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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.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): 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.
Mr Hayes: 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.
Steve McCabe: 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.
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.
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.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): 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.
Steve McCabe: 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.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): 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.
Steve McCabe: 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.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): 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.
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