"learners the information they need to drive the system, through the publication of clear and consistent information about performance, quality and standards."
That sounds like fairly top-down instruction, a recipe for extra research that has no particular relevance to the people being educated, and a whole lot of form filling and publications that will siphon off money that could well be used in other directions. I sympathise with the Minister up to a point, because it is a perfectly laudable objective, but the new Government have to realise that having laudable objectives and ensuring that they are translated at the local level involves some sort of imposition and resources that have to be calibrated and calculated to ensure that they are worth while.
I am coming to the end of my comments, but let me say that in my new position as Chairman of the appropriate Select Committee, I look forward to talking to Ministers and interviewing them on their policies. I wish them
well, as this matter is absolutely vital not just to my constituents but to young and unemployed people everywhere and to this country's future and its position in the global economy. Investment in skills is as important as investment in plant and machinery, and it has the additional benefit of improving the lives of those who are prepared to get involved.
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): First, let me say how delighted I am to see in the Speaker's Chair a neighbouring MP who has given me so much support over the years. I should like to pay tribute to other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today: the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and for Battersea (Jane Ellison). The last is a good friend; she stood in my constituency back in 2005, and she is still remembered fondly in the local area.
To stand here and make my maiden speech is a tremendous honour, particularly in the light of those who have previously represented the constituency of Pendle, or, as it was formerly known, of Nelson and Colne-men such as Sidney Silverman, David Waddington and, for the past 18 years, Gordon Prentice. In fact, while researching for my own speech, I learned that Sidney Silverman's maiden speech back in 1935 lasted 22 minutes and was on the merits of socialism. I am delighted to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I can both make a maiden speech and dismiss the merits of socialism within 22 minutes.
It is traditional to start a maiden speech by paying tribute to one's predecessor, and despite the fact that Gordon Prentice was my opponent in the recent election, I have no hesitation in doing so. Gordon Prentice was a principled politician and committed to many causes. He was an independent thinker who rebelled against the last Government on issues such as tuition fees, the Iraq war and post office closures. He was an active Back Bencher and I feel that Gordon demonstrated to us newer Members that we do not have to hanker after ministerial office to achieve something in the House.
As I said in my acceptance speech just five weeks ago, it is the greatest honour of my life to be elected to represent Pendle. Located in the hills of the Pennines in north-east Lancashire, and some would say beyond, Pendle offers some of England's finest countryside, including Pendle hill, from which my seat takes its name, as well as beautiful villages and busy towns.
The area is rich in history, not only with the story of the Pendle witches, which brings many visitors to the area, but with our industrial heritage with the Leeds-Liverpool canal, numerous mills and other incredible feats of engineering. The old industries of cotton and textiles have now all but disappeared, but the industrious spirit of the area remains as strong as ever.
Next weekend, my constituency plays host to one of the biggest events in the UK's cycling calendar, with the national road race championships taking place through the villages of Roughlee, Barley and Newchurch. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase some of our
award-winning villages and boost the local tourism trade, which is an increasingly important part of the local economy.
Pendle is a place of contrasts, where we have severe deprivation next to relative affluence. It is a place where mosques sit side by side with mills, highlighting the large number of my constituents who came originally from Pakistan or Kashmir. One of the first issues with which I had to deal as a Member of Parliament was the senseless murder of three of my constituents, the Yousaf family. They were gunned down while tending a family grave in Pakistan. Their killers are yet to be brought to justice, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to ensure that the family obtain justice through the Pakistani courts. On that issue as well as many others that affect my constituency, I will be at the forefront in pressing Ministers and holding the Government to account, so that the people of Pendle always know that they have a strong voice here in Westminster.
The M65 ends in my constituency, in effect creating one of the biggest cul-de-sacs in the country. As a result, most of those who wish to travel cross-country by road take alternative routes. We also lack rail connectivity. I pay tribute to the work of SELRAP-the Skipton East Lancashire Railway Action Partnership. That group's aim is to reconnect Colne and Skipton, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the north-west and the north-east, and I applaud its efforts.
We have some of the lowest house prices in the country. There is a high rate of empty and unfit homes, as people have moved away from the area and absentee landlords have bought homes and sometimes entire streets. It is clear to me, representing as I do some of the cheapest streets in Britain, that regeneration work remains vital to the long-term sustainability of the area.
We lack an accident and emergency department since ours was transferred from Burnley to Blackburn-which is 15 miles away-under the last Government, despite the protests of local people. The local primary care trust now wants the children's ward to be transferred as well, but I am encouraged by the assurances of the Secretary of State for Health that NHS service changes are now subject to review. I look forward to him visiting Burnley general hospital tomorrow, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle), who made an excellent speech a few moments ago.
The people of Pendle are hardy folk, and we face up well to whatever situation we find ourselves in. That is probably best typified by one of Pendle's most famous sons, whose memorial in Colne is close to where I live: Wallace Hartley. Hon. Members who are not familiar with the name will, I am sure, be familiar with the story: Wallace Hartley was a violinist, but he was also the bandmaster of the Titanic on her maiden voyage.
I am proud to represent a seat where a higher proportion of the work force are employed in manufacturing than in any other constituency in England, and I am delighted that manufacturing is back on the national agenda. I was also delighted to read in the coalition agreement that rebalancing the economy is a key Government aim and that the Government are committed to boosting the provision of workplace apprenticeships.
More than 8,000 people in my constituency are employed in manufacturing, producing everything from Silentnight beds in Barnoldswick to the biscuits that are sold in
Harrods, which are produced in Nelson. It was a real pleasure for me, as a candidate, to visit so many of those firms over the past four years. It was a particular pleasure to take my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), now Chancellor of the Exchequer, to visit Rolls-Royce and Weston EU-two great British companies, working in the vitally important aerospace sector, that also have fantastic apprenticeship schemes. They are real companies providing real jobs that generate significant value added for the United Kingdom. That brings me to the topic of today's debate: the need for us to build a high-skilled economy.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting Nelson and Colne college. The college has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence, and since 2005 it has twice been judged "outstanding" by Ofsted. It provides academic and vocational sixth-form education for about 1,700 people-the vast majority of young people in my constituency-but I believe that among the things that make it so special are its unique pre-professional programmes and its outstanding apprenticeship provision, with success rates well above the Lancashire and national rates. Its tailor-made employer provision includes 14 individual apprenticeship frameworks to meet the needs of local and regional employers.
It would be far better to address the current skill shortages in the economy by supporting colleges such as Nelson and Colne and fostering their links with business than by pursuing the last Government's attempt to ensure that 50% of students went to university. However, we must also recognise that four out of five people who will be working in 2020 are already in the work force. Given the damage done to occupational pension funds by the last Government and the probable increase in the state pension age, people are likely to be working for much longer than ever before. So we must have a strategy that ensures that training is not just focused on young people but provides incentives to employers to support lifelong learning and celebrates the good employers who are already doing that.
We also need a fair deal for British manufacturers, so that we can continue to be a world leader in sectors such as aerospace. British industry has been hampered by too much tax and regulation for too long. We know that tough times lie ahead because of the legacy left to us by the previous Government, and that will make building a high-skilled economy even harder. However, I look forward to working with the Government to address the challenges that we face, while never shying away from speaking out on behalf of the hard-working people of Pendle.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): May I congratulate both you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and the other Members who have delivered their maiden speeches this afternoon? In preparing my notes for this speech, I turned, as I am sure colleagues also did, to the guidance; I noted that it says that it is best to be brief and non-controversial and-at least on this occasion, Madam Deputy Speaker-I shall try to be both.
It is, of course, a great privilege to be elected to the House, particularly for me as I represent the constituency that bears the name of my home town. That makes me both a Lincolnshire yellowbelly and a meggie. The
explanations behind those terms are somewhat dubious, and although I appreciate that Members are on tenterhooks to know them, I shall leave that for another day.
Members and others who have been fortunate enough to visit Cleethorpes-which, as they will all be aware, is the premier resort of the east coast-are referred to by us locals as "trippers", and they are the lifeblood of the town's economy. The constituency is, of course, much more than Cleethorpes itself. It runs from the delightful market town of Barton-upon-Humber in the north through many villages in the Barton and Ferry wards of north Lincolnshire and on into north-east Lincolnshire and the major industrial centre of Immingham, which together with Grimsby has, when measured by tonnage, the largest dock complex in the United Kingdom. The seafaring traditions are strong, and Cleethorpes and Grimsby are, in effect, one town. Although there is an historic rivalry between them, they are bound together by their connections with the sea. The Humber estuary itself is a site of special scientific interest, and there is also a beautiful hinterland taking in many of the villages on the edge of the Lincolnshire wolds-an area that has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Cleethorpes is also the home of Grimsby Town football club, which therefore, strictly speaking, always plays away from home. The club has had a difficult few seasons of late, but I am proud to be a lifelong Mariners fan, and I am confident of better times ahead. Bill Shankly has been mentioned on two occasions this afternoon, and it is perhaps appropriate in a debate about training to mention that he served what might be called his managerial apprenticeship at Blundell Park before going on to higher things. I cannot quite remember the early '50s, but I did live within shouting distance of the terraces of the football ground. The area is also fortunate to be served by an excellent combination of newspapers, which together help to create the identity of the area. There are two dailies, the Grimsby Telegraph and the Scunthorpe Telegraph, and a weekly, the Cleethorpes Chronicle.
Having given Members a snapshot of the constituency, I wish now to pay tribute to my predecessor, Shona McIsaac, who represented Cleethorpes for 13 years, during which time she worked diligently on behalf of her constituents and tirelessly for the causes in which she believed. Having worked for almost 16 years for my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), I know well that many individuals have cause to thank their Members of Parliament for taking up cases, trying to correct an injustice or bringing an issue to the attention of those in authority. On their behalf, I thank her for her efforts in that respect. She was, of course, bitterly disappointed to have lost her seat but was gracious in defeat. I wish her well for the future.
Cleethorpes, although it has been pushed from one constituency to another over the years, has had some notable, interesting and perhaps even colourful Members in the past. Before Shona McIsaac came Michael Brown, and before that Michael Brotherton and Jeffrey Archer.
I referred earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, who has just completed nine years as a distinguished Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I had the privilege of working as his constituency agent for 16 years, and he started me on the path that has led
me to the House: 10 years ago, after addressing the Cleethorpes Conservative luncheon club, he suggested that I might try to become the candidate.
Today's debate focuses on building a high-skilled economy, and that is of particular importance to my constituency, with its large concentration of industry along the Humber bank. As the new Member for the constituency of Cleethorpes, I shall aim to build on the work of my predecessors and the work done by local authorities, industry and the many different agencies that come together to reinvigorate and redevelop an area with which I have been associated throughout my life.
We must develop further a high-skilled economy that will benefit my constituency and the whole country. We can then progress out of this economic downturn more fully. We need to set the foundations for the future success that our young people deserve. It is our younger generations who will be the backbone on which the future of businesses relies. My fellow Lincolnshire Member, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), described this in his opening remarks as a major challenge. I welcome the Government's pledge to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships that will be available.
I hope that such pledges will further the work of facilities such as CATCH-the Centre for the Assessment of Technical Competence, Humber-and training providers such as HETA, the Humberside Engineering Training Association, which operate there. During the election campaign, the Minister for Universities and Science, who was then a shadow Minister and is now, I am pleased to say, a member of the Government, visited the CATCH facility in Stallingborough and I think it fair to say that he was suitably impressed. It is a joint venture between the public and private sectors, and it has an extremely good success rate in securing permanent positions for the young people who train there, educating and training today's school leavers, so that they become not a lost and forgotten generation but a driving force behind the economic recovery that remains the key aim of Government policy.
With its industrial history and foundation along the Humber bank, the people of my constituency are hard-working people. Cleethorpes has a number of challenges and obstacles to overcome to secure the support and funding that is needed to ensure that the Government's vision of a fair and highly skilled economy is brought to all the constituencies of our country. As the Member of Parliament for the constituency, I hope to act as something of an ambassador, bringing together all the elements of the constituency-whether private, public or third sector-that will help to build the future success of our economy. If we work together, I am confident that my constituency will enjoy a brighter future.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con):
I offer you my congratulations on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also congratulate all those who have made maiden speeches this afternoon, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who spoke
eloquently about his constituency and, like many others this afternoon, on the subject of football. As someone whose wife-who is in the Gallery today-is a fan of Liverpool football club and has, in my opinion, a rather worrying keenness on Steven Gerrard, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), will be trying to make the early acquaintance of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram).
I am proud to address this House for the first time as the first Member of Parliament for Central Devon. My constituency was formed from parts of five others, so it could be said to have five predecessors, two of whom I am pleased are still Members of the House. First, there is my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), who has set the highest standards in looking after his constituents-standards to which I aspire. Like most lawyers, he has never been slow to offer me wise counsel, but unlike most lawyers he has very graciously never charged me a penny for it. There is also the Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). Although he is not a member of my party, he is often held by my constituents who were previously represented by him to be a bit of a Tory at heart. I am sure that that will be a good qualification for his new role as a Minister in our coalition, and I wish him well.
There are three other predecessors who are no longer Members of the House, the first of whom being Anthony Steen, who served as the Member for Totnes. I have found him to be immensely courteous always and sometimes marvellously eccentric. He is a compassionate man who has done a great deal of good, not least through his work addressing the dreadful situation of human trafficking, and I am sure that he will be missed by the House. Secondly, Richard Younger-Ross was the previous Member for Teignbridge, and a very hard-working and assiduous local Member of Parliament.
Lastly, and for me most importantly, I pay tribute to Angela Browning, the former Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who was held in great affection on both sides of the House. She could not have been more supportive, generous and helpful to me. She was hugely respected by her constituents, regardless of their political leanings, and I am delighted that she has now been elevated to the other place. In the coming months, I shall try to live up to these illustrious forebears, to be inspired by their example and to contribute to the House as they have done.
Central Devon is one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country. It is also one of the largest, covering some 550 square miles, including a third of Dartmoor national park, numerous beautiful and scattered villages and several fine market towns such as Okehampton, Hatherleigh, Chagford and Crediton, where, some Opposition Members might be pleased to learn, Ernest Bevin was schooled. They are welcome to come and visit, but strictly out of election time if they do not mind. Other market towns include Buckfastleigh, Ashburton, Bovey Tracey and Chudleigh.