I thank the Minister for this debate. I rise as the chair of the all-party group on youth affairs who produced this report with my vice-chair Ben Bradley and my former vice-chair Gillian Keegan. Our travels up and down the country visiting youth centres in many constituencies played an important role and helped to provide the basis of this report.
I rise also as someone who worked in my local youth service when I left school at 16. I worked at the National Youth Agency, which of course helped to produce the report, and then spent four years in Brussels at the European Youth Forum. I was also a voluntary group leader in my local Woodcraft Folk, then national chair in the Youth Parliament, and I, too, served on the board of the British Youth Council. I could therefore say that I am steeped in this subject and it flows through my veins, but that does not mean that that I just biasedly think it is fantastic. That is why we tried to base the report on the evidence that we received—over 100 pieces of evidence came in—and the visits we undertook.
When I joined Parliament and became chair of the APPG, I was deeply concerned that the opportunities that I had, the safety nets that we heard about from other hon. Members and the spaces that supported us growing up had started to wither away. It is now nine years since Parliament looked at these issues, and in that time the youth portfolio has been in three different Government Departments. With the National Youth Agency, we agreed to initiate the report, and we applied for a Backbench Business debate on the subject. I am rather pleased that the Minister has stolen the Backbench Business debate that Ben Bradley and I applied for and that was due to take place tomorrow, because I think it shows that she will treat this issue with some importance and that Government time has been scheduled for it. I hope this is a sign that the Minister will keep her role. I will not give her my total backing, because that would probably undermine her if she wanted a job in the future, but I will say that she has shown a real regard for youth services that we perhaps have not seen previously. I intend no offence to previous Ministers, because the portfolio is huge, but her showing an understanding of youth has been really welcome. I also welcome today’s announcement that 3,000 young people will be given opportunities in sports, that there will be £500,000 in student bursaries for 400 students on the apprenticeship programme, that the youth charter will be produced and, most important, that we will have a review of statutory youth provision and what that means.
I will quickly rattle through some of the key findings of the APPG report, then offer some personal reflections on where the sector is now. Our first recommendation was that there should be a Minister responsible for the portfolio focused on young people. As I have said, to be effective, the Minister needs to give greater priority to youth work and youth services, and I think that she has done that. However, she is currently the Minister for Sport and Civil Society and has responsibility not only for youth but for gambling, horse-racing, lotteries and loneliness. Yes, these things are interconnected, but the reality is that a Minister with responsibility for children and young people who can focus on that area and the interconnectedness across Government is desperately needed. It is not only our APPG that has made this point; others dealing with different parts of the journey of a child have also done so.