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Youth Unemployment

Volume 533: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2011

10. What discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on reducing youth unemployment in Northern Ireland. (74413)

Tackling youth unemployment is a key priority for the UK Government and Northern Ireland Ministers. The Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, has visited Northern Ireland on two occasions and met the Social Development and Employment and Learning Ministers to discuss these very matters.

What additional support is the Secretary of State putting in place to reduce youth unemployment so that young people have a positive future in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman has a long track record in youth issues. We are very concerned about them. This was a problem for the previous Government, of which he was not a member, in all fairness, and it continues to be a problem. The Executive are dealing with a number of issues to do with apprenticeships and youth learning and we will continue to support them in every way. It is critical, however, that Executive Ministers engage with Lord Freud on the whole proposed package of welfare reform.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to increase youth employment in Northern Ireland is to invest in apprenticeships and the university technical schools, which is happening elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is right—that is certainly one way of increasing youth employment. There is youth unemployment in Northern Ireland as there is in Great Britain, but as I have pointed out, that problem bedevilled the previous Government as well as this one, and we take it very seriously. Most of the levers are in the hands—

Order. I am sure that the Minister of State is delivering a formidably eloquent answer, but unfortunately I cannot hear it. Would he address the House?

At the risk of repeating myself, the levers are mostly in the hands of Stormont Executive Ministers, and I urge them to engage with Lord Freud and his ministerial colleagues in respect of the package of welfare reform, which will be important for Northern Ireland’s future prosperity.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Northern Ireland Executive’s decision to cap tuition fees at just over £3,000 and the boost that that provides to young people in Northern Ireland who seek to graduate from university?

Those are quite properly matters for the Executive. I would point out, as the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, that that money must be found from within the Executive’s existing budget.