I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of building a high- skilled economy.
It is a delight, having spent so many years in the shadows, to come into the light and be able to speak in this House as the new Minister. Some hon. Members will have read today in the press of my endorsement for floristry and dance. I am wearing this perfectly coloured co-ordinated buttonhole to illustrate the first, but the House, and you in particular, Mr Deputy Speaker, will be relieved to know that I shall not be illustrating the second, at least not by example.
The performance in office of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), once the man who called the tune, was rather more of a conga than a quickstep. You know the conga, I have no doubt, Mr Deputy Speaker. It comprises a group of hapless individuals linked by routine, hopelessly following one another on a journey to nowhere.
Adult learning is a subject that inspires in those hon. Members present—I know this is true of hon. Members across the Chamber—emotional attachment and personal commitment. At the same time, it is not a subject in which anyone or any party can claim a monopoly of wisdom, which is why I am interested to hear views from across the Chamber. However, a new Government offer a new chance of a fresh start, the opportunity to bring change and hope to adult learners. However, not everyone realises that there has been a change. Sitting in my office the other day in my new Department, I was surprised to receive an out-of-the-blue phone call from someone asking for Mandy. I had to break the news to him that Mandy had moved on. To paraphrase Barry Manilow, “Oh Mandy, well you came and you took without giving…but I sent you away.”
Lord Mandelson was right in at least one important respect. He made the economic case for skills. The economic case for skills was by far the strongest case made by the previous Government. It is significant, of course—indeed it is vital—but it is not the only case for skills. The economic case, which I shall deal with first, has been thrown into sharp relief by the economic turbulence, by the rising levels of unemployment and falling levels of hope, especially among young people, and by the growing numbers of employers finding it difficult to stay in business. It will continue to occupy a prominent place in public discourse as we move out of recession and towards the renewed growth about which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke recently at the Cass business school.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I happily give way to my hon. Friend, who has been such a resolute champion of the Open university in his constituency, which does so much to foster learning.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I should like to invite him to join me in paying tribute to the Open university. The one thing that has not changed in recent times is the contribution that that institution has made to lifelong learning.
The fact that I anticipated my hon. Friend’s intervention merely gives it more force. He is right to say that the Open university plays a critical role in that regard. I will happily visit that place once again to cement the relationships that I have already formed there.
The economic case for skills will continue to be important because of the link between skills and competitiveness. It is well established, and it was made clear five years ago in the Leitch and Sainsbury reviews. Already their analysis has become orthodox in the debate about skills and the economy. The essence of their case was, and it remains salient, that driven by new technologies, the pace of economic and industrial change is growing, not just here in the west but in Asia and increasingly in Africa and South America. Once, those countries either did not compete in the same markets as this country or could offer only technologically inferior products. That is no longer the case. The unequal competition between high quality and low cost has been replaced by what Lord Sainsbury called a “race to the top”.
In the context of international competition, how worried is the Minister by the letter in today’s The Daily Telegraph from senior executives of leading British companies, who warn against the dangers of cuts to university funding and the risk that we will be left behind in the international competitive league as a result?
There is no doubt that the relationship between research and development and the kind of dynamism that I have described is a profound one. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science will take that very seriously indeed in the process of framing our policy in respect of higher education.
I know that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) is sympathetic to the argument, so I may be pushing at at least a half-open door when I say that further education matters too. Building skills from the bottom up, re-engaging young people who are not in employment, education or training, up a ladder of skills to the levels that he is describing—levels 3, 4 and 5—is critical. The hon. Gentleman will understand why today I want to speak particularly about further education, as that is my responsibility.
We need to provide workers with the skills they want and businesses with the skills they need to compete in this increasingly challenging world. The Leitch analysis pointed towards an intensive effort to raise skills in this country, and indeed the House more than once debated these matters when the Labour party was in government. It is easier perhaps to say on the Opposition Benches, but I will repeat it from the Government Bench, that I do not accuse the hon. Member for Cardiff West of anything worse than a mistake. I do not think that Labour Members are malevolent; I think their intentions are broadly the same as ours. I just think they are misjudged. This is not about malice; it is about error. I know that they will want to acknowledge that when they speak in the debate. They are big men, and I want to give them this chance, because I am a generous Minister, to rush to the Dispatch Box to say that they got it wrong. Wouldn’t we welcome that? Wouldn’t the whole country welcome it, too?
Are you sure you didn’t teach drama?
Well, I said I was interested in dance. I am interested in sufficient drama to add to the theatricality of this place, without which it would be poorer.
During the years of the Labour Government, Labour Members often alleged that the largesse for further education would end if we came to power. If the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), my opponent and friend, were to wish to repeat his unfortunate appearance on “Celebrity Mastermind”—I do not want to remind him of that too much—he could do worse than choose the Thatcher Government as his specialist subject. We came to realise during our time in opposition that the Labour party spent more time speaking about 1979 than about the present. They were preoccupied with that in their dark years, and perhaps that is not surprising for a party that usually looks backwards rather than forwards, whereas the Conservative party is committed to progress and taking our country to where it needs to be now.
As a consequence of that preoccupation with the past, we were left with another Labour Government who spent until they broke the bank. As a result, even before they lost office, they were already cutting adult skills. Last year’s pre-Budget report said—I have it here for those hon. Members who have not had the opportunity to go to the Library to collect it—that £300 million would be cut from the adult skills budget if Labour returned to Government. When Members hear complaints about the new Government’s performance, they should set them in that context. Mandy was first to the table to say he would cut his Department, and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. People are still making phone calls to my office to try to find him, to ask exactly where the cuts would have fallen.
While Labour Members were drifting further and further out of touch into a world populated by fictional numbers rather than real people, Conservatives were talking to adult educators and adult learners about their experiences. We were talking to employers about their skills needs and to union learning representatives about the obstacles they face in creating a learning culture among their members. So that it is unequivocal, so that there is no question and no doubt, let me say that I and the Government are committed to unionlearn; we celebrate all it does and all that it will continue to do with our support and encouragement.
As a result of the conversations we had and dialogues we enjoyed, we learned important lessons about the indispensability of further education as an engine of social and economic change. History teaches us that the better educated a nation’s people are, the more economically prosperous they are likely to be—their general levels of health will be better, too, their communities will be more united and their family and social bonds will be stronger—and the more they will appreciate the things that money cannot buy, but without which life is colourless. All deserve their chance to see, hear, taste and touch beauty.
The conviction that education is the key to so much more than a wage packet drove pioneers, such as the founders of the Workers Educational Association, who sought to take learning, until then the preserve of the privileged few, out to the many. The impulse that promoted better manual skills also created the penny classics that did so much to spread the love of English literature throughout society, and the growth of choral and instrumental societies that brought great music virtually to the factory floor. The fire that drove adult education’s pioneers still burns, and it drives the coalition Government’s programme for further education and skills. The challenge we face in rebuilding a system fit for purpose is scarcely less imposing than was theirs in building a system from scratch.
In recent years, the link between skills and craftsmanship—I am not afraid to call it craftsmanship—the ideal of self-betterment and the pleasures of learning as a means of gaining wider and richer perspectives on the world have been allowed to wither. But not any longer: we in this Government will make a bold case for that relationship—a firm case for the cohesive power of learning, how it changes lives by changing life chances and increases prospects both to gain and prosper in a job, and in all the other ways that I have described.
No one denies that one of the key functions of Government is to create, as far as possible, the right conditions for economic success, and none would deny, I hope, that adult skills policy is one of the most powerful economic levers at any Government’s disposal. But the time has come finally to acknowledge that a socialist model of centralised planning has failed, even in terms of its own narrow criteria for success. We really cannot continue the micro-managed, target-driven, bureaucratic regime that for years has dogged further education and damaged our prospects of raising skills levels.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you and the House will not underestimate the scale of the challenge. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills reported in “Ambition 2020”, published last year, that on recent trends we are likely to slip from 18th to 21st in the OECD rankings for intermediate level skills by 2020. Shadow Ministers will be familiar with the report.
I happily give way to the new Chairman of the Select Committee, whom I welcome in that role.
I thank the Minister for his kind words. I welcome him to his position and look forward to seeing him in our Committee in due course. I congratulate him on his bravura performance—indeed, it has been quite theatrical at times. He commented on the top-down approach. I note that his colleague the Minister for Universities and Science has written to higher and further education organisations inviting them to publish employability statements. Today the hon. Gentleman placed a statement in the Library saying that the Government would be introducing measures to give
“learners the information they need to drive the system, through the publication of clear and consistent information.”
If that is not an example of a top-down and potentially bureaucratic approach, what is it? Could he enlighten us?
I want to be generous; as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that is in my character. I know that the hon. Gentleman is new to the task, but he has been an assiduous member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and a frequent contributor to debates in the Chamber. As such, I hoped he would have known that the key plank of my party’s perspective on this subject—indeed, the coalition’s perspective—is the need to inform and empower learners. It is critically important that people get the right advice and guidance, and part of that process is explaining to them the likely employment outcomes of pursuing courses of study and training. We are encouraging universities and colleges, and the reformed careers service that we will bring in, to give people a very clear understanding of what will happen if they embark on particular routes. What are their chances of getting a job? What sort of job will it be? What are the wage implications? How might they progress thereafter?
I give way to my hon. Friend, who in his maiden speech has already made his commitment to skills, and apprenticeships in particular, very clear.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing so much to push forward our policy for 100,000 apprenticeships. Why do only just 28% of British workers qualify to become apprentices or gain technical skills compared to France, where the figure is 51%, or Germany where it is 65%—the percentage we should reach in this country? What has gone so badly wrong in the UK that our skills level is so low?
That requires not so much an answer as a seminar, but I shall try to summarise in a sentence or two what I might say at such a seminar. The problem in Britain has been threefold. First, we have not promoted apprenticeships as effectively as we should. Although the brand is strong among potential learners, employers and the public, it is clear that the previous Government did not believe in apprenticeships as much as we do. [Interruption.] Opposition Members complain but many people thought that the right hon. Member for Tottenham’s ministerial predecessor—a valued colleague and a good Minister—did FA for FE and was sent to the FO. I do not know whether Fanny Adams is unparliamentary language, but it is certainly true that in debates with that Minister I made it absolutely clear that we wanted to grow the number of apprenticeships, yet the Labour Government insisted on retaining a strong emphasis on what they regarded as their flagship training and skills product—Train to Gain, about which I shall speak a little more in a moment.
The second point in answer to my hon. Friend’s intervention is that although part of the problem is about marketing, part of it is about resource. We have decided to transfer a significant portion of the Train to Gain budget to apprenticeships, because we know the skills apprenticeships can confer. We know how long they take to learn and we know that people want them. We know employers like them. We know what they cost. That cannot be said of the Train to Gain programme, in which the previous Government placed so much faith.
I give way to the hon. Lady, who always takes such an assiduous interest in education matters.
I am sure we are all enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s theatrics this afternoon, but will he look at some evidence? In 2008-09, 240,000 people started apprenticeships, compared to 75,000 in 1997-98, so I do not think it is for Labour to take lectures from the Conservatives about the importance of apprenticeships.
The hon. Lady must not deceive new Members—[Interruption.] I know she would not do so—except inadvertently, of course; I take that as read—because newer Members might come to believe her suggestion—I put it no more strongly than that.
What the previous Government actually did was to reclassify what counted as an apprenticeship. In France and Germany, about which we heard a moment ago, all apprenticeships are at level 3, and they once were in Britain. When the Labour Government came to power, they reclassified level 2 qualifications as apprenticeships and then trumpeted the fact that there were more of them. As both the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen know, the level 3 numbers remained stubbornly rather less than was required, than the Government wanted and than employers knew they needed. So we should focus on level 3 apprenticeships if we wish to get a true comparison both of our previous performance and of international data.
How many of the 50,000 new places that the hon. Gentleman is announcing can he guarantee to the House will be level 3 apprenticeships?
The hon. Gentleman is far too experienced a Member to expect me to give on-the-hoof guarantees of that kind, but what I will say is that I have asked my officials—my officials—to look closely at the definition and, indeed, the stratification of apprenticeships. I want to build the ladder of qualifications that takes people from re-engagement right up to level 4 and 5.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman and the House about three things that we will do on apprenticeships. As well as putting the extra resource in, we will grow the number of frameworks at level 3 and 4 and we will explore frameworks at level 5, where there is a demand, I am told, in meetings with the high-tech industries such as advanced engineering. The hon. Gentleman will know some of the sectors to which I refer. We will look closely at those level 2 apprenticeships which, with redefinition, can be built to level 3—in other words, some of the high-end level 2 qualifications that with further work may become level 3—and we will think again about those level 2 qualifications that cannot. It is entirely appropriate that they might be regarded as a foundation to an apprenticeship, but I am not sure that it is right that they should be called full apprenticeships. This makes comparisons with our international competitors difficult, and I am not sure that it does not short-change employers and learners. Yes, of course, there is a place for level 2, but the emphasis will be on level 3, and that is what the hon. Gentleman needs to know.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that some of the new apprenticeships that he is announcing that he will create may not be classified as apprenticeships in future?
No; I am saying that some of the existing apprenticeships may not be classified so, and that the new money and the new emphasis will be on level 3. I want to return to the main text of my speech.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I want to make progress; I will give way later. The hon. Gentleman has had one turn, and although I am generous, my generosity is not without limit.
I want now to focus on the highly centralised and bureaucratic system that developed under the previous Government, whereby funds that could have been used for teaching and training were actually used detailing plans, complying with targets and formulating schemes. Instead of enabling colleges and other providers to respond to the needs of businesses and learners, Ministers thought they knew what was best. Excessive bureaucracy sapped precious energy from our education system. If I might, as a primer, offer advice again, particularly to newer Members, that if proof were needed of that assertion, it is to be found in the report commissioned as early as 2005 by the last Government under the auspices of Sir Andrew Foster. That report concluded that there was a “galaxy” of oversight, inspection and administration in the FE sector, and called for precisely the kind of streamlined and more responsive structure that we in this Government will now put in place.
Even worse, though, that centralised, target-driven micro-management led to a systemic failure in the form of an FE capital funding crisis from which the sector is still reeling. Members will know that the Learning and Skills Council encouraged bids that would have cost 10 times more than the available funds. Across the country, 144 capital bids were frozen. Members across the Chamber came to the House to complain about the circumstances in their localities and the effects on their local colleges, and rightly so. Seventy-nine of those projects had already received agreement in principle. Many colleges incurred considerable cost.
Andrew Foster was once again brought out of mothballs by the Government to produce another report, and he made it very clear that a top-heavy, bureaucratic system had failed. He concluded that the LSC was too slow to respond—
“there were straws in the wind, early storm warnings, but the problem was not crystallised fast enough.”
So we will look closely at FE capital. Next week, I shall make it clear how we will spend on a bid basis with colleges the extra £50 million that the Chancellor has agreed to devote to FE capital projects.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way once more, and then I really must make some progress, because a number of hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.
Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the extra £50 million that he describes as capital has been taken from the Department’s revenue spending for skills, and that it will only be for this year, and that therefore in the long term, in perpetuity, it is a £50 million cut?
I have already celebrated the hon. Gentleman’s assiduity, and his numeracy skills are obvious, too. He is right: the money is being taken from the Train to Gain budget, and it is being allocated to capital. The justification for that is the urgency of the problem. Had the Labour party organised the capital funding in FE in anything like a reasonable way, we would not have to take these emergency measures. That will bring some light to those colleges who were for so long, as I was, in the shadows—in the darkness.
The hon. Gentleman will also know that this is therefore a one-off programme, but we will now look at a longer-term set of proposals for FE capital, and in my estimation even this short-term measure will deliver benefit to 150 colleges across the country. There will be more details next week. I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot wait—the whole House is excited—but he must, because I cannot give all the presents out on the same day; some have to be saved for Boxing day.
There has to be a better way to take advantage of the immense human capital in the college system, to build a high-skilled, high-tech economy. We really must offer a new beginning. That is why I want to move to the four points that lay at the heart of the letter that I wrote today, and then to my exciting conclusion.
The letter that I have written today to the principals of all colleges sets out ways in which we will set FE free. First, I am removing the requirement to complete summary statements of activity, with a resulting reduction in performance monitoring of employer responsiveness. Secondly, the Government have already announced the removal of Ofsted inspections for schools with outstanding performance. I will work with ministerial colleagues to introduce the same way of working in the FE sector, removing inspections for colleges with outstanding performance.
Thirdly, I will remove the regulatory requirement for college principals to undertake the principals qualifying programme, not because I do not want appropriately qualified principals—I know that there are a range of development opportunities and qualifications that can enhance managers’, leaders’ and principals’ skills to run colleges in the 21st century—but because individuals in our institutions should be free to decide what package of development is appropriate to support their individual circumstances.
Fourthly and most importantly, I will enable all colleges except those that are performing poorly to move money between adult learner and employer budgets, because they, rather than Ministers, know how best to meet the needs of local learners and employers. All those measures are intended to increase the power of colleges to determine how best to manage their affairs in the light of local training needs. I want not just to encourage them to listen to what local people and local businesses have to say, but to be free to act, to respond and to use that information with a minimum of fuss, delay and administrative cost.
This is only the beginning—a first indication of the Government’s determination to deliver on the promises we made to providers when we were in opposition. We are drawing a line under the mistakes of the past and reaching for a better future.
It is true that our debate takes place in difficult circumstances and that the public sector will be obliged to make efficiency savings. It is also true, as I said earlier—I want to be honest about this—that no guarantees can be offered about future funding. With freedom comes a fresh challenge, so as unnecessary compliance costs are reduced, I will be looking to colleges to find efficiencies. They would expect that, as would the House. That will include encouraging colleges to find more cost-efficient ways of conducting their affairs, such as by merging back-office functions and streamlining their procurement processes. If the Government had done that earlier—when Labour Members controlled the purse strings—we could have made more progress to match and beat the performance of the competitor countries to which I referred that have outpaced us on apprenticeships and driven up the skills of their work forces to an extent that we have not. The Train to Gain programme was part of the problem. I know that former Ministers are obliged to defend it, but they know what the National Audit Office said about its dead-weight cost. They know that assessment was too often dressed up as training and that the brokerage service at the programme’s heart was, at best, only a partial success.
Before my appointment as Minister, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a long apprenticeship as shadow Minister. Over those years, I held countless meetings with college principals and visited innumerable colleges throughout the country. Everything that I said in opposition, and everything that I say now in government, has been informed by the views and opinions of the sector. We will continue that dialogue about shaping further education in this country—alongside the needs of business and industry, and combined with the Government’s priorities—in a way that delivers opportunities to a new generation of learners.
The stakes are high. The ability of our economy to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances depends in no small measure on the capacity of workers to adapt. They need to be sure of the promise that new skills and knowledge will lead inexorably to new and better chances in life. My aim—and my commitment—is to make good on that promise for the next generation.
Today, a start has been made, but there is much more to do to build a country with the skills that we need to compete, a country ready to elevate the practical, and a country where learning is valued for its own sake and for its economic, social and cultural benefits: proud, confident learners, colleges free to respond and a dynamic, highly skilled economy—Britain being the best that it can be.
May I start by apologising to the House for the fact that I will not be able to be present for the wind-ups? I have already informed the Minister and you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I genuinely welcome the Minister to his post as skills Minister on his first outing since the formation of the new Government. Given his flowery rhetoric, it was kind of him to provide a visual aid in his lapel, which we all appreciated. He was somewhat ungenerous in his opening remarks, but that was slightly uncharacteristic. I know that he is a lover of poetry, and I hope that the speech that we have just heard will not be typical of his ministerial speeches, given that it contained no poetry. I am also a lover of poetry, so perhaps I may cite a line from Yeats:
“Those that I fight I do not hate”.
That is certainly true of the hon. Gentleman, but as he might know the rest of the poem, I should emphasise that I do love my own side.
When we were in government, we said that the manufacturing of items constructed out of composite materials probably represented part of the future for Britain, but few of us anticipated that it would be possible to meld the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to manufacture a composite Government. We can only begin to speculate about how quickly the already visible fissures in that composite construction will form into cracks, and then progressively and inevitably lead to critical failure.
The Minister is extremely fortunate to inherit his portfolio, because he has the opportunity to build on the Labour Government’s tremendous record of achieving so much when we were in power, provided that his Department does not continue to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s whipping boy in the frenzied search for cuts far beyond those necessary to bring down the deficit at a sustainable rate.
Let me briefly outline why the Minister is fortunate to inherit our record on skills. The performance of further education colleges and other providers has improved dramatically over the past decade. The satisfaction rates of employers and learners have risen. Since 2001, about 3 million adults have improved their basic skills and achieved a national qualification. Since 1997, more than 2 million people have started apprenticeships, which represents a massive increase in apprenticeship starts since the Conservative party was previously in power. Completion rates for apprenticeships have also more than doubled.
Despite the Minister’s trashing of the Train to Gain programme—although I note that he has not completely axed it—employers and workers report strong satisfaction with the scheme. More than 1 million people have been able to start learning programmes at work that lead to a qualification. That has reduced staff turnover, improved productivity and engaged more than 140,000 employers in training. Earlier this year, I was proud to be able to meet Chris Scott, a process operator at William Blythe Ltd, a chemical manufacturer in Accrington, who, by completing his level 2 NVQ—yes, level 2—in business improvement techniques, became the one millionth learner from the Train to Gain programme to gain a qualification. I should also mention the record number of students in higher education, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) will say more about that later.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the importance of Train to Gain, so why did the previous Government cut £1.3 million from the Train to Gain budget for Harlow college?
It would be remiss of me if I did not welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I also pay tribute to his predecessor—a former skills Minister. I shall talk about the priorities for skills spending later. However, I note that although the current Minister has tried to cut the Train to Gain budget and to trash the programme comprehensively, he has not yet completely abolished it.
I am especially proud of the work that we did in government with the trade unions. Despite Conservative hostility, as even the Minister might admit, we introduced the union learning fund, which is now worth £21.5 million a year. As a result, there are now more than 23,000 union learning reps. They get to the parts of the workplace that other trainers and providers sometimes do not reach, and they helped nearly 250,000 workers into learning last year. Latterly—I give this Minister and the Minister for Universities and Science credit for this—that even won praise from the Minister for Universities and Science for its effectiveness and efficiency. One day, the skills Minister might be able to mention the union learning fund and the trade unions in a speech and get the odd “Hear, hear!” from the Back Benchers behind him, rather than the blank looks that he got when he talked about them today.
The highly successful transformation fund for informal adult learning has also brought about a sea change in people’s perceptions of themselves, and has helped to generate a marked increase in participation, particularly among those in the lower D and E socio-economic groups, and that is a legacy of the previous Government’s of which I am proud.
There was huge investment of over £2 billion in building the colleges of the future, although the hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the problems with the programme. That programme transformed the places in which people learn. He will have the pleasure, as Minister, of visiting many of those colleges and seeing the transformational impact of the capital investment in our further education colleges that took place under the Labour Government. He may also remind himself that not a single penny was spent on further education capital for colleges in the final year of his party’s last term in office. So there is a substantial platform on which to build, and a clear strategy for the future was set out in the skills White Paper last November.
Given the spirit that has permeated our exchanges thus far, and indeed today, I know that the shadow Minister will want to welcome the extra £50 million. He was slightly critical when he said that it was to be taken from revenue and was a one-off, but he knows that that was needed and will be welcomed across the sector. Will he just say a word of welcome for that?
I am always happy to argue for more investment and capital for our FE colleges, but later I may return to the issue of the £50 million and whether, overall, the Department should be welcoming the way in which it has been pick-pocketed by the Treasury over that measure.
As I say, there is a substantial platform on which to build. The skills White Paper, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, was published last November, set out pretty clearly the skills challenges for the next decade and a clear set of proposals to meet that challenge, including an ambition to ensure that three quarters of people participate in higher education or complete an advanced apprenticeship by the age of 30. Included in those proposals were: the expansion of the apprenticeship system to build a new technical class by doubling apprenticeship places for young adults; apprenticeship scholarships; and the focus of the skills budget on the areas from which future jobs will come. I make no apology for that, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about skills being wider than simply an economic matter. I make no apology for focusing on the areas from which future jobs will come.
The proposals also include: a joint investment scheme with sector skills councils; more national skills academies; skills accounts, to which I think the hon. Gentleman referred; user-friendly public ratings for colleges and providers, to which I think he referred in his written statement today; better skills provision for those on out-of-work benefits; promotion of apprenticeships as a priority in public procurement; reducing the number of publicly funded skills agencies by over 30; and focusing resources on key economic strategic priorities. A strong record of achievement and a clear and widely welcomed strategy for the future—that is the strong legacy bequeathed to the hon. Gentleman as Minister with responsibility for skills in the new Government.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman rises to acknowledge that.
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman too often, and I will give him some poetry, if I get a chance, in a later intervention, but he talks about the legacy that his party left. I just want him to be clear with the House about where the £300 million reductions in
“funding not directly supporting learner participation and lower priority adult skills budgets”
would actually have fallen; that is in the pre-Budget report that his Government published.
I am slightly surprised by that comment, because the hon. Gentleman seemed at first in his speech to be criticising us for making those necessary savings, but later to be saying that we should have made them earlier. I am not quite sure why that suddenly became the point on which he wanted to intervene. However, he can intervene as often as he likes; I am happy to give way to him on any number of occasions, as he knows.
What does the hon. Gentleman propose to do with the strong, powerful and compelling legacy that I have just outlined to the House? First, his Department is cutting by 10,000 the number of university places that would have been on offer this autumn. That is despite him and his colleagues persistently claiming—and actually bringing my colleagues and me to the House, when we were the Ministers, to boast about the fact—that they were committed to, creating an extra 10,000 university places over and above what the Government were committed to through a sort of “buy now, pay later” student loan early payback scheme, which we argued was entirely bogus, and which appears to have been wiped from the collective memories of Government Front Benchers during their coalition reprogramming course.
Perhaps when the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) winds up, he can tell us what happened to the pet scheme to conjure up more student places for free. The Minister for Universities and Science explained in the House on many occasions how it would work, despite our scepticism. Has the Treasury finally explained to him and his colleagues what we told him all along—that it was Mickey Mouse maths and would not work? I think that the Under-Secretary agrees that it is Mickey Mouse maths; he did when he was in opposition.
What else have the Administration done on skills apart from announcing cuts to university places and budgets? They have tried to soften the Department’s pain of being the Chancellor’s whipping boy so far in the £6 billion in-year cuts package by recycling £200 million from the skills budget—from the Train to Gain programme—into additional apprenticeship places costing £150 million, and, as the Minister outlined, into capital for further education colleges of £50 million. The Secretary of State bragged about that yesterday in the Chamber. He tried to give the impression that it was year zero and that he was the first Minister ever to come to the Dispatch Box to announce anything about spending on further education capital and apprenticeships.
On capital, the Secretary of State has been done over by the oldest Treasury trick in the book—converting revenue into capital. He claimed that he kept back £200 million from the package when he is doing no such thing. The £50 million on capital, as the Minister generously admitted in his remarks, is for this year only. The Chancellor has picked the Secretary of State’s skills budget pocket for future years to the tune of £50 million per annum and that should be acknowledged.
The Secretary of State should have made the case for capital separately, if he wanted to make such a case to the Treasury in the spending review. Instead, he has allowed the Treasury to deny the skills budget £50 million a year from next year onwards—in perpetuity—even before the Budget and the spending review. That is a little naive. He has been had and he ought to have known better.
Let us consider the apprenticeships proposal. There are no stronger supporters of apprenticeships than me, Labour Members and the previous Labour Government. No Government did more than the previous Government to rescue apprenticeships from the almost criminal indifference of the previous Tory Government, who allowed apprenticeships to fall to only 65,000, with a completion rate of only a third.
The Secretary of State should be more candid about the proposals. He is not trying to do the difficult, but most important, things on apprenticeships. He is after the low-hanging fruit—and I hope he will think carefully about that—because he hopes to claim a quick victory on apprenticeship numbers. For the benefit of the House and all concerned, let us be clear about what he is doing. Although he tried to give an impression to the contrary yesterday, he is not creating new training opportunities apprenticeships for the youngest and most difficult to place. He is not—as we pledged to do and he must still deliver, unless he wants to tell us that he will abandon the policy; I do not think that he will—trying to create more advanced apprenticeships for young adults. He is not aiming to support a particular number of new jobs. He is transferring funding in the training and skills budget from one form of funding for those who are in work into another—good, but more expensive—form of training, which he knows is overwhelmingly likely to be taken up not by employers looking to take on new young workers who are currently out of work, but by those who will train a smaller number of older workers currently in work than they would have done under Train to Gain.
Now that is fine—it is a legitimate decision for the Government to make—but the Secretary of State should not try to give the impression that the announcement and the programme is likely to result in 50,000 new job opportunities for young people, or even new jobs for older workers.
We cannot allow this to stand, can we? I hope that I wear the weight
“Of learning lightly like a flower”,
in the words of Tennyson. I also hope that that learning might inform the thinking of the House on apprenticeships. Of course some of the new apprenticeships will be adult apprenticeships and some will be for young people, and of course some will be about upskilling and some about reskilling, but to suggest that the people involved will simply be those currently taught under Train to Gain is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman knows what the National Audit Office said about that scheme: 25% dead-weight cost.
Order. May I say to the Minister that the erudition of his intervention was equalled only by its length? Although it is a joy to listen to his mellifluous tones, I hope that not all such interventions will be of equal length.
It is a joy to listen to the Minister, and I am glad that he at last came up with some poetry and quoted Tennyson’s words that one should wear learning lightly. Perhaps I could come back with some Alexander Pope:
“A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring”.
The vast number of people who will take up the Minister’s proposals will already be in work, and they will be in the older, not the younger, age bracket. He may prove my prediction wrong in future, but he does not have a rule to ensure that the apprenticeships are for younger workers—under-25s—or one to ensure that apprenticeships are for new starts only. If he wants to talk about dead weight, he should calculate the dead weight of his proposal in respect of the training that would have happened anyway.
The Minister also needs to tell us how he will drive up apprenticeships elsewhere—in the public sector, for example. How will he use procurement to help that? Unless he shows leadership—I say this to him candidly and sincerely—and knocks heads together in the Government, that will not happen. All he will get from his colleagues will be that one-note symphony that we have heard so far from the Government, like the vuvuzelas in the World cup, saying that nothing can be done on public sector apprenticeships because of cuts. That is what he will be told. My advice to him is this: he needs to fight, fight and fight again against Treasury orthodoxy on behalf of apprenticeships if he wants to make an impact as a Minister.
It is clear that the Minister’s enjoyable and occasionally flowery rhetoric—if he will forgive me for saying so—hides a prosaic reality in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Secretary of State really wants to be in charge of the banks but has been walked all over by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that ambition and, in an age-old Treasury way, has had his pocket picked over FE, skills, capital and revenue; and the Universities and Science Minister, who really wants to be the Secretary of State and deeply resents the Liberal Democrat succubus who now has his job, has, in his absent-minded, dual-brained, batty, professorial way, carelessly mislaid 10,000 university places since the election. It is no wonder that in the confusion, the Treasury has been able to bamboozle a Department that has two heads and three brains. Now we have proposals for capital and apprenticeships that are not all that they seem.
If we are going to build Britain’s skills for the future, we need strong, united leadership from the Department, not weak, divided leadership hidden by the Minister’s baroque oratory. His words are fine for now, but unless he starts standing up for skills, his flowery rhetoric will wilt under the heat of political reality.
Several hon. Members
Order. As I think the House will be aware, the debate is heavily subscribed, and I therefore impose a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, to apply with immediate effect.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech as the first Member for the new Milton Keynes South constituency. I regret that I do not have any poetry to share with the House this afternoon, but I am pleased to contribute to this debate on building a high-skilled economy. The motto of Milton Keynes is “By Knowledge, Design and Understanding”, and my constituency has always been at the heart of learning and technological innovation.
Before I turn to those themes, let me first pay tribute to my predecessors. I use the plural deliberately because, thanks to the work of the Boundary Commission, I have two. The bulk of my constituency was in the former Milton Keynes, South-West seat, represented for the last 13 years by Dr Phyllis Starkey. I got to know her quite well, having been her opponent in the 2001 and 2005 elections, as well as in the poll last month. Over the 10 years in which we were political sparring partners, it is fair to say that there were few policies on which we agreed. However, I pay tribute to her for her service to Milton Keynes. To represent such a diverse and dynamic constituency for more than a decade is no small achievement. I also know that she had a strong reputation in this House for pursuing her causes with tenacity and determination.
My other immediate predecessor is, I am delighted to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster). He was a diligent and well-regarded representative for the two wards that I have inherited from him—Danesborough and Walton Park—and I look forward to continuing his good work. Indeed, we are planning to work very closely together to provide a seamless service to the whole of Milton Keynes. In these financially challenged times, we are endeavouring to save on the public purse by sharing a constituency office.
Hon. Members may think that they know about Milton Keynes, but I would like to use this speech to challenge a number of misconceptions. In an economic debate, it would have been neat to follow the widely held view that Milton Keynes is named after the two distinguished economists, Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes, but that is not the case. The city takes its names from the historic village of Milton Keynes, which is in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
It is true that Milton Keynes is a new city that is just over 40 years in age, with plenty of modern housing estates, and the roundabouts and grid road system with which hon. Members may be all too well acquainted if they have not followed the logic of the layout. However, that modernity belies a rich history stretching over many centuries. Stony Stratford, for example, is an ancient coaching town on the Watling street roman road. The House may not know that the origin of the phrase “cock and bull story” lies in Stony Stratford. On the high street, there are two hotels—the Bull and the Cock. Legend has it that, as travellers stopped to break their journeys between London and cities in the midlands and north, the ale flowed freely and stories became more and more embellished before being relayed, in their exaggerated state, to their destination. I pledge that my contributions in this House will have a sounder factual base.
Bletchley, which forms about one third of my constituency, is of course the home of Bletchley Park and the code breakers, whose brilliant work certainly shortened the second world war and saved many hundreds of thousands of lives. Indeed, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that their work changed the outcome of the war and, had they not succeeded, we might not today enjoy the freedom of speech that we do. I am delighted to report that, after many years of neglect, important restoration work is being carried out at Bletchley Park, under the expert guidance of its director, Simon Greenish, and I shall do what I can to ensure that the restoration project is completed.
I also wish to use this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), for what he did to right the wrong against the brilliant code breaker and mathematician, Alan Turing, a national hero who was so persecuted for being gay that he ultimately took his own life. While the right hon. Gentleman and I share little political agreement—although, in the interests of full disclosure, I should declare that I was christened by his father—I pay tribute to him for making that national apology for the wrong done to Alan Turing.
Bletchley Park is also the home of the modern computer, which is just one of my constituency’s major contributions to the UK’s high-skilled economy. That tradition has continued with the Open university, which is also located in my constituency. Many hundreds of thousands of lives have been transformed by the Open university, and it has long-embodied the vital principle of lifelong learning, reskilling people as their careers evolve and giving a second chance to those who have, for whatever reason, missed out on a more traditional form of higher education. The new vice-chancellor of the Open university, Martin Bean, is making an excellent start in preparing and updating the university to meet the ever-evolving challenges that lie ahead. His appointment is significant, because as a former senior director of Microsoft, his move from a high-end private company to the world of education illustrates the vital links that must exist between the two if the UK is to sustain a high-knowledge economy.
Milton Keynes is home to another pioneering model of higher-level learning that I believe will play a major part in the skilling of our economy—University Centre Milton Keynes, under the wise leadership of Professor Keith Straughan. When fully established, this exciting new concept will enable young people to access top-quality learning close to home and integrated with their learning at work. It is a model of partnership working and came about as a result of demand from the local community, local employers, civic partners and the voluntary and community sector. Will the Minister, as well as visiting the Open university, visit UCMK? I am sure that he will find a lot there that fits with the Government’s agenda.
I have long believed that to unlock the full potential of people in the UK, we need to break down some of the barriers that sometimes exist between higher and further education, and the needs of skilled employers. To ensure that the UK can beat both our traditional economic competitors and the fast-rising challenge from emerging economies, we need much greater flexibility in our education system, and in that Milton Keynes is leading the way.
Milton Keynes has a high-skilled economy, with many exciting new projects, such as the electric car scheme being piloted there. However, our success does not rest alone on its dynamic economy. For a relatively young new city, we have a fantastic, positive, can-do attitude and enjoy a rich tapestry of civic society, with more than 1,200 voluntary and charitable organisations. That spirit is embodied by Milton Keynes’ successful bid to be a host venue should England be successful in staging the 2018 World cup. And let this Scotsman put it on the record that I want England to triumph in South Africa and to go on to host the tournament in eight years.
After my electoral disappointment in 2001 and 2005, I could easily have moved on and sought a securer passage to this place, but I did not want to. Having made Milton Keynes my home, I wanted to be the Member for that area, and I feel honoured to be given a chance to represent it in the House. I began my speech by paying tribute to my immediate predecessors, but I would like to conclude with a reference to another former Member—Bill Benyon, who is the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and was Member for the Milton Keynes area for 22 years until 1992. Nearly two decades after he retired from this House, he is still remembered with great warmth and affection by many of my constituents as a kind, compassionate and hard-working man who believed in Milton Keynes and did whatever he could to champion this exciting new city on a wider stage. I hope that, in my time in the House, I can achieve a similar record of service.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) on his maiden speech—a Scotsman supporting England, hey?
“Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I stumble over the proprieties peculiar to the House”.—[Official Report, 24 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 1202.]
Those are not my words, but the opening salvo in the maiden speech by my predecessor, whom I shall cite more later, on 24 July 1991. Such observations are as true today as they were 19 years ago. Although I have only been in this place for a few short weeks, I have already started to take notice of the vagaries of the House. For example, I have noted that when a Member begins a speech with the words “I will be brief”, an extensive and loquacious contribution is guaranteed. Similarly, when the words “This doesn’t really need saying” are uttered, it is odds-on that an explanation of what it was that did not need saying will be given, in some detail, to those to whom it did not need explaining in the first place.
Mr Speaker, you may well have been able to discern from my accent—if not my haircut—that I am from the home of John, Paul, George and Ringo. However, it is also the home of Gerry Marsden, The Farm and China Crisis—to unashamedly mention just a few of my personal friends. Liverpool boasts too many politicians, musicians, comedians, poets, broadcasters, artists and so on to mention individually. Otherwise, my maiden speech might well have been one of the longest ever recorded.
It is also possible to find a Scouser at every level of our armed forces. One of my constituents, Craig Lundberg, who was blinded in an attack by insurgents in Iraq, is an inspiration to others. Like many Members from all parts of the House, I would like to pay tribute to all those in our armed forces who carry out such dangerous and commendable work on behalf of us all.
I represent a constituency that, uniquely, boasts two premiership football clubs within its boundaries. In our football-mad city, the achievements of Everton and Liverpool have a direct effect on the fortunes of our city. Historically, we have been no strangers to on-field success. However, for one of our clubs it is now fortunes of the financial kind that threaten its very existence. I urge hon. Members to sign early-day motion 197 on the issue, as the Minister concerned previously refused my request for a meeting with the Royal Bank of Scotland.
I should perhaps declare at this point that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Liverpool fan and a season ticket holder at Anfield. However, I would honestly say the same things if Everton FC had been the victim of a leveraged buy-out that had endangered its future survival and caused so many problems for my constituents living in close proximity to its football stadium. England’s most successful football club is slowly being drained by the greed of two American asset strippers, and this is having a negative impact on regeneration projects for the whole area. Unfortunately, the beautiful game does not always attract those with beautiful intentions.
One of the great socialist philosophers of the last century—the great Bill Shankly—may have been mistaken when he said that football was more important than life and death. However, supporters of both of our sporting institutions at least understood his passion, and they will not stand idly by without being engaged in the future of their respective football clubs.
The reason Mr Shankly was, uncharacteristically, wrong is that our city unfortunately recognises more than most the life-and-death results of poor stadium safety and ineffective policing—primary causes of the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough. I can assure my constituents that I will campaign on their behalf against any plans to water down ground safety standards, and that I will fight tooth and nail to protect the inquiry set up to examine the Hillsborough disaster. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), on behalf of all the Hillsborough families, for pushing so hard to get the process started.
My predecessor may have been from the blue half of Merseyside, but he was certainly from the politically red half of this Chamber. It is traditional for Members making their maiden speeches to highlight the contributions of their predecessors. Some are faced with the unenviable task of waxing lyrical about a political opponent whom they may recently have put to the electoral sword. Others may have replaced a colleague in controversial circumstances, while some may have been complicit in their predecessor’s downfall. I am pleased to say that none of those scenarios applies in my case. Put quite simply, I would not be in this place without the support, encouragement and friendship of Peter Kilfoyle.
Peter will go down as one of the great parliamentarians. He was widely respected in all parts of the Chamber, despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that he was independent of mind and voted with his conscience, sometimes controversially, as on the issue of Iraq, but also in his spirited opposition to the scrapping of the 10p tax rate. Peter’s opposition to the Iraq war was not met with universal support on the Labour Benches at the time, but it appears that some of my right hon. Friends who are in the race for the Labour leadership are also now expressing reservations about that policy. As coalition Members will find out, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
In a world of political self-aggrandisement, Peter Kilfoyle sacrificed career advancement for ideological principle. It is refreshing that there are still men and women whose moral judgment and values override the dangled carrot of elevated office. I can only aspire to follow in Peter’s footsteps. He dedicated 19 years to the service of this House and to his constituents in Liverpool, Walton. He also achieved his aim of doing justice to his predecessor, the late Eric Heffer, who gave 27 years to the same cause. I certainly have my work cut out if I am to follow two such political giants. I wish Peter’s lovely wife Berni all the very best in coming to terms with having him under her feet 24/7.
It is an unbelievable privilege to have been elected by the people of the area in which I have lived all my married life, and I am delighted to represent them in this place. I do not intend to let them down. I am proud to be a Scouser and to represent Walton, where my mum was born. One of the best things about making my maiden speech is that my mum’s name, Dorothy Rotheram, will now be recorded in Hansard in perpetuity.
I actually thought I had something in common with the Prime Minister when someone mentioned that he, too, had been brought up on an estate. On further examination, however, I discovered that his estate was not that similar to ours after all. I make no apology for stating on the record that I intend to be a strong voice for the people who elected me to the safest seat in the country, and for the city I love. I plan to be a constant thorn in the side of the present Government, and to ensure that Liverpool is not disproportionately affected by funding cuts, as it was the last time Tories sat on the Government Benches.
Both of my predecessors had connections with the construction sector, and I am delighted to keep up that tradition. I am guessing that I am among only a tiny minority of people in the Chamber who have completed an apprenticeship. I started my working life as an apprentice bricklayer, and my son Steven is an apprentice electrician. I am passionate about the building industry and about apprenticeships. The Labour Government breathed new life into apprenticeships, which had been all but killed off by the previous Conservative Government. A high-skilled economy is not just about graduates, and I therefore welcome the Government’s road-to-Damascus conversion on that matter. I will campaign for parity of esteem between vocational and academic training routes.
As a serving Liverpool councillor, I would like to put on record my congratulations to Councillor Joe Anderson and my colleagues, and I wish them all the very best in the months ahead. My predecessor concluded his maiden speech by highlighting to the then Conservative Government that unless they took steps to tackle the social issues of the day, they would not be forgiven. Coalition Members should heed such lessons from history.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech today and, in so doing, to contribute to this debate on building a high-skilled economy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who is fortunate to be able to boast of two premiership football clubs in his home city. Sadly, in Southampton we can no longer do the same. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who made an excellent contribution, enlightening us on the motto for Milton Keynes and challenging some of the misconceptions that even those who are relatively close to his constituency might have held.
A debate on a high-skilled economy is particularly pertinent to Romsey and Southampton North. In Chilworth, we have the excellent university of Southampton science park, where 14% of the employees are graduates of the university. It contributes more than £370 million annually to the regional economy. I was fortunate to visit one of the companies on the park just this week, and I can certainly attest to the importance of a high-skilled work force, given that they were testing high explosives.
My next comments are far removed from the high-tech world of Chilworth, as I turn to the heart of the constituency, Romsey town, several hundred years ago. On the edge of the town, being renovated this year, is Broadlands—the stately home where the 19th-century Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was born. Broadlands has been described as having a grandness that personifies the swaggering confidence of Palmerston. I can assure fellow Members that there will be no swaggering from me today.
Although Palmerston was born in Romsey, he never served as its Member of Parliament, so I will not pay tribute to him as a predecessor—and anyway, going back to the 19th century would be somewhat stretching the point. He did, however, have an interesting political journey as a Tory, a Whig and, indeed, a Liberal. It is interesting to note that he has been described in some biographies as having too strong a character to be overwhelmed by liberalism.
I would like to pay tribute to two predecessors in the Romsey constituency. Michael Colvin served the constituency of Romsey and Waterside from 1983 to 1997, and the Romsey constituency from 1997 until his untimely death in 2000. Michael was a good man, a farmer who understood the rural areas of the constituency well. He was a former Grenadier Guard, and was passionate about championing defence issues. He well understood the military issues relevant to the school of Army aviation in Middle Wallop, and he was also a parish, district and, indeed, a county councillor in Hampshire. As a serving borough councillor in the same district that he served, I can attest to that being a good apprenticeship for Parliament.
Also committed to Romsey was my immediate predecessor, Sandra Gidley. She worked hard for the constituency and was well known for her commitment to the NHS and to women’s issues. She is, of course, also well known for having dragged Mr Speaker to his Chair last year.
The recent election saw significant boundary changes, and further parts of Southampton are now included in the new Romsey and Southampton North constituency. It now includes the Ford plant at Swaythling. Southampton is well known as the home of the transit, and Ford is committed to using innovation and technology to make Britain’s best-selling light commercial vehicle as green as possible. It has been successful, and its ECOnetic transit has the lowest CO2 emissions in its class.
Even in an area where we are fortunate to have good schools, an excellent university and companies like Ford committed to Britain’s manufacturing base, there is still a disconnect between what employers want and the skills of our school leavers. It is critical that the two are matched, and that our education system works with employers to make sure there is no skills gap.
Having a strong and productive work force is about many things, and one of the key strengths of the Romsey and Southampton North constituency is the quality of life and the quality of the natural environment. As a remedy for stress and tension, there really is nothing better than some of the countryside and open spaces in the constituency. If the restorative qualities of the River Test could be bottled, there would be a far reduced need for pharmaceutical products. We also have a small corner of the New Forest national park in the constituency. Although the park and its authority do not come without some level of challenge, it is at least an area where dog walkers and native ponies still prevail.
The River Test, one of the finest trout rivers in the world, runs north to south through the constituency, and it has been appreciated over the years by prime ministers and presidents from across the globe. It has a fine tradition of fly fishing, and a wonderful tranquillity and beauty, which can give amazing solace.
Even in the more urban parts of the constituency, there are pockets of open space that enormously enhance the quality of life. Residents in Swaythling have worked hard to preserve and maintain Monks Brook. One of our local wildlife photographers delights in sending me pictures of adders and slow worms from this tiny patch of countryside right next to the motorway. In Bassett there is the sports centre, Daisy dip and the golf course, and I appreciate how hard the city council works to maintain these areas and secure their future.
Romsey has a real gem with the Memorial park proudly flying a green flag for the second year running—and we have our fingers crossed for an announcement next month about its third. It is home to the community orchard, the bandstand and a team of volunteers from the friends of the Memorial park who make sure the park is one of the best in the region. There is also one of the pair of Japanese field guns that Lord Mountbatten of Burma brought back to Romsey at the end of the second world war.
Other parts of the constituency, however, are not as well protected as those public open spaces, and it is inevitably of concern that some areas are at risk of being swallowed up by development. I welcome the news from the Government that regional spatial strategies are to be consigned to the dustbin. We cannot allow the gaps between settlements to be eroded so that local character is diminished as neighbourhoods coalesce and individual identity is lost. The residents of Halterworth, those close to Hoe lane in North Baddesley, and the residents of Redbridge lane in Nursling have a commitment from me to ensure that local strategic planning really is put back in the hands of local people.
Of course, building a high-skilled economy is not just about the urban centres of the constituency. There are many beautiful rural villages in the north, where problems are inevitably caused by the lack of high-speed broadband—or indeed any broadband at all—but where there is also a good strong farming tradition. The fact that agriculture is traditional does not mean that it is not high-skilled; far from it. Those skills manage and maintain our countryside and, very importantly, keep us fed. While focusing on the high-skilled, we must ensure that we do not let Britain’s farming tradition wither.
Let me end on a lighter note. Romsey is claimed to be one of the most haunted parts of Hampshire. Florence Nightingale allegedly still walks the corridors of her old home at Embley Park, and both Romsey abbey and Wherwell priory are said to be haunted by nuns. One of the best known ghost tales is that of two Roundhead soldiers who were hanged from the iron bracket outside the former Swan Inn. The building now houses the local Conservative club. One managed to cut himself loose, and then ran to his death in an alleyway in the town. Apparently he can still be seen repeating his failed escape attempt. However, although the bracket remains to this day, I can assure Members that it has been some while since there has been a public hanging in Romsey.
Let me begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on an entertaining and well-informed maiden speech. I am sure that she will make a great addition to the House and will serve her constituents well. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram). I must tell my hon. Friend that I am another Scot who hopes that the England side does well—but I look forward to hours of arguments about football in the years ahead.
I welcome the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), to his post and wish him well, although I see that he has just left the Chamber. I thought that his speech was a wonderful performance. I have concluded that if the pressures of government grow too great for him, as they inevitably will at some point, he will have a great future in amateur dramatics.
I was pleased to hear the Minister’s plans, some of which I think deserve consideration. For instance, I was glad to learn that he plans to look at the careers service with a view to possibly revamping it. I was surprised and worried to read in a briefing that I received from Edge—the independent foundation that promotes vocational qualifications—that in response to a survey conducted last year, more than 50% of secondary schoolteachers admitted that their knowledge of apprenticeships was remarkably poor.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute and for the information that he has just provided. The same survey revealed that teachers knew less about apprenticeships than about any other qualification apart from the Welsh baccalaureate. I have nothing against the Welsh baccalaureate, but the hon. Gentleman will understand the point.
I am glad to learn that the Minister has taken that information on board. As I have said, it worried me to read it, and also to read that many apprentices who were surveyed said that very little information had been given to them about apprenticeships either by secondary schoolteachers or, more importantly, by careers specialists. It seems pretty obvious to me that, if we are interested in promoting apprenticeships, we shall have to convey some basic good information to young people. Both the careers service and the information available to secondary schoolteachers must therefore improve.
I am not quite sure what the Minister was attacking in his comments on level 2—I am not sure whether that was code for a cut in numbers down the line. It seems to me that £50 million could buy an awful lot of opportunities for young people, and if that sum is taken out of the budget in the years ahead, perhaps the Minister has to prepare the way by telling us that he will downgrade certain qualifications and opportunities.
I welcome, however, the Minister’s acknowledgement that level 2 can provide a very useful foundation. I was struck by the statistic in the CBI report, “Ready to grow” that 32% of employers found it remarkably difficult to recruit people with the necessary intermediate skills. It seems to me that those people will never be available unless we can provide them with a basic foundation to start with, and the general definition of level 2 is that it provides people with a solid grounding and a basic set of skills from which they can begin to build and develop their chosen careers.
I do not particularly want to quibble with the Minister about the definition of apprenticeships, but level 2 is very important in getting some young people on the path. Whatever the Minister’s comments today about level 3 were intended to mean, I hope he will bear in mind that it is essential that youngsters have a route in, and that the only way that we will be able to provide employers with people with the requisite skills is by giving young people that starting point.
I also welcome the Minister’s plans to set further education colleges free, although I am not sure how free they will be if they are starved of funding, as it strikes me that that can be a fairly empty form of freedom, and I noticed that there was very little detail about exactly what this freedom will amount to. I would like FE colleges to be encouraged to develop programme apprenticeships—they already have a great deal of skill in that respect—and those apprenticeships are a way of enabling young people in particular to begin their apprenticeship at a time when it may be quite difficult for them to find an employer to take them on. Employers, particularly small businesses, are struggling to develop apprenticeships at present because of their fears about the economic future.
I will happily give way to the Minister again.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way for a second time.
For the sake of clarity, let me repeat something that I have already said: I am writing to every Member to describe these freedoms to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and they are all things that have been specifically requested by further education representatives in numerous conversations that we have had with them over a period of years.
Well, the detail is obviously in the letter then, and I look forward to reading it.
I was slightly disappointed that the Minister did not make any specific reference to small businesses. If we want to grow meaningful apprenticeships, small businesses are the obvious sector that we need to target, but we all know that they have difficulties in dealing with apprenticeships. I was glad to hear that the Minister is enthusiastic to cut through the red tape, but when I talk to small employers, they tell me that they need help in developing apprenticeships; they need help with the basic training and assessment. That is the other side of what needs to be done. One side is to encourage youngsters by ensuring they have the necessary information and by promoting apprenticeships, and the other side is to make it possible for small employers in particular to take on young people.
I wonder whether the Minister has considered the idea of group apprenticeship schemes, which I understand have been particularly successful in Australia. I believe that there are some pilot schemes in this country. The essential idea is that the apprentice is employed by a group and is sent out on placement to various employers. It then becomes possible for a group of small employers to get together and to save on the administrative costs and overheads. A number of youngsters can therefore be placed on an apprenticeship scheme and get real practical experience with employers.
Has the Minister any plans to consider university technical colleges? There is one in the Birmingham area, at Aston, and I think there are about four around the country. That model seems to bring universities together with employers. In the engineering and manufacturing sectors in particular, it encourages the development of a steady skill development path. It builds on vocational levels through to level 5, and the previous Government sought to encourage it. I would like to know whether the Minister has plans to pursue it.
Is my hon. Friend aware of other initiatives coming out of universities that also help to build the high-skill economy? I cite, for example, Wendy Sadler’s scheme out of Cardiff university, of which my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), will be aware. They have used “Science made simple” to reach out to 250,000 youngsters, getting them to understand science and how they can have a career in science and find employment through science in high-tech and high-quality jobs. Universities have a unique role in reaching out to young people before they make their career choices, perhaps involving universities or apprenticeships.
If we are going to create jobs for the future and to have a generation in work rather than unemployed, all such initiatives should be encouraged and explored. I agree with the Minister—I do not think that any of us has ownership of these issues—but it is pretty important that we get it right, because we have one chance.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the difficulties with apprenticeships is finding an employer to take the apprentice on for the third year, or even in some cases for the second year? In the benign balmy days of a sophisticated Labour Government who had the economy moving forward, that was quite easy, but now, as the chill winter of Conservatism starts to freeze the economy from all corners, might it not be an idea for us to revert to what the Conservatives did the last time that they were in power and introduce schemes such as the Manpower Services Commission scheme, the youth opportunities programme and so on to provide some support and encouragement to employers? It is easy to take on an apprentice in the good times, but very hard in the bad times.
I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. Employers need help and encouragement, and the only people who can provide that are the Government. If we are going to get this to work, that is what has to happen.
The Minister struck a note of optimism today. As I said to him in an earlier intervention, I do not think that that is the view of the senior executives who wrote to The Daily Telegraph today; they struck a note of anxiety and pessimism about cuts in university funding and about being left behind in international competition. It was difficult to see the Minister’s optimism when it came just after the speech from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in which he told us that he was axing the young person’s guarantee.
I wish the Minister well, but I warn him that this is going to take more than warm words. The last thing we need to see is a lost generation that does not even get the chance of work. That is the legacy that the Tory Government of the ’80s left us, so I hope that he will learn from the mistakes of the past.
Several hon. Members
Order. I know that hon. Members will wish to respect the conventions associated with maiden speeches, as we are privileged to have a number of them this afternoon.
I welcome you to your position, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you very much for inviting me to make my maiden speech this afternoon. This is quite a nerve-racking occasion, but I feel a little more relaxed now that we have been talking about football, which I know a lot about. Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who is a red through and through, I am a blue through and through: I am a fan of Huddersfield Town, who play in blue and white. There are some similarities between our clubs—for example, the great Bill Shankly began his managerial career at Huddersfield. I am not sure how many other similarities we will have over the years, but I look forward to talking to the hon. Gentleman about football for many years to come.
I should like to praise Conservative Members who made their maiden speeches earlier. Again, I will mention football, because my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) is one of those Members, and I certainly enjoy travelling around Milton Keynes trying to find the football ground. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) also spoke, and I wish Southampton football club good luck in the forthcoming season without the deficit of 10 points that it had last season.
I want to pay tribute to two of my predecessors. Speaking of football, it was at Millwall football club, three weeks ago, that I ran into Graham Riddick, who was the Member of Parliament for Colne Valley between 1987 and 1997. While I was cheering on the Terriers in the play-offs down at the New Den, I looked along the terracing and, lo and behold, there was Graham Riddick cheering them on too. It was great to catch up with him and he gave me many words of advice and encouragement, so I thank him for that.
I should also like to say a few kind words about my direct predecessor, Kali Mountford, who spent a lot of time helping me and my office manager by talking us through all the casework that she so pleasingly handed over to us; she looked very relieved as she did so. I praise Kali for her work with the Anthony Nolan bone marrow trust, which she has promoted in recent years. As a result of her hard work there, I have signed up to the trust and I encourage all hon. Members and members of the public to do so. That campaign was motivated by the death of a campaigning journalist from The Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Adrian Sudbury, and I congratulate Kali on highlighting it. She has suffered from poor health in recent years and I wish her and her husband Ian the best of luck in the years to come.
Colne Valley is not the best name for a constituency, because those coming from south of Watford, for example, think that it is related to a town called Colne in Lancashire, but it is not. We are in West Yorkshire, and we are proud to be Yorkshire folk. The Colne valley itself is one of three main areas of the constituency. It has some lovely little mill towns on the River Colne, including Marsden, Slaithwaite, which we call “Slawit”, and Linthwaite. I also have some of Huddersfield’s suburbs, from leafy suburbs in Lindley to more densely populated areas such as that of my Kashmiri population at Thornton Lodge.
Then we get to the valley where I live—the Holme valley, which includes my village of Honley, as well as Brockholes and the big market town of Holmfirth. It really is a beautiful part of the world with lovely countryside, stone walls, lots of sheep and lots of traditional folk. That brings me to Cleggy, who has had a bad time in the past month. He has had an absolute nightmare—[Interruption.] No, not that Cleggy: I am talking about Cleggy from “Last of the Summer Wine”, who, along with his pals Compo, Foggy and Nora Batty, is no more because the BBC has ditched the long-running television series that graced our screens on Sunday evenings on BBC1. That gentle comedy about Yorkshire folk, usually going downhill in a bathtub, was very much a mainstay of our television and it helped to promote tourism in my constituency. In Holmfirth, which is just a mile up the road from where I live, we have a Compo’s caff and there is a Wrinkled Stocking café just two doors down from my new constituency office, so we will really miss that opportunity to promote tourism.
All that brings me to the subject of this debate: the high-skilled economy. Many people say to me—other Members of the House probably hear this too—that we do not make things any more, but I am proud to say that in my constituency we do. It is not on a large scale, but I have a number of enterprising, entrepreneurial and innovative businesses that have set up, sometimes in old mills, to create products that have a niche market and that are exporting around the world. I shall mention just a few. There are little engineering companies such as Dathan in Meltham, which produces specialist gear cutting equipment that is used in the Formula 1 motor racing industry. Allsops precision sheet metal work, which uses the latest laser-guided cutting tools, is taking on apprentices. It is not on a massive scale, but it has more than 100 employees and it is looking to expand.
I also have David Brown Gear Systems in Lockwood, which I visited with the then shadow Minister for Universities and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), before the election campaign. It has its own in-house training scheme called the Gear Academy and it is training some wonderful youngsters up to work on making gear equipment. Those gears are now being used not only in our submarines but in the wind turbine industry. I also have pharmaceuticals, with Thornton and Ross on the River Colne. I have an ice cream factory, Longleys Farm, which makes the most wonderful ice cream. It has just opened a new ice cream parlour in Holmfirth.
Talking of “Last of the Summer Wine”, we even have a vineyard now—a real live Yorkshire vineyard. A wonderful enterprising young couple called Ian and Becky Sheveling gave up high-flying careers, bought a lovely plot of land and planted their vines. They have just produced their first bottles of rosé and have obtained planning permission for a tasting centre and an eco-lodge. That will help promote tourism and we shall have real bottles of wine from the area of “Last of the Summer Wine”. That is fantastic.
It is these sorts of little enterprises that we, in a high-skilled economy, must try to promote. We have to cut the red tape; we should support them with lower taxes; we must give them the skills in the work force and the local infrastructure so that their workers can live and work locally. We have got to support local rural post offices. In my village of Honley, I have a most wonderful couple, Brenda and Duncan Bodenhem. The post office is not only their livelihood but their way of life. They organise the Christmas lights; they help all the old people come in and out; they do dry cleaning. They do not provide just the usual post office services.
Post offices, especially the rural ones, are struggling, and our post office network was decimated in the last decade. It is important that we support them, because once they are gone, they are gone. We also need to support things such as rural bus services, so that people can live in my rural communities and work there as well. We need to support the health centres and health services. I am trying to get full maternity services back in the area of Huddersfield. That is really important.
I am proud to have been elected the Member of Parliament for Colne Valley. It is a beautiful part of the world with some enterprising businesses and a fantastic football team in Huddersfield Town. We also have just down the road in Huddersfield the birthplace of rugby league, so I have to mention the Huddersfield Giants, who are striving hard this season. They are having a bit of a poor run at the moment, but I hope that they will turn the corner.
Before I sit down, I should like to say that many of us here in this House, especially the new Members, have been through a gruelling and hard-fought election campaign. I and all my family and friends went through a lot to get me here. I know that the Speaker himself had a bit of a tough election campaign. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) had a straightforward election campaign; his is the safest seat in the House. I would love to know what that feels like, having stood in a three-way marginal.
I was lucky to have my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visit my constituency—not so lucky to have the Deputy Prime Minister—during the election campaign. I finally pay tribute to my fantastic campaign team. John Travis was my campaign manager. I have a fantastic family. My parents live just up the valley from me. I pay tribute to them. My mum and dad have never walked so much in all their lives. It takes about an hour to deliver to just three cottages because they have such long walkways. It is a privilege to be here today, but I am itching to get back up to the constituency this evening. The office is up and running, and I am looking forward to being out in Holmfirth and through the valleys over the weekend, representing the people who sent me here. There is a lot to do and I hope that I can do it with vigour and vim—and cheer on Huddersfield Town to promotion next season.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) for his maiden speech. He had no need to be nervous; it was an extremely entertaining and informative maiden speech. I thank him for his kind comments about his predecessor, Kali Mountford. On the Labour Benches, we think of Kali with great affection, so we thank him.
I am pleased that mention has been made of the “Skills for Growth” White Paper, which has been important in defining our skills needs for the next few decades. As the Minister knows, the White Paper put particular emphasis on vocational skills and argued for a dramatic expansion of advanced apprenticeships, particularly for young adults. It also argued for the skilling of adults who are already in employment and those seeking work, and for improving the quality of provision in our FE and other institutions.
At the same time, “Higher Ambitions” set out equally challenging demands for our university sector. It asked universities to work with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to devise new funding incentives so that we could deliver higher education programmes that were more acutely related to the needs of the economy, and to work with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to identify where new programmes were needed to meet areas of low demand. It set out the need to improve the relationship between universities and businesses and, crucially, to build better relationships between universities and regional development agencies. I noticed that the Minister was very quiet on that subject today, but as the Government are about to destroy the whole RDA framework, I should be interested to hear what he has to say about how universities and FE colleges will work with whatever structure is set up to ensure that regional development continues.
The hon. Lady will want to know that we are entirely committed to ensuring consistency—indeed synergy—between the economic development functions of local authorities and the work of colleges and other providers. If she is straightforward, I think she will acknowledge that according to the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, RDAs were not terribly effective in some of the work they did.
I hear what the Minister says, but the new Government still have some way to go in setting out more generally how they propose to build on Labour’s progress in upskilling and reskilling our population, and particularly in outlining how some of the more strategic objectives on skills shortages will be met at regional level. That may not be easily deliverable at local authority level, so the Government have some more thinking to do about our regions.
The progress made under Labour was recognised by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in its national skills audit, published earlier this year:
“Significant progress has been made in raising the qualifications levels of the workforce and stimulating supply over the last ten years, so that compared to other OECD nations our supply of highly skilled people is likely to place us 10th in the OECD by 2020.”
When Labour left office we were on track to move up the OECD league table in terms of the advances we had made in skilling our population. There is thus a considerable challenge to the Government to maintain that progress.
Similarly, recent publications from Universities UK and the Russell group comment on the strength of the university sector, while arguing that if current standards and quality are to be maintained investment must continue. We may hear something about that in the Budget next week, but it remains to be seen whether protection will be given for education not only pre-19, but post-19, so that we continue to be internationally competitive.
Not only did the Labour Government invest heavily in education generally, including further and higher education, but that investment was accompanied by a strategy to widen participation, to raise aspirations and to ensure that all young people who felt they could benefit from a university or a level 4 education had the chance to do so. I have not yet heard from the new Government whether they will continue to have that high level of aspiration for our young people. The Leitch review very much led us in that strategy. The Minister mentioned the review in his opening speech, but he did not mention whether this Government would keep the very demanding Leitch targets, which stated that 90% or more of the working-age population should have a level 2 qualification, 68% should have a level 3 qualification and over 40% should have a qualification at level 4 or higher. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister thinks those targets should stay in place.
Good progress was being made towards reaching those targets when Labour left office. The Liberal Democrats have often said—I often heard this during my election campaign—that although Labour had made advances in reskilling the population, those had been confined largely to the better-off. Interestingly, data from HEFCE show clearly that that is not the case. A HEFCE publication earlier this year, which looked at trends in young participation in higher education among different groups in England, stated that to overcome gaps in the data on disadvantage at an individual level, the study that it used looked at levels of disadvantage in local areas, taking figures from 8,000 census wards across England. The authors of the study also selected a range of indicators, and they said that, looking across the indicators, they had to conclude that since the mid-2000s young people from disadvantaged areas are substantially more likely to enter HE, that most measures of the gap in participation between most and least disadvantaged areas had fallen, and that the majority of additional entrants to HE have come from more disadvantaged areas. That means that Labour was not only upskilling the population, but it was extending access to higher education to those who had not previously been able to benefit from it. That is another substantial challenge for the new Government: they must—and we will be watching whether they continue to do so—extend opportunities and widen participation in the way that Labour did.
The audit that I mentioned earlier also talked about the importance of increasing skill levels further and identified key areas where there are skill shortages: in management and leadership, in professional skills, at the technician and equivalent level, at intermediate vocational levels and care services, and in customer service and general employability skills. It is important that we continue to make good those skill shortages.
The audit also identified key sectors where we need to be improving the skills levels of our young people and work force in the future if we are to remain internationally competitive. It was interesting to see the areas that had been outlined, which I think are familiar to all of us in the Chamber. They have been identified as low carbon; advanced manufacturing; engineering and construction; financial and professional services; the digital economy; life sciences and pharmaceuticals; the creative sector; care services; and retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism.
Our university and FE sectors are in a sense already embracing this brave new world, because they have already started to think of new ways of delivering courses that give much greater flexibility. I pay tribute to New College Durham for pioneering professional apprenticeships, for leading the drive for good-quality HE in FE, and for developing partnerships between HE and FE. I would welcome a visit to the college from the Minister, because he could meet the staff and see some of the fantastic work that is going on.
The Minister talked about international competitiveness in his opening speech. If we are to remain internationally competitive, we must keep our levels of reskilling high, which means that we will need to know how many young people and individuals in the work force are being skilled and reskilled. If we are not skilling sufficient people, we will need to put additional measures in place. That will mean that we will have to retain some targets, so I would like to hear the Government’s thoughts about that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech and to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who set such a high standard. To pick up this afternoon’s running thread of football commentary, I am reminded by the presence in the Chamber of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) that he, the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) and I fought a by-election in June 2000 against the backdrop of a major international football tournament. I will not put hon. Members through the pain of reminding them of the outcome; suffice it to say that I hope we last a great deal longer this time.
In common with many new Members, I am conscious of the enormous honour that the people of Battersea, Balham and Wandsworth paid me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. It is a particular pleasure to be making my maiden speech during a debate on skills because I spent my whole working life with the John Lewis Partnership, which takes its commitment to training extremely seriously.
Over the centuries, Battersea has evolved from a village on the Thames famed for its market gardens, and particularly for its asparagus and lavender—hence Lavender Hill—into a 19th century industrial hub criss-crossed by railway lines. The railway lines are still there, but the heavy industry is largely gone. The factories along the river have been replaced by residential blocks. The constituency now has a younger average population than most and it is bustling and diverse. Indeed, it provides a London base for many hon. Members.
Much of the change over the past four decades was witnessed at first hand by John Bowis, the previous Conservative MP for Battersea—a good friend who was a great support to me throughout my campaign—and by my predecessor, Martin Linton, who has lived in Battersea for many years and represented his area first on the council, and then for 13 years as its Member of Parliament. Martin worked hard on behalf of his constituents and was greatly assisted by his wife, Sara. He showed passionate commitment to the causes close to his heart. As a councillor, he was closely involved in setting up the justly renowned Battersea arts centre, and the arts repaid him amply at the recent election when a star-studded array of actors urged people not to vote for me.
As a Member of Parliament, Martin championed, among other things, the cause of the Palestinian people. He worked tirelessly in an effort to secure the release of the last former British resident in Guantanamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, whose wife and children live in Battersea. I hope that the new Government will make progress towards a successful conclusion for Mrs Aamer and her children, and I am sure that my predecessor would take satisfaction in such an outcome, given his sustained and energetic campaign.
Championing the unfashionable cause is very much in the Battersea tradition. The area has long nurtured radicals of all kinds, including many of the abolitionist evangelicals of the Clapham sect and John Burns, the firebrand union leader and MP. In the early 20th century, Battersea gave Britain its first black mayor and one of the first Asian Members of Parliament.
When I was selected to fight the constituency, someone who was not local to the seat asked me, “What’s there other than a dogs home and a power station?” Of course, there is much more to the constituency than that. We have some wonderful green spaces—Battersea park, Clapham common and Wandsworth common—more than 125 listed buildings, an energetic civic life and an even more energetic social life. Despite its name, Clapham Junction, which is one of the most famous stations in the world, has always been firmly in Battersea. We were graced for years by Young’s, one of London’s oldest breweries, and we are now home to one of its youngest: Sambrook’s. Battersea has also been the proud home of the London Regiment of the Territorial Army for many years.
Many of the radical social changes over the past 150 years in Battersea can be seen in the history of the Bolingbroke hospital in my constituency. The hospital was founded as a result of the energy and compassion of a great Victorian, Canon John Erskine Clarke, a notable Battersea vicar. He identified a need for a hospital for what were then described as the artisan classes of Battersea, who were prepared to pay, either wholly or in part, for their care. In 1880, the Bolingbroke Self-Supporting Hospital and House in Sickness opened, funded by a host of local beneficiaries and by public subscription. It was expanded and adapted over the years and was brought within the NHS, and it remains a much-loved local institution. Although it was earmarked for closure in 2006, a tenacious local campaign was conducted, led by the hospital’s League of Friends—a group, made up mostly of women, which, for over 100 years, has exemplified the very best of British volunteering. Its members have quietly and consistently given their time to fundraise, and to provide support and succour to patients and their families.
However, the Bolingbroke closed its doors as a hospital in December 2008 and now awaits its fate. Many of us in Battersea hope that the next chapter in its life story will be as a school. For the parents involved in the Neighbourhood School Campaign, supported by Wandsworth council, the free schools legislation offers the best chance of realising their dream of a new state secondary school for south Battersea. A new school would be enormously important, giving further choice to parents in my constituency, irrespective of their means—an important factor in an area that has a lot of families on low incomes. I therefore particularly welcome the coalition’s plans for a pupil premium and more apprenticeships, and its determination to boost the private sector. All those things will greatly assist the many young people in my constituency for whom life is a struggle against the odds from the start, and for whom a good education and a skilled job are an essential way of getting on in life.
I return briefly, if I may, to the Battersea Dogs Home and the Battersea power station. The world-famous dogs and cats home celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, having been founded by the redoubtable Mrs Mary Tealby at a time when life for the human poor of this city was very harsh, and for the unwanted animal even harsher. The home remains on the front line of animal welfare in London and beyond, and has a key role to play in policy development, particularly in contributing to the debate about dangerous dogs and their often even more dangerous owners.
Battersea power station first provided energy to London in 1933. Its opening was accompanied by protests about pollution and widespread derision of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s now iconic exterior design—perhaps a salutary reminder to us about not rushing to judgment on new buildings. The largest brick building in Europe, the power station was listed in 1980 and last generated electricity in 1983. It has lain dormant ever since, as plans for its future use came and went. Most recently it starred in “Ashes to Ashes” and, of course, the Conservative manifesto launch, but most people in my constituency want to see the power station star in the regeneration of the Nine Elms area of east Battersea.
With over 200 acres of development land, right here in the heart of this great city, and merely a mile from this place, Nine Elms hopes to welcome the new American embassy and the underground in the next 10 years. The scheme will also mean the redevelopment of the New Covent Garden market, the largest fresh-produce market in the UK. It is a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Battersea and for London. I know that there are sceptics, but I hope that they will be confounded, that Nine Elms will become an exciting new riverside quarter, and that the power station will live again.
When completed, the redeveloped Nine Elms area will host thousands more homes and businesses. That will also make my constituency bigger, so no need for boundary changes in Battersea. The construction of the new east Battersea is itself a fantastic opportunity. If one glances inside the derelict turbine halls of the power station, or at the art deco fittings in the control room, one is reminded of the care that was taken in its construction. As the daughter of an engineer, I feel passionately that the renewal of the power station and the wider area is a chance for hundreds of apprentices to hone their skills. I want many young people from our area to get their chance for training and employment in the transformation of east Battersea, so that they can look with pride on their area and say, “I helped to build that.” This morning I visited the Astins institute, set up and run by a private sector company with a view to doing just that and equipping people with those skills. I hope that the Government will urge all employers to take their skills training responsibilities very seriously.
Battersea is also home to the South Thames college, an excellent higher education college passionate about equipping its students with the skills to take their opportunities in life. The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) visited South Thames last year, and many of the measures mentioned today will be very much welcomed in that quarter, and in other further education colleges around the country.
A great parliamentarian, Benjamin Disraeli, vividly described the two nations of Britain in 1845. In some regards, they are still with us, but it is my hope and belief that the coalition Government’s programme will retain at its core the goal of creating one nation, in which all young people can discover and fulfil their potential.
I pledge to do my very best for my constituents and to be a good parliamentarian. I commend the motion to the House.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, and congratulate you on your elevation to such an important role. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on their maiden speeches. I particularly congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), who, I note, has managed to get his office up and running, a feat that has defeated me so far—well done on that. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). I note your reference to animal welfare, which is a passion I share, and I hope that, if and when the time comes, you will join Labour Members in voting against any attempt by your party to reintroduce fox hunting in our country.
Order. Could the hon. Gentleman please direct comments through the Chair? If you say “you”, it refers to me.
I beg your pardon and thank you for that correction, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to ensure that I do not make that mistake in future.
Building a high-skilled economy is vital to the future prosperity of our country. I represent a constituency that is founded on a high-skilled economy. In a previous speech in the Chamber, I referred to the occasion when Jeremy Paxman said, “Why can’t everywhere in Britain be like Derby?” That is because we have been successful in Derby in developing a high-skilled economy. We were fortunate in having Rolls-Royce and Bombardier, which have done so much to create a high-skilled economy, in the city. The country could learn a lot from Derby.
We have invested heavily in the city, thanks to support for training from the Labour Government. We have an excellent university and two new colleges, which undertake extremely important vocational training, preparing young people for the world of work. We built 13 new schools under the Labour Government and employed many new teachers and teaching assistants, who are essential to developing a high-skilled economy.
However, the Conservative party’s policies are taking the country in the wrong direction if we want to develop a high-skilled economy. The Conservatives are making the same mistakes that were made in the 1980s, when the previous Conservative Government systematically undermined and destroyed manufacturing—the bedrock of the greatness of our nation. They took away opportunities for young people to move into work and get the training that they needed.
In a debate that took place yesterday, the Minister for Universities and Science pointed out that manufacturing had collapsed even further under the Labour Government than under 18 years of the Conservative Government. I quote from memory, but it went from some 22% to 18% of GDP between 1979 and 1997, and had decreased to some 11% by 2009.
The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. He fails to recognise the huge expansion in the service sector. We can play with statistics, but in the 1980s, there seemed to be a clear policy of undermining manufacturing in this country. The car industry was destroyed and the steel industry was undermined.
Labour Members consistently harp on about how Conservative policies in the 1980s affected manufacturing, but will they say something about the damage done to industry by the aggressive trade unionism of the 1970s and 1980s, and might they take the plank out of their own eye before they look at the mote in ours?
Labour Members harp on about the 1980s because of what happened then. The policies of the previous Conservative Government damaged the car industry and shipbuilding, and manufacturing right across the piece in our country. It is completely wrong to blame trade unions for the systematic destruction of manufacturing in this country.
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the actions of Red Robbo, who closed down the old Austin Rover plant in the 1970s?
Again, hon. Members on the Government side of the House are demonising trade union activists, but Derek Robinson, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred colloquially as Red Robbo, was simply arguing for more investment in the car industry. He was saying that if the car industry did not get the support that it needed, it would fail and be overtaken by our competitors in Japan and Germany. His predictions—dare I say?—actually came true, because the car industry in our country was completely destroyed as a result of Conservative policies.
The Conservatives are making the same mistakes not only in policy pronouncements, but in practical matters. Only this morning, the Transport Minister made it very clear that there will be no further orders for rail transport rolling stock. Many people in my constituency work for Bombardier, which is the last train manufacturer in the UK, and they were relying on the possibility of securing the Thameslink contract. However, it now seems, after what the Transport Minister said this morning, that there is no prospect whatever of Bombardier securing that contract this year. That will certainly lead to redundancies and make it much more difficult for young people in training colleges in my constituency—if they have been given that opportunity—to get the real jobs that are crucial to securing a high-skilled economy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the British train industry and construction in this country, but does he think it was a good idea that the previous Labour Government placed so many orders for extra carriages in Japan?
Clearly, we live in a global economy, in which orders are placed with different companies around the world—Bombardier won some contracts, but some went abroad—but the fact is that the Transport Secretary said this morning that there is now no prospect of Bombardier getting the Thameslink contract.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one tragedy of current British manufacturing and skills is that contracts occasionally have to go to countries such as Japan, which has invested more in Bullet train technology and other high-speed train technology, and that that underlines precisely the point he is making?
Absolutely—my hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. If we were to follow the lead of some of our competitor nations by investing appropriately in skills, we would put our country, our young people, and the people who work in those sectors, in a much better position to secure their long-term future.
The parties opposite have also made proposals for the regional development agencies. The RDAs have played an important role, and the East Midlands Development Agency has made an important contribution to supporting industry in the east midlands and in Derby. That has helped to create the job opportunities and the growth that are so desperately required.
We must not indulge in a race to the bottom. The Government seem to want us to move to a low-wage economy, but there is no future in that for this country. We simply cannot compete on that basis, because we will never match developing nations such as India, China and others and the wage rates paid to workers there. We must invest in those high skills that Derby excels in through companies such as Rolls-Royce and Bombardier. That is why I regret the announcement this morning about Bombardier, which will almost certainly lead to redundancies. If we do not support such companies, they could go elsewhere, because they are global, and they will simply bid for contracts from their European bases.
If there is a market failure, it is essential for the state to intervene and smooth out the difficulties, such as those afflicting the country as a result of the worldwide economic downturn. If we do not do that, it will cause significant problems for the economy—and for young and old alike. No jobs for people means lower tax revenues to support our public services, and we will end up in a downward spiral to disaster.
Like other hon. Members, I wish to congratulate the hon. Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), for Battersea (Jane Ellison) and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) on their maiden speeches. I made mine a few weeks ago. Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, I did an apprenticeship, and it is some 52 years since I turned up in my brand- new boiler suit and boots at a large engineering company in Accrington called Howard & Bullough, then the world leaders in machines for textile making. Regrettably, it is no longer with us, like so many other companies from that time.
I agree that it is critical to build a higher-skilled economy. We need to deliver the skills that will deliver the jobs of the future, in engineering, chemicals, medicines, nuclear technology—both commissioning and new build—and the internet. Such high-tech, high-value jobs will deliver the products and services that are needed round the world. Only 12 months ago, when I was leader of Burnley borough council, we heard that Rolls-Royce was developing a new engine for a new range of airliners. Hon. Members may not know it, but over the next 25 years the single-aisle aeroplanes such as the Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s will all be replaced. The cost of replacing these will be in the region of $3 trillion. The power packs and engines required for those aeroplanes will cost in the region of $600 billion. That is a hell of a lot of work for the people who produce the aeroplanes and the engines and power packs to go with them.
I approached the leader of Derby city council and we visited Rolls-Royce, where we asked the main board whether these engines would be developed in the UK. It said not and that it was hoping to develop them in Germany, Singapore and the far east. It also said that wherever it develops the engine it will most likely build it—$600 billion of work that could have been done in this country now might go abroad.
I asked the Rolls-Royce board whether there was a financial inducement to building the engine overseas, and it replied, “No, there is no financial inducement. In fact, it will cost us more money to develop this engine overseas.” The question went back, “Then why are you doing it?”, and the question was put back to us, “Can you deliver 3,000 to 5,000 qualified, highly skilled graduates to design, build and develop this engine?” The answer from all present was, “Unfortunately, no.” Rolls-Royce replied, “If you can’t deliver the skills we need, we have no alternative to going abroad to develop this engine.” Some $600 billion of work over 25 years! That is an appalling situation and an indictment of the last 30 years in the development of the skills of engineers and technicians that we need in this country. It has to stop, and I am delighted that we are at least starting to deliver what industry needs for the future jobs of this country.
The town I represent has just got a brand new college on its university campus—a campus that is dedicated to advanced manufacturing. The borough council invested more than £150,000 in a brand new, high-tech machine shop, which I would like the Minister to visit. I invited Rolls-Royce representatives to come and see this new machine shop. They came all the way from Barnoldswick, and while they were there, they had a conversation with the people from the university of Central Lancashire and decided that because the new advanced engines would nearly all be made from carbon fibre, particularly in the cold engine section—the hot engine section will obviously still be made from metal—they would like to work with the UCLan campus to develop it. The university has therefore purchased an autoclave to develop carbon fibre turbine blades for Rolls-Royce. That is the advancement that this country needs and that will stop some of the work going abroad. We need to support colleges in acquiring the equipment that companies around the country need and in developing new technologies, and I am delighted that this has happened.
UCLan campus academics have developed what they believe to be the most efficient wind turbine in the world. It is only small—about 1 metre across—but they have found that it has the most advanced centre bearing in the world. We approached a local company, and it agreed to put £1 million into the development of the wind turbine to make it big enough to use onshore. It has a 15-metre autoclave in its factory and can make carbon fibre blades for the wind turbine. Through the borough council, I asked the previous Government whether they would support the development of the wind turbine, a vast number of which will be needed over the next few years. As everybody knows, we do not make wind turbines in this country—we buy them from abroad—but unfortunately the previous Government did not want to support the scheme, so it has died and the wind turbine is sat in an office in Burnley, waiting for someone to support its development. It would cost about £4 million, but would create thousands of jobs and save having to import wind turbines from abroad. The local company was willing to take up some of the loss, but unfortunately the scheme was rejected. That is very sad in these days.
We need to invest in new developments and in the people to deliver them. We cannot stand by and look back; we have to move forward and provide the skilled people of the future, and I hope that what we are doing with the 15,000 apprentices and what we are proposing to do about advanced manufacturing will deliver the people of the future, doing the jobs of the future and providing the work of the future.
I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is the first time I have had the privilege of speaking in the Chamber while you have been in the Chair. May I also congratulate all those new Members who have made their maiden speeches today? I have not heard them all, but I have certainly heard most of them, and on the basis of what I have heard, those Members are going to make a significant and worthwhile contribution to the Chamber while they are here.
This debate, above all, is supremely relevant to my constituents. West Bromwich West is a traditional manufacturing constituency that suffered enormously in the 1980s from the policies of the then Government. Unemployment rocketed, which resulted in the creation of a generation of people who saw no prospect of employment, and a culture of low aspiration, low expectation and low skills and training. Members said earlier that we should not live in the past. That is quite correct. On the other hand, it is important that we look to the past and learn from the mistakes that were made, so that we do not replicate them.
The mass unemployment in my constituency in the 1980s and the substantial reduction in the manufacturing sector resulted in a skills gap that, despite all the efforts of the Labour Government, has not fully been closed. Even as the economy and employment opportunities improved, there was still higher than average unemployment in my constituency, and employers complained to me that the skills they needed still did not exist locally. The reason was that in the 1980s, as the economy went into recession on two occasions and manufacturing collapsed, no efforts were made to pick up those who had been made unemployed and retrain them with the skills to fill the opportunities that would subsequently be created as our economy grew out of recession. The result of that was a drag on the local economy throughout the past 10 years of the previous Government, as they implemented policies that led to economic growth.
What we must not see is the recent recession and the fragile growth that we have seen since then operating in the same way. It is fair to say that the previous Government recognised that a recession provides an opportunity for those who cannot immediately get jobs or who have been thrown out of their jobs, given the right support, to get the appropriate training and skills that they have hitherto not had the opportunity to get, so as to equip them for the new jobs that will be created in the future. That I know was what was behind the previous Government’s approach to dealing with the problem over the past two or three years.
The current situation presents an enormous problem in that respect, although I would not pretend that it had arisen entirely as a result of the cuts that have been announced over the past two or three weeks. There were potential problems beforehand, particularly with the number of young people wanting to go into higher education and the places not being available. However, it was the previous Government who made provision for 20,000 new places and who put a particular emphasis on providing the budget for the key STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—which are vital if we are to equip manufacturing to take us out of recession. I have not heard any guarantees that this Government are going to ring-fence the funding for STEM subjects in universities to ensure that this area, which is so vital to our future, is sustained. This is particularly important because a number of universities are already reporting that, because the provision of those courses requires higher capital investment, they could be the first on the list to be removed. We could therefore be undermining our scientific, engineering and mathematical potential in vital sectors, at a time when it is so necessary to get us out of recession.
I also want to talk about a subject that I have not heard mentioned so far—the education maintenance allowance. In constituencies such as mine, where people have low incomes and, historically, low aspirations, the provision of that allowance is essential to give young people the confidence to go into further education and, eventually, higher education. With the increase in competition that is likely to arise for the lower number of university places—it might not be lower in absolute terms, but it could be lower, relative to the demand for them—there is a danger that young people from low-income and low-aspiration backgrounds could be crowded out of the competition for the scarce places. That will make the EMA strategically even more important than it has been in the past, if we are to ensure that university opportunities are open to people from all backgrounds and incomes.
I wonder whether other hon. Members receive complaints about the education maintenance allowance, as I do. I, too, represent a constituency where there are people on very low incomes, but I get a lot of complaints that the allowance is badly applied and often abused.
Certainly in its early days there were some complaints, but they have not been reflected in my constituency. I had a meeting with the principals of my three local further education colleges only two weeks ago, and they stressed to me and my neighbouring Conservative MPs the important role that the allowances play in keeping young people between 16 and 19 in education in our area. I want to emphasise to the Government that they need to sustain the EMA as part of the infrastructure necessary to ensure that their stated policy of open opportunity for young people in universities can be maintained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) mentioned the transfer of money from Train to Gain into apprenticeships and capital for colleges. I want to make one comment on Train to Gain. I find it odd that, if it is so bad—the National Audit Office certainly had criticisms of it—it has not been abolished and the money transferred elsewhere lock, stock and barrel. The Government seem to have created a hybrid system. My experience of speaking to local employers is that Train to Gain was extremely beneficial, and there is a whole raft of statistics that substantiate their claims for the programme. Train to Gain was also essential for many companies that had introduced short-time working, to help them to sustain a level of income for their employees to prevent them from going elsewhere or leaving the jobs market altogether, and to prevent the companies from losing their skills.
I also want to say a few words about bureaucracy. When Labour was in government, it was a constant theme among the Conservatives that we were strangling education with top-down bureaucracy. Certainly, when I went round schools, I heard complaints about excessive paperwork and bureaucracy, and I cannot pretend for a moment that we were able to solve that problem. I am concerned, however, that despite all the coalition Government’s brave words, they seem to be heading the same way.
Earlier, I drew to the attention of the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), a statement he placed in the Library today about getting FE colleges to give
“learners the information they need to drive the system, through the publication of clear and consistent information about performance, quality and standards.”
That sounds like fairly top-down instruction, a recipe for extra research that has no particular relevance to the people being educated, and a whole lot of form filling and publications that will siphon off money that could well be used in other directions. I sympathise with the Minister up to a point, because it is a perfectly laudable objective, but the new Government have to realise that having laudable objectives and ensuring that they are translated at the local level involves some sort of imposition and resources that have to be calibrated and calculated to ensure that they are worth while.
I am coming to the end of my comments, but let me say that in my new position as Chairman of the appropriate Select Committee, I look forward to talking to Ministers and interviewing them on their policies. I wish them well, as this matter is absolutely vital not just to my constituents but to young and unemployed people everywhere and to this country’s future and its position in the global economy. Investment in skills is as important as investment in plant and machinery, and it has the additional benefit of improving the lives of those who are prepared to get involved.
First, let me say how delighted I am to see in the Speaker’s Chair a neighbouring MP who has given me so much support over the years. I should like to pay tribute to other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today: the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and for Battersea (Jane Ellison). The last is a good friend; she stood in my constituency back in 2005, and she is still remembered fondly in the local area.
To stand here and make my maiden speech is a tremendous honour, particularly in the light of those who have previously represented the constituency of Pendle, or, as it was formerly known, of Nelson and Colne—men such as Sidney Silverman, David Waddington and, for the past 18 years, Gordon Prentice. In fact, while researching for my own speech, I learned that Sidney Silverman’s maiden speech back in 1935 lasted 22 minutes and was on the merits of socialism. I am delighted to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I can both make a maiden speech and dismiss the merits of socialism within 22 minutes.
It is traditional to start a maiden speech by paying tribute to one’s predecessor, and despite the fact that Gordon Prentice was my opponent in the recent election, I have no hesitation in doing so. Gordon Prentice was a principled politician and committed to many causes. He was an independent thinker who rebelled against the last Government on issues such as tuition fees, the Iraq war and post office closures. He was an active Back Bencher and I feel that Gordon demonstrated to us newer Members that we do not have to hanker after ministerial office to achieve something in the House.
As I said in my acceptance speech just five weeks ago, it is the greatest honour of my life to be elected to represent Pendle. Located in the hills of the Pennines in north-east Lancashire, and some would say beyond, Pendle offers some of England’s finest countryside, including Pendle hill, from which my seat takes its name, as well as beautiful villages and busy towns.
The area is rich in history, not only with the story of the Pendle witches, which brings many visitors to the area, but with our industrial heritage with the Leeds-Liverpool canal, numerous mills and other incredible feats of engineering. The old industries of cotton and textiles have now all but disappeared, but the industrious spirit of the area remains as strong as ever.
Next weekend, my constituency plays host to one of the biggest events in the UK’s cycling calendar, with the national road race championships taking place through the villages of Roughlee, Barley and Newchurch. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase some of our award-winning villages and boost the local tourism trade, which is an increasingly important part of the local economy.
Pendle is a place of contrasts, where we have severe deprivation next to relative affluence. It is a place where mosques sit side by side with mills, highlighting the large number of my constituents who came originally from Pakistan or Kashmir. One of the first issues with which I had to deal as a Member of Parliament was the senseless murder of three of my constituents, the Yousaf family. They were gunned down while tending a family grave in Pakistan. Their killers are yet to be brought to justice, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to ensure that the family obtain justice through the Pakistani courts. On that issue as well as many others that affect my constituency, I will be at the forefront in pressing Ministers and holding the Government to account, so that the people of Pendle always know that they have a strong voice here in Westminster.
The M65 ends in my constituency, in effect creating one of the biggest cul-de-sacs in the country. As a result, most of those who wish to travel cross-country by road take alternative routes. We also lack rail connectivity. I pay tribute to the work of SELRAP—the Skipton East Lancashire Railway Action Partnership. That group’s aim is to reconnect Colne and Skipton, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the north-west and the north-east, and I applaud its efforts.
We have some of the lowest house prices in the country. There is a high rate of empty and unfit homes, as people have moved away from the area and absentee landlords have bought homes and sometimes entire streets. It is clear to me, representing as I do some of the cheapest streets in Britain, that regeneration work remains vital to the long-term sustainability of the area.
We lack an accident and emergency department since ours was transferred from Burnley to Blackburn—which is 15 miles away—under the last Government, despite the protests of local people. The local primary care trust now wants the children’s ward to be transferred as well, but I am encouraged by the assurances of the Secretary of State for Health that NHS service changes are now subject to review. I look forward to him visiting Burnley general hospital tomorrow, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle), who made an excellent speech a few moments ago.
The people of Pendle are hardy folk, and we face up well to whatever situation we find ourselves in. That is probably best typified by one of Pendle’s most famous sons, whose memorial in Colne is close to where I live: Wallace Hartley. Hon. Members who are not familiar with the name will, I am sure, be familiar with the story: Wallace Hartley was a violinist, but he was also the bandmaster of the Titanic on her maiden voyage.
I am proud to represent a seat where a higher proportion of the work force are employed in manufacturing than in any other constituency in England, and I am delighted that manufacturing is back on the national agenda. I was also delighted to read in the coalition agreement that rebalancing the economy is a key Government aim and that the Government are committed to boosting the provision of workplace apprenticeships.
More than 8,000 people in my constituency are employed in manufacturing, producing everything from Silentnight beds in Barnoldswick to the biscuits that are sold in Harrods, which are produced in Nelson. It was a real pleasure for me, as a candidate, to visit so many of those firms over the past four years. It was a particular pleasure to take my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), now Chancellor of the Exchequer, to visit Rolls-Royce and Weston EU—two great British companies, working in the vitally important aerospace sector, that also have fantastic apprenticeship schemes. They are real companies providing real jobs that generate significant value added for the United Kingdom. That brings me to the topic of today’s debate: the need for us to build a high-skilled economy.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting Nelson and Colne college. The college has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence, and since 2005 it has twice been judged “outstanding” by Ofsted. It provides academic and vocational sixth-form education for about 1,700 people—the vast majority of young people in my constituency—but I believe that among the things that make it so special are its unique pre-professional programmes and its outstanding apprenticeship provision, with success rates well above the Lancashire and national rates. Its tailor-made employer provision includes 14 individual apprenticeship frameworks to meet the needs of local and regional employers.
It would be far better to address the current skill shortages in the economy by supporting colleges such as Nelson and Colne and fostering their links with business than by pursuing the last Government’s attempt to ensure that 50% of students went to university. However, we must also recognise that four out of five people who will be working in 2020 are already in the work force. Given the damage done to occupational pension funds by the last Government and the probable increase in the state pension age, people are likely to be working for much longer than ever before. So we must have a strategy that ensures that training is not just focused on young people but provides incentives to employers to support lifelong learning and celebrates the good employers who are already doing that.
We also need a fair deal for British manufacturers, so that we can continue to be a world leader in sectors such as aerospace. British industry has been hampered by too much tax and regulation for too long. We know that tough times lie ahead because of the legacy left to us by the previous Government, and that will make building a high-skilled economy even harder. However, I look forward to working with the Government to address the challenges that we face, while never shying away from speaking out on behalf of the hard-working people of Pendle.
May I congratulate both you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and the other Members who have delivered their maiden speeches this afternoon? In preparing my notes for this speech, I turned, as I am sure colleagues also did, to the guidance; I noted that it says that it is best to be brief and non-controversial and—at least on this occasion, Madam Deputy Speaker—I shall try to be both.
It is, of course, a great privilege to be elected to the House, particularly for me as I represent the constituency that bears the name of my home town. That makes me both a Lincolnshire yellowbelly and a meggie. The explanations behind those terms are somewhat dubious, and although I appreciate that Members are on tenterhooks to know them, I shall leave that for another day.
Members and others who have been fortunate enough to visit Cleethorpes—which, as they will all be aware, is the premier resort of the east coast—are referred to by us locals as “trippers”, and they are the lifeblood of the town’s economy. The constituency is, of course, much more than Cleethorpes itself. It runs from the delightful market town of Barton-upon-Humber in the north through many villages in the Barton and Ferry wards of north Lincolnshire and on into north-east Lincolnshire and the major industrial centre of Immingham, which together with Grimsby has, when measured by tonnage, the largest dock complex in the United Kingdom. The seafaring traditions are strong, and Cleethorpes and Grimsby are, in effect, one town. Although there is an historic rivalry between them, they are bound together by their connections with the sea. The Humber estuary itself is a site of special scientific interest, and there is also a beautiful hinterland taking in many of the villages on the edge of the Lincolnshire wolds—an area that has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Cleethorpes is also the home of Grimsby Town football club, which therefore, strictly speaking, always plays away from home. The club has had a difficult few seasons of late, but I am proud to be a lifelong Mariners fan, and I am confident of better times ahead. Bill Shankly has been mentioned on two occasions this afternoon, and it is perhaps appropriate in a debate about training to mention that he served what might be called his managerial apprenticeship at Blundell Park before going on to higher things. I cannot quite remember the early ’50s, but I did live within shouting distance of the terraces of the football ground. The area is also fortunate to be served by an excellent combination of newspapers, which together help to create the identity of the area. There are two dailies, the Grimsby Telegraph and the Scunthorpe Telegraph, and a weekly, the Cleethorpes Chronicle.
Having given Members a snapshot of the constituency, I wish now to pay tribute to my predecessor, Shona McIsaac, who represented Cleethorpes for 13 years, during which time she worked diligently on behalf of her constituents and tirelessly for the causes in which she believed. Having worked for almost 16 years for my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), I know well that many individuals have cause to thank their Members of Parliament for taking up cases, trying to correct an injustice or bringing an issue to the attention of those in authority. On their behalf, I thank her for her efforts in that respect. She was, of course, bitterly disappointed to have lost her seat but was gracious in defeat. I wish her well for the future.
Cleethorpes, although it has been pushed from one constituency to another over the years, has had some notable, interesting and perhaps even colourful Members in the past. Before Shona McIsaac came Michael Brown, and before that Michael Brotherton and Jeffrey Archer.
I referred earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, who has just completed nine years as a distinguished Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I had the privilege of working as his constituency agent for 16 years, and he started me on the path that has led me to the House: 10 years ago, after addressing the Cleethorpes Conservative luncheon club, he suggested that I might try to become the candidate.
Today’s debate focuses on building a high-skilled economy, and that is of particular importance to my constituency, with its large concentration of industry along the Humber bank. As the new Member for the constituency of Cleethorpes, I shall aim to build on the work of my predecessors and the work done by local authorities, industry and the many different agencies that come together to reinvigorate and redevelop an area with which I have been associated throughout my life.
We must develop further a high-skilled economy that will benefit my constituency and the whole country. We can then progress out of this economic downturn more fully. We need to set the foundations for the future success that our young people deserve. It is our younger generations who will be the backbone on which the future of businesses relies. My fellow Lincolnshire Member, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), described this in his opening remarks as a major challenge. I welcome the Government’s pledge to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships that will be available.
I hope that such pledges will further the work of facilities such as CATCH—the Centre for the Assessment of Technical Competence, Humber—and training providers such as HETA, the Humberside Engineering Training Association, which operate there. During the election campaign, the Minister for Universities and Science, who was then a shadow Minister and is now, I am pleased to say, a member of the Government, visited the CATCH facility in Stallingborough and I think it fair to say that he was suitably impressed. It is a joint venture between the public and private sectors, and it has an extremely good success rate in securing permanent positions for the young people who train there, educating and training today’s school leavers, so that they become not a lost and forgotten generation but a driving force behind the economic recovery that remains the key aim of Government policy.
With its industrial history and foundation along the Humber bank, the people of my constituency are hard-working people. Cleethorpes has a number of challenges and obstacles to overcome to secure the support and funding that is needed to ensure that the Government’s vision of a fair and highly skilled economy is brought to all the constituencies of our country. As the Member of Parliament for the constituency, I hope to act as something of an ambassador, bringing together all the elements of the constituency—whether private, public or third sector—that will help to build the future success of our economy. If we work together, I am confident that my constituency will enjoy a brighter future.
I offer you my congratulations on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also congratulate all those who have made maiden speeches this afternoon, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who spoke eloquently about his constituency and, like many others this afternoon, on the subject of football. As someone whose wife—who is in the Gallery today—is a fan of Liverpool football club and has, in my opinion, a rather worrying keenness on Steven Gerrard, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), will be trying to make the early acquaintance of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram).
I am proud to address this House for the first time as the first Member of Parliament for Central Devon. My constituency was formed from parts of five others, so it could be said to have five predecessors, two of whom I am pleased are still Members of the House. First, there is my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), who has set the highest standards in looking after his constituents—standards to which I aspire. Like most lawyers, he has never been slow to offer me wise counsel, but unlike most lawyers he has very graciously never charged me a penny for it. There is also the Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). Although he is not a member of my party, he is often held by my constituents who were previously represented by him to be a bit of a Tory at heart. I am sure that that will be a good qualification for his new role as a Minister in our coalition, and I wish him well.
There are three other predecessors who are no longer Members of the House, the first of whom being Anthony Steen, who served as the Member for Totnes. I have found him to be immensely courteous always and sometimes marvellously eccentric. He is a compassionate man who has done a great deal of good, not least through his work addressing the dreadful situation of human trafficking, and I am sure that he will be missed by the House. Secondly, Richard Younger-Ross was the previous Member for Teignbridge, and a very hard-working and assiduous local Member of Parliament.
Lastly, and for me most importantly, I pay tribute to Angela Browning, the former Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who was held in great affection on both sides of the House. She could not have been more supportive, generous and helpful to me. She was hugely respected by her constituents, regardless of their political leanings, and I am delighted that she has now been elevated to the other place. In the coming months, I shall try to live up to these illustrious forebears, to be inspired by their example and to contribute to the House as they have done.
Central Devon is one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country. It is also one of the largest, covering some 550 square miles, including a third of Dartmoor national park, numerous beautiful and scattered villages and several fine market towns such as Okehampton, Hatherleigh, Chagford and Crediton, where, some Opposition Members might be pleased to learn, Ernest Bevin was schooled. They are welcome to come and visit, but strictly out of election time if they do not mind. Other market towns include Buckfastleigh, Ashburton, Bovey Tracey and Chudleigh.
My constituency is steeped not only in beauty but in history. In my home town of Ashburton, a once important stannary town occupied with the trading of tin, there still exist two venerable and ancient offices—portreeve, the representative of the monarch, and master bailiff. Both of those offices stretch back to the early 9th century, well before even your illustrious office had been conceived, Madam Deputy Speaker, and indeed to a time when the ground on which we now stand was little more than a marshy outcrop of the River Thames. I offer my congratulations to Mrs J. Distin, Ashburton’s newly elected portreeve, who is the 1,189th holder of that office, and to Mr W. Shapley, our master bailiff.
Although Central Devon is an area of outstanding beauty and interest, it is not without its challenges and hardships. It is a constituency in which agriculture matters, so events that hurt agriculture have a major impact upon my constituents. In 2001, the foot and mouth outbreak was centred around the market town of Hatherleigh, with devastating effects. The pall of smoke that hung over that part of Devon from cattle being burned on their pyres will never be forgotten. Today, there is the challenge of bovine tuberculosis, which costs 30,000 cattle a year in this country and causes untold misery to Devon’s farmers. I am pleased that this issue is receiving the vigorous attention of our Government.
Many other serious issues affect my constituency, including the underfunding of our schools compared with other parts of the country. Devon is ranked 148th out of 151 local education authorities in terms of central Government funding. There are many reasons why that position is too low. I will continue to press on this matter for the sake of our local children, who have a right to a fair share of education funds.
In this debate I wish to focus on schools, not least because I have a strong belief that the greatest gift that any young person can receive, after a loving family, is that of a good education. For those who choose the vocational path, it is vital that education be provided with the same energy and vigour as that afforded to the more traditional academic routes. I welcome the statement of my hon. Friend the Minister of State responsible for skills and lifelong learning that there will be an extra £50 million of capital expenditure for further education and an extra 50,000 apprenticeships. He should be congratulated, as we should remember that education and skills are important not just in and of themselves but to the life chances of our young people.
Education is the great highway of social mobility—for individuals to move on and up, in many cases escaping poverty and deprivation in the process. I say that as someone whose mother and father left school at ages 15 and 14, and whose life was transformed by the winning of a free place at a grammar school. The greatest opportunity ever provided to me, that school became the foundation on which the rest of my life was built. I would like to see others have the opportunity that I was privileged to receive.
I have long admired the ideas and the reforming passion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and my hon. Friend the Minister of State. They have fully understood the force for good that education and skills can represent, but they have done more than that. They have truly understood the disgraceful and inhumane waste that is represented by continued educational failure—the appalling destruction of life chances, especially among the least advantaged. It is they who have understood the extraordinary power of choice: that choice will drive up standards; that parents know better than bureaucrats; that giving power to those who otherwise just have to take what they are given is the key to raising up the less advantaged; that future generations must be sustained not just by hope but by taking control of their destinies; and most importantly of all, that there is an age-old truth that the quest to create a stronger and better society cannot be left to the planners, to the bureaucracies, to the well-meaning architects of the state, but must be gifted to those by whom the consequences of success or failure are most keenly felt.
The Government’s radical agenda for education and skills will represent a vital journey—a true quest for equality, of a kind not that seeks to push down to some lowest common denominator, but that seeks to raise people up by providing choice and opportunity for every young person, irrespective of wealth, colour, race, creed and social background.
I thank the House for its indulgence and wish the Government every success in their vital endeavour.
I feel privileged to have this opportunity to make my maiden speech; I might say that I feel 21 all over again. It is a real pleasure to do so during a debate that is so fundamentally important to my constituents. My constituents in Newton Abbott have a real issue, and that is deprivation. We need regeneration, and skills have to be the route to regenerating the local economy, but before I move to that, let me pay tribute to my two predecessors, whom I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride).
Mr Richard Younger-Ross was very much loved by his constituents. He was a hard-working Member, and he pushed forward a number of issues that I shall also push forward relating to the inappropriate water charges in the south-west and the A380 bypass, which has continually deprived our economy of the growth that it needs. My other predecessor was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon expressed, a colourful character. I reiterate my hon. Friend’s comments about the real good that Anthony Steen did in putting human trafficking on the agenda. I am pleased that he is carrying on with that work.
Let me give the House a little of the colour and flavour of my constituency of Newton Abbot. If I could give the Boundary Commission some advice, it would be this: next time, can we change the name? Many people have told me that as they do not live in the town of Newton Abbot they feel completely disfranchised.
My constituency is two thirds urban and a third rural. There are four towns, and until recently one of them, Kingsteignton, was the largest village in the country. My towns have interesting histories, but they have suffered not just during the most recent recession but over the past 50 years because there has not been the investment in the south-west that it deserves. Newton Abbot has a proud history in engineering. In the days of the railways, in the 1950s, it was very prosperous, but I am sad to say that only one large company—Centrax—is left. It is a proud example, but we need more.
Teignmouth is a typical fishing village. We still have a small port, so there is a real challenge in making fishing sustainable. At present, our trawlers have to land at Brixham, a neighbouring seaside town—indeed, my original family home town—but that does not help my constituents.
Dawlish is absolutely beautiful. I encourage any Member who comes to my part of the world to pay it a visit. It is a typical tourist seaside resort, with some of the most beautiful views. It is probably best known for its long stretch of railway. I am sure Members have seen adverts showing the waves coming over the train. It is extremely picturesque, but things have changed and across my constituency tourism and retail are the main generators of economic wealth. Members will know as well as I do that they do not pay very well.
As the south-west is a beautiful part of the world, we have attracted a lot of retired people, and 30% of the population are more than 60 years of age. That presents a challenge, because there is great disparity between the cost of living and average income, which is why certain issues are particularly acute—water rates, for example. Many things need to be done.
I turn to regeneration and the vital role of the skills debate. One of the most important things is to help children to aspire. At the beginning of the Parliament, I heard a new Member make a very moving speech about how important it is that kids aspire, and in whatever we bring forward I should like to see a method for making that happen. It is partly about role models, so bringing in second careerers, perhaps people from the forces, is absolutely the right thing to do. We need those role models. We need to involve local businesses in schools much earlier. Simply introducing the connection in the fifth form—as it was in my day—is too late; it needs to start earlier. If we can do that, we shall make a big difference.
We should try to improve quality and variety in education along the line—primary, secondary and tertiary. There has been a focus in tertiary education on what I can only describe as the intellectual professions, such as law and accountancy. There has not been a focus on careers as plumbers, engineers and electricians. Those are all valid careers that require no less intelligence, just intelligence of a different variety. I should like some colleges to be the technical colleges that we all knew and loved when we were younger. They should look at proper hands-on training. When I visit colleges I am distressed to find that because of health and safety and all the other rules and regulation, education is all about bits of paper, not about students getting their hands dirty. Getting one’s hands dirty is an extremely good and valuable thing. There is a skills college in my community. I want it to be properly funded so that it can become a proper technical college, but we are only halfway through the process, so the Minister on the Front Bench will be hearing from me about that issue going forward.
Then there is the issue of linking tertiary education with jobs, and for my money it is absolutely crucial that we give apprenticeships a real chance. When I talk to people with small businesses in my community, they say, “Anne Marie, one of the challenges is that we cannot afford to take on apprentices, because at the moment all of the burden falls on the employer and it is a huge burden.” I am therefore very pleased to see new initiatives from the new Government that will share the cost of apprenticeships. I welcome that 100%.
Of course, we must not forget those who are coming to their second, third and fourth career—often those who have been made redundant, through no fault of their own. When I talk to people who have just been made redundant, I see that one of the challenges is getting extra training, which is really difficult. There is a lot of training out there, but it is very hard to find because there is no route map, and there is also not as much funding available as there used to be. So I am delighted to hear from our new Government that they are to streamline that and make it far more accessible.
For me, the skills agenda is a real opportunity for my constituency. It is a way of helping it to regenerate, and that is absolutely key. If I do nothing else in my term in this Parliament, I will work to regenerate Newton Abbot: to regenerate the four towns; to regenerate the villages; to make sure that farming, which my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon has already mentioned, has a real future; and to put the south-west back on the map, because it feels very much the poor relation and that is not right. I will be here, banging the drum to make sure that is not the case, until I finally leave this House.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to make this, my maiden speech, today. I understand that maiden speeches—first speeches in Parliament—are very like your first child: easier to conceive than to deliver.
Rossendale and Darwen, the constituency I have the honour of representing, was previously held by Ms Janet Anderson for 18 years. During that period Ms Anderson was a hard-working constituency MP, and will be well remembered by many people in my area. She will especially be remembered for her pioneering support and work for local Sure Start centres, and I take the opportunity to pay tribute to her.
Rossendale and Darwen was formed in 1983, and the first Member of Parliament was David Trippier—now Sir David Trippier—who I am sure is well remembered by many people in the House. Sir David still resides in the village of Helmshore, where my wife and I have our current home. This is apt, as Helmshore is the geographical centre of the constituency, with the Robin Hood being the actual heart of the constituency. For those Members in the House who are avid readers of our two local papers, the Rossendale Free Press and the Lancashire Telegraph, I should add that that is not Robin Hood’s well, where I proposed to my wife; it is the Robin Hood public house at the centre of our village, where the beer, and the welcome, is second to none, especially on a Friday evening.
Rossendale and Darwen, being nearly 220 square miles, is formed of four separate towns—Whitworth, Darwen, Bacup and Rawtenstall. Each of these towns is separate from the others, and they are independent in both spirit and mind while being similar in many ways. Each is boarded by the lofty west Pennine moors, hemming them into deep valleys, with houses and mills alike with steep mountains rising above them; and streams rush through glens, giving the power that once drove the east Lancashire textile mills.
There are also many villages in my constituency, with small, close-knit communities, such as Belmont, Weir, Turton, Hoddlesden and Tockholes. Those villages doggedly cling limpet-like to the hillside during the winter months. Last winter, some were cut off from the outside world for several weeks. In the summer months, the villages are marked by horses paddock grazing, and I am sure that the village of Edenfield, in the electoral division of Eden, conjures into Members’ minds the appropriate visions of pastoral bliss and long summer evenings.
It is not the landscape, beautiful as it is, that binds together this area of east Lancashire, but the character of the people who live in Rossendale and Darwen. The first Member of Parliament to be killed in the second world war was from the village of Stubbins in Rossendale. Captain Richard Porritt, a member of the Lancashire Fusiliers, was killed in Belgium on 26 May 1940, and he is remembered in the Chamber with a shield to the right of your Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last November, I had the honour of attending a Remembrance Sunday service in Whitworth with two current members of the Lancashire Fusiliers just back from Afghanistan, who laid a wreath and cross in memory of their seven fallen comrades. Many families in my constituency continue to have a strong connection with our armed forces. I believe that we in this country have the finest armed forces in the world and I shall do all that I can to support them and their families while I am a Member of the House.
It is apt that I am making my maiden speech during a debate about building a high-skilled economy because I believe that Rossendale and Darwen can be in the vanguard of rebalancing our economy to that of a highly skilled industrial economy. Rossendale and Darwen were at the centre of the first industrial revolution. Rossendale was the centre of the world’s slipper trade, while Darwen was the birthplace of wallpaper, and both were major centres for the textile industry. Such was Darwen’s importance to the cotton trade that it was visited by Mahatma Gandhi in 1931 so that he could witness the effect of the Indian Congress party’s boycott of Lancashire cotton mills.
This white-hot flame of innovation that led to the invention of wallpaper and the introduction of the first power looms still burns in the breast of every young person in my constituency, and we must do all that we can to foster their full potential. I applaud the Government’s commitment to investing in workplace apprenticeships to ensure that our young people, especially in Rossendale and Darwen, have the correct menu of skills to continue our strong tradition of local manufacturing. There are still many well-known manufacturing companies in my constituency, such as J&J Ormerod kitchens in Stacksteads, James Killelea steel in Crawshawbooth, Crown Paints in Darwen and WEC engineering in Darwen, which was visited by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister immediately before the election. All those well-known local manufacturing businesses provide high-skilled jobs for our young people.
The rebalancing of our economy is a key aim of the Government, as is set out in the coalition agreement. With a fairer and more balanced economy in which we are not so dependent on the financial services industry, and in which economic opportunities are more evenly shared among our regions and industries, I optimistically predict that Rossendale and Darwen will prosper and become a regional manufacturing superpower.
I am grateful for the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech. I congratulate all new Members who have spoken so elegantly and eloquently, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), whose maiden speech was well conceived and comfortably delivered.
I represent the constituency of Hastings and Rye. Of course, it is only us who call our areas constituencies. To my constituents, the constituency is home, where they live and where they bring up their families, and I will never forget that. Some six weeks since the general election, I still get a little lost going from one room to the next, and between staircases and lifts, but I remain impressed, humbled and not a little relieved to be in these historic corridors and as part of this historic coalition.
Part of my responsibility is to live up to the example of the previous Member of Parliament for Hastings and Rye, Michael Foster. He was the epitome of a good constituency MP. He was immensely popular, not just because of the individual acts that he did for local residents, but because of his high visibility locally and his successful lobbying of the then Government for additional funds for the town. Unfortunately for him, his popularity grew in inverse proportion to that of his Government, but I recognise that, through his service, he set a very high bar—one that I shall try to reach and, hopefully, at some stage exceed.
The fruits of Michael Foster’s success are evident in Hastings. We have a new train station, further education college, and university centre, and two new state-of-the-art office developments. However, physical regeneration has not yet translated into economic regeneration. Our offices are still largely empty, the train services are still poor, and on the index of multiple deprivation, Hastings remains 29th from the bottom. We have some of the lowest wages and highest unemployment in the whole country, let alone the south-east. Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that Labour’s regeneration has been a triumph of style over substance so far. The make-up is in place, but I am afraid that the wrinkles are still very much there.
But deprivation is only one part of Hastings, and Hastings is only one part of an area of contrasts and variations. My constituency feels very much like a microcosm of the country, with urban and rural areas, with farmland adjacent to idyllic estates, and with idyllic villages next to deprived wards. We are the custodians of England’s most famous date—perhaps more famous than 6 May 2010.
Let me introduce colleagues to the wonderful aspects of my constituency. Hastings, Rye and the village of Winchelsea were all parts of the Cinque ports, which were put together in the 11th century to keep out seafaring invaders, and for the mutual benefit of trade and fishing. Each place has its own unique character. I urge Members to spend their summer holidays with us. They can enjoy local produce, the source of modern English history, top-quality entertainment, fresh air and exercise—and for the more sedentary among us, there are fish and chips and slot machines. They can even walk in genuine dinosaur footprints, which may appeal to some Labour Members.
Tourism is an essential ingredient of what we have to offer. Hotels and boarding houses boast that they have been popular with visitors since 1066—visitors, of course, have not always been so popular with them. We have fantastic beaches, wonderful countryside and arguably the world’s most remarkable heritage. We have flourishing language schools, visited by students from all over the world, and a community that welcomes them with open arms, not to mention open tills, because we need the business.
Like many towns, we suffer from the coastal problem of being at the end of the line. Looking at previous maiden speeches over the past 40 to 50 years, I see that there has been a recurring theme: transport. The A21 to Hastings needs renewing and improvement. Our survival and prosperity depend on access. There is no point having wonderful facilities if people cannot access them. It unquestionably puts off employers and tourists, both of whom we need, that it is so difficult to get to our part of the world. I am talking of a constituency where 43% of the work force are in the public sector. We are like an island. We know which way the tide is going; we need to attract the private sector to try to take up some of the unemployment. I fear that much of the money that has already been spent in my constituency will fail to improve the economy if we do not do something about that. For too long, we have been the underprivileged cousin of the south-east. Many of my constituents have suffered terribly from an economy that has simply left them behind.
I have two important considerations for my constituency of Hastings and Rye. The first is transport. I recognise the particular financial situation in which we find ourselves—there must be cuts; we have inherited a difficult legacy. However, I urge Government Front Benchers not to make them to vital infrastructure projects, on which everything else depends. In my constituency, they are a link road to open up the area to more jobs and more employers, improvements to the A21, and better rail transport. We must be accessible to prosper. Conservatives understand above all the importance of enterprise and encouraging private sector growth so that families and communities can grow on their own.
We have discussed the high-skilled economy, and I agree that we all need that for our country to advance. However, I would like to draw hon. Members’ attention to a very old trade. In Hastings, we have the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe. In Rye, we have an important port and fishing fleet. They have been treated shamefully in the past 15 years. In the 1990s, there were 44 fishing vessels leaving Hastings; now there are 20, and the fishermen eke out a precarious living. Those men earn their living in a traditional, honest and environmentally friendly way, battling with the sea and the dangers of the deep. However, the common fisheries policy, as enforced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has made their lives impossible. In 2005, there were prosecutions of those fishermen. The role of Government must be to help people, not put them out of business. Their way of life needs bailing out. Our Fisheries Minister understands the issue and the urgency and has visited Hastings twice, but we cannot wait for a full renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. We need change now, with the cod season approaching and difficulties ahead of us. We need a Government who protect our fisheries and our fishermen. I urge particular consideration of coastal towns.
The Government recognise the importance of promoting private sector growth. I hope that we can demonstrate that in Hastings and Rye by supporting better transport links and securing a fairer deal for fishermen. All we ask is a fair wind and an even keel.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House for the first time. It is a nerve-racking moment, made all the more so by following the excellent contributions from hon. Members throughout the debate, with constituencies ranging from Central Devon to Pendle, and Hastings and Rye to Rossendale and Darwen. I am therefore grateful for the courtesies that the House extends to new Members during their maiden speech. I promise not to detain the House too long.
Sitting in the House as Conservative Member for a constituency in the north-east of England makes me something of a rare specimen, thought almost extinct just over a decade ago, but I assure hon. Members that we are showing encouraging signs of life and energy once again.
I follow in the footsteps of Harold Macmillan and Tim Devlin, as well, of course, as my most recent predecessor, Dari Taylor. Ms Taylor represented Stockton, South for 13 years, during which time she worked hard for her party and gave energetic support to the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young.
All Stockton MPs follow in the footsteps of Joseph Dodds, the first Member of Parliament for the seat. He won it when it was first enfranchised in 1868. He built up one of the largest majorities in the country in the next 20 years, having won only narrowly when he was first elected. Unfortunately, towards the end of his career, there were what might be termed financial irregularities, and he had to resign his seat after being made bankrupt. However, that was reported rather more generously in the press of the time than might be the case today. I hope it will not be taken amiss, or as not in the spirit of the new politics, in which those of us on this side of the House are so energetically engaged, if I say that Joseph Dodds was, of course, a Liberal Member for Stockton-on-Tees.
It will be my aim over the coming years not only to represent the good people of Stockton South and its surrounding towns and villages, for whose support and confidence I am grateful, but to wave the flag for Teesside. My predecessor Tim Devlin said in this House 23 years ago:
“It persists in the minds of southern folk who think that we northerners all live in back-to-back houses and keep whippets.”—[Official Report, 4 November 1987; Vol. 121, c. 972.]
Although some progress has been made in addressing perceptions of the north, there is much still to do. I hope to play my part in ensuring that such perceptions are challenged and corrected. In my own constituency, we have vibrant towns such as Yarm and Eaglescliffe, which showcase the very best that this country has to offer. There are also things that must be done: Ingleby Barwick needs more school places, Thornaby’s regeneration is not yet complete, and Stockton itself has a high street which, although not in my constituency, must be the focus of local efforts to secure real and lasting improvement.
The economy of the north-east of England is, and has for many years been, dependent on the public sector. I hope that over the coming years our private sector might take on a more significant role, and I trust that the Government will make promoting and sustaining that private sector one of its key aims in these difficult times. By building on the skills that we in the north-east region have, with our manufacturing and engineering heritage, I believe that we can build a stronger economy, regionally and nationally, which will benefit many generations to come.
Teesside as a whole needs to re-establish its true identity. Half of my constituency has been in Yorkshire, half in Durham, all was once in Cleveland, and all was also once in Teesside, and now, confusingly, we are told that we are in the Tees valley, although I have yet to find the Tees valley on any standard highways map. In Stockton South we have Durham university and Teesside retail park, but we are served by Cleveland police and Tees Valley Unlimited, and we celebrate Yorkshire day. Should any hon. Members find that perplexing, I invite them to visit that wonderful part of the world, especially over the summer recess—I can assure Members on both sides of the House that even in the north-east, we do indeed have a summer. Of course, they could fly direct into Durham Tees Valley airport—or at least they could have done when we had a direct service, which is another issue I hope to address and be involved with over the coming years. Those of us who were born and raised in Stockton can occasionally be heard to joke that we do not have a county. That joke has worn thin over the years and I hope the new Government recognise the anomaly and work with myself and others to address the current confusion.
The people of Teesside are hard-working and industrious, and there are all the signs of real success and wealth, but all too often, as is the case in so many other places, they sit next to pockets of real deprivation and need. We must raise the sights of those who have looked down at the ground for too long, and realise the true potential hidden beneath the surface of the terrible jobless figures and levels of personal debt which, for far too many families, have become the norm. It is by training and education that that can be achieved. My part of the north-east has suffered more than most during the recent recession, with the mothballing of our local Corus plant at Redcar, and the recent announcement that Garlands, a previously highly successful local company, has gone into administration, so we must ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear from both sides of the House.
Our local entrepreneurs, such as Sir John Hall, Duncan Bannatyne and Steve Gibson, are key drivers for our economy, not just in the region but far beyond. We must support individuals like them, from the smallest new businesses to the largest and most successful of enterprises. I want the north-east to be known as a place where business can be done. We have the skills and the spirit; we just need the chance to prove what we can achieve.
Throughout history, the north has been a powerhouse driving this country forward. Since the days of the industrial revolution, Teesside has played its part—Sydney Harbour bridge was made from our steel, and our coal powered the engines of empire. My constituents have sent me here to tell that to the House, to speak out for a great place and to support the Government in their work to tackle many of the problems that we now face.
The people of the north-east will look to the Government and to their representatives in the House to ensure that the transition to a new economic model is successful, and that jobs and livelihoods are protected. We want to grow, succeed and impress. I am confident that the new Government will listen to what the people of the north-east have to say, and I look forward to working to secure a bright future for its people.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence in calling me this afternoon, and in particular I want to thank the people of Stockton South for putting their confidence in me and sending me here to speak to you today and on however many other occasions I have the pleasure to address the House. It is a real pleasure to serve the constituency in which I live and in which I was brought up. I look forward to serving, and to working with Members on both sides of the House to ensure that the voice of the north-east is always heard here in Westminster and elsewhere.
It is kind of you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and generous of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), to allow me to speak. I know that the clock is against me, but I am no stranger to that. For many year, I worked in television so I am used to the ticking arm and the fierce direction of a floor manager and director who told me, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. I also worked as a criminal barrister for 16 years, so I am also used to someone firm in the chair telling me in even firmer terms to shut up, and on those occasions I never argued.
This is a great opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessors and to give a short explanation of the constituency that I have the honour and privilege to represent. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister knows the answer to the question that many ask about the exact location of Broxtowe. It does not exist on any map, but I urge all hon. Members to look at Nottingham on the internet. If they zoom in to the western side, they will see a stretch of land between the city and the border with Derbyshire. I urge those who travel up the M1 to come off at junction 25 or 26 and experience Broxtowe. It is a fine place, as my hon. Friend knows because his mother is one of my constituents. She lives in the village of Bramcote.
Many people would say, on visiting Broxtowe, that it is part of the urban sprawl, but last bank holiday I spent two days walking—I had sore feet afterwards—across the constituency to enjoy the green belt. In that time, I saw all the places that I am so very proud to represent, including Beeston in the south and more green areas around Greasley, Giltbrook and Kimberley in the north.
I wish to pay tribute to another place in my constituency and thereby pay tribute to my predecessors. It is a hamlet called Cossall, which lies in beautiful rolling pastures. It has a fine tradition of mining, and D. H. Lawrence’s fiancée had the joy of living there, but an unfortunate legacy from the mining industry is the threat of open-cast mining. The first Member of Parliament to represent Broxtowe—it was created in 1983—was Sir Jim Lester, who was well known and much loved in this House. He was followed by my immediate predecessor, Nick Palmer. Both men have many attributes in common, and I hope to share those in the years to come. They were moderate and reasonable in their politics, they worked hard for the people they represented, and both joined in opposing any plans for open-cast mining in that beautiful green land. I seek to emulate both in my time in this House.
During my time here, it will be an honour and privilege to represent the people of Broxtowe, as others have said about their constituencies. There are many new Members and we bring diverse experiences to the House, but we all hope to play a real part here. We will challenge and hold the Government to account, and we will ask questions whenever we can, but most of all we will represent our constituents. Many of us were selected many years ago and getting here has been a long journey, so we are well aware of the responsibilities that we all bear. We will take great joy and pleasure in representing our constituents and do our very best for them by bringing forward the causes that they all hold dear.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I welcome you to the Chair and wish you very well in your new role in the House? The House has been at its very best this afternoon, and I have enjoyed all the contributions, particularly the maiden speeches. The subject of education and skills always brings out the very best in Members. Indeed, for many of us, from whatever party represented in the House, it is the reason why we came into public life, and we have seen that today.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) on his contribution. He spoke warmly of his predecessor, Dr Starkey, who is remembered fondly on the Labour Benches, and of Milton Keynes’ great heritage in higher education. I was pleased to visit the new university centre in Milton Keynes, and I hope that he continues to support it in its work to extend access and widen participation in that area. Of course, Labour Members are particularly fond of, and are keen to remember, the great Open university and the heritage of Jenny Lee and the Wilson era Labour Government.
We heard a fantastic and wonderful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who I know was a very effective mayor of Liverpool during its year as capital of culture. He included many of the football references that we hear in the House. He obviously has big shoes to fill—many of us remember Peter Kilfoyle fondly—and I particularly enjoyed his reference to growing up on an estate. Those of us who grew up in very humble circumstances wish him well in his endeavours to remind the House that there are many people a long, long way from this Chamber.
We also heard an eloquent and articulate speech from the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). I hope that she will not be overwhelmed by liberalism, as she referenced in her speech. I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber to hear the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), who made many football references, so I will look at them in Hansard tomorrow. He spoke warmly of his predecessor, who was well respected on the Labour Benches.
I know the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) because she stood against me in Tottenham in 2000. She will remember that back then I looked a little more like Denzel Washington, but 10 years later I look a lot more like Forest Whitaker. She has championed the Conservative cause in London. I wish her well in her seat, and it is good that she mentioned Battersea Dogs Home—an institution of which we in London are very fond.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) made me want to rush up to north-east Lancashire. I do not claim it is an area of the country I know well enough, but I thought he gave a very eloquent speech in which he reminded us of that city’s manufacturing heritage.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) also gave an eloquent speech. He was very kind about his predecessor and reminded us that we must continue to rediscover the importance of our industrial heritage—the Humber clearly played an important role in our history.
The hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) could have got a job with a tourism agency in speaking about his constituency. His effective speech reminded us not just of the industrial nature of so many of the areas that we represent, but of the importance of agriculture and the skills that we need to support agriculture in our economy.
Let me pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), who made a warm and passionate speech. She placed a great emphasis on role models—an issue that I have also championed in the House—and again, the beauty of the area that she represents came across.
The hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) also paid an eloquent tribute, not just to his constituency but, importantly, to our armed forces. Historically, they have always played an important role in this country, by providing so many men and women with skills who have not just served our armed forces, but gone on to serve the wider community once they left the armed services.
Like the hon. Member for Central Devon, the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) reminded us of the importance of seaside areas and the work that we must continue doing, particularly in the south-east, where there remain acute pockets of deprivation.
The hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) is a tribute to the north. He is keen to keep Stockton on the map, as his predecessor was, despite the boundary issues affecting his constituency.
I was not surprised that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), being a barrister, managed to cram a lot into her speech in the time available. I look forward to her contributions in the Chamber over the years ahead.
Let me turn to the returning parliamentarians. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for reminding us of the role of group training associations in extending apprenticeships and helping small businesses in particular to take part in our wider apprenticeship schemes.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) has tremendous expertise in higher education issues, but she also reminded us of the importance of the Leitch targets. I hope that when the Minister winds up we might hear something about whether the Government remain committed to those targets.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) was right to remind the House that Derby remains an exemplar city, owing to its unique combination of both skills and manufacturing. There is much that we can learn from the success of that part of the country over the most recent period. We all want to replicate that success in different parts of the country.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) on his election as Chair of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, and on his thoughtful speech. We all look forward to hearing more from him in these debates over the coming years.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) on his advancement of the cause of UCLan university in his constituency and on reminding us of the industrial heritage of his area and the importance of companies such as Rolls-Royce.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), in an intervention. Importantly, she reminded us not just of the role of universities—she spoke about Cardiff—but of the many spin-out companies that emerge from universities, taking skills back into the community, as people graduate and create companies. They are illustrations of the huge success of “Science made simple”.
Let me come to the contribution of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). I have had exchanges with him across the Chamber for about four years—first in my role as the Minister for skills and then as the Minister for higher education. I look forward to the debates that we will have over the coming months. He has always described himself as a high Tory. As a consequence, he has an elevated—some might say levitated—status in the Chamber. I know his constituency well; I remember it fondly from my days as a Peterborough cathedral chorister. I suspect that he can be found on a Sunday engaging in amateur dramatics in the village halls around Spalding, playing Hercule Poirot or even Miss Marple.
Or a mix of the two.
I was disappointed not to see a reference to higher education in the motion and not to hear much from the hon. Gentleman about its importance. It is my view—I hope that it is his—that a world-class university system is central to a high-skilled economy. I grew up in Tottenham during a very difficult time in our history—and as an ethnic minority in troubled and difficult times—and I am very proud of all that we have done to widen access and extend opportunities for poorer and non-traditional families and for ethnic minorities across the country. It was a huge achievement for the Labour Government to widen participation to 44% and to enable more young people and more black and ethnic minorities to go to university than ever before.
When we look at constituencies in inner-city Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester and at the pockets of deprivation in the cities, towns and villages that we have heard about today, and we see young people—whose parents would never have dreamed of going to university—going into higher education, we realise the major contribution that the Labour Government made to our high-skilled economy. It is important that that should continue.
It is a great shame that the Minister for Universities and Science, the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), recently referred to students and young people as a “burden on the taxpayer”. Students are never a burden on the taxpayer. Underlying his statement is a certain view of the state and a suspicion of the contribution that the state makes to advancing the cause of a high-skilled economy. We will take every opportunity to challenge such assumptions over the coming months.
The Minister of State, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, has announced the creation of 50,000 apprenticeships, but he is not in opposition now, and he must remember that he does not have those 50,000 apprenticeships until he has delivered them. The people who will actually deliver them, however, are in business and industry. Achieving that will take a lot of hard effort over the coming months, because I do not think that he is suggesting that the money that he has set aside will pay the salaries of those young apprentices. He is still expecting business to do that. So, at the moment, he has delivered only one apprentice: the public apprentice, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I wish the Minister of State well, but we will be looking hard at the detail over the coming months, and he will expect me to penetrate fiercely some of the hyperbole in his comments.
It is a great pleasure to welcome you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the Chair. You and I debated with each other over many years while you were a Minister, and I particularly remember when you were Paymaster General. I know that, given your knowledge of the tax system, you will be looking forward to chairing a debate on the Finance Bill to take you down memory lane.
This has been a high-quality debate which has been conducted in a cross-party way, as different right hon. and hon. Members have made positive contributions. As my hon. Friend the Minister said in his opening remarks, he is listening to the contributions of all Members. We have also heard about football and have almost had an exercise in VisitBritain as we have gone around the country.
I will not be able to talk about every maiden speech, but their overall quality was superb. When I made my maiden speech, I was rather more nervous than those delivering the self-confident and assured maiden speeches that we have heard today. If I may, I shall take a tour d’horizon of those speeches. We had cock and bull from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart); we had a Conservative club haunted by Roundheads from the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes); and we had a Yorkshire vineyard from the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), as he talked about the “Last of the Summer Wine”.
Two hon. Members showed great perception in how to represent their constituencies. I am thinking of the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), as they listed their local newspapers in their speeches. I have always found that when I talk about the Kingston Informer, the Kingston Guardian, the Surrey Comet and Radio Jackie, it is always a very good way of representing one’s constituents.
As I mentioned earlier, we also heard about football, as Members talked about the various football clubs in their constituencies. I have to make a confession—I am a Kingstonian fan because they play in Kingston, and I am also an AFC Wimbledon fan, as the club shares the Kingsmeadow ground. I have to say to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South that although he has the MK Dons, we have the real Wimbledon playing in my constituency. I also have to confess that, although I was born in Nottingham and my first team is Notts County, I am also a Liverpool fan. Let me explain why. I was the only member of the class who was a Notts County fan during the Clough years, so I had to support one team that was giving Nottingham Forest a hard time.
I therefore particularly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), as I know her constituency fairly well. I have never lived there, but I used to go to Nottingham university boating lake. I will not go any further into that, but we had some nice times there. As a student, I worked in Boots, which has a factory in the hon. Lady’s constituency, and during my student vacation I helped to make pork pies for Northern Foods. I am not sure whether politicians should confess to making pork pies, but when students were making them, complaints from consumers went up—I hope that it was nothing to do with my skills.
As Members from both sides of the House addressed the substance of today’s debate, we heard about how they, and organisations in their constituencies, are playing a critical role in improving our country’s skills. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South was quite right to talk about the Open university. As we debate higher education, the model of the Open university is one that people will want to replicate. I speak as a former student, now a fellow, of Birkbeck college, where part-time education is also key. We really need to engage in a more flexible approach to higher education, and the Open university has a lot to contribute in that respect.
We heard about the university of Southampton from the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North, and we also heard how a number of Members had been apprentices. We heard from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) about his time as an apprentice bricklayer. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) about his apprenticeship as a textile machine manufacturer.
That is why this Government are so proud, in their very earliest days, to have put extra money into the apprenticeship scheme, and to have set a target of 50,000 new apprenticeships. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) seemed to jest—how could we be so bold as to want to create 50,000 new apprenticeships?—but we are very proud to have set that target. The right hon. Gentleman appears to consider it unachievable, but I can tell him that I have discussed it with my hon. Friend the Minister and with officials, and we are certain that we will meet it and do better as time goes on. I hope that in due course, when we have achieved our aim, he will pay this coalition Government the credit that they deserve.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can tell us when we will see those 50,000 apprentices.
What I have noticed about the targets set by the previous Government—which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in his speech—is how often they were not met. The Government set target after target which they then failed to meet. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the targets that they set for apprenticeships, but they set those targets and never met them. We will meet our target, and I believe that we will meet it within the next 12 months. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will soon eat his words.
We heard an awful lot today about the importance of manufacturing industry. I believe that the Government’s skills programme will ensure that it receives the support that it deserves, at the basic skills and education level. Labour Members may complain about the state of manufacturing industry, but they have a poor record in that regard themselves. The hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), the new Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee—I welcome him to his post—made a thoughtful speech on the subject, but I think he should bear in mind that whereas in 1997 manufacturing represented 20% of the United Kingdom economy, by the time the Labour Government left office the proportion had fallen to 12%.
Will the Minister not acknowledge that one of the reasons for that was the huge increase in the service sector? It did not reflect an absolute decline in manufacturing.
Of course that is true of many modern economies, but I think it ill behoves the Labour party to criticise this Government in their early days, given that its own approach to manufacturing industry was not to turn the tide and go against the trend.
Although we have a huge amount in common, when Labour Members talk about the skills agenda they sometimes forget some of the record of which they should be less proud. I am thinking particularly of the quangocracy that grew up around the skills agenda. There is currently a patchwork quilt of quangos involved in that agenda. Members may be interested to learn how the position has changed. In government, the Labour party did not just create the existing quangos, but created quangos, abolished them and created new ones, all within 13 years. The fact that that instability and reinvention happened time after time shows that the Labour Government never really had a true vision. They constantly spent large amounts on new quangos while failing to get some of that money to the grass roots—to our communities. A lot of money was wasted then.
When the last Government set up the Learning and Skills Council, I was sent strategy after strategy by that august body. At first I thought that I had a real duty to read every single page, but when I visited the LSC and talked to its representatives, I realised that most of those strategies would never come to anything. I am afraid that that happened time and again. Huge amounts were spent on quangos, reports and consultancy, but less money went to the companies and learners who needed it. We believe that the need to rationalise the quangocracy in learning and skills is a key issue, and we will deal with it. We will do so while also having to look at the spending issues in this area, and there will be huge challenges. I do not think there is anyone in this House or involved in FE, HE or the education system in general who does not realise that we face difficult choices in this area, but we are absolutely clear that we will do our best with the money that we have got into apprenticeships and into the capital programme for FE to ensure that the priorities get the funding they deserve.
As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned apprenticeships again, can he tell the House whether, in the 12 months he is talking about, if we take together what he and his colleagues are proposing on Train to Gain and apprenticeships, more learners will be funded by the Government or fewer?
That is interesting. We have to compare that with what the previous Government were planning. When we looked at the funding issues facing us, and the very difficult choices, we saw that the previous Government were planning £340 million of cuts in adult further education and skills this year. That is actually happening this year, and I hope the colleges and students—and the employers—who are having to deal with the financial situation imposed by the cuts realise that the people who are to blame for that are sitting on the Opposition Benches.
Before I let the right hon. Gentleman in, let me say that I hope that when he gets to his feet he admits to the House that it is under the previous Government’s plans that we are seeing a 3% reduction in funding rates for college-based provision, a 10% reduction for apprenticeships for those aged 25-year-old and over and a 6% reduction in other work-based learning. This is what we are having to deal with, and it is creating huge problems, as he ought to know.
It is the hon. Gentleman who is in government so I think he ought to answer the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden): will there be more or fewer learners as a result of the announcements made today? The House has a right to know.
Well, one of the things the House needs to understand is that we have a different approach to FE and HE. We do not believe we can sit here in Whitehall and have a centralised system that we micromanage, and that we can then suddenly guarantee that there will be x new trainers, x new learners and x new places, as the right hon. Member for Tottenham and his friends used to do. That is why they failed so often: they took a centralised, top-down approach.
We will ensure that our approach is employer-led and learner-led. That is why we are working with businesses to make sure our schemes and proposals get the support that they will need from those areas. That is a very different approach. We know that, as we meet the challenges ahead of us, the private sector will have to be involved and be working with the Government. Far too often, the private sector was too much of an afterthought in how the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues planned their skills agenda.
Change is inevitable and, as Dr Johnson said:
“Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.”
So there will be difficult choices. We will not shy away from them, but when we have to make those difficult decisions, it will be the employers and learners who are uppermost in our mind, not the bureaucrats and the quangos and the consultants, where all the money was wasted under the last Government.
We have had a constructive debate. I say on behalf of my hon. Friends and fellow Ministers in the Department that we are keen to listen, even to ideas from former Ministers who may at last realise that many mistakes were made and want to begin to confess. I hope that through working across parties and with the Select Committee and new Members, we can revitalise and invest in the skills our economy so desperately needs—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order 9(3)).