Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I thank those who made their maiden speeches today. It is so good to hear them participate in a debate on industry. For me, this is one of the most important debates that we can have, given that we are in the middle of a recession and trying to take our country out of it. Truly focusing on industry, business, skills and innovation will take us through the recession and get us back to the strong economy that we need again for this country.
I also feel personally that this is important. I still remember the day when I was in school and was first taught about the industrial revolution, and how that motivated and inspired me to go and do something in business. I spent the 20 years after I graduated in different sectors of business. The industrial revolution is a part of our history that made us great-one hon. Member mentioned that in his maiden speech today-and we want to make our country great again, and creating a strong economy is one way to do that.
The Government can do several things in that respect. Reducing bureaucracy has already been mentioned by several hon. Members, but I want to emphasise what businesses with which I have worked and spoken-in Brentford and Isleworth and elsewhere-have told me.
We must do something about the bureaucracy and red tape that both small and large businesses must manage, because they saw it increase under the previous Government. Instead of that red tape and bureaucracy, we need to ensure that we create the atmosphere and environment in which enterprise can flourish, and create an enterprise-led economy. That means encouraging new businesses and getting them to innovate and create new ideas. Time and again, as a country and as individuals, we have proved that we can do that so well in Great Britain. Let us get rid of the regulation, support new enterprise, and ensure that we build this country again into what it can be.
On creating a better-balanced economy, we have perhaps limited ourselves and focused on too few sectors. I worked in financial services, which in the past has helped us to create a strong economy, and I believe it will again. However, we need to look beyond what we have done before and ask, "What is needed for the future?" I want to ensure that we are supporting the manufacturing sector, research and development, and science and technology, which need our input and support if they are to grow.
On education and skills support for business, I welcome our proposal-it was mentioned today, in the coalition agreement and previously in the general election-for investment in apprenticeships and university places. Businesses have told me that they have spent crucial training time in their organisations teaching people how to read and write, rather than getting on and developing the skills that they need. We must begin to address that at schools, by ensuring that our children get the best possible education, so that we create the skills necessary for the country.
The previous Government pursued wasteful policies in the past 13 years. They introduced a number of schemes that were designed to help businesses through the recession, but those have failed. We now have a duty to this country to review those projects and ensure that we are getting value for money for them. Policy is really all about the outcome; it is not about having another new idea or drafting another piece of legislation every day. It is about asking, "What will this policy actually deliver on the ground in terms of jobs and support for industry?" I encourage the Government to look again at those policies. We need to ensure that we are supporting people in skills-based training and apprenticeships. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science for visiting West Thames college in Isleworth with me. That college is a great example of a good scheme. We need to build on such schemes to ensure that we gain the skills that are required in future.
I also encourage the Government to do everything that they can to support British industry and create that competitive environment for business investment. Given the state of the public finances, we must find ways to do that and increase opportunities for business, cut excessive expenditure and red tape, and simplify our processes. I therefore support the Government's amendment, because we should do all that we can to rebuild our country and allow businesses and people across this land to aspire to do what they can to make this country great once again.
Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today in this debate on Government support for industry. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) on their contributions. Over the last few weeks, I have listened to many maiden speeches and been very entertained-although probably not as much as I was today by the story of the cow-and taken on a descriptive geographical journey around many parts of this great nation.
It is a great privilege to stand here today in this wonderful place, having recently been elected by the people of North West Durham, the community that I was born into and grew up in. There is something very special in being elected to represent the people I grew up with, went to school with and still live among. I follow in the footsteps of Hilary Armstrong, who served North West Durham for 23 years and, before her, of Ernie Armstrong, her father. I have followed in Ernie's footsteps in more ways than one as he was a head teacher in Durham County and went on to be the assistant director of education in Sunderland, a job I followed him into many years later, before following him and his daughter as Member of Parliament for North West Durham. Both were first-class Members of Parliament, hard working and passionate about the north-east region and the North West Durham constituency.
Hilary is certainly going to be a very difficult act to follow. She was a social worker who brought practical skills and experience to this House. She was a strong, determined and persuasive female MP, at a time when there were even fewer female Members than there are today. She was immensely proud of her northern roots and a staunch defender of the north-east region. She had a long and distinguished career, holding several posts in government-not least Chief Whip-but it was her role as social inclusion Minister where she was truly in her element. Hilary was passionate about improving the lives of the most vulnerable and the disadvantaged in our society, and in that we share a common purpose.
For those who have never visited North West Durham, I can tell them that it is a hauntingly beautiful place and that they should plan to visit it soon. The towns of Consett, Crook and Willington are surrounded by small villages. The Durham dales and countryside surrounding that are categorised as an area of outstanding natural beauty. That contrasts sharply with the countryside as I remember it as a child, when it was black and covered with coal dust, but all that has now gone. I do not know why I should be surprised at that-given that it is sandwiched between north Yorkshire and Northumberland, it was always going to be beautiful under all that coal dust.
Durham has a long and proud industrial history. It was heavily dependent on coal mining, steel production and heavy engineering. Every village had a pit and Consett was a steel-making town. North West Durham, our industries and our people suffered terribly during the Thatcher years. The closure of Consett steelworks resulted in unemployment among the male population reaching almost 100%. We lost jobs and we lost industries, but there were some things that even the Thatcher Government could not take from us-our communities; our resilience; our fortitude in the face of unemployment,
poverty and deprivation; the warmth of our people; and the way in which they care and work for one another. That may be linked to what the Prime Minister now refers to as the "big society", but we in the north-east think of it fondly as socialism.
North West Durham, like most of the post-industrial north, has undergone an economic and social revolution in the past 13 years, with the support of the last Government. Educational outcomes, which are very close to my heart, have been transformed. We now have some of the best schools in the country, with the best performances. Sure Start centres are ensuring that our children have the best beginning to their academic lives, and our young people now go on to further and higher education in much great numbers than was possible before. There are more good, sustainable jobs; people are better off; health and housing services are much improved; our local economy has been given the time and support needed to adapt and diversify; and the food and renewable energy industries and tourism now thrive. The biggest employers in North West Durham, outside the public sector, are International Cuisine and Derwent Valley Foods-a sign of the diversification of our industries and jobs. Renewable energy and green industries were being established in the north-east region with the help of the last Government, and I sincerely hope that they will continue to be supported by the new Government.
Like Ernie and Hilary Armstrong, I have spent much of my career working with, and supporting, vulnerable young people-in my case, specialising in special educational needs. I will be campaigning on behalf of these young people in the House and will speak on SEN and disability matters whenever I have the opportunity. I will be looking to Members from both sides of the House to support me in advancing the interests of this group of disadvantaged, and very often marginalised, young people. I will also be championing the cause of children living in poverty, because I have seen first hand too many times the links between poverty and educational under-achievement. It is simply unacceptable that children in receipt of free school meals-a clear indicator of poverty-on average do progressively worse at school than their peers, that young people with parents in manual occupations are far less likely than others to go to university and that only one in six students at top universities come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
With the recession and the return to power of a Conservative Government, backed by their Liberal Democrat friends, my people fear a return to the desperate situations of the 1980s and early 1990s. They fear for their jobs, their homes and their children's future. The public sector in my constituency employs 6,100 people, and I am especially worried about them, particularly given the Prime Minister's warnings about what he has in mind for the north-east. In order to grow, the north-east needs a work force who are highly skilled and possess diverse, adaptable and technological knowledge. There are real opportunities for us to seize, in tourism and the renewable energy industry, that have the potential to bring jobs and growth to the north-east, but to do this the Government need to show that they have faith and confidence in the region-the kind of faith and confidence that employers such as Nissan have shown and which the previous Government had in my region.
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) on her passionate speech about her constituency, and I am pleased to hear how attracted she is to the big society-she is always welcome on the Conservative Benches.
We all know that we are in times of deep economic hardship, but we are now heading in the right direction. A key reason is that we have already begun to fix the wrongs, and our first focus has been on balancing the books. For anyone in any doubt about whether this is the right strategy, I need only point to the commendations that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor received at the G20 summit in South Korea for his efforts in this area. However, although we have made an important start, there are of course many things that we need to do, and for me the importance of business cannot be underestimated. From my experience at YouGov, and from talking to businesses in Stratford, small or large, I know that there are three main areas that people want us to focus on: getting rid of bureaucracy and red tape, simplifying the tax system and giving small and medium-sized businesses tax incentives and easier access to funding. All those areas must be addressed, and I shall endeavour to discuss them today.
It is no coincidence that after 13 years of a Labour Government, business in this country feels bogged down by bureaucracy. I am delighted that one of the first things that we have done is introduce a one-in, one-out policy on regulation. That will change the culture of Whitehall and help those stuck in red tape to free themselves and get on with their business. Next, we need to focus our efforts on the need for a simpler and fairer tax system for business. It is not in our country's interest for businesses to waste time and resources on decoding the hugely complicated tax system. Someone running a small business is the chief executive officer, the salesperson, the receptionist and the accountant, so the more time they spend on bureaucracy, the less they spend on building up their business.
The abolition of the employer's contribution to national insurance must be commended. It is an excellent policy, and there are already businesses in my constituency, such as GreenMech, DCS Europe and the brilliant Purity Brewing, applauding this initiative. Even Lord Digby Jones, the previous Government's adviser, warned against that anti-jobs policy in the other place.
One of the most difficult areas to address is the funding available to SMEs. The previous Government made steps in the right direction, but they did not work. The RDAs have clearly not worked, and they have wasted an enormous amount of taxpayers' money on bureaucracy. Banks want to lend only when the sun is shining. The previous Administration failed to fix the roof during those times, and it was SMEs that paid a heavy price. However, I am pleased that we have already pledged to ensure that a flow of credit is available to viable SMEs, both by considering a national loans
guarantee scheme and by the use of net lending targets for banks. In the future, we must continue to do more to help in that area.
I want to address another matter that is key to strengthening our business sector in this country. We must ensure that our employees of the future are equipped with the skills that can help them and their employers succeed. I for one always looked at the skill and expertise of a potential candidate, rather than just their university education. That is why I am such a strong believer in apprenticeships and the skills that they offer. In a previous life, I did a lot of work with a fantastic charity called Edge, and I applaud the Government's focus on apprenticeships.
Making things and selling things to the world are going to be vital for our future. That is why we need to support engineering, whether it be mechanical, civil or software engineering. Engineering needs to be seen as an aspirational qualification again. We need only look at Germany, a nation proud of its engineers, to see what can be achieved. For me, we must focus on specific areas of business, in order to create a niche for ourselves as a nation.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way-I believe that this might be his first run at active combat in the Chamber, so he is welcome. He talked about software engineering, and his party made a commitment in the election to a tax relief system for the games industry, which is important in the sub-region that he represents. Does he still support that?
We must focus on specific areas of business to create our niche. If we look at Britain in relation to our Chinese and Indian counterparts, we see that we can never hope to compete with them on production cost or quantity. That is why we must focus on intellectual property and innovations. We need only look at Formula 1 to see what talent we already have in innovation here in the United Kingdom. As politicians, we need to focus our energy on the recommendations of inventors such as Sir James Dyson. Sadly, however, we are tending to lose our best people to other nations where innovation is better funded. For example, Jonathan Ive, the designer of the iPod-such an iconic brand of our era-is British, but he works for a great American company. We must learn from the USA. Silicon valley is the home of US tech start-ups precisely because of the environment created there by the US Government and because of the support that start-ups receive. We should learn from that and create our own opportunity zones here in the United Kingdom.
I applaud the approach taken so far by the coalition Government, and it is important that we continue to do all we can to encourage growth in the private sector, so that we can continue to create jobs that are sustainable.
That will be an important move away from the previous Government, whose policies led to an unsustainable and unrealistic bloating of the public sector. Our future lies in business and, for me, specifically in innovation. What we do now will affect the course of our business future, and I am confident that, with the coalition Government in place, we will succeed.
Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass) on their excellent contributions to the debate today.
Barnsley East is a new constituency, albeit one with an old name. It is made up of wards in the old constituency of Barnsley East and Mexborough and in the old Barnsley West and Penistone seat, so it is my privilege today to pay tribute to not one but two predecessors. Jeff Ennis served the people of Barnsley for three decades, first as a local councillor, rising to become leader of Barnsley council, then as the Member of Parliament for Barnsley East and Mexborough. Born and bred in Grimethorpe, he still regards himself as a "Grimey" lad. He was not merely from that community; he was always part of it.
Jeff Ennis was well known in this House, not least as an animal lover, particularly those animals of the four-legged variety that can be seen at events such as the 2.15 at Newmarket, the 3 o'clock at Cheltenham and the 3.30 at Sandown-votes permitting, of course. Hon. Members might know that Grimethorpe is the home of the world-famous Grimethorpe colliery band. The band featured in the film "Brassed Off", which was set in my constituency. Indeed, Jeff Ennis helped to set up the all-party group on brass bands. He understood as much as anyone that the elites who run the world of culture do not always properly reflect and support the culture and entertainment of working-class communities, and in a small but important way, this highlights the insight that Jeff Ennis was able to bring to the House. He was always a powerful and authentic voice for working-class people.
I mentioned that I also had the privilege of representing wards that were part of the Barnsley West and Penistone seat, which was represented with great distinction for the better part of 20 years by Michael Clapham-better known to us all as Mick Clapham. It is fair to say that, in the brief time that I worked in the Labour Whips Office, Mick's name would occasionally appear on the lists of hon. Members who might require extra assistance in finding their way through the appropriate voting Lobby. I know that he opposed ID cards, tuition fees and the Iraq war, which puts him on broadly the same platform as all the candidates for the Labour leadership. I am sure that that will amuse him, and slightly surprise him.