the Department for Transport and signalled its intention to install ticket barriers across the bridge to tackle fare evasion, there was considerable local anger.

Ticket barriers will block pedestrian access through the station and close the bridge to all but train passengers. Since 2007, the Department for Transport has put pressure on EMT to install barriers, but I am pleased to say that, so far, it has been unsuccessful, not least because of a tremendous campaign against barriers led by the campaign group Residents Against Station Closure—RASC. For more than four years, it has thoughtfully and thoroughly pursued the issue through lobbying, campaigning and regular creative demonstrations. Indeed, this Friday its festive protest will involve seven Santas with their reindeer—[Hon. Members: “Are they real?”] I am not sure whether they are live reindeer, but that is the theme. They will cross the bridge and give out chocolate coins to children, as a reminder that public money built the bridge.

I have worked with RASC for most of the past four years, long before being elected to this place. I pay tribute to its members for their energy, leadership and ability to mobilise extraordinary support across the city and the political spectrum. They do not stand alone. In an online poll conducted by Sheffield council in 2009, 94% of people said that they opposed ticket barriers. All political parties in Sheffield, along with local schools, pensioners, neighbourhood and transport groups have signed up to oppose the barriers. Indeed, earlier this afternoon, the Deputy Prime Minister sent me a note, apologising for missing this, the second most important debate of the week, but saying that he

“continues to urge the DfT to come to a practical solution with the train company and Sheffield City Council which will allow pedestrians to continue to be able to use the bridge.”

Institutions that are key to the city’s economic and social fabric support the campaign to keep the bridge open, including the chamber of commerce, Hallam university, Sheffield college and Sheffield International Venues. They know that breaking up the city’s transport infrastructure is bad for business, and makes Sheffield a less attractive place in which to work, study, live and invest.

Furthermore, the £150 million scheme, which is transforming the iconic and grade II* listed Park Hill flats—the largest listed structure in Europe—creating 874 new apartments and breathing new life into this part of the city, will be cut off from the city centre if access across the bridge is denied. It is madness, and the Park Hill developer, Urban Splash, understandably shares my strong opposition to barriers.