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British MP for greater cooperation with India

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May 21, 2005 14:12 IST

Britain should collaborate with India to explore the "huge opportunity" offered by its expertise in medicine, science and technology as also ensure smooth transfer of Indian professionals, a leading lawmaker in London has said, while flaying entry restrictions and heavy cost of visas for Indian students.

Peter Luff, Assistant Chief Whip of the opposition Conservative Party also told the House of Commons that he wanted to see India get an early membership in the UN Security Council, and noted that the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership agreement is yet to be fully implemented.

"We could have joint research in medicine and collaborative ventures between medical institutions, all on a long-term basis, but it does not seem to be happening like it ought to," Luff told a debate on Queen's speech.

Noting that India has co-operated wholeheartedly with the British authorities on immigration, Luff said Indian companies "are being harassed when they try to bring in short-term workers to many Indian enterprises now active in the UK."

"If the economic relationship between our two countries is to develop, it is very important that we have a fluent and smooth exchange of professionals," he said adding several categories of skills needed in the UK, particularly in the IT sector, cannot be included in the points-based system for immigration and work permits being developed by the government.

Luff, a frequent visitor to India, said the country "offers a huge opportunity for Britain, but we are not being ambitious enough and not talking about it enough. British business is not taking it sufficiently seriously."

He asked the government what it was doing to ensure that professionals are treated as a distinct category "so that they and the companies that need them do not suffer from lengthy procedures, long delays and quota limits that a large immigration process necessarily involves."

Noting that there has been a 400 per cent increase over the past four years in the number of Indian university students from whose presence Britain derived huge benefits, he said: "We are making it more expensive for students even to have their visas renewed."

"Perhaps more worryingly, under the voluntary vetting scheme, Indian students are potentially barred from courses in science and technology, subjects on which they have, perhaps, the highest aptitudes. Does the Government have plans to encourage foreign students from India to come to Britain for higher education?

"On medicine, India has world-class medical facilities - I know because I have seen them - and biotechnology and pharmaceutical strengths that would surprise many in this country. Given our strength in those sectors, we should be an ideal partner," the Conservative MP said.

On the comprehensive strategic partnership, Luff hoped "the government are putting their money where their mouth was last September and are giving serious thought to implementation of the partnership's key provisions."

Though the joint declaration pledged to energise collaboration in science and technology, "other countries are already... moving much faster to establish contacts with India to take advantage of its knowledge economy."

"US companies have set up Indian research and development centres, and research there often outclasses work in the parent country," Luff said.

"What is the British Government doing to encourage innovative methods for collaboration in science and technology, and to ensure that we as a nation benefit from that emerging resource?" he asked.
H S Rao in London
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