Brooks Newmark responds to adjournment debate

19th July 2011

Brooks Newmark responds backbench MPs' contributions to the business, innovation and skills section of the summer recess adjournment debate.

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury (Mr Brooks Newmark): I begin by thanking the Chief Whip for indulging me this one time by allowing me to speak. As the House is aware, in the Whips Office we take a vow of silence, so I am particularly pleased to be given this opportunity to respond to Members in the area of business, innovation and skills, and to thank everyone for their excellent contributions. I feel a little like Garbo in her first talkie, when the next day’s headlines were, “Garbo Talks”, although when tomorrow’s press reports that “Brooks Talks”, I suspect it will not be about my performance at the Dispatch Box.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for organising today’s debate, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for organising the format, which I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is known as the Hollobone format, in which there is a rapid-fire series of short debates and short replies—a sort of political speed-dating, in which the Member raises his or her questions and sees whether or not he or she fancies the relevant Minister’s replies. I shall therefore do my best to make the Government as attractive as possible in relation to all the areas covered in the debate.

Before I begin my formal response to hon. Members’ contributions, I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his excellent maiden speech, which was delivered with warmth and a deep understanding of the community he represents.

Let me respond first to the hon. Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth), all of whom rightly drew attention to the important issue of English provision to speakers of other languages. I know that hon. Members have previously campaigned on this issue and have highlighted the importance of English language provision to members of their respective communities. I am sure that they will agree that, although the ability to speak English is important to ensuring integration, if employers wish to recruit abroad—I address this point particularly to the hon. Members for Nottingham South and for Sheffield Central—they must not expect the state to pick up the cost of teaching their workers English. The reforms will target public funding to those in the greatest need and will ensure that higher standards are set for providers, thereby making ESOL provision work better for learners, employers, and taxpayers.

I am sure that hon. Members will have seen the second impact assessment, and yesterday’s written statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, in which he further clarified our policy in this important area. Members will be aware that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to formulate a strategy specifically to target vulnerable communities and particularly women and families who rely on community-based English language learning to help them gain access to public services and to communicate with their children’s schools. That point has been stressed by all the hon. Members who spoke on this issue. The Government are anxious to ensure that women and families do not lose out on this important provision.

My final point on this issue is that my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has listened to and worked with the Association of Colleges and other key providers to make sure that we make rapid progress in this area—we hope by September when we reconvene—to ensure further and better integration in our communities.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has demonstrated his lifelong interest in horology and has done much to promote that sector. I particularly appreciate his concerns about horology training facilities in the UK and the need for small, specialist courses, and I agree that we must support specialist British industries such as the watch-making and clock-making industry. I add that, although there is a British watch maker called Newmark, we are not related. My hon. Friend rightly cited the importance of the Government’s internship programme, and I assure him that the Government are exploring the opportunities for the craft sector to engage with the apprenticeship programme. I have met my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning to discuss this matter, and he will write to my hon. Friend about the progress that the Government are making to boost craft apprenticeships so that Britain will become the international centre of excellence in horology that he so rightly wants it to be.

On regulation, the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) should be commended for his continued attention on the behaviour of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which he has mentioned in this place in the past. I particularly thank him for drawing my attention to the need for greater transparency and good governance, especially for companies dealing with developing countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Government expect and the law requires all UK directors of companies to adopt high standards of business conduct. We rightly focus on bad behaviour and we certainly do not condone criminal offences such as bribery or phone hacking. We need to help directors and shareholders through a strong system of corporate governance. Overall, the current system works well but needs to evolve continually to meet new challenges.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) for highlighting the importance of having a strong town centre and a vibrant community, as well as for continuing to be a strong champion for Swindon and for mentioning the importance of supporting retailers and small businesses in his area. I agree that having a successful and buzzing town centre helps to create and maintain jobs in shops and offices. A vibrant town centre creates a positive image that attracts new businesses and employment. Indeed, we should applaud the work of independent groups such as Forward Swindon and InSwindon which, in conjunction with the local council, have sought to revitalise growth and prosperity in the town centre.

I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for focusing on Lloyds TSB and the sale of flats in the Cube in Birmingham, and for highlighting the concerns of Mrs Shah and other small investors. He raised the inability of flat owners to secure mortgages, and I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be made aware of his concerns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) is right to raise the important issue of Tata Steel and the development of north Lincolnshire. He mentioned the importance of renewable industry in Lincolnshire and the need for improved transport links. The pan-Humber local enterprise partnership has focused on strategic opportunities growth based on renewable energy, ports and logistics, and chemicals among other things. The Humber LEP is bidding for an enterprise zone to support the creation of renewable clusters in the area. I shall of course pursue that matter with the relevant Ministers to ensure that the demands of local people and investors can be met. On Tata Steel, the recent meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Members to discuss the issue was cancelled, and will be rearranged, as is the case with a visit by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Prime Minister has expressed disappointment at job losses resulting from reductions at Tata Steel, but he is working hard with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to bring a taskforce together to ensure that we do everything possible to mitigate the impact on local jobs and communities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) is right to emphasise economic growth. He mentioned the importance of not driving growth with debt, and the need to reduce unnecessary regulation. Growth remains at the centre of the Government’s strategy, and the growth review will work throughout this Parliament to address barriers facing industry. The Government’s role is to create the conditions conducive to private sector investment and to make long-term choices, not offer short-term fixes. We continue to listen to businesses to understand how to help them.

Finally, on maternity and paternity leave, Government proposals will allow both parents to take an active, caring role while retaining their attachment to the workplace. Our proposals allow more flexibility, because one size does not fit all firms or families. We will work with businesses to help them to adapt to these changes. My hon. Friend made a specific point about national insurance, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is made aware of his concerns. Once again, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for arranging this debate, all the speakers for their contributions and wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all Members a relaxing summer break.

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