Previous Section Index Home Page

3.55 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): 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.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Could the hon. Gentleman please direct comments through the Chair? If you say "you", it refers to me.

Chris Williamson: 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
17 Jun 2010 : Column 1101
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.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): 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.

Chris Williamson: 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.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): 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?

Chris Williamson: 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.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the actions of Red Robbo, who closed down the old Austin Rover plant in the 1970s?

Chris Williamson: 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.

17 Jun 2010 : Column 1102

Dr John Pugh (Southport) (LD): 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?

Chris Williamson: 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.

Stephen Pound: 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?

Chris Williamson: 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.

4.7 pm

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): 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-
17 Jun 2010 : Column 1103
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
17 Jun 2010 : Column 1104
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.

4.15 pm

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): 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
17 Jun 2010 : Column 1105
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.

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): I wonder whether other hon. Members receive complaints about the education maintenance allowance, as I do. I, too,
17 Jun 2010 : Column 1106
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.

Mr Bailey: 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

Next Section Index Home Page