Lesser-Taught Languages

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:07 pm on 24th March 2015.

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Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham 7:07 pm, 24th March 2015

When the Prime Minister appointed me as his envoy to the central and eastern European diaspora in the United Kingdom, I was obviously very pleased. I am the first British Member of Parliament ever to have been born in Poland. As I said earlier, when I go to Warsaw and speak to representatives of non-governmental organisations, of commercial operations and of the Government, the conversation is completely different when I speak in Polish. People open up and tell me things that they would not normally tell me, and I am able to engage with them in a completely different way.

As a result, I have now asked a lady in Shrewsbury to help me to improve my Polish, and she comes every Saturday to teach me and my daughter, Alexis. Alexis is eight years old, and she is much better at learning the language than I am, as children often are. Alexis had come to me and said, “Daddy, I’m half Polish and I want to learn the language.” That made my heart melt; I was so proud of her. I very much hope that she will do Polish A-level one day, and that she will be able to speak the language fluently. I know that, whatever walk of life she follows—perhaps she will have a business career—knowing a second language will give her a huge advantage. If we are going to remain in the European Union, it is vital that we engage with our political counterparts in their own language.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Nick de Bois. He and I share a passion for British exports; we both come from an exports background. I spent 14 years exporting British goods around the world before I became a Member of Parliament. If we look at the world map, we see that we are exporting most to English-speaking countries but that, surprisingly, there is a huge dearth—a void—of British commercial interests in many parts of the world simply because we do not understand the language. The Prime Minister has set a target of £1 trillion of exports by 2020, which some say it is unachievable. I believe it can be achieved, but we have to help the small and medium-sized enterprises, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North referred. One in five SMEs is exporting and if we can get that to one in four, we will completely wipe out our trade balance deficit. We are not going to get back to substantial economic prosperity in this country unless our SMEs are exporting to countries to which hitherto we have not exported. These languages are of huge importance in that, so I implore the Minister there. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North and I am very grateful for what he has done. I very much look forward to hearing from the Minister about the interventions he is going to make to ensure that these vital language courses stay.