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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
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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.

3.34 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): 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
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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.

Mr Hayes: 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.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: 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:

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
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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
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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.

3.45 pm

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): 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.

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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
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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
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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.

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