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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 15 July 2014

[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]

Youth Employment

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Amber Rudd.)

9.30 am

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. Along with my hon. Friends the Members for Braintree (Mr Newmark) and for Redcar (Ian Swales) and the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), and with the support of others, I asked the Backbench Business Committee to support a debate on youth employment. I am grateful to the Committee for its support.

The subject of this debate is not unemployment but employment. We want this debate to be a positive one. We would like to promote what we can do in our constituencies to help get young people into work. Many hon. Members run jobs fairs, information campaigns, apprenticeship drives, work experience programmes and much more in their constituencies. This debate is an opportunity to celebrate the success of those programmes and share the ideas behind them so that hon. Members can perhaps return to their constituencies during the summer recess with the opportunity to do more to help local young people. I am grateful to the Million Jobs campaign, which has supported this debate, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree will speak more about it.

First, I will briefly set out the national picture, and then I will share an example of my own. We will have the latest monthly employment figures tomorrow, but as of today, employment is at 30.5 million, which is up 345,000 on the quarter and represents a huge rise in the number of jobs created in the private sector. The net rise in employment over four years is 1.69 million. Unemployment is at 2.6 million, which is down on the quarter and over a four-year period. Long-term unemployment is down 108,000 on the year.

Youth unemployment is also down. Some 3.4 million 18 to 24-year-olds were in employment in the last three months, an increase on the previous year. In the same period, 677,000 people aged 18 to 24 were unemployed, a fall of 11.5% from the previous year. Of course, those studying are included in the figure covering unemployment, so not all of those 677,000 are necessarily seeking a job. Expressed as a percentage, our national unemployment rate is currently 16.5%.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I would not have intervened so early, but as she is mentioning figures and good news, I wonder whether she has noted that in Warwick and Leamington, youth unemployment has fallen by 67% since April 2010? That is obviously good news, but we need to do more.

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Does she agree that we should do whatever we can to encourage businesses to work more closely with our schools and colleges in terms of mentoring, work experience and careers advice to help give our young people an even better start in finding a job?

Chloe Smith: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on that point. He has helpfully set up the point about co-operation that I wish to emphasise in this debate.

Our national youth unemployment rate has hovered under 20% for much of the last four years; if we look across Europe, we see that our young people are significantly better off than, for example, those in Spain, where about half of young people cannot find work. They are also better off than those in Uganda, where I have just had the privilege of meeting young leaders from nine countries through the Democrat Union of Africa. I learned there that youth unemployment in Uganda is the highest in Africa; the African Development Bank says that it could be as high as 83%. Uganda also has the world’s largest percentage of young people under 30, at 78% of the entire population.

Youth unemployment is a blight for any nation, but most of all it is a blight on every young person who has a hope, a dream and something to offer. Those are not numbers; they are real people. It is a sapping experience to seek work and not get it. Unemployment is a crying shame for those who want to put education to good use and an appalling burden for those who want to work hard and get on without falling back on benefits.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I was one of the first MPs to hire, train and retain an apprentice. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a good way we can make an individual difference? Does she also agree that the statistics show that, for example, every single one of the 29 constituencies in the north-east shows an increase in the number of apprenticeship starts compared with the year 2010? The minimum rise is 60%; the maximum, in Bishop Auckland, is 143%.

Chloe Smith: I welcome those figures. My hon. Friend does well to point out how important apprenticeships are, and I congratulate him on offering one to a young person.

National policy, which the Minister will set out in more detail, ranges across the radical expansion of apprenticeships to the package of measures under the Youth Contract, which include incentives for employers to take on young people. Many organisations in the third sector also contribute enormously to encouraging young people throughout the country, some by means of formal contracts with the state. Campaign groups such as The Found Generation add to that. The Found Generation is youth-led and aims to tackle Britain’s youth unemployment and prevent a lost generation. It has recently published a report entitled “Practical Solutions to UK Youth Unemployment”, which I commend to hon. Members.

I will also mention briefly a couple of commissions with which I am involved. I chair the National Youth Agency’s commission into youth and enterprise, which is currently researching and surveying how we can all back young people to start out on their own.

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Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. On youth enterprise, does she agree that schemes such as Young Enterprise have inspired many students over the years? However, it is vital to get entrepreneurs into schools. The entrepreneur Neil Westwood, who founded Magic Whiteboard and got funding from “Dragons’ Den”, goes into local schools in Worcester to give talks and inspire young people about what they can achieve by setting out on their own. Does she agree that that is a good model for others to consider?

Chloe Smith: I certainly do. It is incredibly important to have good role models available for young people. After all, by 2018 there will be more entrepreneurs in our labour market than public sector workers. Self-employment, entrepreneurship and micro-business are an exciting tectonic shift in our economy, and I am confident, from what I have seen with my own eyes, that young people will be at its heart.

I also contributed, as a commissioner, to the Industry and Parliament Trust’s recent report on youth skills. Local and regional policy is beginning to emerge through local enterprise partnerships. I particularly commend the detailed work done on skills by my LEP, New Anglia.

Policy is one thing, but local success does not rely on policy. It needs good leadership and a will to succeed, and it needs business, the community and parliamentarians to work together to help young people. I offer the example of Norwich for Jobs, a project that I founded. We set out in January 2015 to halve our city’s youth unemployment in two years. That meant reducing the rate of jobseeker’s allowance claimants from 2,000 down to 1,000. I am delighted to report that we have virtually achieved that, early. We expect new figures tomorrow to show that the youth unemployment rate in our city has dipped under 1,000. We have done it by asking businesses in our city to pledge to take on a young person. They sign a formal pledge and commit to a number of opportunities that they can provide over the months to come. We then connect young people with those opportunities through the jobcentre.

Essentially, we have focused the city community on a common goal. We have tried to provide a common platform for the many organisations that help young people in Norwich, and sought to work together to share intelligence and get young people into work with the employers who are making that commitment. In order to do that, I brought together a steering group, to which I pay tribute. It included Jobcentre Plus, City College Norwich, Norfolk chamber of commerce, the regional media group Archant—it runs information about the campaign in the Norwich Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press—and scores of employers, led by Howes Percival, a local law firm. The employers that have signed up range from tiny firms such as our one-man-band plumber, who is now a two-person band with an apprentice who does his books and social media, to large local firms such as the independent Norwich retailer Jarrold, which took on the 1,000th young person in our scheme.

National and international chains have got involved too, including Marks and Spencer and KLM Engineering. In all cases, we are seeking additionality, to use the

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technical term—the extra jobs or opportunities that those firms could pledge on top of their existing programmes. All those firms know the benefit of taking on a young person. They are securing the future of their business and helping the community at the same time.

We count against the Office for National Statistics figures every month, using a measure of the young people attending Norwich jobcentre. That allows us to cover the travel-to-work area. We track the paid opportunities that are offered—jobs and apprenticeships—but we also encourage the soft opportunities such as work experience and mentoring. So far, there has been a commitment to provide 1,098 jobs and apprenticeships, with 1,032 young people going into paid work as a result. I stress that we believe in good faith that this activity is all additional, because we are counting against the opportunities offered. We also know that the total Norwich register has dropped and we review on-flow and off-flow every month.

We have had the benefit of a superb employers’ panel, as well as a young people’s panel, to advise us, and we will work closely in the months ahead with our partners’ panel, which is made up of all the organisations that are often more specialist in terms of getting harder-to-help young people into work. We have enjoyed praise from His Royal Highness Prince Edward, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, Ministers and the Bishop of Norwich. We know that we have achieved a good thing but we are not complacent because there is so much more to do.

I will sum up my contribution, to allow other hon. Members to contribute. Youth unemployment is one of the most important social and economic issues of our time, and we can do things about it locally. This process is about the many individuals who are looking for the job they ardently need in order to secure that all-important first chance to take home a pay packet and to gain experience. Their families, their communities, local businesses and parliamentarians can step up to help. Although we want this debate to touch on education, welfare and enterprise policies, we hope that it will focus on constituency best practice, including pop-up job shops, social networks and local campaigns. We hope that hon. Members will share the good work being done in their locality and learn from others, so that each hon. Member leaves with a set of actions for the summer recess when the latest school, college and university leavers look for their own place in the world of which they can be proud.

9.41 am

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): It is indeed a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Crausby.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this important debate on youth employment, but it would be remiss of me if I did not commence my speech by highlighting the unemployment figure for young people in this country. Starting their adult life unemployed is not what we want for our young people, but more than 800,000 young people across the UK aged between 16 and 24 were unemployed in the first quarter of this year. That is a worrying statistic, not only because it reads badly, but because it is worrying for the young people themselves

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and their parents. For the first time in generations, parents from all types of background fear that their children will do worse than them.

We know what we need to do. If we truly want to get our young people into work, we need a highly skilled work force that will enable us to compete with the emerging nations of China and India, as well as advanced industrial nations such as the United States and Germany. What we need is a long-term plan for jobs. We also need to focus on the skills agenda and do more to help the 50% of young people who do not go to university. I never went to university. It could be said I was lucky, going straight into the world of employment on leaving school, but when I left school, finding work was not about luck; there was a plan in place for jobs. In my area of the country, when the school gates opened on the last day of the summer term, other gates in the various sectors involved with the shipyard industries also opened and a transfer took place. Skills were gained and young people had a choice about what they wanted to be in their future career. That that does not happen today.

We know that in the past in my area of the country, we tended to put all our eggs in the one basket—heavy industries. We did the same in the 1980s, replicating the process with the electronics industries. We filled the gap created by the decline of the heavy industries with these “sunrise” industries. Throughout the history of both the heavy industries and the electronics industry, we innovated, pushed the design boundaries and found new markets. With ships, we redesigned them and took them to a new level, replacing many items on the ships with new, cutting-edge design. We did the same in the electronics industry. Without the work done in my area of the country, people would not have the phone in their pocket—if we had not pushed processors and improved them, including pioneering the use of surface-mounted multi-layer technology—but somehow that innovative desire to create new markets and so create new employment evaded us in the following years.

I will focus on Scotland for a moment, because we outperform the UK on youth employment and youth activity rates. Scotland has a higher youth employment rate and a lower youth inactivity rate than the UK as a whole, but we are never complacent. This process is about focusing on what matters, which is employment for our young people.

The best possible start to someone’s adult life is employment, whether that comes after leaving school at 16 or after leaving university. The hopes and aspirations of our young lie in finding work.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman at least recognise that youth unemployment in his constituency has come down by 37.8% since the last election?

Mr McKenzie: Indeed, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting that fall. I will tell him exactly how we achieved it. Inverclyde outperforms most areas in Scotland because we punch above our weight. We have done that by pulling together resources from many organisations and put in place an Inverclyde Alliance focused on what matters—employment—with a youth employment action plan at the heart of its work. We are pleased to point to the fact that 94% of our school leavers reach a positive

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destination, so only a single-figure percentage do not reach one. With additional services, the programme provides an end-to-end employability service that is not just about placing a young person with an employer and hoping for the best; it is about continuous engagement with the employer and the young person. What does the young person need to enhance their skills? What do they need to keep them in employment, or to help them to look for other employment at the end of their term of placement? We ask the business, “Where are you going with your business? Where will you take it to in the next year or so? Can this young person come with you, if they have the required skills, and what skills do you identify that the young person needs to retain the position within your company?”

Of course, in Inverclyde we have continued with the future jobs fund. Obviously, the British Government felt that they did not want to retain the fund across the country, but it works and it has been working for us. In addition, we have made a successful bid to the Scottish Government for additional European funding, allowing 170 additional wage incentive packages that have enabled local companies to recruit even more young people. A total of 52 employers have been engaged, creating a total of 58 posts for our young people during the last year.

This year in Inverclyde, my Labour council allocated substantial additional funding for employability measures for young people. That has resulted in an additional 50 placements with employers across Inverclyde, because Labour in Inverclyde has been focused on what matters—employment, not separation. Our young people believe in having more choices and more chances. I hope you will forgive me, Mr Crausby, for briefly saying that that is why I believe they will vote in September to stay with the UK.

I will also touch on an entrepreneurial programme that we have put in place. The Recruit programme is based upon “The Apprentice”, with young people looking to be hired rather than fired. Many tasks are set up and the young people step up to the mark, proving to many employers that they have the entrepreneurial spark and can be innovative in what they have been tasked to do. However, as I said before, we are never complacent and there are still 72,000 unemployed young people in Scotland, which is unacceptable. We need to get on and reduce that figure.

We desperately need to get our young people into training and apprenticeships. Young people need every chance to improve their skills if they are to get good jobs. Speaking as a former apprentice, I know the value of apprenticeship training. My apprenticeship took four years, but I suspect the period required to learn skills can be reduced in the modern era. However, it should not be reduced to the period or level of work experience, which some people would like to see apprenticeships reduced to. In Inverclyde, we now have around 600 modern apprenticeships, which can offer so much, and there is no reason why apprenticeships should not be expanded to cover a wide variety of jobs and professions. Employment is an essential part of life and without it, especially for our young people, the future will be bleak, because our young people must be our future. We need to plan for jobs and industry, looking to the future business markets

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and, yes, manufacturing can again prosper across this country. As I said in my maiden speech, everyone has the right to work.

9.49 am

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this important debate. I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie). He is right: it is unacceptable that any young person is unemployed. It is the duty of any and every Government to ensure that they do everything possible to get young people back into work. As a father of five children between the ages of 16 and 25, I am well aware, like all parents, of the importance of ensuring that every young person in our society has an opportunity to get a foothold on the employment ladder, so that they can make a contribution to our society. Almost every young person I meet wants a job; they want to work and they do indeed want to make a contribution, and this Government are doing everything possible to help our young people back into work.

I recently ran a successful jobs fair in Braintree, and I thank all the businesses that have been doing what they can to cut youth unemployment and take on a young person from our community. Youth unemployment in Braintree fell from 6.3% in May 2010 to 3.8% in May 2014. That trend has been repeated throughout the country, with youth unemployment falling in almost every constituency, so the Government have done much to combat this problem.

After the last election, the previous Government having left some 1 million young people unemployed, I helped to co-found the Million Jobs campaign. Last year, we drafted a manifesto to tackle the problem of youth unemployment, which set out five steps the Government could take to reduce youth unemployment. They included abolishing national insurance payments by employers of young people; educating school pupils about the apprenticeship opportunities available to them; encouraging firms to invest in young people through employment; removing of barriers preventing employers giving honest constructive feedback to applicants; and, finally, giving every unemployed young person a mentor. In the 2013 autumn statement, the Chancellor adopted the first of our manifesto recommendations by abolishing the jobs tax for any person under the age of 21. At this point, I pay tribute to and thank Lottie Dexter, the director of the Million Jobs campaign, for her tireless effort and leadership.

The Government have introduced a number of other policies over the past four years to tackle youth unemployment. Recently, they implemented the £1 billion Youth Contract, which will create 500,000 new job opportunities for young people by supporting employers and work experience placements financially. Indeed, many of the young people we represent in this House already benefit hugely from the Youth Contract and will continue to in future. Furthermore, the Deputy Prime Minister announced in July 2013 that eight core English cities outside London would be able to bid for a share of £50 million to help young people into work through the Youth Contract.

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Apprenticeship schemes have been hugely beneficial in decreasing unemployment of young people, while providing a welcome boost to the national economy. I pay tribute to my Essex colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), for his sterling efforts promoting the scheme. The Government have taken steps to create a greater number of apprenticeships that are applicable to the current workplace. For example, a £25 million higher apprenticeship fund has been introduced to support up to 10,000 degree-level apprenticeships in sectors such aerospace and renewable energy technologies. Today, there are more than twice the number of apprenticeship schemes available to young people as there were in 2010, enabling more than 1.8 million young people to enter the workplace. In Braintree, I have witnessed this at first hand: the number of my constituents entering an apprenticeship has increased by almost 140% since 2010.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on launching the Million Jobs campaign. We have heard great things this morning about apprenticeships—I have an apprentice—jobs fairs and the formal commitment of our hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North, and so on. Does he agree that two ongoing measures will make a difference: the introduction of direct payments to employers, rather than through training colleges, for apprenticeships; and the removal of the loan system for funding apprentices over 24, which will help reduce total unemployment?

Mr Newmark: Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are reducing the barriers in order to help young people into work. That is the thrust of the two points he made.

It is important that we continue to promote these new opportunities in schools across the country in order to move towards a more vocational education system. In 2010, a study by the economist Alison Wolf found that 350,000 16 to 19-year-olds were in line to receive unfortunately poorly respected qualifications that had little value in the employment market. Replacing low vocational qualifications with new tech levels that will drive up educational standards is another step the Government are taking to prepare young people for work in the future.

Wage incentives for employers have also been put in place to stimulate demand for working young people. Now, any employer that gives a young person who has been on benefits for six months a job could potentially receive up to £2,275, and the Government have also ensured that payments of £2,200 are available to providers who take on 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in education, employment, training or are from disadvantaged backgrounds. That has provided the long-needed encouragement for employers to begin proactively to seek out the young unemployed and ultimately give them a foot on the employment ladder. The Government have also introduced the new enterprise allowance, which has given young unemployed people with great ideas the opportunity and means to start their own businesses and work their own way out of unemployment. Under the last Labour Government, the number of NEETs increased by a third and youth unemployment overall increased by 40% between May 1997 and May 2010. Thanks to the work of this Government, the total

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number of 16 to 18-year-old NEETs is the lowest in a decade, while the implementation of a pre-apprenticeship training programme called “traineeship” will ensure even the most vulnerable young people have full access to employment opportunities. That has already positively affected both the voluntary and the community sectors and is particularly aiding young people who are currently not in education, employment or training.

This Government have acted on the calls from the public to reduce youth unemployment by using a variety of policies in combination, and although there is still much to be done, there is clear evidence that the Government are succeeding in addressing the issue of youth unemployment and that their long-term economic plan is delivering for young people, not just in Braintree but up and down the country.

9.57 am

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this debate. She has shown herself to be extremely interested in this issue, both in her constituency and in her work in Parliament. Indeed, she recently became vice-chair of the all-party group on youth unemployment, which I chair.

The hon. Lady emphasised, in her opening remarks, that this debate is titled “Youth Employment”, not “Youth Unemployment”. I share that willingness to be positive and mine will be largely a positive speech, but when I established the all-party group, it was not without thought that I chose to call it the all-party group on youth unemployment, because this is still a huge problem in our country and we need to look at issues around unemployment as well. It is not just a matter of creating jobs, although that is, of course, the most important part. There are significant issues about why our young people are not in work or, indeed, not in education or training. That deserves to be considered—without wanting to be negative, as I said.

As the hon. Lady said, this debate comes before the publication tomorrow by the Office for National Statistics of the monthly unemployment figures. I am sure I speak for everyone in this room in wanting those figures to improve further, particularly for our young people. Although unemployment is coming down generally and for our young people, my reading of the figures is that it is decreasing three times slower for young people compared with the population as a whole.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): Does the hon. Lady welcome the large drop in the claimant count of 18 to 24-year-olds in her constituency?

Pamela Nash: Of course I do. Government Members have been constantly making that point to Opposition Members as if we do not welcome that. Of course I welcome any drop in unemployment figures—I am doing what I can in my constituency to make that happen—but I do not want to see any complacency, because we still have a huge number of unemployed people in this country. The figures are coming down, but, particularly for young people, not nearly quickly enough.

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The Minister for Skills and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): Of course there is no complacency, and one young person not in education, employment or training is one too many, but on whether youth unemployment is falling faster than overall unemployment, will the hon. Lady note that in her constituency the claimant count is down 21.6% since 2010 overall and down 26.8% among 18 to 24-year-olds, which contradicts her analysis?

Pamela Nash: Of course. I was going to come on to that point, but I appreciate that interventions have led me to it now. I welcome that decrease, but the figures are not yet at the levels seen before the downturn. I appreciate that the figures are below what they were when the Government took office, but they are not where they should be. As the Minister said, one young person unemployed is one person too many. We should talk about the issues and how we get every single person back to work.

In 2012—I appreciate that the figures have moved on, but it is the last full year for which we have figures—youth unemployment cost the Exchequer £4.8 billion. It is estimated that it cost the economy £10.7 billion in lost output, so the Government need to look at this issue. To be clear, the £4.8 billion is more than the Budget forecast for oil and gas revenue to the Government in 2014-15. Youth unemployment is costing the Government huge amounts, so it makes economic sense to get young people back to work as soon as possible. In my constituency—Government Members seem to have good knowledge of the figures for my constituency; they are well prepared this morning—youth unemployment is still at 8.5%, which is higher than the rate for Scotland and for the UK as a whole. Although it is lower than when the Government came to power, it is still nowhere near the level it was before the financial crisis.

Unemployment in Scotland has gone down, but the total number of JSA claimants in Scotland is 140,000, which is the same as the population of Dundee. As it is in the rest of the UK, the youth unemployment rate in Scotland is almost double the adult unemployment rate. I accept Government Members’ claim that it has gone down, but I worry about complacency, which cannot be acceptable when such a huge number of young people are unable to pursue their dreams and aspirations after so many years of austerity. The all-party group on youth unemployment, which I mentioned in my opening remarks, recently disclosed that the dole queue of young people in the UK, were they all to stand in a line, would reach from Edinburgh to London.

Youth is sometimes seen as an afterthought when we discuss employment, which should not be the case. Young people should be our first thought in tackling unemployment. We know from the research into long-term unemployment that its effect on young people can be not just immediate, but can scar for life. It can leave long-term issues that stay with that person throughout their life, be it in the workplace or at home.

As I have said in private meetings, youth unemployment is often seen as a political football. The debate is always a bit heated because there are Government Members who really want to tackle youth unemployment and have the same aims as us, but who have different views on how to tackle it. I could say that some of their views are right and some are wrong, but the point is that we have the same aim.

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Although I said I would never start an all-party group, having seen how many there were when I became a parliamentarian four years ago, I was shocked that there was not an all-party group looking at youth unemployment. We need that vehicle for cross-party discussions on what is an extremely important issue that successive Governments have not tackled completely, so I am glad the group exists. Since its creation, we have worked with the National Union of Students on its inquiry into youth underemployment. We have met Ministers, shadow Ministers and representatives from the third sector and trade unions, which are also working on this issue. Over the summer we intend to draft a report in the hope that we can persuade all the parties to propose high-quality, sensible polices to tackle the issue when they draft their manifestos for next year’s general election.

In setting up the all-party group, I felt it was important to look at youth unemployment and youth as a whole, but it is important that we take away from the debate the point that not all young people are the same. Often, they are spoken about as a homogenous group who all have the same unemployment issues, but they are not the same. The hon. Member for Norwich North and I spoke last week at an event in Parliament launching the youth-friendly badge, which will allow businesses to show that they are helping young people get back to work. The event was chaired by an extremely capable young lady called Shakira. She impressed me, and I am sure she impressed the hon. Lady. Shakira has become a youth ambassador for the scheme, and she told us a bit about herself during her remarks. I noted a definite reaction in the room when she happened to mention that she was a mother, and that is not the first time I have seen that. At one of the all-party group’s events, a young man who spoke about employment issues mentioned that he was a dad. I do not think the reaction was judgmental; it was one of surprise.

We seem to put young people and youth unemployment in a box. We have made the huge mistake of sometimes speaking about them as a homogenous group, but the facts are that some young people are parents, some care for sick relatives, some are disabled, some have mental health issues, some have left school with few or no qualifications, some are graduates, some live in urban deprived zones and some live in rural areas. Any policy that the Government create has to look at a solution that can be tailored to meet the needs of all young people. In the same way, different areas of the country are not the same, and businesses are not the same. Will the Minister tell us exactly how the Government are moving forward in creating a solution to youth unemployment that is not one size fits all?

I want to speak about the benefits of work experience, how the Government’s policies have worked so far and how they might move forward. I am aware that as part of the Youth Contract, the Government offer work experience to young people, but my understanding is that it is not offered until 13 weeks after a claim has started. I hope the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but why does it have to take 13 weeks before a young person is offered work experience? Surely it could be offered earlier. Part of the reason for that might be the lack of work experience roles available to

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the young people jobcentres aim to serve. In my local area, the jobcentre is struggling to provide the number of work experience placements that are needed, and I will come on to that.

Jobcentre work experience has been tainted by mandatory work activity. I appreciate that mandatory work activity is a different policy from work experience for young people, but the bad press has caused harm and reduced the number of businesses that want to give work experience. Mandatory work activity appeared to be a punishment, rather than a programme designed to get people back to work.

I take the opportunity to congratulate those companies that are offering work experience—as mentioned in recent press stories—including Barclays, which the all-party group has met with. Barclays has offered lots of placements to young people, which are invaluable in gaining workplace experience, confidence and skills. Such placements, however, are not easy to come by, as I know from my area. Some employers have told me that that is because they have not been asked before, and others have blamed the bad publicity about the mandatory work activity scheme.

Alongside that has been coverage of wealthy, connected young people who are able to get internships more easily than others, while some cannot afford to take them up—a perfect media class storm. That upsets me because, as a young person, I benefited greatly from a work experience placement in a Member of Parliament’s office. I managed to do it by working part time and taking on a part-time placement. Unpaid work experience does not have to be exploitative, but it does have to be extremely well managed.

To be clear, wherever exploitation exists it has to be stamped out. Work experience has to be high quality and voluntary. Internships and work experience placements should be paid where possible, and if not, modified in order to reach out to young people from all backgrounds. I am therefore starting a scheme in my constituency—as I am happy to hear other Members are doing—involving high-quality and voluntary placements that reaches out to not only large but small businesses. We will write to more than 400 businesses in my constituency over the summer, asking them to take part. The scheme is supported by a trade union, and we are working with a local Jobcentre Plus office. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to improve access for all young people to good-quality work experience? What are jobcentres doing to reach out to local small businesses, as well as large ones, to create such placements?

I want to touch on the work of my local council in North Lanarkshire, but I was also pleased to hear about the work of Inverclyde council from my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie). Labour-led North Lanarkshire council has created North Lanarkshire’s Working, which I highly recommend that the Minister look at, if he has not already done so—it is easily googleable. The scheme offers local businesses a 50% salary subsidy for six months when they take on someone unemployed. It is primarily but not solely focused on young people. It is working extraordinarily well, not only creating new, sustainable jobs but offering additional support to businesses, which is allowing them to grow. Is the Minister looking at local authority examples of such support for business growth? North Lanarkshire’s Working is creating permanent jobs that otherwise would not have existed.

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I have concerns about apprentices and the recent cuts at the national Skills Funding Agency, which were reported only a few days ago in the Telegraph. I understand that there will be a 47% reduction in staff, including those working on the National Apprenticeship Service. Will the Minister confirm those figures? Why are almost half those staff being cut, when the Government’s rhetoric talks about improving and growing the apprenticeship scheme?

Lots of figures have been bandied about today, as usual when we are talking about employment and youth unemployment. They are often confusing because they come from different data, such as the claimant count or young people who are NEETs. One of the figures adding to the confusion is the number of young people who are sanctioned: more 18 to 24-year-olds are sanctioned than other unemployed people. I appreciate that that is not part of the Minister’s responsibilities, but I ask him to ask the relevant Department why more young people are sanctioned than those in other groups. I also ask that he gets his colleagues to address the point that people sanctioned long term are unlikely to go back to the jobcentre and sign on, so they are not included in the claimant figures.

Young people in my constituency and throughout the United Kingdom need more action to be taken to reduce youth unemployment. I hope to hear what the Minister will do to increase skills, employability and quality of life for our young people. Will he address the points I have made in his closing remarks, and take the relevant ones back to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions?

10.14 am

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing the debate from the Backbench Business Committee. I commend the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), for not only her speech, but her work on behalf of the all-party group.

Underemployment of young people is a scourge; it is clearly bad for the individuals, but it is also bad for the country in many ways. Social disaffection is bound to occur when large numbers of people are under- employed; we see that in countries such as Spain, where unemployment rates for young people have reached figures like 50%.

Is it surprising that people feel socially disaffected when society seems not to want them? In areas such as mine, that feeling can start even before being underemployed, because a person’s prospects can look poor from a much younger age, which affects how they approach education. We have to sort that out for many reasons, one of which is the economic capacity of the country, as the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts said. That is an issue in my area. When I was elected, 1,135 people aged 18 to 24 were unemployed; others were kept out of the numbers in various ways, so the real figure was huge. I am pleased to say that that the youth unemployment figure has been reducing quickly; it has gone down by 36% in the past 12 months. I checked the figures, and only about 30 constituencies in the country have seen a bigger fall in the past year. That

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is because the Government are doing a lot to help the north-east. The local enterprise partnership in particular is focusing on bringing jobs to the area, and on helping young people.

Many schemes are going on, but I commend the Government on what they have done about work experience. When I was campaigning in 2010, I met a young man who was caught in a classic Catch-22: he had been offered work experience at the nearby chemicals site through a contact, but he was unable to take it, because he could not afford to lose the benefits. I am pleased that the Government have freed the system up so that young people may take work experience when it is offered to them and not be caught in a bind.

The Youth Contract is having success. I visited my local provider, Pertemps, to discuss how it was getting on with the Youth Contract. To my surprise, I found that lack of opportunities was not its biggest problem; transport for young people was the biggest problem. The Government need to look a lot harder at how young people can get to the opportunities that might be available. If for work experience we are offering people low amounts of money, or sometimes no money, how do we expect them to get to the workplace if they come from homes with insufficient funds? That needs to be looked at.

The Government have had massive success with apprenticeships. I have an apprentice, Jordan Brimble, an outstanding young lady who is developing quickly in my office. She is an apprentice business administration person, not an apprentice MP—not yet, but one day perhaps. Apprenticeships have doubled in number in my constituency. Since I was elected, more than 5,000 people have started an apprenticeship contract in my constituency.

Another reason for the fall in youth unemployment is the fall in overall unemployment. In the Tees valley we have seen a fall of more than 7,000 people in the past 12 months—in seven constituencies alone. A lot is going on, including a lot of improvement, but we have issues, one of which might be described as employability. Any employer will say that there is a problem with hard skills—particularly in science and technology, but also in other areas—as well as soft skills. I talked to my local council about its scheme for taking on young people, and it has to train some of those young people even in the very soft skills of getting out of bed in the morning, getting to work on time or understanding that they have to do what their boss tells them to do. That prompts the question: what on earth has been going on in their previous 15 years plus of education? It is important to ask employers what they see—not that we should educate people simply to be employed, but it ought to be very much a part of the equation.

We also need to get young people interested in the right things. I was at an apprenticeships event just last week and heard a story about Aston Martin. It had presented a fantastic display to young people about its products and the cars it makes—a very exciting world of fast cars and engineering. There were 200 young people in the room, and at the end of the presentation they were asked, “How many people want to come and work for Aston Martin?” Nobody put their hand up. Aston Martin’s management, unsurprisingly, is saying, “How can we operate in the UK if nobody wants to

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come and work for us?” That goes back to the question of what skills we are teaching people and what we are getting people interested in from an early age.

I have my own story. Two weeks ago, I was living the dream as an MP when I got to open a new crematorium. I have a stone memorial on the side of a crematorium now, long before I am dead. The people at the crematorium told me that there are four jobs there, and they had 500 applications for those jobs. That afternoon, I went to a company that has just won the Queen’s award for exports. It makes some really innovative measuring products, cameras and other things that can be used for gas and oil measurements on oil rigs. It is making a fortune and yet cannot find enough people to assemble the cameras and work in its small factory. Five hundred people want to work in a crematorium but no one wants to assemble hi-tech equipment for oil rigs. I do wonder what our system is producing. Are we telling young people the right story about what the future holds?

I go around all the employers in my area trying to encourage them to take on young people and train them. I do that for their own future; it is a hard-nosed economic decision. Sometimes we see employers on TV saying, “My growth is limited because I can’t get skilled people.” My answer to that is always, “What are you doing about it, then? There is an economic case for you to do something about it.” It is a sad fact that only 10% of employers today take on apprentices.

I pay tribute to George Ritchie of Sembcorp in my constituency for driving the Tees Valley apprenticeship programme. That programme sits above employers, in recognition of the fact that because there was such a decline in heavy industry a lot of employers had effectively stopped training. Now, however, there is a lot of growth and inward investment, and the programme looks to see who will train the thousands of young people required for the new opportunities that are coming, and replace the thousands of people who will be retiring from those industries in the next 10 years. The Tees Valley apprenticeship programme has been having success in that, and has been backed by the Government, for which I thank the Minister and the Government.

What more should the Government do? As a Liberal Democrat I did not think I would ever use the word “Stalinist” in a speech in Parliament, but I think we have to get a bit more Stalinist about the skills that we teach young people. The market in education is simply not producing skilled people in the proportions that the country needs. For example, I understand that Darlington college trains 100 hairdressers a year. I do not know a lot about Darlington, but does it really need 100 hairdressers a year? Meanwhile lots of businesses in the local area simply cannot find the skilled people they need. The Government should keep on finding ways to steer the market—let us put it that way—to educate people and educators to produce what the country needs in the future.

There are lots of stories of that kind. Aerospace companies are affected; my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) has talked about how a company in his constituency had to turn away work for 300 people for 15 years because it got only four applications for the 300 jobs. Again, that is a massive skills problem.

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The Government should be much more rigorous about why we need immigration to this country. This is not about being anti-immigration, but about making sure that people born and brought up in this country are ready for the jobs on offer. We need an inventory of the skills that we are lacking that mean we need immigration for various jobs. My particular hobby-horse when it comes to this issue is the NHS. We all know the NHS would fall over without immigration, but what has it been doing about training people over the past 20 years or so? Redcar and Cleveland college in my constituency used to have a course called “pre-nursing”, which led on to nursing, but the local NHS stopped training nurses, so the course now has to be called “introduction to nursing”, because the NHS finds it far cheaper to import nurses from the Philippines, South Africa and various other places. We need to address that scandal and expose how much of that is going on—how many people come to this country simply because we have not trained our own people properly?

We need to encourage employers to take on trainees. In certain sectors—the oil and gas sectors spring to mind—employers seem pathologically not to want to train their workers and simply go out and poach each other’s workers; that is why pay levels are so high. In those sectors, we may need to bring back training boards. A few still exist, but training levies have largely gone. However, if we cannot get industries and sectors to invest sufficiently in their own training we may need to force them to do so.

Finally, we should continue to spend Government money in this area and make full use of the European money that is available for skills, particularly in places such as the Tees valley, which are classed as intermediate areas. Those areas have a lot of European social fund money directed towards young people in particular.

Speaking for my own area, there has been a lot of progress and a lot of good things are going on, but there are still 705 young people aged 18 to 24 claiming jobseeker’s allowance, and that is 705 too many.

10.26 am

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I am grateful for being called in this debate, Mr Crausby—particularly as I was not here at the start of it, for which I am sorry—to talk for a few minutes about unemployment and the employment of young people.

In a recent survey by the University and College Union of 16 to 24-year-old NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—36% said that they believed that they would never get a job, and 40% that they did not feel part of society; 33% suffered from depression and less than half felt in control of how their life would turn out. Another survey by the Children’s Society said that the unhappiest people are 14 and 15-year-olds. A report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said that a lack of youth services was failing children and young people in the UK.

Young people often feel very vulnerable and are finding it difficult to not only get into work but even think about being ready for work. We know that unemployment figures for young people are down; however, we have not taken into account the number of young people who are on workfare or are sanctioned.

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Mr Newmark: The hon. Lady is right that unemployment for young people is down. In her constituency alone, youth unemployment is down by over 40% since the previous election.

Julie Hilling: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman continues to make that sort of intervention whenever a Labour Member is talking about the issues with unemployment. If he listens to what I am about to say, he might learn that I do not believe that the figures are totally true and accurate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) said a short while ago, young people are the group who are sanctioned most, and when they are sanctioned they disappear from the unemployment register. For instance, I have a volunteer working in my office who got so disheartened by sanctions and how he was being treated that he now does not sign on at all because he can no longer cope with the system.

We also have young people on workfare. They are not in employment—they are not getting paid for the work they are doing—but they also disappear from the unemployment figures. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) might be interested to know that in my constituency, any young people signing on for universal credit—that is what is happening for young people in my area now—do not exist in the unemployment figures, because universal credit is not currently connected into those figures. People who want to stand up and say that unemployment is down in my constituency should realise that the figure is not accurate.

I accept that there are more jobs, but one difficulty—I have asked the Secretary of State about this on a number of occasions—is that we do not know the quality of those jobs. We do not know how many involve workfare, zero-hours contracts or unpaid work, and we do not know how many are taken by people who are desperately underemployed and working just a few hours a week when they clearly want full-time jobs.

In the few minutes I have, however, I want to talk about the things we need to do on youth unemployment. One big issue employers and young people talk to me about is the lack of careers education. Where we have cut careers services down to the bare bones, young people do not necessarily get good careers education. The young people I talk to who are in apprenticeships—particularly those working for MBDA, which offers a high-level apprenticeship programme—say they were actively discouraged in their schools from taking up apprenticeships and are not given a full range of information about the jobs on offer. Clearly, therefore, we have a real issue on apprenticeship education.

Work experience should be mandatory. Three out of four employers do not work with young people at all—they do not give them work, work experience or apprenticeships. We need to expand the pool of employers who are prepared to give young people an opportunity. The great value of work experience is that it gives young people a notion of what the workplace is actually like; it encourages them to think about what exams they need to do and what they want to do with their future. Indeed, as a result of work experience, young people sometimes say, “I never want to go into the job I’m doing on work experience.” Work experience therefore often gives young people a rounded view, although I do

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not think that one or two weeks’ work experience in year 11 is enough; employers should interact much more with education. Some of the best employers in my constituency regularly go into schools and interact with young people; they talk to them about their future and give them a bit of hands-on practice in areas such as engineering.

Another crucial point is support. For 10 years starting in the ’80s, I worked with unemployed young people. We set up a youth co-operative for them, which gave them not only the support they needed, but education and training. Part of that was about young people setting up their own businesses. Not many of those businesses succeeded, but the young people who had attempted to set one up did then find jobs working for somebody else, because they had the experience to do so. Given that 33% of NEETs suffer from depression, we need to see how we can support young people with their education, attitudes and work-readiness. We can build confidence and self-esteem so that they can compete for the jobs that do exist.

I am concerned about the Government’s proposals to introduce fees for the training part of apprenticeships. We are trying to encourage small employers to take on apprentices—that is where the growth in apprenticeships will be—so putting barriers in the way of people taking on apprentices is the wrong thing to do.

I recently held a business event in my constituency. One of the major things employers said was that they wanted apprenticeships to be more responsive to employers, because a one-size-fits-all approach did not really work. They wanted to be much more involved in designing the training that takes place alongside apprenticeships, and to have a say in what happened on apprenticeship programmes for young people.

On the skills agenda, some of the things that have happened in education recently are taking people towards a 1950s and 1960s education agenda. Employers tell me they want young people to do technical subjects. They do not care what the subject is, but they need young people to develop their brains in different ways and to do things more with their hands so that they are ready to take up employment opportunities.

Employers also talk about life skills. They say they need young people to come to them work-ready in many ways. That means young people should have some notion of how the world works, how they fit into the world and how to behave, as well as some notion of financial education and other life skills.

My final point comes back to the issue of connecting employers to education. We need to do far more to enable employers and young people to meet each other and talk about what is going on in the world of work, so that young people can take their place in it.

10.35 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a delight to debate under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing the debate and on the way she advanced her arguments: she did not do so in a particularly partisan way, and I do not intend to advance mine in a partisan way either. The issues we all face are significant, and engaging in a battle over statistics does politicians in general no favours—I say that to the hon.

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Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark). Before he intervenes to say what the unemployment statistics in my constituency are, let me say that I am fully aware of them.

Mr Newmark: What are they?

Chris Bryant: They have improved dramatically, which is thanks largely to the Welsh Assembly Government and very little to the Government in Westminster—if we are going to get partisan.

There have been some important contributions to the debate. It is an enormous shame that we have lost the Minister who was here at the beginning. I gather he has gone off to Downing street, and we will discover later whether he has been promoted as much as he would like, but I wish him well. I say gently to the Government that it is naughty not only to shift responsibility for answering the debate, which was originally intended for the DWP, to another Department, but then, when we are three quarters of the way through, to hoik the Minister off to get some new employment—taking him out of a debate on those affected by youth unemployment when he does not look old enough to be out of that category. I have not even mentioned the Minister who is about to reply, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson).

Chloe Smith: On that point, I will spare the Minister’s blushes by saying that we all think young people should be in Government positions. However, I should also note that Backbench Business Committee officials asked me which Ministry I would prefer to respond to the debate, and I said it would be helpful for a Minister from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to reply, because the debate is about employment, not unemployment.

Chris Bryant: Well, the Minister for Employment is in the Department for Work and Pensions. Be that as it may, let us get on to the matter in hand.

The truth is that the economy is improving and Opposition Members are as delighted about that as Government Members. I say that because many Opposition Members represent seats where what this country has suffered economically over the past few years is felt even more aggressively and painfully than it is in seats represented by Government Members. I know there are pockets of deprivation in every constituency in the land, but the honest truth is that many Opposition Members deal weekly and daily with multiple levels of deprivation, some historical and some new, so we know the pain. We are therefore delighted that the economy is improving, although I sometimes feel quite angry, and I think my constituents do too, when the Government seem complacent about the situation we are in.

The truth of the matter is that we still have the highest ever number of people in part-time employment who would like to be in full-time employment, many of them women. That is a significant challenge, because the issue then is how people in work pay the bills. Under this Government, for the first time ever the problem is that the majority of those living in poverty are people in work. That must be a cause of shame for all of us.

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Youth unemployment is still stubbornly high. I fully accept that the numbers have fallen, and they have fallen in my constituency. However, they reached an absolute peak last September, and there is still a considerable way to go. I will talk about that a little more later.

I am glad that we have a flexible labour market, but I often worry that the flexibility is all on the part of those who are employed, and that the employer can sometimes exploit that to such a degree that there is unfairness in the market. That means that whether someone is on a zero-hours contract without wanting to be, or is on an exclusive zero-hours contract, or does not have enough hours because the number they are given depends entirely on whether they get on with the boss rather than on a contract, their working conditions will be kept pretty miserable—let alone the problems of low pay.

At the moment some 853,000 young people aged 24 or under are unemployed. Although the figures have fallen, the ratio of young unemployed people to adult unemployed people is considerably higher in this country than for all our competitors. In the UK there are 3.6 young unemployed people for every unemployed adult; in the EU as a whole there are 2.4 and in Germany just 1.6 unemployed young people to every unemployed adult. Many hon. Members cite Spain and Greece, where youth unemployment is high, but we should not underestimate the problem in this country.

As several of my hon. Friends have mentioned—not least my hon. Friends the Members for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) and for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) who chairs the all-party group on youth unemployment—the recession in the UK has hit the young hardest. All the economic statistics show that they have had a harder time of it than anyone else, and today, although I do not suppose that anyone will notice because the great reshuffle will obscure it all, prices are still rising 2.5 times faster than wages. That has a dramatic effect on people who are on low wages, because they spend a far higher percentage of their wages on the basics of life such as eating and heating. In the past five years, the employment rate has fallen faster among 20-year-olds than any other age group. Real pay has also fallen fastest for the young. We must factor in housing costs and the state of the housing market. They were part of the problem in Spain and Greece: the housing market fell apart, contributing to high youth unemployment. Because of the cost of housing, young people have problems with personal social mobility and moving from parts of the country with no employment to places where there is employment.

We should never forget how those things affect people, including their long-term health. A young person who has been out of work for more than six months is twice as likely as anyone else to be taking antidepressants, and anyone who is out of work for six months or longer is six times more likely to have a mental health problem of some kind, which might make it difficult for them to get back into the labour market. People move further and further from the labour market. One of the most depressing statistics that I saw this year was from the Prince’s Trust Macquarie youth index, which suggested that 750,000 young people in this country said they had nothing to live for.

Mr Newmark rose

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Chris Bryant: I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, because I have very little time and it is more important that we listen to the Minister than that people listen to me, or, frankly, to him.

I want to say something about regional variations. My hon. Friends the Members for Inverclyde and for Airdrie and Shotts are right to say that in areas formerly dominated entirely by one heavy industry, the issues are writ large. Whether the industry was mining, steel or shipbuilding the long-term effects are the same. A community of that kind would have had perhaps 100,000 people—nearly all men—employed in a job that they could start straight from school, perhaps at 14 or 15, with no further qualifications. Such communities had to move on to a world where women are just as likely as men to be employed, where some technical or academic qualifications are necessary, and where people may have to travel to work. I pay tribute to communities that have managed that without violence in the past 100 years, because in many parts of the world similar transitions have been far more difficult.

Conservative Members sometimes misunderstand or do not see the real difficulties faced by a young person growing up in a place such as Inverclyde, Airdrie or my constituency. In my constituency, the majority of people own their own homes and there is not much of a rental market, and what there is is in poor condition. There may be 70 applicants for every available job. Young people could move to other parts of the country, but they would have to meet housing costs, and if they are under 25, they will have no help with that whatsoever. They will be in an area where they had few social connections and little family support. People all too often underestimate the difficulties that young people face.

What should we be doing? The most important thing for my constituency has been the fact that when the coalition Government abolished the future jobs fund in England, without being even prepared to publish the document that they claimed proved that the fund was a waste of money, the Scottish and Welsh Governments decided to start new, similar schemes. As a result, 16,000 young people in Wales have been given jobs through Jobs Growth Wales, which means that they get a first chance when many young people never have a first chance at all. They have 25 to 40 hours a week on at least the minimum wage. It is really encouraging that 80% of those jobs are in the private sector, so the scheme is not simply extending the public sector; and 80% of people who have been in those jobs have been able to remain in them after the subsidy from the Welsh Assembly Government ends, which is a real sign of success. I deeply hope that at the next general election when we form the Government—I am sure that whenever we form the Government we will do this—we will have precisely that system across the whole country, so that every young person has a guarantee of a job and a chance to start off in the market.

We need to do far more about vocational skills, which is why we support the idea of a technical baccalaureate. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) pointed out the problem with apprenticeships, namely that only one in 10 employers have an apprentice. Two thirds of the apprenticeships available in the UK would not stand the test against apprenticeships in other countries. We believe that all apprenticeships should go up to qualification

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level 3. We also think that every firm that wants a major Government contract should offer apprenticeships to young people, and that that should be enforced. We also believe that young people must be given the skills to get into work, which is why we would create a youth allowance, similar to jobseeker’s allowance, to ensure that young people are in learning.

I have a few questions for the Minister, which I hope she will be able to answer. If she cannot answer them, I hope that someone else from another Department will be able to do so, and I hope that she will take responsibility for making sure that we get the answers. She will know—or she may not—that in Wales, we still have the education maintenance allowance. Universal credit, which is being rolled out slowly and perhaps surely, or perhaps uncertainly, until 2017, will affect those who receive EMA. How will EMA be considered under universal credit? Will it be assessed as part of income or not? Will it be assessed as income to the family or to the young person?

The Government last year commissioned Sir Jeremy Heywood to produce a report on young people and employment. We are still waiting for the report to be published. When will that happen? As the Minister knows, we are more than halfway through the Youth Contract scheme. Several hon. Members have preached to us about how wonderful the Youth Contract is, but so far only 6% of the anticipated wage incentive payments have been made. That is £10,030 out of a projected £160,000. That suggests that it was a monumental failure rather than a monumental success. I am delighted about the 6%, but the scheme, frankly, is not working. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

I have two more questions. One is about work experience. Why are people not allowed to start work experience for 13 weeks? Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts pointed out, why has the number of staff working on apprenticeships been so dramatically cut?

10.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): It is a pleasure, Mr Crausby, to serve under your chairmanship. I appreciate your flexibility in recognising the rather unusual circumstances of this debate, following the change of Minister part way through. I thank hon. Members for their understanding. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) has been called away to a meeting at No. 10, and I was delighted to step in and respond to this debate.

Youth employment is hugely important to Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as it is to colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and across the Government. We need all parts of the Government to work together on the issue and not least with MPs across the House. Many of the contributions I have heard, and those made before I arrived, have been made with the intention of solving some of the issues.

I wholeheartedly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this debate and her important focus on employment rather than unemployment. We want to focus on that because it is the outcome we want to achieve. Her

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Norwich for Jobs campaign has ensured that there is an improvement in the situation for young people in her constituency. We have heard from many hon. Members about the schemes they have been involved in in their constituencies. The support of constituency MPs is particularly important as, for example, are MPs who have taken on apprentices in their own offices. We have heard a good series of examples of how MPs can make a difference in their own way to the situation in their constituencies.

We heard from hon. Members about schemes and initiatives whereby business people go into schools to offer insights into the world of work and enterprise. That is particularly valuable for young people. We have heard about challenges to people from more deprived areas and backgrounds. It was striking that when I went to the health day at a private school in my constituency, the pool of individuals available included neuroscientists who happened to be the parents of one of the children there, for example. In other areas, it may be more difficult to get a wide variety of people who are personally connected to the school to come in and offer career insights. Programmes such as Inspiring the Future are important in linking people who are happy to give an hour or two of their time once a year to speak about their job to local schools that do not necessarily have those contacts. Just last Friday, I took part in an event in a school in Islington for the Inspiring Women part of that campaign to ensure that young girls have a wide variety of role models presented to them to open up their aspirations.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) raised the important point about supporting people who do not want to go to university. It is wonderful when people go to university and gain the education it offers, but it is not right for everyone and that is one reason why the Government’s support for apprenticeships has been so important in ensuring genuine options for young people, so they can choose the right path for them. I wholeheartedly agree with him that what matters is employment, not separation. It is a shame that in Scotland over the past couple of years, the Scottish Government have not been able to focus strongly on such issues because they have been distracted by the referendum.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) made the important point that almost all young people want to work. It is important to hold on to that in the face of some negative media stories about young people and how they are presented in our society.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) also mentioned his experience of having an apprentice in his office. His support for the business community in the north-east and providing jobs has been second to none. He will be greatly missed following his decision to stand down from this place, as will his work in supporting jobs in Redcar and the surrounding areas. He was right to raise the issues of employability and skills, and he contrasted the huge appetite for jobs at the crematorium compared with jobs with manufacturers of oil rig equipment.

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The Perkins review highlighted the challenges we face in recruiting enough skilled engineers to ensure that our economy can grow in the way we want it to. I understand why my hon. Friend entreated us to become rather more Stalinist regarding the skills we need. I am not sure that is the word I would reach for, but employers have told us that basic skills such as English and maths need to be prioritised. That is why the curriculum is being strengthened and we are ensuring that all young people up to the age of 18 must study maths and English to at least GCSE grade C.

General employability is not just about paper qualifications but perhaps more about attitudes and basic behaviour, such as going to work, turning up promptly and being reliable. Traineeships have been introduced in response to that. They offer high-quality work experience, as well as support with English and maths skills and preparation-for-work training. They help young people who are not quite ready for work to get the experience, confidence and skills they need to be ready. That programme is already growing quickly; more than 7,400 trainees have started since August.

The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) asked a variety of questions. She said, importantly, that the approach cannot be one size fits all, because every young person is different and has a different set of challenges to overcome. That is why the range of available initiatives allows people to choose a route specific to the issues they face. We have apprenticeships and wage incentives for people who are already able to work. For those who are close to the labour market, we have the sector-based work academies. There are traineeships for those who want to work but perhaps do not have the experience and qualifications, and there is work experience and training for others.

I agree with the hon. Lady that promoting work experience is important. We already have tens of thousands of work experience, work trial and sector-based work academy places, and of course the traineeships will increase that figure because they include substantial work experience placement. The links between business, employers and schools are hugely important because as well as providing career insights, they can often lead to good-quality work experience placements with local employers and may ultimately lead to work.

The hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) made some rather negative remarks about the work experience programme, referring to some of it as workfare. I fundamentally disagree. It is absolutely right, indeed vital, that young people are able to get work experience while they are still being supported by the benefits system, so that they can get into work. That was not handled right under the previous Labour Government—those claiming unemployment benefit or JSA who wanted to increase their skills and get work experience, so that they could get a job, had their benefits stopped. That created a trap that this Government’s commitment to work experience is helping young people out of.

Julie Hilling: I do not have a fundamental problem with work experience, but it is really important that it involves some training and is a good experience, and is not just about young people being on workfare and working for benefits to no personal advantage.

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Jo Swinson: I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady. Work experience needs to be a quality experience that benefits the person undertaking it.

I apologise to those whose questions I have been unable to answer. I do not know who the next Minister for Skills and Enterprise is likely to be, but I am sure they will be determined to continue the Government’s good work on apprenticeships and the wide range of interventions to support young people into employment. They will also doubtless be more than keen to ensure that any of the points I have been unable to respond to will be answered in writing. Indeed, I will ensure that that happens.

We have achieved a lot, but there is agreement across the House that we should not be complacent. There are still young people out there who have hopes and ambitions and deserve to get that first step on the career ladder. This Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we give them the skills and support to be able to do so.

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): The 11 o’clock debate has been withdrawn by the Member in charge, so I am suspending the sitting.

10.59 am

Sitting suspended.

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Regional Airports

[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. This is my first Westminster Hall debate, so I expect any interventions to be gentle.

Our aviation sector is an important success story for the UK. We have the second largest aircraft manufacturing industry in the world, after the USA. Aviation benefits the UK economy through its direct contribution to gross domestic product and employment and by facilitating trade and investment, manufacturing, supply chains, skills, development and tourism. In 2011, the aviation sector’s turnover was some £53 billion, and it generated £18 billion of economic output. As a sector, aviation provides more than 1 million jobs and supports more than 2.5 million jobs in the tourism sector. Two out of three companies say that the UK’s international transport connections are crucial for their future investment decisions. A recent CBI report stated that adding just one additional daily flight to each of the eight largest high-growth markets in the world could increase UK trade by as much as £1 billion a year.

Aviation also brings many wider benefits to society and individuals, including travel for leisure and visiting family and friends. More than 220 million passengers go through UK airports every year. UK airports are contributors to the economic development of the UK regions in their own right, but their importance goes much further. As well as being major employers and wealth creators, our local airports enable local businesses to grow and develop by providing international connections to global markets and enabling the rapid delivery of goods to market.

Although the UK might be a small country in global terms, we are currently one of the most globalised countries in the world. With centres of growth shifting eastwards, our reliance on international trade to drive prosperity and generate employment is set to become even greater. As well as supporting international trade, international connectivity helps to underpin inward investment: it is hard to imagine the likes of Google locating in my region, the north-west, without access to direct air links. If we are serious about rebalancing the UK economy and closing the productivity gap between the north and the south, international connectivity is vital.

Airports are key catalysts for economic growth and jobs, and they make a significant contribution to the success of the regions in which they operate. My constituency is home to Manchester airport and benefits greatly from its close links with that airport. In 2014, Manchester airport is the third largest UK airport and is more than twice the size of any other airport outside London. It generates some £620 million of gross value added for the north-west region and is a major employer, with 17,000 people employed on site; of those, 2,000 work for the airport and the rest are employed by on-site businesses such as airlines and handling agents. A further 40,000 jobs in the region depend on the airport’s business. There are big plans ahead for Manchester airport.

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Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate for the north-west, which is a manufacturing region. He is making a worthwhile point about Manchester airport’s impact on the region, but there is a bigger question: should it seek to expand? Should it become a hub airport? Would that serve the region by driving economic prosperity and thereby rebalancing the British economy? Should we ask that question, rather than just allow Manchester airport to exist as an airport with a balance sheet? That is how it seems to be operating at the moment.

Mike Kane: Yes, of course Manchester airport should serve the north-west economy as a whole. I remember the story that the airport was created in 1935 by one vote—the mayor’s casting vote secured the decision to build outbuildings and a strip of runway at Ringway. When I was a young councillor, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) was my council leader, and he introduced plans for the second runway, which cost £172 million. We have to continue to grow.

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): This is a timely debate given the discussions on expanding airport capacity generally. On international connectivity, I understand the need for more point-to-point flights from Manchester airport, but for hub capacity surely we ought to be expanding our only hub-capacity airport, which is Heathrow. That would lead to more connectivity, more jobs and more investment in the north-west.

Mike Kane: Currently, flights from Manchester airport mainly go point to point. There is an argument for hub status, but I think that argument must be much further down the line than it is today.

Airport City Manchester will introduce a new concept to the UK, delivering up to 5 million square feet of new highly connected business space over the next 10 years. It has already attracted Chinese investment—the Beijing Construction Engineering Group has at least a 20% stake—and is set to attract even more connections at Manchester airport, facilitating further trade and growth. Airport City will take Manchester airport beyond its traditional use as a regional airport hub and transform it into an international business destination in its own right, providing a major regeneration opportunity for the surrounding area and helping to boost Manchester’s attractiveness as a major European business city.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. I completely understand the case he makes for Manchester being the most important airport outside London, but will he acknowledge that air links are vital to areas such as mine in Aberdeen, where the shortest journey time to London by train is more than seven hours? British Airways’ withdrawal of our only link to London City airport is an indication of an airline that puts profit before service, given that the route is profitable, just not as profitable as other routes.

Mike Kane: Will the right hon. Gentleman bear with me for a few more minutes? I know many people want to talk about their regional airport, which is the focus of this debate. I will specifically mention airports that are

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represented by Members on both sides of the Chamber, which might be the appropriate opportunity for Members to get on the record. This is not my maiden speech, but I would like to push on with Manchester airport for a few more minutes.

Airport City provides an innovative and complementary offer to the region’s economy; with Media City and the city centre, it creates a modern business destination that will make full use of the existing infrastructure. The majority of workers and visitors will not drive to the airport; instead, they will walk, cycle, take the newly constructed tram, which will soon be in operation, or take a train or plane. It is estimated that the wider Airport City enterprise zone will create up to 16,000 new jobs over the next 10 to 15 years, including at University Hospital South Manchester’s medipark development. Airport City is likely to attract new long-haul airline routes to Manchester to support and serve the requirements of the global businesses based on site, which will in turn bring further growth, employment and destination options. Coupled with the extension of the Metrolink by 2015, Airport City will open up the south Manchester area and make it even more accessible for local people, creating employment opportunities and transforming the local community.

What else can regional airports bring? Manchester has established strong relationships with foreign airlines and brought significant investment to the region. Emirates and Etihad have their European call centres in the north-west. Etihad is one of the major sponsors of my football club, Manchester City, and is investing significantly in east Manchester, where the stadium is located. [Interruption.] I beg forgiveness from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton, who supports the team from the other side of the city. Manchester City’s new training complex will be completed in October 2014; it will include a £200 million football academy and a 7,000-seat stadium. Only last month, the leader of the city council, Sir Richard Leese, announced a new partnership with Abu Dhabi United Group, the club’s owners. The partnership with the city council will build more than 6,000 new homes in run-down parts of east Manchester as part of a £1 billion, 20-year deal—the single biggest residential investment that Manchester has seen for a generation.

There are many other examples of regional airports driving regional growth and jobs throughout the UK. From its modest beginnings as a world war two US air force base, Stansted has grown into the fourth busiest airport in the UK, serving 18.5 million passengers. It is currently the largest single-site employer in the east of England, employing more than 10,200 people in 190 on-airport companies and contributing more than £770 million to the local economy. East Midlands airport generates about £239 million for the regional economy and supports more than 8,500 jobs in the region. The east midlands is also a major base for manufacturers in the UK because of the proximity to the cargo connections provided by East Midlands airport. Most of the UK is within four hours’ trucking time of the airport. Aberdeen International airport provides 2,000 jobs on site and supports a further 4,000 Scottish jobs. Around 3.5 million passengers travelled from the airport in 2013 to more than 30 UK and world destinations. Leeds Bradford International was the fastest-growing UK airport in 2013, and it

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serves more than 70 destinations. It is Yorkshire’s international gateway and serves the largest metropolitan region outside London.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): It is like a game of bingo, waiting for one’s local airport to come up. The hon. Gentleman is right that Leeds has been one of the fastest-growing airports, but does he agree that one of the big problems it faces is the surface access arrangements? It is served by mediocre roads in residential areas, and that has caused huge problems for my constituents. This is more for the Minister’s ear, I suppose, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should look into a rail link to the airport to make the investment there truly effective?

Mike Kane: I would have thought that the Tour de France would have improved the roads in that region in the past few weeks. In 1882, a famous Mancunian, Daniel Adamson, envisaged a city region stretching from the Mersey estuary to the Humber estuary. We have to start thinking like one economic region across the country, and that includes the rail links the Chancellor began to talk about just a few weeks ago in Manchester.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing such a timely debate. As a member of the Transport Committee, when we discuss Heathrow expansion I am always banging the drum for our regional airports. I particularly enjoyed how accessible Manchester airport was when I flew with Pakistan International Airlines direct to Islamabad to visit Kashmir and Pakistan. My family and I also use Leeds Bradford airport. We must continue, across the House, to bang the drum for regional airports and stop being obsessed with Heathrow expansion. We need better connectivity for our regional airports, and we must use them better.

Mike Kane: I cannot agree more with the hon. Gentleman. As I said to the Minister in the main Chamber the other day, over the years Governments of all parties have sometimes been caught in the glare of Heathrow’s headlights when making policy, but really the issue is combining regional airports and growing power in our regions, partly through competition but mainly through co-operation.

Newcastle International airport plays a vital economic role in the north-east, to which it contributes £650 million. Since 2006, the value of exports flown through the airport has risen from under £20 million to more than £250 million. Birmingham airport—

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Kane: I would be delighted to.

Karen Lumley: I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I did not think he was going to get to Birmingham. Does he agree that if we are serious about rebalancing the country’s economy, we need airports such as Birmingham’s? Does he welcome the news that there are to be direct flights to China, which will enable business men in the west midlands to access emerging economies?

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Mike Kane: I cannot agree more with the hon. Lady. The figures I have are that Birmingham airport’s catchment economy exported £55 billion of goods in 2011. We have to begin to exploit the emerging south-east Asian markets, and there is a need for regional airports, not just the hubs in the south-east of England.

There are smaller airports, such as Blackpool, which has been operating since 1909. A £2 million refurbishment of the passenger terminal there was completed in 2006, giving the airport the capacity to handle more than 2 million passengers a year.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has made a great contribution in such a short time in the House, and he has clearly read the mood of the Chamber. If I may say so, Ms Dorries, your mother lives in the catchment area of Blackpool International airport, so what I say will be close to your heart as well. Although it is a Treasury matter, I would like to put on the table the suggestion that we consider variations in regional air passenger duty, which would act as an economic stimulus to enable airports to expand and offer new flights. I would also like to appeal directly to the Minister: my constituency has a rail link to Blackpool International airport, but a passing loop could increase the service from once to twice an hour. That would make a great contribution to the success of the airport.

Mike Kane: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. Rail links are massively important for increasing connectivity between airports and regions. I am reminded of when Manchester won the casino bid in 2008. I do not want to go over the history—

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): Don’t.

Mike Kane: But we have to start thinking as a region. The best site might have been in Blackpool, but Manchester won the bid because of not only its corporate social responsibility but the direct flights to a nearby international airport. By increasing rail links across our regions and agglomerations, and across the north as a whole, we can in future act more effectively as a single economy.

London Luton airport has recently received final planning consent for a £100 million development to increase annual passenger capacity from 12 million to 18 million by 2031.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, as well as on working out in his short time in the House how to get such a high attendance at a Westminster Hall debate. Does he agree that one effect of this period in which there has been a relative vacuum in aviation policy has been that regional airports have been able to step in to fill the gap? For example, without significant ground works—there will be no additional runway or lengthening—London Luton airport is expanding from 12 million to 18 million passengers. That is a great way to respond to the capacity gap in the south-east.

Mike Kane: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That expansion alone is forecast to add £283 million and more than 5,000 jobs to the regional economy around Luton. We need to grow Luton airport.

Connectivity in the UK is good, but to keep up with our European competitors we need to do more.

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Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about connectivity across the UK. Perhaps the regional air connectivity fund should be used for airports in the north of Scotland. Some might say that such airports are on the periphery of the UK, but they are certainly not on the periphery of the globe. Money from the fund could be used to link Stornoway to the Faroe Islands, or perhaps for through-flights coming from Iceland or wherever, in order to improve the economies of areas that are currently seen as peripheral but are actually very central in the context of global routes.

Mike Kane: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, although I thought Stornoway airport was bidding to be the UK’s spaceport—

Mr MacNeil: Space will exist after independence!

Mike Kane: Yes. Let us hope that Stornoway does not enter into competition with the beautiful island of Barra, where the landing strip is on the sea shore.

Since 2008, the UK’s connectivity has declined by 4.9%, whereas Germany’s has increased by 4.3% and France’s by 3.4%. My own airport, Manchester, has a positive story to tell about connectivity. After I have told that story, I will discuss other regional airports.

Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman, who is my constituency neighbour, agree that all these airports that bring benefits to and improve the international connectivity of the British economy would benefit enormously if we did not persist in having what I think is the second highest rate of duty on air transport? It is a tax on trade and a tax on family holidays—should we not be lowering it?

Mike Kane: That is a good point. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will come to the connectivity fund and expand on the points about airport passenger duty in a few minutes.

Manchester is the international gateway to the north. It has 60 airlines serving more than 200 destinations, which is more than Heathrow. I repeat for Hansard: that is more than Heathrow. Last year, Manchester added more new routes than any other UK airport, serving the 24 million people who live within two hours’ drive. It is the only airport outside the south-east with a strong long-haul portfolio. As well as serving destinations such as Singapore, Pakistan and the US direct, it also offers strong onward connectivity via the middle east: three times daily to Dubai, twice daily to Abu Dhabi and 10 times a week to Doha. More recent connections include Hong Kong, Jeddah and Toronto, and the new Charlotte service has increased transatlantic services at the airport to more than 60 a week. Most of the world can be reached from Manchester either non-stop or with one stop.

However, 5 million passengers a year from Manchester’s catchment area leak to the London airports to catch flights. The challenge for the future is ensuring that passengers have the option to fly from their local airport, taking the pressure off the congested south-eastern airports. However, I hope to welcome High Speed 2 to the airport station at some stage in the near future. It will reduce journey times from Manchester airport to Euston from two hours and 24 minutes to 59 minutes.

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As I said earlier, Stansted is the UK’s fourth busiest airport, serving more European destinations than any other airport in the world. Both Ryanair and easyJet have committed to growing their Stansted portfolios; Ryanair’s will grow from nearly 500 flights a week to more than 700 in winter 2014. Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital airport, with over 40 airlines serving more than 100 destinations. More than 9 million passengers a year pass through the airport.

For smaller point-to-point airports, although direct flights are preferable, indirect flights offer an important alternative where they do not exist, either via UK hubbing or through hubs in continental Europe or the middle east. At East Midlands airport, the priority for the future is to access more European hubs in order to widen connectivity; it currently serves Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. In the longer term, the airport is keen to have direct routes to emerging economies that are key to the region, such as India. Direct access to markets supports business and trade between the region and those markets. It is not just about how connected the UK is to the outside world today; it is about its connectivity in the future and how it compares with other EU and global airports, such as those in the gulf.

Access to global connectivity is not simply an issue of access to Heathrow. Passengers value the choice, competition and service offered by alternative carriers connecting through alternative hubs, such as in the middle east. Manchester airport does not have the luxury of a UK hub operator and relies on overseas carriers to provide long-haul connectivity. Without those carriers, Manchester would just be a spoke into Heathrow. Ultimately, it is the airlines that determine which routes are flown, and therefore overall connectivity, depending on long-term route profitability. However, political and regulatory factors can play a major role in influencing the attractiveness of starting and sustaining routes.

The UK still enjoys a strong position in transatlantic aviation and flights to traditional partners such as India, but is linked to relatively fewer locations in Brazil, Russia and mainland China. Both Germany and France have much better connectivity to China in particular. In a 2012 survey by CBI and KPMG, almost half of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the UK’s air links to emerging markets. Of companies that deemed flights to China to be crucial, only 46% were satisfied with their current availability.

Regional airport connectivity is not just about the number of destinations served; it is also about the frequency of services, the economic value that they drive, the accessibility of destinations right across the UK, whether flights take place at convenient times, and their capacity. The Government have demonstrated their support for the growth of connectivity from regional airports by announcing the regional air connectivity fund. This will provide public support for new intra-EU routes from airports with fewer than 3 million passengers per year, or 3 million to 5 million in exceptional circumstances. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) commented on the fund a few moments ago.

Funding will be available for five years and will come to an end in March 2019. Airlines will have to prove that they can make money from the route without public assistance after two years. However, in reality, competition rules will make it difficult for many routes

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to qualify. Those that do will be at the smallest airports and will be short-haul routes only, not the game-changing routes we need such as Manchester to Beijing.

It is important to acknowledge the steps the Government took in this year’s Budget, when the Chancellor cut air passenger duty on long-haul routes to destinations including China, India, Brazil and many other emerging markets. However, the Government could go further by offering a temporary air passenger duty exemption for new long-haul routes, as recommended by the Select Committee on Transport and mentioned by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady). It would help to make best use of existing capacity and encourage more routes to emerging economies.

A temporary APD holiday would have the advantage of being a proven commercial strategy and one that airports use: that is, a lead-in discount. It would cost the Treasury nothing, as the Treasury receives no income from routes that do not yet exist. Forgoing revenue on new routes until they were established would cost nothing and could result in an income stream later on.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman is speaking eminent sense. I am sure that he is aware of the success in Iberia and Catalonia with routes from Barcelona. The Government in Madrid did not take the APD, and 21 new routes were started in one year due to the APD holiday, as he suggested. The Government here would do well to learn from the lessons in continental Europe.

Mike Kane: I am grateful for that contribution. We must continue to consider APD. We live in a competitive world and we want a competitive market, but we also want a level playing field with competing airports across Europe, such as those in Spain, particularly Barcelona. A temporary APD holiday would be in line with the Government objectives of making best use of existing capacity and promoting links to emerging economies and economic growth near regional airports.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I commend the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He may be aware that in Northern Ireland, international flights are exempt from APD, because it is now a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Executive. I heartily endorse what he and the Transport Committee have suggested. Although we have devolved power, as a result of intense competition from Dublin international airport just down the road, which has zero APD, it is nevertheless a major cost to the Northern Ireland block grant, meaning that the money cannot be spent in other important areas such as health, education and so on. I agree totally with what he says about the need for action at a UK level.

Mike Kane: I look forward to flying from Manchester to Belfast on Friday morning to represent Wythenshawe in Falcarragh over the weekend. However, we could not secure a route from Manchester to Londonderry airport. We need further connectivity between UK airports.

Clearly, strict rules would be needed to prevent airlines from churning from one airport to another to create new routes. The route would need to introduce net additional capacity from the UK. The Treasury could also review the impact of APD on the economy and on connectivity, as there is anecdotal evidence to suggest

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that high rates have damaged connectivity. To give just one recent example, AirAsia ceased operations in the UK, citing APD levels as the primary cause.

There is also a case for greater liberalisation of access to UK airports, particularly regional airports. Given that the UK long-haul carriers have consolidated their services at Heathrow, airports elsewhere must rely predominantly on overseas carriers to provide direct scheduled links to long-haul destinations. The Government have gone some way towards further liberalising foreign access; the last aviation framework document said that access would be granted, even without reciprocity, on a case-by-case basis. However, where there are concerns about issues such as state aid, access may still be refused and UK airlines have the right to object. But if UK airlines are not interested in serving points directly from airports such as Manchester, the Government should be prepared to open the market to airlines that are.

Aviation is vital to Britain’s competitiveness and future economic success. It is undoubtedly a key driver of our regional economies and a catalyst for the UK’s economic growth and jobs. Through mechanisms such as APD and the regional airport connectivity fund, the Government should continue to look at how they can maximise support for our regional airports, which would increase connectivity, remove pressure from congested airports in the south-east, and help to create additional capacity for jobs and growth throughout the UK. Supporting regional airports is a win-win situation not only for our regional economies but for the UK as a whole.

3 pm

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on a real tour de force; I do not think there is any airport in the UK of any significance that he missed out in his speech. The importance of aviation to Manchester, other regional airports and the whole of the UK came out extremely clearly in his remarks. He said that in round terms aviation is worth £50 billion to the UK economy, but in fact we could not have a modern economy without aviation. While the people who measure these things put the figure at around £50 billion, if we took aviation out of the system we would not be left with the economy minus £50 billion; we would be left with a very small and primitive economy indeed.

However, as my hon. Friend hinted, there is a paradox at the centre of aviation policy in this country: if we add up all the capacity on all the runways at London and regional airports, we find that we have more than 21 times the capacity that we need for aeroplanes to land in and take off from this country, but on the other hand Heathrow is congested because aviation depends on a hub system internationally. Heathrow is our major, indeed our only, hub airport, and it is congested. Many airlines would like to get in there but cannot. Airlines have cut off routes to the rest of the UK because that hub airport is full, yet we do not have the routes that regional airports, including those in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and the east midlands, would like.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman asserted that airports rely on a hub system, but that is an arguable point. I gently say to him that the hub system did not come

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about accidentally. For about 50 years, the UK had bilateral air agreements specifying that only London airports could be used. If there is a hub system, perhaps the most logical hub would be Schiphol airport, with its five runways. However, as we know, the reality is that a huge number of political choices contributed to the hub system, and similarly a huge number of political choices have been made that are not helping our regional airports. Specifically, they are not helping on APD, as the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) said.

Graham Stringer: There were a lot of points in that intervention, but I do not think that the key point about hub airports is that until recently most flights needed—some still do—bilateral agreements to get into Heathrow. The real point about hub airports is that we need that efficiency of transfer traffic in order to thicken routes that would not be viable at other airports. I will come on to APD shortly.

We have this paradox; we have loads of runway capacity, but insufficient runway capacity at Heathrow. That means that our aviation industry, which is vital, is not as good as it could be. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East mentioned businesses such as Google moving to the north-west and having headquarters there. However, KPMG has moved its European HQ to Frankfurt because of the lack of runway capacity at Heathrow.

There are two solutions. One is blindingly obvious but has got caught up in party politics. I hope that the three political parties can keep a united front and support whatever comes out of the Davies report. However, my view is simply that we should build a third and probably a fourth runway at Heathrow, because this country is falling behind in its international competitiveness.

That is the hub issue, but what do we do about the second issue, which is the capacity we have in the regions? How do we attract extra airlines to our major regional airports? There are three things that we can do, but Governments have not been good at doing any of them. First, I can see no reason at all why there should not be a completely open skies policy in every regional airport outside London. Why should any airline in the world that wants to fly into the UK, take passengers and go wherever it wants not be able to do so? If it could, that would create jobs and benefit any airport that it operated from.

The Government have gone part way there by granting fifth freedoms to airlines coming here, but there is also the right for UK and other airlines to object to those freedoms, so that measure has not brought about the benefit that it could have had. Having completely open skies with rights for everybody and no right of objection for other airlines, whether British or not, would benefit our regional airports, particularly the bigger ones such as Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham, but also some of the smaller ones. That is the one thing that we could do that would help the regional airports.

Secondly, as was mentioned both by my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and in interventions, there should be a change in APD. Let me say clearly that APD is a bad tax. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report last year—I think it

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was published just before Christmas—showed that if APD was abolished, the UK economy would probably grow by 0.5%. I understand why Treasury Ministers, and Transport Ministers for that matter, say, “We don’t want to lose the revenue we’ve got”, even though other countries such as Holland and Ireland have scrapped APD and their economy has benefited as a result. Even if we cannot prove what would happen by creating theoretical models for this country, we can see what is happening elsewhere, follow the example of other countries and scrap APD; that would be the ideal way to approach the issue.

However, if scrapping APD is too much of a step for naturally cautious Treasury Ministers, we should adopt a step-by-step approach and measure what is going on. We could abolish APD for children, which would be very popular as APD is a tax on holidays as well as on business. Equally, we could abolish APD in the winter, when airlines find it difficult to make a profit; go to any UK airport in November and there will be people rattling about in it. Also, there could be a holiday—not with buckets and spades, but on taxation—for new routes, so the Treasury would not lose any money. In addition, APD could be reduced just in the regions. There are lots of different ways of approaching the problem of how to get rid of a bad tax, which would be beneficial for the regional airports. The Transport Committee looked at APD and recommended that the Government consider it in greater detail. On top of that, the Government should look at practical experience elsewhere, and adopt a step-by-step approach in this country.

The third point, already referred to by my hon. Friend and in interventions, is the importance of surface access. If we compare our airports with continental airports, many airports in north America and airports in the far east, we find that our train links are poor. Our biggest international airport—indeed, the biggest international airport in the world—is Heathrow, but apart from the Paddington link it does not have a mainline rail route going into it. In what country would one of the world’s great airports not have a mainline route going to it, so that people could not get to it by train from many other parts of the country? That is simply poor.

The Transport Committee is holding an inquiry into rail. We recently quizzed Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation about how they assess railway lines going to and from airports. I have been on the Committee on and off for a long time, but I found the answer pretty extraordinary: they do not assess them any differently from routes to anywhere else. We should, as the Davies commission recommended, change that approach so that we give priority to our airports. That would take traffic off the roads, help to support the airports and help to attract traffic into them.

The Committee looked at the example of Stansted, which could be part of the solution to some of the congestion in the south-east system. The rail line to Stansted is poor, and the sooner we get a decent fast rail link, the better. We can argue about whether the journey time should be 30 minutes, as Stansted thinks, or whether it can be reduced only to 40 or 45 minutes, but it should certainly be reduced; that would benefit everybody.

In Manchester, we have made our own arrangements in a sense. We have paid for the southern link to the rail

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system at Manchester airport, as well as for part of the northern link. With other Greater Manchester MPs, across all parties, I had to fight the Labour Government to get the tram link. All airports really should have decent surface links—preferably rail or, in some cases, rail and light rail.

I will finish on that point. Aviation is vital to our economy. It is not as good as it should be. We need to make sure we use the assets we have, invest to make them work better and certainly sort out the south-east system, which will help our regional economies as well.

Several hon. Members rose

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. May I just say that the air conditioning is battling with the sweltering heat outside? If anybody would like to remove their jackets, that is absolutely fine. I call Mr Jim Shannon.

3.12 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Thank you, Ms Dorries. It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on bringing this issue to Westminster Hall for consideration. He made a passing comment about Northern Ireland’s airports, and I will, very parochially, mention all three. I want to put down a marker for the importance of not only regional airports but, on behalf of myself and my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), those in Northern Ireland.

Today’s debate is important for regional airports. It is also important for me, as the Member of Parliament for Strangford and the Democratic Unionist party spokesman on transport. It is therefore a pleasure to make a contribution. I also wish to put on record how important the debate is for Belfast City airport, Belfast International airport and City of Derry airport.

As the quest continues for another runway for Heathrow—nowhere has been confirmed as yet—we cannot allow connectivity with airports in Northern Ireland and on the mainland to drag. I am concerned about that question mark over where a Heathrow runway will go. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) mentioned the importance of a third and a fourth runway. I subscribe to that view, because their importance is clear.

Northern Ireland cannot expect to have a hub airport. We cannot expect to have international contact all over the world, but we do expect to have more direct connectivity internally in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, ultimately, internationally. The World cup has just finished, and I am reminded of a football saying we have in Northern Ireland: “We are not Brazil. We are Northern Ireland.” While that is meant for football, it is clearly relevant to the airport world. [Interruption.] It is good they got to the semi-finals. However, we recognise what we have in Northern Ireland, and we recognise that contact with the regional hubs—with Heathrow and other places in the United Kingdom—is what makes the difference.

Mr MacNeil: On the reference to Brazil, I happily remember that Northern Ireland did just as well as Brazil in the 1982 World cup, when, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman clearly remembers, Gerry Armstrong

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scored a fantastic goal against Spain. However, the substance of my question relates to excellent idea from the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) about open skies. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will know that, although there have been negotiations with Russia over routes—137 in and 130 out—none are coming into Scotland, and I am sure it is the same for Northern Ireland. The fact that bureaucrats have spent this long negotiating to achieve zero for Scotland and Northern Ireland may lend credence to the idea that we should further investigate what the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton said.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. Yes, I can remember the 1982 World cup. I was in the stadium when Billy Armstrong scored—

Mr Dodds: Gerry Armstrong.

Jim Shannon: Sorry—Billy Hamilton passed to Gerry Armstrong. I remember that very well. However, on the issue the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) raises, we have similar opinions, and we want to see an impact for all the regional airports.

Let me give some background information about Belfast. The city has sizeable port, airport and logistics infrastructure, which supports more than 26,000 jobs and generates more than £60 million gross value added for the local economy. In May 2013, almost 140,000 passengers flew between Northern Ireland and the rest of the world, representing 2.5% of the total for the UK regions. It is worth noting that that does not include Northern Irish passengers who transferred to the Republic of Ireland by road or rail to start their journey. Clearly, the interest in air travel is greater than ever, and the figures for people flying globally from Northern Ireland’s airports in just one month are substantial.

Some weeks ago, I attended a Northern Ireland chamber of commerce and industry reception. Everyone there was committed to ensuring that we better utilise air travel and interested in how we do that. Small businesses emphatically believe that connectivity will encourage inward investment and facilitate export growth in Northern Ireland. The Federation of Small Businesses recently carried out a poll of its members, and 96% agreed or strongly agreed that air connectivity can and will encourage inward investment and export growth. Clearly, there is a willingness among businesses to support connectivity. A further 93% of the FSB’s members described George Best Belfast City airport as having a positive impact on the local economy. Good air links are therefore vital for the Northern Ireland economy, and the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East made the same point about regional economies generally.

The most pressing issue for small businesses is having more destinations and routes available to them. That can be critical for businesses looking for new markets to export to, or looking to secure investment or business from other parts of the UK. For a country such as Northern Ireland, which exports most of what it produces, it is important to have contacts with the outside world—on the UK mainland and beyond.

Northern Ireland has the largest percentage of small businesses in the UK relative to its size. Recently, Brian Ambrose, the chief executive of Belfast City airport, revealed the airport’s desire to have more routes to

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European destinations. With that in mind, the airport has set about improving infrastructure and encouraging exports from the airport. However, it is subject to a so-called “seats for sale” restriction, which puts a bit of a limit on things. The airport reports that if it could develop as much as it wished, the extra passengers would contribute another £13.2 million gross value added and there would be a further 270 jobs. Clearly, we could do a lot more if we had the connectivity and the opportunity.

Some 86% of the FSB’s members were supportive of the airport’s move. The critical factor for Belfast City airport is the impact of aircraft noise on local residents. That is a big issue that has to be addressed. If it can, the potential for the airport is great, and the airport will develop further.

The 2003 White Paper on air transport recommended that the planning agreement for Belfast City airport be reviewed. It said the scope to develop capacity at Belfast International airport within existing boundaries was significant and should be supported. It also said that the development of City of Derry airport should be carried out in conjunction with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. This is not about British Airways and Aer Lingus; it is about how we can best work together to develop connectivity.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee concluded in 2012 that it was critical to ensure that Northern Ireland continued to have access to Heathrow, as the UK’s hub airport, and I believe that is true. Like me, the Northern Ireland chamber of commerce and industry sees Heathrow as critical to our regional airport development—that applies to Belfast City, Belfast International and City of Derry airports. The Northern Ireland Executive have stressed the importance of the route, and Northern Ireland’s unique access position within the United Kingdom should be reflected in emerging aviation policy. We must maintain Northern Ireland’s links with the USA through Belfast International airport, and consider extending Northern Ireland’s direct links with long-haul destinations, as has been suggested. Devolution of air passenger duty is a key part of that. Tourism Ireland has recommended potential routes, making the case for carriers. Northern Ireland’s direct connectivity with mainland Europe continues to increase, and new destinations are in the process of being confirmed.

Belfast City airport’s almost 3 million passengers amount to nearly 10,000 a day, and the core catchment area is 75% of Northern Ireland. The annual passenger figure for Belfast International has been more than 4 million; 65% of passengers were on domestic flights and 35% on international flights. City of Derry airport has also contributed greatly to the numbers travelling, mostly to holiday destinations. It is vital to maintain those links, which will help to promote business links, enterprise development and inbound tourism.

The Heathrow hub—and Gatwick, to a lesser extent—can only improve with greater connectivity, more flights and the road and rail infrastructure already referred to taking passengers quickly and on time to their international flights or UK mainland destinations. The three Northern Ireland airports, George Best Belfast City airport, Belfast International airport, and City of Derry airport, all

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want and intend to be part of that. With the help and support of the Westminster Government, that can and must happen.

3.22 pm

Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I had not intended to take part in the debate, but having listened to the catalogue of airports outlined by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, I felt I should highlight an omission. Sadly, Manston in Kent was not included, and it would be a shame if the debate were to pass without reference to it.

Manston airport has a proud history as a wartime airfield. It was operating and was marginally viable. It was acquired by Ann Gloag of Stagecoach on 30 November last year. Mrs Gloag told me on that date that she intended to invest heavily and give the airport two years. On Budget day this year, less than four months after her acquisition, she announced that it would close. That was in my view an act of vandalism. Manston shut in May, despite the fact that RiverOak had put on the table an offer of the asking price of £7 million. Since that time, the airfield has been asset-stripped. The fire engines, radar, instrument landing systems and even furniture have been sold. Manston is a vital national asset. My hon. Friend the aviation Minister knows that. It has a long runway; it is three runways wide; it can take anything, as a major diversion field; and it has potential as a search and rescue base. Above all else it has tremendous potential capacity as a European freight hub. It is something that we cannot afford to lose.

The Secretary of State for Transport and the aviation Minister are both aware of our concern and are being supportive—I say “our” because my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and I have been working together since the threatened closure to try to reverse the situation. We met Sir Howard Davies a couple of weeks ago. He rightly said that he did not consider Manston had any capacity as a hub airport; but he also made it plain that he thought the south-east would need all the capacity that was on offer, and then some. In that context, again, we cannot afford to lose Manston.

Thanet’s controlling Labour group proposed a compulsory purchase order last week. That proposition was seconded by the leader of the Conservative opposition and it has the full support of my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet and me. I hope it will, if necessary, have the support of the Government. We expect the CPO decision will be taken by Thanet’s cabinet on Thursday. I hope that that will happen, and then there will no doubt be an inquiry. We think, with Thanet and, I believe, the nation, that the airfield has the potential to serve the nation as a freight hub, and we want it to be reopened for that purpose. The Select Committee on Transport has, I understand, agreed to undertake an inquiry into the whole business of regional airports, and I hope that as part of that process evidence will be taken from Manston, and also, perhaps, from Mrs Gloag, who I am sure will be delighted to appear before the Select Committee and explain her actions.

I believe that Manston will open again and take its place again in the list to which the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East referred. I shall look forward to a reaffirmation of the Minister’s support when he replies.

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Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): The winding-up speeches will take 20 minutes. If Mr Shuker and Mr Bruce could divide the remaining 15 minutes between them, that would be great.

3.26 pm

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I shall of course be mindful of the fact that others want to speak.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) did a fantastic job of setting out the situation, and I want to develop one or two pertinent points in more detail. We are grateful, as you will know, Ms Dorries, in Luton South and the wider region, that the green light has been given for the expansion of passenger numbers at Luton airport. When regional airports are mentioned, it is easy to envisage Birmingham and Manchester. However, although Luton is one of six airports that serve London directly, it has carved out its own place in our aviation economy, with a lot of point-to-point and many low-cost airlines that have driven growth in recent years; but it has a bright future, as well, because without significant ground works or additional heavy moving, such as the extension and repositioning of runways and the installation of additional runway capacity, it has the ability to increase passenger numbers significantly from the existing location. I thank the aviation Minister and Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government for their responsible approach to expansion at Luton. My constituents are overwhelmingly positive about having an airport on their patch.

We hope that in the coming years passenger numbers will go from 6 million to 18 million, without additional significant ground works—just by changing the management of passengers, take-offs and departures. Of course, the result is further prosperity when other operators come in and cast their vote of confidence in the airport. In the past year Atlasjet, easyJet, Monarch, Thompson and Wizz Air have expanded routes and put on new routes out of Luton. London Luton airport now serves 107 destinations, which, considering its location, is phenomenal and a boost to the local economy.

As to jobs, aviation has a unique role in the UK economy. It is easier to create jobs in a service industry at the low end, but aviation can widen the skills mix towards middle and higher incomes; and it can create jobs for both genders and for people of various ethnic backgrounds. It is a diverse field, and that is important for young people growing up in my constituency, who know that there will be expansion and a positive future for the airport. Actually, it is not just about entry-level jobs at that airport. Although many people do not realise it, we are No. 1 for business jet travel. The chances are that people travelling on a Learjet land at Luton, which is hugely important because of the servicing and other skills that are created.

I should like briefly to mention surface connectivity, which many hon. Members picked up on. Luton Airport Parkway station, which serves London Luton airport, is just 22 minutes, at present, from St Pancras. Out of the six airports that I mentioned, people would struggle to make a case for an airport that is closer in terms of connectivity by rail from central London, but although

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we think of the Heathrow Express and the Gatwick Express we never talk about a London Luton express. In that sense, I was glad that in the recent franchising round, Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd, which will take over from the FirstGroup, committed, in conjunction with the Department for Transport, to introducing a minimum of two services an hour, 24 hours a day, serving Luton Airport Parkway. I hope that in time we can build on that, as passenger numbers increase, because that is a vital north-south route. Perhaps the Minister will reflect on that in his comments.

Additionally, we know that we need upgrades in the wayfinding systems at the terminal building, Luton Airport Parkway, and at St Pancras International. Most of all, my constituents are united—and I am with them—in saying that we need to remove a separate, confusing charge for the shuttle bus up to the terminal building. These may seem small issues, but if people think they are buying a ticket to London Luton airport and find themselves being marched to a cashpoint to get the small change they need to get to the airport, their frustration will affect the rest of the experience and it will be hard to turn around perceptions at that point.

Luton has the ability to contribute to capacity in the south-east, at a time of relative calm before what we fully expect to happen in 2015 happens, when the Davies commission reports. Let us turn on that capacity in the next 12 to 18 months, while expanding UK business.

On jobs, it is important to get the skills mix right. It would be easy to expand an airport such as Luton by getting rid of many of the diverse businesses that provide high-skilled jobs and just focusing on driving low-cost carriers. However, we have chosen not to do that in Luton and that is a welcome move. On surface connectivity, we are starting to see point-to-point not just as taking off at one airport and landing at another, but as being about the entire journey, from home to the destination. Those are key components in determining whether people are getting a good travel experience. Regional airports have something to contribute on all those points, and I hope the Minister will reflect on that in his comments.

3.32 pm

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on securing the debate, which has demonstrated a real interest in the subject. I also appreciate that he identified so many regional airports in some detail.

I had not intended to make a full speech, but local circumstances at the moment are of great concern to me. I put on the record that Aberdeen airport is a vital link for our oil and gas industry. It is a busy, expanding airport that offers flights to 50 destinations, more than half of which are international direct links, and access to a number of hubs—not only London, but Frankfurt, Copenhagen and Paris. All these links have been developed by an airport management who are keen to attract new business, have recently extended the runway and are currently upgrading the terminal buildings.

In passing, I have to say that it is a matter of great regret to me that about 25 years ago the terminal building was relocated from one side of the airport to the other. I protested at the time because I was campaigning to reopen the railway station next to the old terminal

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building, but was told that there was no future for railway links to airports and that there was more land on the other side. That is a matter of huge regret, because our airport gets totally road gridlocked at busy times of the day. That valuable link, which has been reopened—I got the station reopened—carries 750,000 passengers a year, in spite of being on the wrong side of the airport. That is what happens when there is no forethought in planning.

My concern, which I raised at Prime Minister’s questions last week and on which, I am glad to say, I got support from the Prime Minister, is that British Airways, having launched with a great flourish two years ago a direct link between Aberdeen and London City airport, is axing this service, without so much as a press notice, let alone any consultation with the local community. I only found out about it because I was alerted by a constituent who was trying to book a flight after the clocks go back and the winter timetable comes in, at the end of October, and found that the service was no longer available. That was the first time that anybody in the local community had been made aware of it. I have been in touch with the chamber of commerce, Oil & Gas UK, the Institute of Directors, local parliamentary colleagues and the entire business community, all of whom are completely stunned by the news and had no knowledge of it. Given the benefit that British Airways gets from the business travel that connects out of Aberdeen, it is at the very least pretty poor public relations and discourteous.

Questions have been raised about whether the route was actually loss-making. I am seeking, along with colleagues from all parties, a meeting with BA to try to get some explanation, a consultation and the possibility of reconsideration. I have to say that I am having some difficulty getting any response out of BA. It made a comment to the local paper to the effect that the decision was commercial and it was not prepared to discuss any details, but I take that as an indication not that the route was making a loss, but that there are other, more profitable routes to which BA prefers to transfer the planes. Unless BA proves otherwise, that is where I rest my case.

I have nothing against the business communities of Dublin, Glasgow or Edinburgh, all of which need to be properly served and which have important, good airports, but I question whether Aberdeen should lose its three flights a day so that Edinburgh can have 11 flights to London City alone, Glasgow eight and Dublin five. That is a demonstration of an airline that is simply looking at its own bottom line and not at its shared responsibility for business development—because, of course, this affects the economy.

I have had streams of contacts, including e-mails, from people saying, “This is such a wonderful service. It gives us a straight connection, quickly and efficiently, to continental destinations and to a flight directly to New York.” Much more to the point, is a much easier route into the City. I think that I am right in saying that pretty well every parliamentarian from the north of Scotland has used this service—we tend to travel together, so I hope that we do not precipitate any by-elections—and we have found it quick and efficient.