Tackling youth unemployment remains a critical issue, but specific measures to address it in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Executive. The Government are reducing the largest structural deficit in UK peacetime history, and that, more than anything, will help deliver a sustainable economic recovery and so directly assist young people to get into employment.
I welcome the new Minister to his position. Almost one in four young people in Northern Ireland are out of work. Many are forced to seek agency jobs on zero-hours contracts, while others are taking the path to emigration because of the downturn in the construction industry. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister have discussions with the Chancellor about the need to reduce VAT on tourism, as such a reduction would provide an opportunity for these young people to remain in Northern Ireland, working in tourism attractions and so on?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. She will of course have seen today’s figures, which show that although youth unemployment in Northern Ireland is 20.4%—that is too high—it has dropped by 2.1% over the quarter. I am sure she will warmly welcome both that and the drop by 1% to 6.7% in the overall level of unemployment in Northern Ireland—the 18th successive drop in the claimant count. I hope she warmly welcomes that, as right hon. and hon. Members from across the House certainly will.
Young Protestants in Northern Ireland are experiencing great difficulty in seeking employment. Will the Minister confirm the steps that the Government are taking to help those Protestant youths gain worthwhile skills, training and employment?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to work at school level and to build the number of apprenticeships in Northern Ireland to ensure that the figure to which I have referred, which remains too high—albeit fairly good in comparison with many other countries in Europe—comes down dramatically.