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Of the new Conservative MPs elected at the general election, eight won their seats at the third time of asking, having valiantly fought unsuccessful campaigns in 2001 and 2005 before ousting sitting Labour MPs last month.

Two of those eight gave their maiden speeches during the debate on the Queen's Speech last Wednesday.

Picture 2 Harlow's Robert Halfon emphasised his desire to see the Government champion vocational training and apprenticeships:

"If we give young people the necessary skills and training, we give them opportunities and jobs for the future. Expanding and improving apprenticeships is not just about economic efficiency based on pure utilitarianism; it involves the profoundly Conservative ideas of helping people to help themselves, of a work ethic, of opportunity and, most importantly, of social justice.

"I have seen for myself the power of apprenticeships to transform lives. I have seen John Tennison, the managing director of Smiths aircraft industries in Harlow, who started as an apprentice there more than 30 years ago. I have seen the construction training partnership, which helps youngsters supported by youth offending teams to train in building, electrical work and plumbing, and gives them the chance to succeed. I have seen Harlow college, and was delighted to visit the Essex apprentices scheme there with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). It is no accident that our college is climbing so high up the league tables, with its aim to be one of the best in England.

"Our policy of creating 100,000 extra apprenticeships every year is something to be proud of, but we must do more, particularly in regard to reducing red tape and regulation and giving better incentives to businesses. Above all, we need a root-and-branch cultural change in our country. Winning an apprenticeship should be as highly regarded as getting to Cambridge university—or any university, for that matter. Apprenticeships should be held in the same regard as higher education by secondary school teachers, yet all the evidence shows that the opposite is the case. The apprenticeship organisation Edge says that two thirds of teachers regard their knowledge of apprenticeships as poor, and that just one in four teachers believe that apprenticeships are a good alternative to A-levels. As an MP, I intend to play my part in changing the way we regard apprentices."

Picture 4 Meanwhile, Neil Carmichael, who gained Stroud at the general election, touched on the importance of further education:

"Further education is an important subject. Sometimes it is the Cinderella of education, but I want to emphasise how important I think it is. Effectively, it is the facility that can overcome the problem of people who thrive not in schools but in vocations and in the further education environment, so it is absolutely right that the further education sector be helped as much as possible. Reducing the amount of bureaucracy and regulations is clearly one thing that must happen, but we must also tackle the question of funding. That is complicated, but we need to ensure that FE colleges know where the money is coming from. Governance of colleges and schools is important. Governors must recognise and take on their responsibilities, because if we are to have academies we must have capable governors and a governance system that works and ensures that schools are checked."

Jonathan Isaby

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