Category Archives: Speeches

Armed Forces Day

It is an honour to speak here today as the duly elected Member of Parliament for Easington and I am delighted to declare my support for our Forces, serving personnel and veterans and their families on Armed Forces Day. It is wonderful that we have a day that recognises the hard work, bravery and commitment of the forces community but of course we need to be supporting them all year round and the Governments must ensure that our Armed Forces are getting a fair deal on pay, welfare, housing and services.

This year marks two important anniversaries, the 35th anniversary of the Falklands War and the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele. The latter conflict saw over 250,000 British soldiers killed and of course we should never forget the 225 British soldiers and airmen that lost their lives while serving their country in the South Atlantic Falklands conflict. The contributions of these brave men and women must be remembered which is why days and events like this one today are absolutely paramount.

I often think MPs in the Houses of Parliament are too quick to put our servicemen and women in harms way without ensuring they have the necessary and appropriate equipment for the job they are asked to do. We must also ensure that when our men and women come back from active duty they are properly supported and that includes ongoing medical care and supported housing where there needs requirement, including when they leave the services. It is an disgrace that as many as 9000 veterans are homeless and living on the streets. Veterans are a huge part if the Forces community and I am backing the proposal of several measures to support service personal in the transition back to civilian life and to legislate against discrimination against veterans. No-one, man or woman, should face discrimination for their service in our Armed Forces.

Although we have a great team of dedicated volunteers locally, I am supporting the calls for the creation of a Veterans’ Register. This would mean no ex-servicemen or women coming out of the services fall through the net and no-one is left to fend for themselves. The problems faced by veterans should not be underestimated; suffering from PTSD and other medical problems due to their service can be particularly hard and we should work together to support them after their outstanding work for our country. I also support proposals for a Veterans’ Interview Programme which is designed to work with employers and businesses to guarantee a job interview for ex-service personnel. I further offer my support for the Homes Fit for Heroes initiative which will offer free home insulation to disabled veterans and will continue to encourage business, local authorities and community groups to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant. We can work together to welcome back our servicemen and women and treat them with the respect they deserve.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body must be allowed to make recommendations on pay rises for our Armed Forces. There has been additional pressure put on the incomes of Forces families from increases in National Insurance, changes in tax credits and increases in rental charges for those in Service Family Accommodation. It is vital that a career in the Armed Forces continues to provide for those in it and that it is attractive to our best and brightest. Crucial to this is ensuring that our Service Personnel are properly paid for the work they do. We have seen historically high outflow rates and recruitment and retention problems in specific vocations, particularly pilots and engineers. We need to re-examine retention and recruitment policies in order to combat this. We must work together to push for a better deal for those in our Armed Forces.

Finally, I want to praise the hard work of our councillors like Dave McKenna and his team, it is easy to forget how time consuming and difficult it is to organise an event for Armed Forces Day. Without their efforts Armed Forces Day simply wouldn’t be possible; so I thank them for that.

Thank you for your kind attention.


Seaton Holme

seaton-holmeI am delighted to have been invited to say a few words and to congratulate Eileen Hopper on the completion of her third book – this is a wonderful history of East Durham, Easington and Seaton Holme.

I think we should also take the opportunity to thank Eileen for her services to the local community.

I understand that as one of the remaining founding members of Easington Village Parish Council, Eileen will be standing down in May after 34 years of service.

The fact we are here today is testament to the hard work of Easington Village Parish Council, and all of those within this community who came together to preserve this wonderful building.

I am fond of saying that we take so much for granted.

This is true today.

It would be difficult to conceive of this book on Seaton Holme, had this building been lost to history.

The mental pictures I have of Seaton Holme as a crumbling structure, struts holding up the building, floors, walls and rooves in a state of dereliction.

I think Eileen was right to describe the task of restoration as “an impossible dream”

There was nothing inevitable about the transformation of Seaton Holme.

As reported by the Daily Telegraph a newspaper I am not often found quoting:

“A parish council whose main task is the upkeep of a village green and playing fields is buying one of England’s most historic houses. This is a major triumph for the nine-member Easington Village Parish Council that have already raised £250,000 towards the cost of repairs.”

The fortunes of Seaton Holme have ebbed and flowed with those of Easington, but its past, and future has been determined and safeguarded by those who care about our community.

We should not underestimate the foresight and scale of ambition that resulted in the restoration of Seaton Holme, and Eileen was right to describe it as “the jewel in the crown of East Durham”.

The book is fascinating, showing how Seaton Holme has served our community from time immemorial.

However, I am delighted that I have the opportunity to thank those here today who have ensured that Seaton Holme will continue to serve the community for many years to come as a well-known structural landmark of unique historic importance not just to Easington and East Durham but to the North of England.

Seaham High School – Memorial Dedication to the men of Seaham Colliery who gave their lives in the service of our country


I was honoured to be asked to speak at a very moving memorial dedication at the new Seaham High School built on the site of Seaham Colliery.

The inscription reads:

“Dedicated to the men of Seaham Colliery who made the ultimate sacrifice in work and in conflict, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them”

This is the text of my speech

“The plaque recognises the unique sacrifice made by the community of Seaham, in conflict and at work, which has shaped not only our community but our country.

At its peak and on the eve of the war in 1914, Seaham Colliery employed over 3,000 men and boys, and alongside other pits in our area such as the Vane Tempest, Dawdon, and Murton, the mining industry created and sustained our communities for successive generations.

The principles and values forged within Seaham Colliery, and mines across our country – self-reliance, solidarity, and comradeship – were the same values we needed in our country’s darkest hours, during the First and Second World War.

This memorial is in a unique place of remembrance, steeped in our history and heritage, and is a link between our past, and our future.

We should not forgot the sacrifice that was made underneath the ground we stand on today.

We should remember William Knox, George Dixon, and John Brittle, aged just 10, 12 and 13, children from Seaham who lost their lives in this colliery.

They are not unique but their sacrifice and those of countless other children advanced the cause of compulsory education and the end of child labour.

The Durham Mining Museum list the names of nearly 400 people aged from 7 to 71, who lost their lives at Seaham Colliery, and it is through their sacrifice, life experiences, and activism that we live in the society we have today.

We take so much for granted – but all our rights, the right to go to school, to have a safe workplace, and to live in a free and democratic country – these rights were not given to us, but were hard won, and to protect and defend them people in our community, and across our country, have made the ultimate sacrifice.

We will remember that sacrifice on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month and on Remembrance Sunday.

We will remember all those who fought to create a better society at home, and then in 1914, and in 1939, fought to defend and protect our future.

It is our responsibility to honour that sacrifice, build on their work and use the opportunities we have available to us.

I am pleased that on the site of Seaham Colliery, we have our new school.

I hope you will be inspired by all those who have gone before us, and use your time at Seaham High School, to honour their sacrifice through remembrance and hard work.”

Supported Housing Debate

Opposition Day Debate – Supported Housing
Wednesday 21 July

Grahame M. Morris (Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)

Before I move the motion, I take the opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and members of his team to their posts.

I beg to move,

That this House notes that the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people in specialist housing, including elderly people and people who are homeless, disabled or fleeing domestic violence; believes that this will have harmful effects on current and future tenants of these specialist housing schemes; further notes that there is already a significant shortfall in this type of housing provision across the country; notes that charities, housing associations, councils and others have made Government Ministers aware of the damaging impact these cuts will have on tenants and the financial viability of these schemes and that the Government’s proposal to mitigate these cuts with discretionary housing payments will not compensate for these cuts; notes that the Government’s own evidence review into the impact of its decision, commissioned in December 2015, has yet to be published; notes that the Government has postponed the implementation of these cuts for new tenants to April 2017 but plans to fully roll out its planned cuts to housing benefit in April 2018; and therefore calls on the Government to exempt supported housing from its planned housing benefit cuts and to consult fully with supported housing providers to identify ways in which all vulnerable people who need supported housing can access it.

Six months ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) led an Opposition Day debate on the Government’s decision to cap housing benefit support for vulnerable people in specialist housing. The decision will affect elderly citizens, our armed forces veterans, those with disabilities, people with learning difficulties and people with mental health problems. It will hit homeless people and it will jeopardise the safety of people fleeing domestic violence.

Following pressure from the Opposition Benches, and concerns raised by Members on the Government Benches, there was an interesting debate last week led by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous).

A campaign has been mounted across the country by community groups and housing providers. I was pleased that the Government agreed to delay the implementation of the cap, but I press Ministers now to go one step further. They must reverse their decision to slash housing benefit for a huge range of vulnerable people living in supported housing.

What kind of country would we be in if we abandoned the most vulnerable in our society?

What kind of message will it send, not just to the country and to vulnerable people but to observers around the world, about the priorities of this Government?

What credibility will be left for the outgoing Prime Minister’s repeated assertion that the Government would not balance the books on the backs of the poorest?

Unless Ministers reverse that destructive decision, that is precisely what they will be doing. I am willing to give way to the Secretary of State if he is prepared to stand at the Dispatch Box, say that he will reverse the decision and make the announcement that we are all hoping for. To implement that decision would be a damning legacy for the former Prime Minister and a broken promise to those who can least afford it.

The decision is not just detrimental to the most vulnerable members of society; in purely financial terms, it makes no sense.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is becoming more difficult for people to get housing benefit, and that in some instances, it might not be adequate?

Grahame M. Morris

Indeed, that is the case. The groups I originally listed are some of the most vulnerable in society—they are people who should be protected and who require supported housing. If the Government proceed on their intended course, some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people will be further disadvantaged, and the cost to the taxpayer and the Exchequer will be greater.

The Government’s proposal does not make financial sense, and it leaves the providers of supported housing in an invidious position. I know that housing providers—I have met many of them—breathed a collective sigh of relief when the decision to cap support was delayed pending a review, but they are still left in a very precarious position, with the sword of Damocles hanging over the services they provide.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne pointed out in a debate in the House on 27 January, unless the Government reverse this pernicious proposal, 156,000 units of supported and sheltered housing may have to close.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have received a letter from the New Charter housing group, which operates social housing in the Tameside part of my constituency. New Charter hits the nail on the head when it says that, as a result of this proposal, it

“will not have the income to sustain the provision of supported housing” and “will inevitably see the closure of some schemes.” It adds: “Many of these supported and sheltered schemes” in Tameside will “become financially unviable”.

Is that not exactly what will happen up and down the country if these cuts continue?

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point in a very concise way. [Interruption.] A member of the Government is saying from a sedentary position, “They don’t know,” but the situation is absolutely clear. The point I am trying to make is that housing providers need certainty over their income stream before they can plan for new provision—that is a reasonable point, which I am sure is not beyond the understanding of Ministers with a financial background.

Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con)

Is it not important to do this review, with housing benefit being rolled into universal credit? There is scaremongering that there are going to be cuts, but people do not actually know what the outcome is going to be, so let us have a constructive discussion during the review and give some certainty to the sector.

Grahame M. Morris

With respect, I must point out that Government decisions should be based on evidence. Before embarking on a plan and a policy, it would be sensible to look at the evidence objectively and scientifically. If the hon. Lady wants expert opinion, I am happy to give her that and to quote the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr, who met the then Housing Minister on 18 December last year. He said—this is an expert in the field—that the impact of the local housing allowance cap will be
“stark and make it extremely difficult for any housing associations to develop new supported housing.”

He also said: “providers across the country will be forced to close schemes.”

There is plenty of evidence of that, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House have had representations from housing associations and housing providers.

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that a research project is now looking at this evidence? That conflicts with his motion on the Order Paper, which says:

“the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people”.

That is pure scaremongering.

Grahame M. Morris

It is a matter of fact. It is a kind of chicken-and-egg situation: surely you review the evidence before you announce a decision and then put it on hold.

I believe the review was started in 2015—perhaps the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—so why are we still waiting for the results?

Why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer make an autumn statement that had huge implications for some of the most vulnerable people living in supported housing, without looking at the evidence first?

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Grahame M. Morris

I will give way this once, and then I would like to make a little more progress.

Richard Fuller

I do hope the hon. Gentleman will talk about the 20 years prior to this review, when there was no review.

For many years under the Labour Government, there was no review of what was happening with the additional housing benefit for people in supported housing or of how it was being spent. Does he remember that in the last debate on this issue, many people said they did not know where that money was? They did not know how much money was being spent, what it was being spent on or whether it was effective. Are the Government not therefore absolutely right to conduct this review and then to come forward with their proposals? Is he really not just scaremongering?

Grahame M. Morris

We have to deal with the position we now find ourselves in. Demand for supported housing has changed and increased dramatically. One million people rely on food banks, which certainly was not the case 10 years ago. We have a huge problem with people suffering from mental health problems and learning difficulties. We have a debt to our armed services personnel—our veterans—many of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder and need supported housing.

There are therefore new factors that we need to take account of, but, if I may be so presumptuous, it is surely the job of the Government to commission the studies. [Interruption.]

Well, indeed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne and my noble Friend Lord Beecham—or Jeremy Beecham, as we know him—in the other place have tabled a series of questions and got the answer that Ministers do not know.

That is a bit of an indictment of Ministers, who are supposed to compile an evidence base on which to make decisions.

Looking again at the advice of professionals, we see that the National Housing Federation estimates that a staggering 80% of the total planned new build will not be built.

Richard Fuller

indicated dissent.

Grahame M. Morris

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but this is—[Interruption.] In practical terms it means that 9,270 specialist homes will not be built—[Interruption.] I will tell the hon. Gentleman why that is, because he is chuntering.

Richard Fuller

I’m sceptical.

Grahame M. Morris

Sorry, he is sceptical.

The reason is that providers need certainty; without certainty they cannot proceed. Often, they are raising funding for these schemes—I can see the Minister for Housing and Planning nodding in agreement—and they need certainty when going to the market. Where there is uncertainty, they cannot raise the necessary funding. On that basis, as responsible organisations—they are a mixture of local authorities, housing associations, charities, charitable trusts and so on—they cannot reasonably go on to build the supported housing units I think everyone in the House agrees we need.

There is another effect as well.

That situation, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the construction industry. The jobs that would have been created, and that I think we all want, will not now happen. This is an important sector, and we should be growing it, not allowing it to contract. At a time when house building outside London remains in the doldrums, that will be another setback for the industry and the economy.

How on earth can Ministers expect supported housing providers to continue, when they know that spending cuts and other policy decisions have already hit people living in supported housing schemes?

Supported housing provides vital help for tens of thousands of people across this country. It is mark of a decent, civilised society that services such as this exist in the first place. They play a crucial role in providing a safe and secure home with support so that people can live independently and others can get their lives back on track. As I mentioned, that includes supporting ex-servicemen and women to find a stable home, including those suffering from post-traumatic problems, mental health needs and physical disability needs.

I remind the House of the armed forces covenant, which sets out the relationship between the nation, the Government and the armed forces. It recognises that the nation as a whole and this House in particular have a moral obligation—I call it a debt of honour—to members of the armed forces and their families. It establishes how they should expect to be treated and how we should expect to treat them.

I am an eternal optimist—I am a Sunderland supporter and we have escaped four times—but if Ministers do not do a U-turn today, they will be breaking that covenant with our veterans and those who have given so much in service to their country.

In addition to ex-servicemen and women, many older people also rely on supported housing to maintain their independence. These elderly citizens have worked all their lives and paid their taxes, only to find in the autumn of their lives that their Government are turning their back on them. Personally, I think that that is morally indefensible and a betrayal of a generation that gave us the welfare state and the national health service.

I know that some of my hon. Friends are going to address the issue of victims of domestic violence, who are another important group. Over time, a number of Members—not just Opposition Members, but Government Members—have raised concerns about the closure of homes for victims of domestic violence. I understand that at least 34 such establishments have closed, and I am advised by housing associations that all eight in my own region are at risk of closure, including that in my own constituency.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about domestic violence refuges, but this Government committed £40 million in the autumn statement for services for victims of domestic abuse, which is a tripling of funding compared with the previous four years. Does he not welcome that?

Grahame M. Morris

I welcome the Government’s commitment to providing that specific support, but the problem is that the hostels, establishments and places of safety are disappearing. Places of safety are needed, mostly for women, but also for some men, who have suffered violence and threats of death. It would be a terrible indictment of the Government if they allowed such establishments to be closed.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)

On the £40 million, which has yet to be allocated, and the £10 million gift before the election, the bids for money to be allocated to Refuge were submitted with sustainability plans for the future based on housing benefit at its current rate. The Government signed off on every single one of those plans, but then, dishonestly, went back on them.

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful for that instructive intervention.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing up the important issue of domestic abuse services. I am sure that he will agree with the concerns expressed to me by De Gwynedd Domestic Abuse Service and many other agencies that arrangements for abuse sufferers under the age of 35 when they are moving out of refuges may well put victims at risk.

Grahame M. Morris

I completely agree. This is a very real concern that affects the constituencies of Members on both sides of the House. I shudder to think what the consequences will be if these facilities are allowed to close. It would be simple for the Secretary of State to announce from the Dispatch Box that he will do a U-turn on supported housing. The whole House and the country would breathe a sigh of relief if he did that.

Homeless people are another defenceless and vulnerable group who can and do benefit from supported housing. Supported housing for homeless people with complex and multiple needs, such as mental health problems, can help them to make the transition from life on the streets into a settled home. It can help them with education, training, life skills and normal socialisation. It also helps homeless people in desperate circumstances to stabilise their lives, and it can assist them into employment and a stable future. In short, it brings dignity back into homeless people’s lives and enables them to participate fully in society once again. It can also provide huge savings for our criminal justice system.

There has already been a steep rise in rough sleeping since the coalition Government came to power in 2010. That has been caused by a number of factors, not least the combined impact of rising rents, cuts to housing benefit allowances, which have affected younger people in particular, and reductions in services that local authorities can offer to vulnerable people on the brink of homelessness. Unless the Government have a rethink about the housing benefit system, there will be a further rise in homelessness. The inherent cost to the Treasury and society must not be pushed to one side. Are Ministers seriously suggesting that, in the sixth richest economy in the world, this country cannot provide that vital assistance to homeless people?

I have heard Ministers waxing lyrical about the importance of mental health provision, and I absolutely agree with them. It should be a priority and they have said that it must be a higher priority. People with significant mental health needs often have to utilise supported housing—the hon. Member for Waveney made this point in an Adjournment debate last week—to stabilise their lives and live more independently. If the Government’s rhetoric about prioritising mental health means anything, Ministers must not proceed with the plans to slash housing benefit for supported housing.

People with learning disabilities also need supported housing. I declare an interest, because I have an association with Mencap and Golden Lane Housing. In fact, I met the previous Minister, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who is in his place, to discuss some specific points. If Ministers are really serious about helping people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties to maximise their independence and to exercise choice and control over their lives, they cannot possibly countenance these cuts.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)

I remember that meeting, which made it clear why this review cannot be rushed. Many unique and different challenges have to be supported through supported housing, and it is right and proper that the Government do not rush this. Crucially, support in the short term remains in place. That view has been echoed by Denise Hatton, the chief executive of the YMCA, who has said:

“It is positive that the Government has listened to the concerns of the sector and we welcome the fact it has taken appropriate action to protect supported housing.”

We cannot rush this, because that is how mistakes will happen.

Grahame M. Morris

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for the courteous way in which he met the delegation from Mencap. As a basic principle, however, surely we should compile the evidence and assess it before making a decision, but the Government have made an announcement, and that has introduced uncertainty. That is why schemes have been cancelled and why housing providers are giving notice of their intention to close facilities. A basic principle needs to be applied. The amount of time that the review has taken—I think it is of the order of 19 months or so—is another issue. Does it really have to take that long to have an impact study on which the Government can base their policy?

I will make progress because a lot of right hon. and hon. Members want to take part and I do not want to stifle their contributions. In my opening remarks, I said that these cuts make no financial sense. I remind Ministers that the Government’s own Home and Communities Agency has found that supported housing provision has a net positive financial benefit of about £640 million for the UK taxpayer every year.

Rather than cutting provision for supported housing, the Government should now expand and improve it.

The National Housing Federation has calculated that there is a current shortfall of 15,640 supported housing placements, so there is already considerable pressure on the sector. I have mentioned some of the reasons for that.

Local authorities, housing associations, charities and other providers in this sector really want to deliver the supported housing that the people of this country need, but delivering this ambition is virtually impossible because the Government have made the operating environment so uncertain.

Incredibly, in last year’s autumn statement, the then Chancellor introduced the cap on housing benefit to local housing allowance levels without the Government actually knowing what its impact would be. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne highlighted this point when he spoke at this Dispatch Box in January. Before the debate, he had asked Ministers for evidence about the impact of the decision. Specifically, if memory serves, he asked the Minister—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Marcus Jones)

Not me.

Grahame M. Morris

Perhaps I am mistaken and it was one of the Minister’s colleagues.

My right hon. Friend asked how many elderly people, how many women fleeing from domestic violence, how many people with mental health problems and how many young people leaving care would be affected, but, incredibly, the then Minister for Housing and Planning was not able to provide an answer. If the Government do not know how many people in supported housing are in receipt of housing benefit, how can we expect them to make a decision? It is absolutely vital to have such information to hand to make an informed decision. Ministers did not know what a profound impact their decision would have on providers and on the people who depend on these services, and it seems that they still do not know, unless they are just not answering questions on this.

To be fair, Ministers did commission an evidence review, but that was back in January 2015. Even though the review had not reported on its findings at the time of the last autumn statement, the then Chancellor still ploughed on regardless. Six months ago, my right hon. Friend was assured that the review would be ready later this year. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), teased us in the Adjournment debate last week by suggesting that the review would be published imminently.

Did Ministers know what the impact would be when the Chancellor included this decision in his autumn statement?

They did not know what the impact of their decision would be—that is for sure—when the issue was debated in this House six months ago.

That raises the question: what is happening, and when will we know?

When it comes to making policy, Ministers are old hands at making policy in an evidence-free zone. The use of evidence to develop policy seems to be an alien concept to the Government, but I would have thought it was in the natural order of things. This is something of a travesty. Although the Government’s evidence review seems to have ground to a halt, Ministers cannot claim to be completely ignorant. After all, the providers of supported housing have made their feelings known. I am sure that Ministers—even those in the new ministerial team—have met housing associations, charities and providers. We have met them regularly, and they have made their views absolutely plain.

I have mentioned the views of David Orr. He has said that housing

“providers across the country will be forced to close schemes.”

He has described the difference between supported housing and general needs social housing and explained why rents in supported housing are higher. He has pointed out that “the uncertainty about the future approach is already leading to supported housing under development being delayed or cancelled because of the long lead times involved in investment and development.”

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. He mentioned an “evidence-free zone”, but all I have noted so far from his speech are continual references to David Orr of the National Housing Federation. There are more voices in this industry than his. Is not the process the Government are going through about taking on those voices, and about gathering and discussing the information? There is not therefore an evidence-free zone.

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful to the Minister—[Interruption.] I am sure it is just a matter of time. This is a terribly confusing time.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

He is absolutely right that there is a plethora of housing providers. I have met and received evidence from Mencap, Golden Lane Housing, Rethink Mental Illness and Changing Lives, as well as various housing associations, such as North Star and the Durham Aged Mineworkers Homes Association, and the National Housing Federation itself, all of which have raised concerns about supported housing in particular sectors. I have not listed those supporting members of the forces, but there is a similar thread and strand bringing this all together.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab)

Before my hon. Friend finishes his long list, which could possibly be even longer, may I remind him that the YMCA is desperately concerned about these proposals? We should place that concern on the record. I cannot believe anyone in this House wishes to destroy all the good work that the YMCA has undertaken.

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out what an important role the YMCA plays in providing supported accommodation for young people, particularly those leaving care and those in the younger age bracket.

It is important that we look at the evidence. I do not think that the sums add up. Ministers seem to be drawn to an evidence-free policy, but surely it should be obvious to them that a local discretionary scheme will not work.

Ministers have previously said that discretionary schemes can assist in mitigation, but that does not alleviate the uncertainty. Providers of supported housing need certainty in the rental stream to fund the cost of managing these schemes and to service the loan charges incurred in developing them in the first place. Any reasonable person—let alone a Minister—will know that people cannot rely on a fluctuating income stream to service the cost of a loan. If Ministers persist with this ham-fisted plan—let me call it that—existing supported housing schemes will close, new supported housing schemes will be cancelled and some of the most vulnerable people will be left to fend for themselves.

The new Prime Minister once talked about the Conservative party as the “nasty party”. When she spoke on the steps of No. 10, she said she wanted

“a country that works for everyone”.

The Government have an opportunity today to prove that the Prime Minister meant what she said just seven days ago, but if the newly appointed Ministers refuse to listen to reason and proceed with these callous cuts, they will be demonstrating that the Conservatives have not really changed and truly deserve their label as the “nasty party”.

I commend the motion to the House.

Pubs Code and the Adjudicator

Due to time constrains I had to shorten my comments, below is the full speech I had hoped to make during the debate.

I must start by commending the hard work and dedication of campaigners which make up the British Pub Confederation.

We have had years of consultations, investigations and inquiries.

However, without your efforts I do not believe we would be here today, just a few weeks away from the introduction of a new Pub Code and adjudicator.

These changes have been a long time coming, and unfortunately too many viable pubs, and working men’s clubs, within our communities have called last orders because of unfair and unsustainable rents, ties and profit share arrangements.

This has left tenants unable to secure a fair income, even in successful pubs, as well as some struggling on less than the minimum wage despite many hours of work.

The repercussions of pub closures are felt across communities who not only lose vital community assets, but the jobs and contributions that businesses make to the local and wider economy.

The pub and brewing industry contributes £22 billion to the UK economy, as well as sustaining nearly a million jobs, particularly for young working adults.

And there is a multiplying effect with successful pubs not only directly employing staff but also supporting jobs throughout the supply chain, in retail, agriculture and brewing.

The Pubco Business Model has weakened, not strengthened the industry.

The hope is that the new Pub Code and Adjudicator will address the inherent unfairness in the exploitative practices of the Pubco model.

It should be a step which strengthens the industry ensuring tenants will receive a fair living and reward for their work, viable pubs remaining open, and hopefully we can halt the decline which has seen significant numbers of pubs close over the last 20 years.

As we approach the introduction of the Pub Code, I note that the industry and the government are keen to “draw a line under the past”, emphasise that “things have changed”, and that “all sides have to work together to move forward”.

I am yet to see this change.

Pubco’s are working hard; not to deliver fairness for tenants, but to circumvent the Pub Code and legislation before it comes into force.

The Government cannot be complicit in such behaviour.

However, the decision to appointment Paul Newby as the Pubs Adjudicator has not endeared them or won any trust from tenants.

Concerns remain that loopholes contained within the draft Pub Code will undermine the legislation and must be removed from the final version of the Code, if we are to fulfil our promise to tenants.

The Government will undermine the fundamental principle of the Pub Code – that tied tenants are no worse off than free of tie tenant – if they allow Pubcos to force tenants to relinquish long term leases, should they opt for a Market Rent Only option.

This undermines the assurances offered by BIS that tenants taking the Market Rent Option should not be subject to discrimination by the Pubco.

The Government must make it clear that if a tenant choses a Market Rent Option they will be entitled to the same length of agreement, terms and conditions as their old tenancy.

Otherwise, the right to trigger the Market Rent Only option will be undermined, and such tenants would be discriminated against by the very nature of the agreement.

The other area of concern is the Market Rent waiver in exchange for investment.

I note that one of the concerns Pubco’s are keen to emphasis is the risk to investment by the Pub Code.

I understand campaigners have acknowledged that where there is real substantial investment, a limited waiver could be acceptable if entered into willingly by both parties, but not something forced upon tenant to allow a Pubco to void their responsibilities under the Code.

And, it must be real investment – not the continuation of the current system, in which Pubco’s are trying to portray tenants’ investment as investment from the company.

The Minister will be aware of the issue given that the BIS impact assessment highlights the FSB survey which found that 68% of their members had not received any investment from their pub company in the last 12 months”.

Risks are placed firmly at the feet of tenants, with lease terms and conditions often stipulating they are liable for repairs, maintenance and improvements.

And, where investment is received from the pub company, tenants are often required to invest themselves.

This so called investment from the pub company is then usually recovered through higher rents during the course of the lease.

I believe most reasonable people would see this more as a loan, rather than an example of investment.

Any real investment usually occurs when a pub is vacated as money is required to ensure the property can be leased to a new tenant.

There are real concerns about the waiver for investment, and the loophole in chapter 12 of the Draft Pub Code where new tenants can be asked to sign such a waiver.

This risks making the Market Rent Option an artificial right, open to abuse by Pubcos, who would refuse to let pubs to those unwilling to sign the waiver.

It would also create a perverse incentive where existing tenants are forced out and replaced with tenants who have been forced to forfeit their rights.

The Government need to show they do not support such actions, and implement a number of safeguards to ensure any waiver is limited, reasonable and agreed willingly by both parties.

Waivers should be restricted to tenants who have been in a substantive agreement for two years and there should be no option of waivers for investment for new tenants.

The Adjudicator should also have the power to void waivers following a complaint and inquiry so action can be taken in circumstance where promised investment does not meet the waiver criteria.

Failure to address these concerns could effectively nullify the Pub Code and lead to new exploitative practices.

Despite the calls to work together and draw a line under the past, Pubco’s have been busy working hard to find ways to circumvent the Pub Code.

Actions included:

Pressuring tenants to take up rent reviews, in advance of any scheduled review, before the implementation of the Pub Code.

Coercing tenants to give up long leases and take up new five year contracts with no market rent option and no renewal rights.

Bribing tenants to sign up to new agreements without a market rent option, through reducing rents.

Seeking to force tenants onto five year non-renewable tenancies, and threatening to only offer such agreements, to avoid their tenants having their legal rights to trigger the Market Rent Only option.

And, this is from an industry that is telling us that they want to move forward and work together, while at the same time finding new ways to exploit their tenants.

The Government must make it clear that any attempts to circumvent the legislation will dealt with by the Pub Code and that there will be serious repercussions for any Pubco seeking to engage in such practices.

The Pub Code is about redressing the balance of power and the exploitative practices of Pubcos, and if they continue to seek new ways to exploit their tenants, we will have to assess the powers and duties of the Pub Code and the Adjudicator.

The actions of Pubco’s, in the past, and today, will require a diligent and effective Pubs Adjudicator, who commands the confidence of tenants.

After all, it is tenants who have been exploited over the years and they are looking to the government to appoint someone impartial and willing to give them a fair fighting chance.

This cannot be Paul Newby.

I do not call into question Mr Newby’s integrity, but it is difficult for tenants to have confidence in an individual who has received a significant income from acting on behalf of Pubcos.

From the outset there will be a perceived lack of fairness.

It was for this reason, the majority of us thought the Adjudicator would be someone from outside the pub sector, a person with no real or perceived conflicts of interest and could command confidence from across the industry.

Again, this is not Mr Newby.

He has acted personally on behalf of at least three Pubco’s he must now regulate, and his company has work on behalf of all six large pub companies.

Mr Newby has personally acted for pubcos against tenants campaigning on pub valuation related cases.

Mr Newby has not even commenced his job and we already have to ask about his intention once he leaves to role of adjudicator.

If he returns to the industry in which he has made his career his decisions are inevitably going to be influenced as there will be a need for him to maintain good relations with the Pubco’s.

I am concerned that every decision in which he agrees with a Pubco is going to be questioned, whether his judgement is fair or not, because of his long standing connection to large Pub companies.

Mr Newby should never have placed in this position.

What is more concerning is that throughout the entire appointment process, BIS seems to have been oblivious as to the reaction such an appointment would cause.

The Minister seemed shocked at the dispatch box a few weeks ago that anyone could question the appointment.

Was it not obvious to the Minister that a man with such close connections to the Pub Companies may not be seen as impartial?

If the Government insist on the appointment of Mr Newby, they will be purposely undermining the Office of the Pubs Adjudicator from day one.

The Pub companies see Mr Newby as their man, and worse still, tenants agree.

I am worried that the Minister cannot see that this situation is simply untenable.

I believe if the Minister truly wants the Pub Code to work, she will need to appoint an adjudicator that can command confidence across the industry.

She should apologise to Mr Newby and re-run the recruitment process.

The pub and brewing industry make an immense contribution to our local communities and our economy.

The drive behind the Pub Code and the role of the Adjudicator is to strengthen the industry, and should be seen as a step towards addressing the decline and number of pub closures over the last twenty years.

We need to get this right first time, otherwise we will be here again in the not too distant future calling for reform of the Pub Code and Adjudicator.

The Government have the opportunity to enforce the legislation passed with the overwhelming support of parliament.

Close the loopholes,

Protect tenants being brow-beaten into giving up their rights,

And, restore confidence in the Adjudicator’s office by appointing someone who can command support from all sides of the industry.

Future Funding for Supported Housing

Due to time constrains I had to shorten my comments, below is the full speech I had hoped to make during the debate.

I would like to thank North Star Housing Group and their Chief Executive Angela Lockwood who provide specialist and supported housing within my constituency.

They have underlined the difficulty they and other providers in the specialist and supported housing sector are experiencing due to the uncertainty caused by the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement when he announced that housing benefit in the social sector will be capped at the relevant local housing allowance.

The Minister will now be aware of the impact of this statement which has caused immense uncertainty and put at risk vital supported and specialist housing for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, such as the elderly, the homeless, those living with mental illness or learning disabilities, and women fleeing domestic violence.

I would be appalled if this was a considered policy decision brought forward in the knowledge of the impact it would have on supported and specialist housing.

For this reason, I hope the Chancellor would acknowledge his error of proposing a policy without consultation, evidence or an impact assessment and correct his mistake through exempting supported housing from these cuts.

We need urgent action as the Chancellor’s statement is already having an impact.

The building of thousands of vital supported homes are already being delayed or scrapped due to the uncertainty caused by the Chancellor.

If pursued, the National Housing Federation have stated that 82,000 specialist homes would become unviable, which is 41% of this type of housing.

A recent survey by Inside Housing revealed that 95% of supported housing providers have stated they would have to close at least some of their schemes, with one in four stating they would have to close all their supported housing.

The extent of these figures is worrying, particularly in my area, where there are 6450 supported and specialist units across County Durham supporting a range of people from the elderly, those with mental, physical and learning disabilities who are able to maintain their independence, people recovering from substance abuse trying to rebuild their lives, or women fleeing from domestic violence.

The short term financial savings the Government are hoping to achieve will quickly evaporate, as supported and specialist housing helps to reduce crime and eases pressure on already overstretched health and social care services.

Rather than adding to the deficit, the Homes and Communities Agency has found that investment in supported housing saves the taxpayer £640 million annually.

This has been one of the failures of the Government’s deficit reduction programme which is solely focused on short term cuts.

A little forethought and cross-departmental co-operation between the Home Office, Health and Communities and Local Government and we could be discussing how extending investment within supported housing could be a positive deficit reduction measure that would improve the lives of people accessing these facilities as well as easing pressure on vital public services we all rely on from the police, NHS to local government.

However, the agenda the Government wants to pursue is cuts, irrespective of their wider costs, either to the deficit or to the health and well-being of the individual.

Even on these crude measures, supported and specialist housing have already shouldered a considerable burden with the National Audit Office finding that between 2011-15 funding for housing related support decreased by 45%.

The sector is at a tipping point and further cuts will simply make these much needed services unviable.

I am particularly concerned as in my constituency we risk losing the only Women’s Refuge within East Durham, at a time when we need spaces in such units expanding rather than being lost.

The Women’s Refuge in my constituency is a new facility consisting of seven units. It was built with the support of a government grant, meaning that a short term housing benefit cut risks undermining previous government investment.

The scheme is very modern being only eight years old, it is well used, always full and oversubscribed. Again, based on the success of this scheme, I would have hoped that the government would be examining ways to replicate successful services to support more women and children fleeing domestic violence.

The rent is £245.81, this includes essential service charges and all running costs for communal areas, such as the children’s playroom, all security costs, which the Minister will acknowledge is vital for such services, as well as everyday expenses such as heating and lighting, cleaning, water rates and laundry facilities.

The Local Housing Allowance rate is extremely low in East Durham, just £97.81 for two bedroom accommodation. The annual deficit for this facility would be £46,176 rendering it unviable.

I imagine this problem will be mirrored in many areas where the housing market leads to a low local housing allowance rate, meaning vital services such as women’s refuges will not be able to operate in such areas.

There are no alternatives if this scheme closes.

The government would be forcing women and children to remain in abusive and violent households, resulting in a greater demand on emergency NHS services and police. I cannot calculate the human costs to the health and wellbeing of an individual forced to remain in such circumstances and at a time when two women a week, one every three days is killed by a former or current partner, I simply cannot believe the government would want to potentially cut off their only escape route from a violent and dangerous partner.

Not only will this policy cause immense harm and suffering to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society, but moving people from cost-effective supported accommodation into more expensive health and social care settings will result in additional costs for the taxpayer and place greater strain on public services already operating at breaking point.

I understand the Discretionary Housing Fund has been highlighted as one way to make up the short-fall.

However, this is a totally unsuitable funding mechanism for specialised housing schemes.

What is needed is certainty and the ability to plan and manage services which cannot be achieved if there is a question mark over whether an individual will or will not be funded.

The Discretionary Housing Fund is already over-subscribed and housing providers cannot rehouse vulnerable people not knowing from one six month period to the next if their rent will be covered.

As we have seen with the bedroom tax, Discretionary Housing payments do not provide a long term solution, with less than 25% of people hit by the bedroom tax receiving support.

The government have made available an additional £70 million in 2018, however, how does the Minister know if this figure will be sufficient.

Ignoring the fact that supported and specialist housing providers have stated they cannot operate using this funding model, the government have no idea or basic information regarding the number of people in supported housing in receipt of housing benefit.

I am pleased that research is now being conducted but despite commencing in December 2014, the completion of this research has been delayed.

Can the Minister give any indication when this research will be completed?

I hope the Minister can acknowledge that it is not acceptable to announce a policy without the most basic information on costs and the numbers affected.

The evidence individual members have been receiving has been overwhelming and I hope we can arrive at a sensible decision to ensure these vital supported and specialist housing services are not only exempted from the Local Housing Allowance but are supported in a way that they can reach more people in need.

We need this issue addressing as a matter of urgency, projects are being delayed or scrapped and there are contracts up for renewal for the commissioning of support services which cannot proceed while uncertainty remains.

I am not immune to the Minister’s need to tackle the rising cost of housing benefit, and while we share the same aim to reduce these costs, we fundamentally disagree on how it should be achieved.

I am perplexed as to the reasons why the government solution is always to penalise and punish the poorest and most vulnerable in society, while doing nothing to address the underlying causes.

The rising cost of housing benefit is a result of escalating housing costs driven by ever increasing private sector rents, and the lack of any alternative as successive governments have sold off and failed to build and replace affordable social housing to rent.

We will not address the housing crisis by penalising the vulnerable or cutting funding for supported and specialist housing.

The simple way out of the crisis is to build, but, build properties over all types of tenures, not just starter homes at costs which are out of reach to many.

We need to build homes which are affordable to buy but also social housing with affordable rents, on a scale we have not seen for over half a century.

While the government continue to tinker at the edges of the housing crisis, which is leading to ever increasing housing benefit costs, we always run the risk of ill-conceived and dangerous policies such as the bedroom tax and now the attack on supported and specialised housing services.

I hope on this occasion the Minister will see the error of his ways, or should it be the error by the Chancellor, and will correct this mistake by ensuring supported and specialised housing providers are exempted from housing benefit cuts, and are supported in providing the vital services which we need in all constituencies across the country.

Cabin Air Safety and Aerotoxic syndrome

G.MorrisI would like to thank my Trade Union, Unite, for their excellent and detailed briefing on this important issue.

It is also important to recognise the invaluable work they are doing to protect passengers and cabin crew from toxic fume events in view of the malaise we see from airlines, regulator and governments in tackling the issue of cabin air contamination.

It would be remiss of me not to highlight Unite’s fume event register and helpline which are available on their website.

We need evidence from the public and cabin crew who have been affected by fume events.

We need your evidence, because if we are not successful in convincing the government to take action and fully investigate this issue, the only option will be a legal redress.
Instead of having to fight airlines, regulators and governments through the courts, I would prefer these organisations to recognise the duty of care they owe to passengers and cabin crew and ensure the safety and risk averse reputation the aviation industry holds dear can be maintained.

All commercial flights suffer the same flaws in which bleed air from the engines can be contaminated with dangerous neurotoxins from heated engine oils and hydraulic fluids.

This unfiltered bleed air is then channelled into cabin to be inhaled by passengers and crew.

The bleed air system is used on all commercial airlines except for the new Boeing 787 Dreamline, which uses a bleed free system.

Bleed free systems are not an industry standard, neither does Boeing’s decision seem to mark the beginning of a transition to the safer system.

These fume events do not occur on every flight.

The much criticised UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Protects and the Environment (COT) estimates that smoke and fume events are reported by pilots on one in every 100 flights.

These figures are a very conservative estimate, as there is an issue of under-reporting, with many fume events not being investigated.

However, using these very conservative estimates of 1 in 100, this would translate into 289 fume events on the US fleet daily. Unfortunately, I do not have the UK fleet figures but would be happy to take an invention if an Hon Member has these to hand.

Taken over a year a supposedly rare event happens far too often, and once you look beyond the US fleet, fume events are placing too many passengers and cabin crew at dangerous risks.
Exposure to contaminated bleed air can have a serious impact on health, particularly for cabin crew who are at greater risk of exposure.

Aircrew reporting an extensive history of exposure are experiencing a range of symptoms, all of which are encompassed by the term aerotoxic syndrome.

However, this is a catch all term, and there are a range of symptoms, which may be acute, short term or chronic and can range from irritation, coughing and fatigue at one end of the spectrum all the way through to cognitive problems, memory impairment, loss of consciousness and many more symptoms in between.

However, I do not believe I am the only one who would be concerned if a pilot in control of an aircraft was experiencing such difficulties when flying and operating the aircraft.
I understand many of the short term health effects of exposure are accepted by many within the airline industry, however, all long term health effects as a result of exposure to contaminated air are being denied.

Clearly, there is a reluctance to acknowledge or investigate contaminated air events as acknowledging the long term health impact will inevitably leave airlines liable for injury and death, and I can only imagine the cost of having to refit and replace the worst offending aircrafts.

However, what value is placed on a life, and airlines should consider their staff and passenger to be more than expendable items.

We need action now, as cabin crew are dying.

A Senior Coroner investigating the death of Pilot Richard Westgate, has issued a ‘Regulation 28 Report’ to prevent further deaths, with the report detailing the following concerns.

1) That organophosphate compounds are present in aircraft cabin air.
2) That the occupants of aircraft cabins are exposed to organophosphates compounds with consequential damage to their health.
3) That impairment to the health of those controlling aircrafts may lead to the death of occupants.
4) There is no real time monitoring to detect such compounds in cabin air.
5) That no account is taken of genetic variation in the human species which would render individuals tolerant or intolerant of the exposure.

In their response to the coroner the Civil Aviation Authority said “there is no positive evidence of a link between exposure to contaminants in cabin air and possible acute and long-term health effects” although it concedes “such a link cannot be excluded”.

I will concede there is a knowledge gap, but the industry, including regulators are relying on a system of denial, rather than fitting the detection systems required to collect the evidence on the true number and concentration of fume events.

I do not believe the industry or the government for that matter would deny the existence of fume events.

The Minister can correct me, but I believe they would also accept that fume events are detrimental to health, while possibly disagreeing on the extent it impacts health.

In view of which I would ask the Minister to support calls for an Independent Inquiry in to the risks and hazards associated with contaminated air.

This will require the introduction of monitoring and use of detection systems for cabin air, so we can all ascertain the true extent of the problem.

We also need a better system to diagnose, treat and compensate workers whose health and wellbeing has been compromised and damaged due to fume events.

Finally, all future aircrafts should be designed ‘bleed free’ to remove the risk of contaminated air from engine oils and hydraulic fluids once and for all.

Ultimately, we need airlines to step up and accept their responsibilities, their duty of care to employees and passengers.

If not them, then regulators need to demand the changes and detection systems required to seek further evidence on fume events and protect cabin crew and passengers.

And, if not them, and in view of their disinterest to date, I ask Ministers to take charge of this issue and ensure this is properly investigated.

Until such time, I do not believe any of us can say with any confidence that air travel is risk free, and that fume events are not a risk to public health.

I ask airlines, regulators and the government, to restore confidence in our aviation industry, carry out the investigation necessary to safeguard passengers and staff to ensure we are not
gambling with their health and wellbeing every time they step on a flight.

RBS and the Future of UK Banking

House of Commons Debate
RBS and the Future of UK Banking
Thursday 5th November


Whose Recovery – Economic Disparities in Older Industrial Areas

Older Industrial Areas: Economic Disparities
Westminster Hall
Thursday 25 June 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in this Session of the new Parliament, Mr Rosindell.

I take this opportunity to thank the Chairman of Ways and Means, who I understand has allocated the time for this important debate. It is significant not only to my constituents and other people living in some of the older industrial areas in England but to similar areas in Scotland and Wales.

Older industrial areas make up a substantial part of Britain. According to the definition used in the report that I will refer to extensively, 96 of the districts in England, Scotland and Wales account for 30% of the population of Great Britain, and these areas have been hard-hit by many years of job losses. I place on record my thanks to the Industrial Communities Alliance for helping me to prepare for today’s debate, and for its informative report, “Whose Recovery?”, which shows how the upturn in economic growth is leaving older industrial areas behind.

I draw the Minister’s attention both to that report and to early-day motion 171, “Industrial Communities Alliance report on the Economic Disparities in Older Industrial Areas”. That was tabled only yesterday, but it has already attracted more than 30 signatures.

The report provides an insight into the challenges faced by former industrial communities in the English regions, Scotland and Wales. It shows that the economic gap between London and former industrial communities continues to widen, not only during difficult economic periods, such as the one that we experienced after the global financial crisis in 2008, but throughout the recession, and even today, as the UK returns to modest growth.

I hope that during this debate the Minister will provide more details regarding the northern powerhouse initiative, which is of special interest to my constituents. In particular, will it be tasked with reducing the immense economic disparities between the north-east and London and the south-east? I welcome the Prime Minister and the Chancellor’s intention to create a northern powerhouse, but I must point out that good intentions will not get us very far. We need the political rhetoric to be translated into practical policies and targeted support for the poorest regional economies.

We need a strong voice in Cabinet as an advocate for our regions. I fear that such a voice is missing, particularly when I read comments by newly appointed Ministers, such as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who questions the existence of the widening economic inequalities between the regions and London, despite the fact that the evidence is absolutely clear and presented very concisely in the report that I have referred to. The first step on the road to recovery is acknowledgement of the problem.

That problem has been evident in the lack of support for my area, and in particular the lack of support from the DCLG for Durham County Council, which is my local authority. The rhetoric about the northern powerhouse has not been reflected in the council’s budget allocation, which has been cut by £250 million—or 40% of its total budget. That situation is mirrored in other local authorities, where there are huge pressures, in other older industrial areas in England, Scotland and Wales. They are experiencing similar problems to those in my area. That reduction in the council’s budget is despite the fact it is providing services and support to some of the most deprived communities in the country, including some in my own constituency of Easington.

The lack of support for the council is not only felt in terms of budget cuts. The recently published County Durham plan outlined ambitious targets to create 30,000 new jobs, build 31,000 new homes and create 500 hectares of space for business, warehouses and office development by 2030. Indeed, the scope of Durham County Council’s ambition has been welcomed by the local business community, and I also welcome it as we seek to promote economic development and prosperity in my constituency and throughout County Durham and the north-east.

However, the plan was dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate for being too ambitious and, despite our best efforts, Ministers refused to intervene to support its bold proposals. We had a debate here in Westminster Hall in the last Parliament on this subject, but it was not until Durham County Council filed legal papers with the High Court for a judicial review that the Government listened and became involved in the issue. My current understanding—perhaps the Minister can give an update on events—is that there is a 30-day stay to Court proceedings, but I am disappointed that the only way to get the Government to engage in economic development plans in County Durham seems to be to seek legal redress, which could have been avoided altogether if the Minister for Housing and Planning, who responded to that debate on 3 March, had been more forthcoming when we originally discussed the matter.

The report, “Whose Recovery?”, by the Industrial Communities Alliance found that the economic upturn since the recession had been much weaker in Britain’s older industrial areas than in London and the south-east. Whereas the number of jobs in London and the south-east was 540,000 higher at the end of 2013 than in 2009, in the older industrial areas the number of jobs was 70,000 lower. Similarly, the rate of growth in private sector employment in older industrial Britain during this period was just a 10th of the rate in London and the south-east.

When I am sitting in the main Chamber and listening to Government Members reciting examples of economic success and private sector employment, I often think that that is not reflected in the area that I represent, or indeed in many of the other older industrial areas, and part of the purpose of this debate is to draw these inequalities and problems to the attention of Government, to hold them to account, and to seek some redress.

Between 2010 and 2014, employment in older industrial areas rose by 230,000, or 2.9%, but during the same period employment in London and the south-east rose by 440,000, or 5.8%. When we look a little deeper at the figures, we see that there is not only a widening gap between the total number of jobs but a higher reliance on part-time work in the older industrial areas. In London and the south-east, virtually all the job growth since 2010 has been in full-time employment. By contrast, in the older industrial areas such as mine, almost a fifth of the increase in jobs has been in part-time jobs. In London and the south-east, the ratio between new full-time jobs and new part-time jobs is 16:1; in areas such as mine, in the older industrial areas in Britain, the ratio is just 4:1, so there is a considerable difference.

Another feature of job growth in older industrial areas has been the rapid rise in the number of people who are self-employed, which accounted for almost 40% of the increase in employment. An impartial observer might think that is a good thing, but I will drill down into this figure. A rising level of self-employment can be an indication of a vibrant economy, but it can also mask fundamental weaknesses in the labour market. This seems to have been confirmed by evidence gathered by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in its self-employment evidence base, which found that in the south a higher proportion of the self-employed are in professional and higher-skilled occupations, whereas in much of the rest of the country, particularly the older industrial areas, more people are self-employed in elementary or low-skill occupations.

I am concerned that self-employment in older industrial areas, along with the expansion of zero-hours contracts, is creating a low-wage, insecure economy that is leading to the further casualisation of the labour market. Disparities in regional economies are deep rooted. In its report, “Northern prosperity is national prosperity”, the Institute for Public Policy Research North noted that

“regional inequalities date back nearly 150 years”—

this is not a new phenomenon—but

“despite some narrowing of the disparities between north and south in the post-war period, since 1985 the UK has had a higher rate of regional divergence than France, Germany, Italy and even the United States.”

It suggests that regional inequalities and disparities, far from being addressed, as they have been in many of our competitor countries in the European Union and in the United States, are getting worse in the United Kingdom.

We have allowed the north and south to pull apart. We should all be concerned about this, because it has led not only to an economic loss but to a loss of life chances for people in the poorest economies, in terms of education, health and income. I say respectfully to the Minister and the Government that there is also an impact on quality of life in London and the south-east, due to overcrowding and congestion.

Addressing the regional economic gap would provide significant benefits for the national economy. Halving the gap between the north and the national average would increase national economic output by £41 billion. If we are to achieve these gains, we need real commitments from the Government, but these are lacking.

I have some figures on transport investment that highlight the problems that we face. IPPR North found huge disparity between infrastructure spending in London and the north-east. London receives £5,426 per resident in capital investment, compared with just £223 per resident in the north-east; and a single project, Crossrail, is earmarked to receive nine times more funding than all the rail projects from the north’s three regions combined.

We are told of the benefits and economic importance of new projects such as High Speed 2, but I suspect that these will have little impact on vast areas of the north. The north-east has been entirely overlooked, with the line ending at Leeds—which many of us who live in the real north believe, with all due respect, is actually the midlands. We think HS2 will offer little practical benefit to the north-east or my constituents. It may have the opposite effect. A Network Rail consultation document suggested that the benefits to my constituents would be a cut in journey times from Durham to London of just 11 minutes by 2033, with the loss of direct services to the capital and slower journey times to major Scottish cities. At a cost ranging between £50 billion and £80 billion, I can think of few policies that are so expensive and likely to deliver so little to my community. A tiny shift in spending to constituencies like mine in east Durham would have a transformative impact on our transport infrastructure, as we seek to achieve our aim to improve connectivity to major lines and increase rail services.

In my constituency, I continue to work towards a new rail station at Horden, on the Seaview site. If the Government had shown the same commitment to my area as they do to London, I could press for an integrated public transport system, the extension of Tyne and Wear Metro and improvements to our bus network, which would expand access to a wider labour market for residents. There would be huge economic benefits to the area locally and to the wider economy.

Another matter of great importance in my constituency is housing. Other hon. Members wish to speak, so I will say less about this than I intended. The villages and towns that make up my constituency were established specifically to serve local collieries in this coal-mining area. The mines have gone, but investment to transform and redevelop the local communities has not followed. This is as true in terms of infrastructure spending on transport and economic development as it is in respect of housing. These issues have recently come to a head in the villages of Horden and Blackhall, following a series of problems experienced by Accent homes, a registered social landlord with properties in these villages. This situation was the subject of an Adjournment debate just before the old Parliament was dissolved. Accent cited the introduction of the bedroom tax as a cause of the fall in demand for its properties. As tenants vacated their Accent properties, the housing associations decided not to let them but to board them up.

It is soul-destroying to watch your community suffer. I invite the Minister and any of her colleagues to Horden and Blackhall to see at first hand the situation in the numbered streets as these properties fall into decay and disrepair. Many former tenants have vacated the area. Homeowners are trapped, unable to sell their property as there is no demand, and they have to live on streets with boarded-up properties, which are a target for antisocial behaviour, vandalism and crime. This situation is replicated elsewhere in the constituency, particularly in areas where private landlords have bought up properties at low cost and are seeking a return, mostly at the taxpayers’ expense, funded through the housing benefit system.

Local residents do not accept the situation. I commend the work of the Horden residents’ association, which has been engaged in meetings and discussions with Accent housing, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, and other private and public sector partners and agencies, to find a way forward. Local councillors do not accept the situation, but the cuts to local authority budgets and the lack of any national housing regeneration fund is holding back the redevelopment of east Durham. This is disappointing, particularly given the level of funding that is available but seems to be diverted almost exclusively towards London and the south-east.

There is immense potential for redevelopment in older industrial areas, including my own in the north-east, especially as the properties that I mentioned are located in an area of immense natural beauty bordering the award-winning east Durham heritage coast—a newly declared nature reserve—and tracking one of the first stretches of the England coast path. These areas of natural beauty are at the forefront of our efforts to promote leisure and tourism on the east Durham heritage coast, but the Minister must accept that these efforts will continue to be hampered due to the deteriorating situation in the villages. Poor, derelict housing will also undermine our efforts to bring forward economic development, which is the only way to create jobs. We need to ensure that local people have skills and training and that those who acquire skills are not forced to move away from the region to find work.

We need to deliver a complete package of housing, transport investment and education if we are to attract new business and industries that will sustain our communities in the future and bring forward the economic development that is needed to narrow the wealth gap between the regions and London. We need a redistribution of economic activity to provide a new purpose for communities such as the ones I represent in east Durham, which have lost their core industry over the past 30 years.

We have had some recent successes. Only last weekend, I was delighted to attend a groundbreaking—a ceremony to mark the start of work on Dalton Park phase 2, which is a £45 million investment that we hope will deliver up to 1,000 new jobs in my constituency— 500 during the construction phase. The new retail and leisure facilities will be very welcome in east Durham and the wider region, after nearly two decades of campaigning by the local community, supported by the local council, to secure the investment.

We need greater economic diversification in east Durham and to grasp all of the opportunities available. We need new industries to sustain my constituency in the future. There is a rare opportunity in Easington to secure significant private sector investment for the proposed centre for creative excellence to be built on the east Durham heritage coast. The project would deliver more than £200 million of private sector investment and could create 2,000 jobs and training opportunities in a ready-made global film and media communications market. Our regional development agency, One North East, was supporting the project until it was abolished. I sought to discuss the importance of that project with Ministers in the previous Parliament, but I am afraid that I received little support from the Government.

In view of the Government’s conversion to a northern powerhouse, I will welcome the Minister’s input on any direct support that they are prepared to offer to that unique and potentially transformative project in my constituency. Unfortunately, I am yet to witness the positive impact of my local enterprise partnership, and the Government’s other flagship policy designed to support business development, the regional growth fund, which I feel has a misleading name. It should be called a national growth fund, since it is open to all regions. Widening economic disparities between the various regions, especially between the older industrial regions and London and the south-east, are proof of that fund’s failure. That is why I advocate direct Government intervention for the centre for creative excellence.

If the northern powerhouse is anything other than rhetoric, we need a real development fund that is targeted specifically at weaker regional economies to bring in developments such as the one in my constituency and to address the employment and skills imbalance between the regions. There is a moral duty on the Government to close the gap and address regional inequalities that damage our national economy and leave generations of people in the poorest economies behind, as well as reducing their life chances. There are development opportunities if the Government want to seize them.

The modest return to growth in the last quarter has not been a recovery for all. In older industrial communities, the recovery is in fact reinforcing existing economic divides. If we are to rebalance the economy and deliver a sustainable recovery, the Government need to back up the rhetoric. We need to ensure that the same level of resources and development that is directed towards London and the south-east is targeted at the weakest regional economies. Delivering those practical policies would give us an opportunity to narrow the economic gap and deliver much-needed jobs and growth to the former industrial communities that have been ignored by the Government for too long.

I have made a number of practical suggestions, and I hope that the Minister will reflect on them. They are opportunities to take forward the Government’s vision of a northern powerhouse in a practical, meaningful way that would benefit the region. I will be interested to hear her comments on my proposals.

Health and Social Care Debate

Tuesday 2nd June,
House of Commons
Health and Social Care Debate

Seaham PharmacyGrahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate on the Queen’s Speech and on such an important subject. It is an absolute honour to follow so many excellent maiden speeches, not least that of my very good friend my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and some excellent contributions from all around the Chamber.

In the time available, I want to say a few things about health inequalities, cancer treatment and cancer outcomes. In my usual, inimitable style, Minister, and in the vein of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), I shall endeavour to be helpful. I have some specific suggestions to put to the Minister in the context of the Government’s commitments outlined in the Gracious Speech.

I pay tribute to the excellent work done in the campaign headed up by Lawrence Dallaglio. We can now look forward to hundreds of newly diagnosed cancer patients with some of the most complex cancers being treated with advanced stereotactic ablative radiotherapy—SABR, as it is commonly known. Although SABR is widely used in the rest of Europe and, indeed, the United States, it will be the first time that patients with cancer other than lung cancers will receive treatment here in the UK. Not only does SABR treat cancers that conventional radiotherapy cannot, but the advanced nature of the treatment is such that patients have to be irradiated four or five times, rather than 25 times with conventional radiotherapy. SABR is not only more effective and will save our cancer centres money, but, more important, it can dramatically reduce the number of times patients are exposed to radiation while still destroying the cancer.

I pay tribute to the work done by Tessa Munt, who previously represented the constituency of Wells. She was a real champion and I think it was she who initially got Lawrence Dallaglio involved. It is good news for many cancer patients—and I emphasise “many”, because those of us who live north of Birmingham would have had no chance of finding one cancer centre that could treat all the cancers that the Dallaglio campaign opened the door to. Patients in my Easington constituency in the north-east of England with a cancer that had spread to secondary sites in the body—not an uncommon condition, of course—would find themselves being treated with SABR for one cancer in one hospital, and for the secondary cancer in a hospital over 100 miles away.

For the past five years, NHS policy on purchasing advanced radiotherapy machines has been to buy the cheapest conventional machines that can do a little bit of advanced work, and as a consequence we have cancer centres dotted around the country that can treat one cancer but not another, or that, because of their limited technology, treat fewer than the minimum number of 25 SABR patients required to maintain their accreditation. With the growth of SABR treatment, that approach to SABR technology is plainly a false economy. In the long run, it costs the NHS more and means that patients receive much more radiation than is needed, which is clearly not good for them.

While SABR is used to treat cancers outside the brain, stereotactic radiosurgery—SRS—is the global standard when it comes to treating brain tumours with radiotherapy. The use of the technique was increasing year on year up to 2013, but that was brought to a crashing halt when the health reforms were brought in and NHS England came into being. To justify the suppression of SRS treatment two years ago, NHS England ordered an SRS review. I remind the Minister that that review has yet to be completed; it is turning into the longest radiotherapy review in history. Meanwhile, patients are being denied treatment with the most modern SRS machines at the hospitals of their choice—for example, University College London hospitals—and are being sent elsewhere.

I do not wish to be too parochial, but the lack of provision of SABR and SRS in the north of England is a scandal. Outside Leeds and Sheffield, the north is something of a wasteland. According to NHS England’s own figures, there is no provision at all in the north-east—my region. The suppression of SRS is yet another false economy by NHS England. The most obvious reason why it is a false economy is that a non-invasive treatment, overwhelmingly given on an out-patient basis—patients come in for the day, get treated and go home—is hugely advantageous.

Five years ago the national radiotherapy implementation group said that what was needed were centres of excellence around the country to provide advanced stereotactic radiotherapy to our cancer patients. Detailed work has been carried out, and, as has been proven in other countries, it is improving the way we treat cancer patients with radiation, and we have finally started to make some progress with this next generation treatment in the UK. With the right equipment in the right place, we could do so much better, so will the Secretary of State order an independent assessment of the benefits of having one designated stereotactic centre of excellence in each English region, and of what would be the most appropriate technology to equip them with in order to treat the greatest number of patients and the greatest number of cancers?