UK-India Trade

Mark made the following contributions to a debate tabled by Stephen Hammond MP on UK-India trade.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and in a debate initiated by one of my close friends in Parliament, my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond.

I will speak, if I may, very briefly. I have made two visits to India—in 2003 and in 2006. Between those years, there was a change in Government. What struck me was the confidence of the business and political classes in New Delhi and Bombay. I suspect that, six years on, there will be an even greater sense of a country that is forward looking and confident of the future, notwithstanding all of the issues that have been raised by hon. Members in this debate.

Above all, it is important that we do not see India as just another Asian nation. Both UKTI and the Foreign Office have tended to regard Asia as just one area, which is what we tend to do with eastern Europe as well; we see it as an homogenous area rather than recognising its great historical importance. One of the issues that I hear time and again, particularly where our companies are competing against German companies, is that the German embassies based in India, China or South Korea recognise that their role is not to be some sort of propagandist for their country but to drill down and work out who is really important in the local community. Therefore, it is important to have attached to the embassies people who are there for many years, developing long-term relationships.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour) Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not give way, because other Members wish to speak. There is a lot of doom and gloom at the moment. We have seen today that our economy has contracted by 0.2% in the past three months, which I suspect may be the precursor to a fully fledged recession in this country in the next few months. Clearly, there are major problems in the eurozone market, which are not going to go away any time soon. In fact, I fear that they will be there for a long time to come, because there is not the political will to drive forward.

As a result, it is perhaps easy to be gloomy about the economic situation. One of the interesting things about the IMF report yesterday was that it was presented as being very negative, but even the most pessimistic scenario suggested that there would be global growth of 3.3% next year. Indeed, some 4% was suggested during 2011.

In a conversation with one of the two Chinese law firms that have opened in London in the past couple of years I mentioned the global economic recession. A partner, who was a Chinese native with perfect English, smiled and said, “Back home, we call it the north Atlantic crisis”. There is a very important lesson for us to learn. Amid all that doom and gloom, let us get out there and recognise that we have great strengths. In relation to India, some of the important issues have already been mentioned. We clearly have some good connections on the manufacturing side, especially in the technology and bio-technology sphere. There is much that India can teach us. Nehru has that legacy of those five great technology universities that remain a great success.

The Minister has done a phenomenal amount of work in this area in often difficult circumstances. Privately, he knows that I do not entirely support our immigration policy and I suspect that, behind closed doors, he has some sympathy with my views. We need to be a beacon for the brightest and the best. We must encourage young Indian, South Korean and Chinese people to come to this country. If they spend two or three years as students here, they will be ambassadors for this country for the rest of their lives. I am afraid that our policy on the headline figures is wrong. [Interruption.] I do not wish totally to eliminate the Minister’s career, and I am sure that he has a few words to say.

David Willetts (Minister of State (Universities and Science), Business, Innovation and Skills; Havant, Conservative) I completely support the policies of the Government of which I am a Member. There is no numerical limit on the number of overseas students coming to study in Britain, provided that they have the proper qualifications and they are going to attend a legitimate higher education institution.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) I do understand that. Will the Minister also recognise, though, that the message is that this country is not entirely open to those brightest and best people? We must have a message that we are open not only for business but for the brightest and best to come to this country.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West, Conservative) rose —

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) If my hon. Friend will excuse me, I will not give way because others really do wish to speak. As a London Member of Parliament, I believe that if we are to exploit these connections with India, we urgently need to invest in our infrastructure—what I am about to say now will give John McDonnell some satisfaction—which means a 21st-century airport. Even before Boris Johnson talked about an estuary airport on Boris’s island, I was a great believer in an entirely new airport. Patching and mending either Heathrow or Gatwick is not the right solution. A new airport will be one of the most positive messages that we can put across. We want to attract the brightest and best, particularly out of Asia. An estuary airport will provide the dozens of flights that we need each and every night to come through from those countries to land in London without disturbing the constituents of the hon. Gentleman or of many other London MPs. Thank you, Mr Walker, for allowing me to make a brief contribution.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) Another very important area, particularly given the common language—the official language in India is English—is intellectual property. Given the passion for sport, there is an opportunity to export premier league rights and other things. We are increasingly able to export a huge amount of animation and other UK products, not just to India, but to other parts of Asia.