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12 May 2009 : Column 170WH—continued

I support all the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Industry and Parliament Trust and the other bodies and individuals involved in the exercise, and I wish to place on the record on behalf of the whole delegation, and of the IPT itself, our appreciation of his leadership. He is variously known as an outspoken and sometime outrageous Member of the House, but I have to say that on this occasion he was outstanding in his leadership.
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He carried things off with dignity and was a good representative of the House on our visit.

I am a great supporter of the IPT, which, since 1997, has gone through various changes, and I pay tribute to Sally Muggeridge. During her tenure, the organisation has improved and become a major player in the House and between the House and industry more widely. In giving credit to the IPT, I mention specifically Sally Muggeridge and Sarah Hutchison, as the hon. Gentleman did, but they had a big team behind them to make us a real, working delegation that produced positive outcomes, not least this debate.

I also support the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Baroness Coussins and Lord Janvrin, who brought their specific life experiences and skills to the trip, which assisted the delegation and raised our awareness and understanding of what was happening. I was impressed that an expert on corporate social responsibility such as Baroness Coussins was prepared to develop her own thinking based on our experiences in India. That is the measure of a real expert: someone who can progress and who is not afraid to admit that they are changing their thinking based on new information.

Lord Janvrin is an old India hand and was able to give us a running commentary and explanation based on his experience as a diplomat in the country. He and Baroness Coussins were significant members of the delegation.

Perhaps it is wrong to point out individuals, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield was another significant member. The expertise and experience that he gained when carrying out his Government work as a trade Minister were appreciated by every single member of the delegation

The delegation included the Front-Bench spokespersons for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, which led me to recognise perhaps not a failing of the House, but something that it might develop. It stands to reason that Ministers of any Government will have the opportunity to go abroad to see the implications of Government policy, but there does not seem to be a similar facility for the Opposition.

The IPT and other House bodies, such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, give Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons an opportunity to test their policies, ideas and thinking against the actuality throughout the world, which is good for democracy in this country. It was interesting for those of us from the Government party to test our thinking, not only against the Government’s ideas, but against those of the Opposition.

The IPT takes a cross-party approach, but the interaction between parties on the delegation—I am sure it happens on every such delegation abroad—was really productive, not only for democracy generally, but in the interests of developing better policy in the House, which is good.

The hon. Member for Southend, West made a detailed contribution on the industry side of the exercise, but I want to concentrate on two aspects in which I have a personal interest: education and what we in this country would call charity. The Indians do not like the concept
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of charity and prefer the concept of giving back, meaning that what we take out of society we should, in some measure, return to those less fortunate.

On the giving back aspect, I should refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield, who not only brought to bear his experience as a trade Minister, but is personally involved in the Women’s Interlink Foundation, which is based in Calcutta. The organisation rescues, rehabilitates and educates street children so that they have better prospects in life.

I mention that because my right hon. Friend is a good example of a Member of the House who does things that the public do not get to know about, and his commitment should be applauded. He and his wife, Ann, personally contribute many thousands of pounds from their family resources—not from expenses or anything like that—to the project. In the current climate, all parliamentarians, without exception, are accused of being greedy, but sometimes, somebody needs to stand up and say, “This is what parliamentarians do,” and my right hon. Friend and his wife are just one such example—there are many more in the House, from all parties.

I must declare an interest of my own: I am a trustee of the Kanka-Gajendra Foundation. My old friend and mentor, Professor Gajendra Verma, and his late wife, Kanka, have been quite influential in my life. I have learned a lot from those old Indian friends, who live near my constituency in Greater Manchester. When Kanka Malick died 18 months or so ago, her friends wanted to honour her life and achievements, so the foundation was set up, and I became a governing trustee.

The purpose of the foundation is to help with education and health issues in India and in the UK, and some of the projects have been staggering. They raised my awareness of how wide the gap is between Mumbai, which is an exceptionally developed modern, international city, and some of the rural areas, especially in the north of India, which have fundamental environmental and other problems.

When we, as parliamentarians and British citizens, get involved with charitable bodies—or giving-back bodies, as Indians prefer to call them—that is sometimes an exercise in satisfying our own egos. It shows that we are good people doing good things. Parts of India are as developed as anywhere in the UK or America, but the gap between the developed parts and those in need is staggering. It is not uncommon to see a five-star hotel or residence with a piece of tarpaulin against the wall at the end of the garden, under which a whole family live.

We felt quite ill at ease when we saw such poverty cheek by jowl with wealth. When we asked the wealthy owners of the buildings what they felt about the situation, we were surprised by their attitude. They said, “We live in a democracy. Those people have as much right to put their tarpaulin against the wall at the end of my garden as I had to put my house here.” Poverty is viewed differently in India from the embarrassment that we feel over it in the UK. It is important for us to understand such aspects of different cultures. In turn, it is important for different peoples to understand what makes us tick and why we do things the way we do.

From my experience of giving-back organisations in the UK and India, I believe that such work could be co-ordinated more effectively. There might not be such a role for Government, although there could be one for the Department for International Development, but
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there might be a role for organisations such as the British Council. They must try not to systematise or control the work, but to ensure that efforts from this country are directed more cohesively. That brings me to education.

My interest is in education, training and skills, or work-based learning as we now call it. I was invited to deliver a paper to an international conference in Kerala and Delhi. I visited Delhi just before I met up with the IPT delegation in Mumbai. I was surprised to find that although thinking on education, training and skills in our country and among our Government is well developed, we have much to learn from India. I was surprised at the co-operation between the Congress Government and the communist-run state of Kerala. We can learn from the ability of autonomous states to run education policy cohesively alongside the national Government.

I found that there is excellent potential not only for UK educational institutions to invest and do work in India, but for us to learn from the experiences in Indian education at federal and state levels. That taught me a wider lesson about industry, which other colleagues might comment on. Although our initial motive was to ensure that we as parliamentarians understood the concerns and aims of British industry in India, it became obvious that we had a responsibility to encourage Indian investment into the UK. Therefore, it is proper for us to look to the interests, needs and requirements of Indian investors, too.

Mr. Sharma: I must declare an interest because I am from India originally. I came here more than 40 years ago as a young boy. I still have links with India and a passion for its development. I am pleased to hear about the experiences that hon. Members have had recently and over previous years.

I hope that hon. Members agree that there is a passion for migration among Indians. The passion is now not only for looking for jobs, but for investment, education and the learning of skills. The major bar to that is our immigration rules and taxes, and how officers treat business people and students who apply for visas or other ways of entering the country. Is it not time for us to look at the investment in Britain from the Indian subcontinent and adopt a more relaxed and flexible approach to visas and immigration policy?

Ian Stewart: I accept that wholly, but we must understand that there is an onus on the UK Government to act sensibly in relation to immigration. Acting sensibly must include the flexibility that my hon. Friend suggests. We must encourage the maximum number of students possible to come to the UK from, in this case, India. There is not only an educational but a political imperative for doing so.

I will conclude with this point because other hon. Members wish to speak. It became clear to me, and I am sure to other delegates, that although there is much to blame the UK for in Indian history—we are blamed for certain things—there is much that Indian people love about Britain. The hon. Member for Southend, West mentioned bureaucracy, legal systems and education. In general, there is a special place for the UK in the hearts of Indians.

Education gives not only expertise and skills: the more Indian people who are trained and educated in the UK, the more Indian people will return to India with an
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enhanced view of the UK and stronger affinity for it. In this day and age, that is important for diplomacy and in sorting out the world’s problems. If we influence our friends from other countries positively and understand what they have learned from their experiences, the world can only be a better place.

10.18 am

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Sheridan. I congratulate you on your participation in the Chairmen’s Panel. I believe that this is the first event that you have chaired. It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart). I hope that he will find a way to continue to serve in the House after his seat is abolished at the next election; it would be a great loss to the House if he did not.

I have limited time and will start by describing a conversation I had with an unknown lady on the way to India. She attacked me verbally saying, “Why is this parliamentary delegation going to India? Is it not just a junket and a waste of taxpayers’ money?” When I assured her that it was not costing her anything as a taxpayer and that it was absolutely vital for Members of Parliament to get out around the world and interact and network with people in important countries such as India, she started to calm down.

One conclusion that I reached from the visit was that, unlike after my previous visit to India in the early ’90s, I have come back as a friend of India and the Indian people. India is a fantastic country. It is huge and diverse, and every statistic about it is mind-boggling, but it is, nevertheless, a fascinating country. One of our interlocutors said to us that it lives in three centuries all at once—the 19th, 20th and 21st. Perhaps that sentiment will have become clear by the end of my remarks.

I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who led the delegation with great aplomb. He kept us all in order time-wise and in every other way, and he kept the whole programme running very well. I must also pay tribute to the team at the Industry and Parliament Trust—to Sally Muggeridge, the chief executive, to Sarah Hutchison and to all the IPT staff—because the visit was organised fantastically well.

Given my role as Front-Bench spokesman for international trade and international development, I tacked three days on to the end of my trip and went on a Department for International Development visit. I pay great tribute to Emma Spicer, the deputy head of DFID, who organised my trip to Pune, and to Michael Anderson, the head of DFID India, who accompanied me to slums in Kolkata and to Sunderbans—a swampy area on the Bangladesh-India border. Above all, I pay tribute to the redoubtable Shanatu Das, who turned out to meet me at 11 o’clock on a Saturday evening at the airport and could not have been more helpful throughout the entire three days of my DFID visit.

There are an awful lot of people to whom I need to pay tribute, but suffice it to say that it was great fun to be with my colleagues and particularly to have the benefit of our two peers, as others have said. We had a comprehensive visit, and it is difficult to name and thank everybody, particularly those who briefed us before we went to India and while we were there.
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Among others, they were Virgin, Reliance Life Sciences, Hindustan Unilever, Yash Raj Studios in Bollywood, which has been mentioned, ALMT Legal, Tata, Bombay Stock Exchange, HSBC, BAE Systems, Shell, KPMG, Cadburys, GKN and Supreme. Now one can begin to see how many visits and what an action-packed programme we had. I must say to the Minister that our high commissions in all three cities that I visited—Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata—were incredibly helpful.

What have I learned from the visit? I think that people in this country do not realise what a diverse country India is, or how well liked the British are there. I could not get over the fact that, everywhere I went, the people were so friendly towards the British. English is a universally spoken language; it is the language of administration and trade, and I feel that the closeness between our two nations, despite our historical past, is amazing. In every sense, we are fostering links—whether trade, cultural or educational—and we must do much more in that respect. India has 1.2 billion people, which is 17 per cent. of the world’s population, and the number is growing. Some 70 per cent. of the population are living on less than $2 a day, 70 per cent. of the population are under 30 years old, and the average age is getting younger. It is a vibrant nation that is growing at 7 per cent. a year.

India still has huge potential in terms of its needs for education. Some 65 per cent. of the nation are educated, but that includes only a small proportion of people in some states. DFID is taking a very brave decision regarding its expenditure in India. It spends £270 million a year in India, which is more than in any other country in which it operates, and it is going to pull out of West Bengal, where there is 20 per cent. poverty, and concentrate instead on the four states with the greatest needs—Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar. Bihar is an incredibly poor state, with over 50 per cent. poverty, and people trapped by the Dalit caste system and the 47 per cent. literacy rate, so there is a huge amount of work to be done there.

What have I learned? On the day that we heard the statistic that British manufacturing has contracted by 0.1 per cent., which is the largest fall in one month since records began in 1948, here we have a country with enormous potential for trade. We learned that India has a highly developed educational system, which is now translating itself into producing some of the best research in the world, and India is applying that research to producing highly innovative goods. However, there are enormous dangers. We visited GKN and found that it was making medium-tech half shafts for cars of the same quality that would be made here but for half the price, and one wonders why GKN would continue to manufacture in this country. That is an enormous danger for us, because how are we going to continue to provide jobs in the future, when a country such as India is as competitive as that? It behoves all those in Government to think about that very carefully. The answer is that we have to get cleverer and smarter at what we do. We have got to educate our people better; we have to give them better innovative skills and better research; and we have to help our companies to apply that research better, otherwise we are going to sink further and further down on the world stage.

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I am marginally critical of the way in which we operate in India regarding trade, and I think we could do a much better job. It has already been pointed out today that not one of our four UK Trade & Investment representatives in Chennai has any business experience. In Pune, where I went, which is the fastest emerging second-tier city—India has 20 second-tier cities with populations of more than 1 million, of which Pune is the fastest growing—we have only one UKTI representative. We need to clarify the role between UKTI and UKIBC—the UK-India Business Council—because there is some muddle as to who does what. There is more scope for clarity in terms of trade, and there are huge opportunities of which we need to take advantage.

This has been a highly informative debate, and I am delighted to see that the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has now joined us. His contribution to the visit was huge, as a former Trade Minister, and we benefited from his knowledge. It is great to see him here, and I shall conclude very rapidly if he wants a couple of minutes in which to speak.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab) indicated assent.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: In conclusion, we had a highly informative visit, for which I am enormously grateful to the IPT and DFID. There is huge scope for increased cultural and educational links with India, and there is even greater scope for us to do more trade with India. It is a fantastic nation, which is emerging very fast. It is beginning to help itself to get out of poverty and all the other deep-seated problems that it has. The more that its finances grow, the more it will be able to help itself get out of poverty. We have seen some excellent corporate social responsibility work from all the firms that I mentioned, which are doing great things throughout India to help some of the poorest people in the world. Statistics on the average proportion of poor people in a country show that India is still poorer than sub-Saharan Africa. I am grateful to all those who organised the trip, and I now conclude so that the right hon. Gentleman may say a few words.

Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Order. This is breaking with tradition, but if no one else objects, we will allow the right hon. Member a minute to make a contribution.

10.28 am

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab): First, let me apologise to the Chamber. I had intended to come and contribute today. I thought that the concept of the visit, the work that we did there and the follow-up work brought out the best in British parliamentarians. It is crucial that, in the next few years, India is not seen as a partner of the past, but a partner of the future. We are all children of the Commonwealth, not of the empire, and there is a huge emerging nation of technological advances, pharmaceutical industries and other technology industries. It has an ability, within that region, to work with us as a partner on trade, trade investment, education and cultural issues, and in its role in the wider world in relation to peacekeeping and the United Nations.

We have a huge agenda. The work we did as a group in India built bridges and contributed towards potential and actual projects. Now we have come back, we must report to the Indian high commissioner on the work that we are doing and the contacts and re-contacts we have made with companies, universities and colleges.
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The Northwest Regional Development Agency, for example, has already made contact with some of the colleges that we met and has sat down with them to do proactive partnership working.

Some of the businesses in India have been put in touch with businesses in the United Kingdom to consider how they can work together. As Members of Parliament, we have since made contact as a group with individual organisations to build on what we have seen, particularly in relation to corporate social responsibility. We can learn from the ideas and work that has been done in India in terms of trade and development, education and training, health care and rural communities, and the empowerment of women and children. For me, it was a fantastic opportunity. I am grateful to the group for assisting with the debate, which has allowed us to participate with colleagues of different political persuasions. We may be different politically, but we were at one on the group in relation to the work that we need to do with India across the field.

I apologise again, Mr. Sheridan, for not being able to give a more comprehensive report, but I will put something in writing for you as the Chairman. Colleagues and I also hope to meet the Indian high commissioner soon to take forward the work that we did during our visit. I thank hon. Members for listening.

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