Category Archives: Speeches

Speech – The Working Poor

Monday 1st October 2012
Labour Left Fringe Meeting
Labour Party Conference, Manchester

The UK economy continues to struggle. The Coalition Government’s promise of a private sector led recovery has failed to materialise, and it is the most vulnerable in society who are bearing the brunt of the “austerity” policy implemented by Cameron, Clegg & Co.

Since the Coalition Government entered Downing Street, the jobseekers claimant count has risen by over 700 people in my constituency, and over 13,000 in the North East. We are yet to see the announced job losses at Caterpillar, Cumbrian Seafood’s, JJB Sports and Dewhirst filter into the system, and I anticipate yet another set of “disappointing” figures. 

However, a new report from Sheffield Hallam – The Real Level of Unemployment – which includes the estimated 900,000 unemployed who have been diverted onto incapacity benefits shows the true extent of unemployment in the UK. The real unemployment figure in my constituency may be as high as 16.3% of the working population, more than two and a half times higher than the Government’s claimant count. The report indicates that in comparison to the UK Government’s official unemployment figure of 1.5 million using JSA claimants, the real level of unemployment is closer to 3.4 million.

The Coalition Government are holding on to relics of a by-gone era believing in a “trickle down effect”, by seeking to further concentrate wealth at the very top. Their income tax cut will make millionaires better off to the tune of £40,000 a year, but will not help one single constituent in East Durham. It cannot be just that those who succeed most during the boom years shoud also be shielded during the lean years, and that they cannot pay their fair share during a recession in which we are meant to believe that “We are all in this together”.

I believe we should have another economic stimulus, to support jobs and growth in communities like mine, though this time, instead of bailing out the banks, or paying for a tax cut for the top 1% in society,  or funding the Government’s failing work plan. I propose we introduce a living wage. The private sector is failing to grow in the UK, especially in the poorest neighbourhood, because the Government at every opportunity are driving demand out of the economy, a living wage is just one measure that would start to create demand in our flatlining economy.

David Cameron promised to “Make Work Pay”, and he has succeeded for those earning over £150,000, but what about the other 99% of people in the UK.

Have changes to Tax Credits made work pay?

Cameron’s welfare reforms have lowered the household income threshold for a family to claim child tax credits from £41,300 per year to £26,000 for families with one child, and to £32,000 for a household with two children.

Eligibility for Work Tax Credits have changed so that a couple with at least one child will only qualify if the couple’s joint work hours total at least 24 hours a week, up from the previous level of 16 hours.

Over 200,000 households, which include 470,000 children, are at risk of losing up to £3,870 per year unless they are able to find the extra 8 hours per week to meet the Government’s new criteria. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that families with children would lose an average of £580 per year due to tax and benefit changes. How is making the working poor poorer helping our economy?

Through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, the Government are dismantling employment rights. Vince Cable snuck out a written statement stating that in addition to extending the qualifying period from 1 to 2 years before an employee can bring forward an unfair dismissal claim, he would also significantly reduce the compensation cap.

How does creating new job uncertainties, implementing a “Beecroft Lite”, and making it easier for bad bosses to unfairly hire and fire their employees “make work pay”? Surely, in my opinion, the best way for employers to avoid paying compensation for unfair dismissal is to stop treating their staff unfairly!

This is “Beecroft Lite” but we all know that the Conservative Party want to go further, Beecroft would dilute some of the most basic employment rights – allowing employers to “fire at will” as to Beecroft this is “a price worth paying”!

In the censored Downing Street version of the Beecroft Report, he recommended

  • Dropping legislation on flexible working for parents
  • Scrapping licensing regarding the employment of children
  • Scrapping of the Gangmasters legislation that was set up following the deaths of the 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe
  • And, the relaxation of the National Minimum Wage taking us back to the bad old days of £2 per hour.

Beecroft’s “Bad Boss Charter” belongs in the pages of Charles Dickens and the Victorian era, not 21st Century Britain. Though he has many supporters on the Tory benches, especially amongst those on the right wing such as Phillip Davis who has suggested that disabled people should be allowed work below minimum wage, or Damian Collins who thinks young people should busk to raise travel fares and that a lack of motivation is to blame for one million unemployed under-25s, or Christopher Chope who sponsored a private members bill to abolish the Minimum Wage supported by the likes of Peter Bone, once labelled Britain’s” meanest boss” for defending himself after paying a 17-year-old trainee just 87p an hour, back in 1995 – I can’t imagine Mrs Bone doing a working week for just £34.80.

Despite being set at just £3.60 an hour in 1999, the National Minimum Wage immediately raised the pay of 1.9 million low-paid workers. It was an important first step, but the time has come to move beyond a minimum to a living wage.

In a time of “austerity” there are tough decisions to be made; however, one of the easiest is to introduce a living wage and really make work pay.

As the minimum wage is not a living wage nearly all low paid employees are eligible to receive tax credits. I do not oppose the additional support for the lowest paid worker – I do oppose profitable employers failing to pay their own wage bill. The taxpayer wouldn’t tolerate the Government paying a private businesses energy cost, or advertising, so why is it acceptable that they receive a subsidy to meet their staffing costs, enhancing the profits of some of the largest multinationals who continue to rely on cheap labour and pay poverty wages.

The international charity Save the Children launched its first ever domestic campaign in order to raise £500,000, to help low-paid working families, who according to their new report – It Shouldn’t Happen Here – are going without hot meals, new shoes and winter clothes, and missing out on school trips, toys and treats because their parents cannot afford the rising cost of living.

Save the Children plans to spend money raised on its Eat, Sleep, Learn, Play programme, which gives cookers, beds and other essential household items to families living in poverty, and its Fast scheme, which helps low-income parents to provide at-home educational support to their children.

Low income families are bearing the brunt of austerity, with spending cuts hitting the poorest tenth of the population 13 times harder than the richest tenth. All three main political parties signed up to the 2010 Child Poverty Act with the aim of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020.

Making Work Pay should be at the centre of lifting children out of poverty, but, this is not the case. Shockingly, 61% of children in poverty live in households with working parents. All working parents should be able to earn enough to raise their family free from poverty and with enough income to provide their children with a healthy childhood, providing them with the opportunity to succeed.

Social mobility has ground to a stop in the UK, where only one out of every nine children from a low income background will reach the top 25% of earners as an adult. Poor children are still becoming poor adults, only the Labour Party can stop this destructive cycle and no matter what the economic position at the next election, the first line in any Labour budget for 2015 must state that:

Work must pay and must provide a route out of poverty; we will ensure work always pays with the introduction of a living wage.

This would be the next step towards creating a future fair for all.

Speech – Health Inequalities

Monday 1st October,
SHA Fringe Meeting,
Labour Party Conference, Manchester
 Health inequalities reflect the socio-economic inequalities that exist in our society. While increased funding in health services is part of the solution, focus must be given to policy areas such as housing, education, and employment.

It is a shocking indictment of society that in 2012 a child born in poverty is more likely to become an adult in poverty, eventually dying earlier, and with more life limiting illness than their more affluent peers.

Poor housing can lead to chronic illness such as asthma and bronchitis, there is an attainment gap for children in receipt of free school meals, and many aspects of health and wellbeing are shaped early in life.

Social mobility has ground to a stop in the UK, where only one out of every nine children from a low income background will reach the top 25% of earners as an adult. 

The Government have preached that work is a route out of poverty; I fundamentally believe it should be, but shockingly 61% of children in poverty live in a household with working parents. I agree with the Government – “work must pay” – everyone who works should receive a living wage, enough to cover the cost of living – we need to end poverty wages and it is time to move beyond a minimum wage to a living wage.

Despite Government rhetoric they have done nothing to make work pay. All they have achieved is to push people who are looking for or who cannot work further into poverty through cuts to welfare. No one working on a low income has been made better off by the Government, they have seen cuts to tax credits, wage freezes, public service cuts, the threat of Beecroft’s “fire at will” employment reforms, with arrogant multi-millionaire Government Minister’s saying they are not working hard enough.

Without a fairer, more equal country, we cannot expect a healthier society. A good society cannot be judged on economic growth alone.  Three decades of economic growth hasn’t narrowed health inequalities as we see the gap widen between the richest and the poorest in society.

It cannot be right that a person living in the poorest areas in England will on average die seven years earlier than people living in the richest neighbourhoods. Worst still, not only will their lives be shorter, they are likely to spend their shortened lives with a chronic illness, there is a 17 year difference in disability free life expectancy between the least and most affluent people in society. If we could equal life expectancy, those currently dying prematurely would enjoy between 1.3 and 2.5 million extra years of life, of which a further 2.8 million years would be free of life limiting illness.

The scale of the challenge is immense, and with a Conservative led Coalition Government purely focused on “austerity” it would be naive to believe they could be persuaded by the human cost alone. The truth is health inequalities and limiting the life opportunities for the poorest in society has a huge impact on our economy.

It is estimated that health inequalities account for productivity losses of up to £31 – 33 billion per year, in addition to lost taxes and higher welfare payments in the region of £20-32 billion per year. The further cost to the NHS is in the region of £5.5 billion per year, and if we fail to reduce health inequality the cost of treating obesity alone will rise from £2 billion per year to £5 billion per year by 2025.

The Coalition Government health reforms have fundamentally altered the nature of the NHS. Through privately led commissioning groups we will see the reintroduction of a postcode lottery, a more fragmented and uncoordinated health service having to cope with the increased pressures of greater competition. This comes at a time when a more collective, more integrated and more focused effort is required in order to tackle health inequalities.

In order to stop today’s poor children becoming tomorrow’s poor adults the Government must refocus their attention on early year’s development, especially in deprived communities where the gaps begin to widen in health and social inequalities. We must enable every child to reach their full potential as success in education often brings many social, economic and health benefits.

It will require all political parties to re-pledge their commitment to end child poverty by 2020 as enshrined in law by the 2010 Child Poverty Act. It will require a commitment to full employment and a living wage as a means of eradicating in work poverty. We need the end of austerity that is making our communities poorer and hurting the most vulnerable in society by damaging our public services and welfare system exacerbating the social, economic and health inequalities that exist between the richest and poorest in society.

Speech: Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill

Monday 17th September 2012,
House of Commons

I was hoping to open with some generous comments about the contributions from Government Members, and although I have agreed with some of them, I have found others that dealt with the Opposition’s view a little unpalatable. Make no mistake: our commitment is to jobs and growth, and to a credible plan to stimulate investment in infrastructure.

As my hon. Friend Roberta Blackman-Woods has already said, a number of sectors in our region could benefit considerably from investment in housing and construction. I did not quite understand the point the former Prisons Minister, Mr Blunt, was making in saying that housing should not be considered as infrastructure. It is absolutely vital. As many as 25,000 new jobs in the north-east could be created through low-carbon investment and a proposal from the North East of England Process Industry Cluster. We should also consider superfast broadband, communications and transport. Although we are not a direct beneficiary of High Speed 2, there is a plan to locate the train-builder, Hitachi, within County Durham, which could generate many thousands of new jobs.

In the time available I want to talk about the important and often neglected role of regional airports as part of our regional economic infrastructure. In the north-east, that is the Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley airports, which I want to thank, along with the Airport Operators Association, for their assistance in providing information. As Members will appreciate, airport infrastructure projects are generally entirely private sector funded. More than £100 million has been invested in new facilities and infrastructure at Newcastle airport since 2000. A terminal, a runway, instrument landing systems, an air traffic control tower, a fuel farm—all have been improved or replaced during the intervening period. More than £3.2 million has been spent on the terminal in the past year. Plans further to improve the airport include additional investment in the terminal, aircraft parking stands, freight offices and access.

However, this is not simply a question, as the Minister implied, of overcoming ownership and planning constraints. Other Government policies influence the ability to take forward infrastructure projects, one of which is investment in complementary infrastructure in other modes. Here, I am thinking of the importance of improving the A1 western bypass, which is seen as an obstacle to further growth at the airport. That would be of considerable benefit in terms of gross value added and improving journey times. I hope the Bill is an indication that the coalition now recognises the importance of aviation policy to the UK economy. We need to ensure that the UK can compete in both established and emerging markets. That requires investment in airport infrastructure, and not only to enhance connectivity right across the country; the UK needs vibrant, point-to-point airports and sufficient world-class hub capacity. I do not propose to get involved in an argument about whether the right thing to do is to expand Heathrow; but it is absolutely clear that that is a decision for Government to make. It is up to the Government to decide where hub capacity, if it is to be increased, should be. As with all infrastructure improvements, there is a long lead-in time and people need certainty in order to invest in new facilities. James Morris suggested that an alternative would be to expand Birmingham airport, but I do not necessarily agree that that would be the best decision. However, the Government should consider the matter, as our regional airports are suffering as a result of this uncertainty.

These airports have considerable potential as engines of sustainable economic growth. As I mentioned, Newcastle airport supports 7,800 jobs, with more than 3,000 of those on site. The benefits go not only to Newcastle, but to the whole north-east region. The benefits to the regional economy are put at some £646 million. The airport contributes £57 million gross value added for tourism; it handles 4.7 million passengers a year and generates £48.8 million a year in air passenger duty from passengers flying from Newcastle. Aviation is a huge benefit to the UK economy, contributing about £50 billion, of which the Chancellor takes about £8 billion, as I understand it.

I wish to remind the Minister that the recent global crisis and the associated recession has caused the biggest fall in activity at UK airports since the 1950s. In the north-east region, the number of passengers at Newcastle airport has reduced from 5.5 million in 2007 to 4.7 million in 2012. Even more dramatically, the number for Durham Tees Valley airport has decreased from 1 million in 2005 to 200,000 in 2012.

As this is a Treasury Bill, it is reasonable to ask the Minister about the role of the Chancellor and the Treasury in the context of our regional airport infrastructure. Is this another case of perpetuating a north-south divide? I understand that passenger numbers at Heathrow, and indeed for much of the south-east, have recovered to their levels before the financial crisis. To use a northern expression, this seems to be a no-brainer. Why do the Government not see investment in airport infrastructure as a key driver of growth and jobs?

There have been notable critics of the approach being taken, and not necessarily from the Labour party. Mr Olivios Janovec, director general of the pan-European airport operators association, says that the UK has the worst aviation and aviation tax policies in Europe. Perhaps that is because of a lack of continuity; we seem to have had more Transport Secretaries and aviation Ministers than Chris Hoy has had gold medals, and I do not think that that has helped.

The Government are not doing enough to make regional airports flourish. There is considerable potential, and a major boost could be provided to jobs and growth in the north-east. That is important because the number of unemployed claimants in Easington in August 2012 was 3,307, or 9.9% of the economically active population. The number of claimants was up by 441 compared with the figure for the previous year and it was 14 higher than the figure for July 2012.

It is important that the Government examine what is happening on air passenger duty, as this country has the highest rates in Europe and possibly the world. It is a regressive tax that takes no account of people’s ability to pay. I also urge the Government to move ahead and recognise the important role of government in stimulating demand.

 

Speech: Funding of Fire and Rescue Services



Westminster Hall,
Wednesday 5th September 2012
9:30am-11:00am

10.36 am
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I am deeply honoured, Mr Bayley; thank you very much. I will make a few remarks in the limited time available, although I know that I have another 30 seconds. I had prepared quite a long contribution, but I will concentrate on a few points.

I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) on securing the debate. The number of Labour Members attending and the quality of the contributions indicate how important and timely it is. I do not envy the task that the Minister faces, but this is an opportunity for him to answer some of our questions and to take a number of our concerns on board. In the spirit of generosity, I wish him well in his new post.

I place on record my thanks to the men and women of County Durham and Darlington fire and rescue service, and my appreciation of the excellent work that they do not only to tackle fires, but on County Durham’s two major roads—the A19 trunk road and the A1M. They deal with many hazardous road traffic accidents. We had a meeting last night with the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water, and the fire brigade played a tremendous part after the exceptional weather events and flooding in the north-east. It is very much on the front line of public services. I remind the Minister of the promises made about protecting the front line. If the fire and rescue service is not the front line, I do not know what is.

On equity and fairness, the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) suggested that it is not just an issue of metropolitan and shire counties. I tend to agree, as the situation affects not only metropolitan brigades, but my own authority of County Durham and Darlington. Our grant reduction for 2011-12 and 2012-13 was 11.76%, and under the arrangements that are being considered, we face cuts of 14% to 15% over the next two years.

Let us compare that with more affluent areas. While I do not suggest that there is no risk involved, Oxfordshire’s fire and rescue service faces cuts of three firefighters and two staff. By contrast, Durham is looking at losing 40 firefighters and 20 staff. In the neighbouring metropolitan areas, Cleveland is looking at losing 180, and Tyne and Wear more than 100, in addition to 70 staff. The cuts are not being applied fairly and equitably.

I appeal to the Minister to consider how the cuts are being applied. To echo the comments of hon. Members from other parts of the country, in many authorities such as mine, extensive efforts have already been made to produce efficiencies, so the efficiency argument does not apply. We have already consolidated the number of fire stations and taken a risk-based approach to assessing appropriate fire cover. In my area, we have double the national average area of fire cover for each station. Our response times—perhaps this is the same as in Suffolk Coastal—are also double those of metropolitan areas. We cannot afford for that position to worsen.

16th July 2012, Opposition Day: National Health Service, House of Commons

Link

Thank you for calling me early, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to be able to participate in this important debate just before the recess.

I refer hon. Members to part of the Opposition motion:

“That this House regrets the growing gap between Ministers’ statements and what is happening in the NHS; notes mounting evidence of rationing of treatments and services by cost, despite Ministers’ claims to have prevented it”.

I would like to highlight one specific example. The Minister, who is not paying attention at the moment, may wish to make note of the issue, because it matters to cancer patients in my area and across the country. I am talking about the lack of access to advanced radiotherapy.

By way of background, I should say that the national cancer action team told NHS commissioners that radiotherapy is involved in 40% of cases in which cancer is cured. Furthermore, radiotherapy by itself now cures 16% of cancer patients. By contrast, cancer drugs are the main cure of only 2% of cancer patients. We can draw the conclusion that I hope the Department of Health and Ministers would accept: radiotherapy cures far more cancer patients than drugs. They should issue instructions to commissioners to reflect that and make money available for radiotherapy.

The current allocations are inadequate and arguably paltry. The radiotherapy budget for the current year is just £350 million, while the cancer drug budget is close to £1.5 billion. Within that sits the Government’s flagship cancer drugs fund, which, according to information that I have received, was underspent by £150 million. Despite that underspend, an additional £200 million is going into the cancer drugs fund. My concern is that that money is not for cancer patients but for cancer drug companies.

The whole idea is becoming discredited—so much so that, as has been reported in the newspapers, even Mr Clive Stone, the Prime Minister’s constituent who originally inspired the fund, has asked for less money to be put into the fund. Why? He now needs advanced radiotherapy for his cancer and there is no money available for him.

The cancer drugs fund cannot be used to fund advanced radiotherapy, and that is a real concern. I have no doubt that during the winding-up speeches we will be told that the Government are putting in an extra £150 million into new radiotherapy treatments over the next four years. The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), keeps telling us that, but when I ask him where the first and second year allocations—£13 million and £22 million—are being spent, he tells us that he does not know.

I thought I would try to help out the Minister, so I sent freedom of information requests to every strategic health authority asking how much of the money they had received and how their PCTs had spent it. I have good news for the Minister, who is not in his place. It is that he is not the only one who is in the dark when it comes to that £13 million and £22 million; the SHAs do not know either. I have the replies with me. I was going to read them out, but unfortunately I do not have time.

The stark truth is that under this Government no new money is going into providing the latest radiotherapy technologies for the NHS. In March last year, the Secretary of State commended some of the new facilities, including the new CyberKnife system at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London. Members, some of whom have also been to see the system, are concerned that charities are having to be used to raise money to buy that vital equipment. When I raised that issue in this Chamber, the Minister disputed that, but I have furnished him with a list of areas where it is happening. The Minister should accept his responsibility, get a grip on the situation and ensure that cancer patients needing advanced radiotherapy have access to the service that they need.

I support the motion.

 

Unemployment in the North East


 

3:06pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. I congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), on securing this debate, whose importance is illustrated by the number of Labour Members who are present. I was going to try to be good and not lampoon—sorry, lambast—the coalition Government, but I cannot allow some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) to pass with no response.

The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the regional growth fund is an improvement in regional policy completely incorrect. Any region can apply for funds, not just the most disadvantaged regions. I cannot understand why Easington, with an unemployment rate of 11.3%, is denied an enterprise zone and support from the regional growth fund, when affluent areas such as Oxford, Cambridge and Kent have enterprise zones and their companies are supported by the regional growth fund. Surely if the Government’s policy is to address regional imbalances, that is a good starting point.

Ian Swales: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Grahame M. Morris: The hon. Gentleman would not afford me that courtesy, but in the spirit of debate I will give way to him.

Ian Swales: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not giving way. Perhaps I was in full flight, and did not see him seeking to intervene. Does he know how many projects in London and the south-east have been awarded regional growth fund money?

Grahame M. Morris: I do not, but I know that in my area I have lobbied hard on behalf of a number of companies that could bring substantial benefits to a hard-pressed area, and we are still waiting for decisions. That aspect of Government policy needs to be addressed.

The other issue that I am worried and upset about is that a Liberal Democrat occupies one of the highest offices of state, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned that Ministers often visit the area. They do not afford me the courtesy of saying when they are coming. When the Secretary of State visited my constituency, I was not advised in advance and I was not in a position to lobby him with bids from my area. However, I have taken that up separately. I will now try to make progress because I know that many hon. Members want to contribute.

I remind hon. Members that unemployment in my region is up by 8,000 to 145,000—a rate of 11.3%, which is higher than the national average. Under the Labour Government, the gap between the economy of the north-east and those of other regions was closing, with private sector business growth and employment. The Member for Redcar quoted some figures. In fact, after 10 years of Labour Government, the unemployment rate in the north-east was 5.7%—Labour came to power in 1997, and in November 2007 to January 2008 it was 5.7%—which was only 0.5% higher than the UK average. Now, though, it is 11.3%, which is 3.3% higher than the national average.

I did want to start on a positive note—[ Laughter. ] I am sorry about this, Mrs Brooke. I wanted to welcome the invaluable contribution that Nissan has made to our regional economy. Nissan is located in the constituency neighbouring mine to the north, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). Nissan’s presence has some benefits for the supply chain in east Durham. I commend Nissan for its tremendous commitment to our area. It is a shining example of what the north-east is capable of achieving with the right support from local and national Government. As hon. Members will be aware, the two new car models that are to be built will create more than 3,000 jobs across the UK over two years. Some 600 of those will be at Nissan’s Sunderland factory, with the remainder in the supply chain. I do not wish to criticise that success story.

I am looking to the Minister—[Hon. Members: “The Whip.”] Well, I will afford him the courtesy of calling him Minister. Welcome though they are, those new jobs do not come close to countering the job losses in my constituency. Over the past few weeks, I have referred to the haemorrhaging of private sector jobs in east Durham. That should be a real concern—it certainly is for me and all those who are affected. I cannot remember so many job losses in my constituency since the pit closure programmes, which is indicative of the desperate situation faced by many constituencies such as mine.

The Government’s Work programme does nothing to address the fact that unemployment is often focused in communities with the weakest local economies. The problem in the north-east is not so much one of joblessness as one of worklessness. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool mentioned the ratio of the number of people out of work and the number of vacancies, which is limited. I refer the Minister to an excellent report on that subject published by Sheffield university, which makes some positive suggestions about what could be done.

The Work programme has been in operation for one year, during which time the number of people in Easington claiming jobseeker’s allowance has risen by 20%. About 1,000 job losses have been announced in the past month, and that will affect my constituency, where 3,195 people are out of work. Companies closing down include Cumbrian Seafoods, JD Sports, Dewhirsts, Reckitt Benckiser and Robertson Timber. Some of those companies—all private sector—are closing as a consequence of the decline in the building and construction industry, but mostly it is a consequence of a reduction in demand.

There is yet another side to the story. Easington has a strong manufacturing tradition, with companies such as NSK, Caterpillar, GT Group, Actem UK and Seaward Electronic. Those companies are looking to the RDA replacement bodies and the Government for signs of support that will enable them to take on more workers. There are some large-scale private sector regeneration projects in the offing, but again we need leadership and support from the Government, because many of those programmes are suffering unjustifiable delays.

I will not embarrass the Government by mentioning the centre of creative excellence that could have created 500 jobs south of Seaham, but I will mention retail developments such as a new Tesco supermarket on the former site of East Durham college. That would create 400 new jobs and a new library—a much needed community facility at a time of spending restraint in the public sector.

Dalton Park phase 2 also offers a glimmer of hope for my constituency. Once the development is complete, it will support more than 100 construction jobs and 450 new retail jobs. It will provide new facilities that will greatly benefit the local community such as a new supermarket, hotel, cinema, and associated leisure facilities. Such planning applications are often controversial, but—incredibly—this one received the unanimous support of the local authority, as well as massive support from the local community and other county MPs, and I am thankful for that support. The development was also passed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It is a rare phenomenon in that everybody seems to support it, but it is being delayed as the result of an application for a judicial review by Salford Estates, which owns Peterlee town centre. As I understand it, the founder of Salford Estates is a tax exile based in the tax haven of Monaco.

My point is that the communities in the north-east continue to be hit the hardest by Government policies that are driving down demand across the region. The promised private-sector led recovery has simply failed to materialise in our region, and the austerity and cuts agenda is taking money out of our local economies and making any potential recovery harder to realise. A decade of progress made under Labour to reduce the north-south divide is being reversed.

Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend alluding—perhaps not this explicitly—to the fact that problems of entrenched unemployment are very hard and take an awfully long time to fix? The north-east probably knows that better than any other region. The problem is not only worklessness but crime, mental ill health, homelessness and all the other associated problems that we know occur when there are high levels of unemployment.

Grahame M. Morris: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point in a much more forcefully and directly than I could, and I completely agree with her.

It is up to this Government to learn lessons from those things that worked in terms of regeneration and growth and saw our region prosper in sectors such as exports over the past decade. I find it quite offensive when members of the governing coalition denigrate Labour’s efforts over the past decade, as if that Government produced no overall success.

I did not intend to quote statistics, but I shall put a couple on the record. Based on gross value added per head, the rate of growth in the north-east went from being the lowest of all regions during the 1990s to the second highest during the past decade. Let me also put to bed another myth propagated by the Tory party which claims that our public sector was squeezing out the private sector. That is just not true. As other hon. Members have indicated, in our view the public and private sectors are not mutually exclusive but mutually supportive. Between 2003 and 2008, private sector employment rose by 9.2% in our region, while at the same time public sector employment grew by only 4.1%. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of businesses in the north-east rose by 18.7%—a huge increase that compares favourably with London’s business growth of about 19.6% over the same period.

Bridget Phillipson: May I give one example from my constituency to illustrate the link between public sector investment and private sector job creation? A local electrical company, Alex Scullion Electrical Contractors, carried out a lot of work with contracts to renovate social housing, apply the decent homes standard and build new social housing through labour investment. Now, however, times are difficult because that investment has dried up. That company played an important role in securing private sector jobs and supporting apprentices, and there are clear linkages between money that the Government spend and the creation of jobs in the private sector.

Grahame M. Morris: Absolutely. That is a terrific point and there are many similar examples. In my constituency, Carillion was involved in infrastructure projects including Building Schools for the Future and hospital building programmes. I did not mention it earlier but that company has announced 130 redundancies.

There is no doubt that the north-east was hard hit by the global downturn of 2008, but the policies of this Government are entrenching a north-south divide. To quote a Nobel prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman:

“The urge to declare our unemployment problem ‘structural’—a supply-side problem of some kind, not solvable by the ‘simplistic Keynesian’ notion of just increasing demand—has been quite something to behold. It’s rapidly entering the category of a zombie idea, which just keeps shambling forward no matter how many times it has been killed.”

The problem is that demand has been depressed. We need to stimulate demand in the economy. Quite simply, communities and areas such as mine throughout the region cannot pull themselves out of the mire without Government support. Targeted support and intervention are what we need.

Speech: Regional Pay

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I was rather perplexed by the Minister’s response. My impression is that if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. The Minister, however, says he is in favour of national pay negotiations, but wants to change how it is delivered regionally. As I say, I am confused about whether this is a U-turn, or is it two U-turns so that the Minister is facing in the same direction? It seems as if that is exactly what has happened.

Any decision to allow regional pay differences for low-paid workers in the public sector would only exacerbate the economic and social north/south divide. In fact, we recently had a Westminster Hall debate in which some of the relevant statistics and factors were put on the record. The announcement in the autumn statement that this was on the Government’s agenda came without any prior evidence base for such a move. When Ministers talk about how public sector pay might better reflect local markets, they mean only one thing—pay less to people in poorer areas such as ours.

Rebalancing our economy for the future and addressing the north/south divide should be a Government priority. However, these proposals for regional or local pay differentials—whatever the terminology—would simply entrench that divide. The north-east is facing a double-dip jobs crisis. Government policies of slash and burn in the public sector are hitting the north-east hardest, and the promised private sector-led recovery was always a Tory mirage. [Interruption.] Let me remind Conservative Members who are heckling from a sedentary position that the figures for the north-east show unemployment now standing at 145,000—up 8,000, providing a regional figure of 11.3%, which is an absolute disgrace. Regional pay in the public sector would only make things worse, turning the north-east, and indeed other peripheral regions, into low-pay ghettos.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I have been trying to intervene for a while. He makes a point about the north/south divide, about which many hon. Members on both sides are concerned. Will he concede that in the last year of the previous Government, the gross value added difference between London and the north-east reached the highest level for a decade and a half? I do not think that was due to the present Government, so what was it due to?

Grahame M. Morris: I shall come to that point. Under the last Government, the GVA differential was considerably reduced over 10 years. I do not have much time, but if the hon. Gentleman reads the Hansard report of the Westminster Hall debate, he will find all the information there.

In trying to justify his proposals, the Minister mentioned the evidence base, as did the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James). That worries me. Pay review bodies and police boards oversee a pay bill of about £95 billion, and any changes in the distribution of that money would have major consequences. The reverse multiplier and the taking of moneys from local economies are a huge issue, and the benefit changes have already had a terrible effect on the economy in the north-east.

I refer the Minister and the hon. Member for Stourbridge to the Government’s own evidence to the current review, which includes some key sets of figures that I found intriguing. According to that evidence, statistics from the Office for National Statistics on regional price levels relative to national price levels show that, if London is excluded, price levels throughout the United Kingdom vary by only 5.3%, from 97% in Yorkshire and the Humber to 102.3% in the south-east. In my region, the north-east, the price level is 98.2%. Those figures show the smallest variation in price increases throughout the United Kingdom. If the Government proceeded with their proposal to vary pay levels in the public sector, those in the poorest regions, such as the north-east, would be worse off while the wealthiest regions benefited to the tune of billions.

Ian Mearns: All of us in north-east England are calling for an economic stimulus to create demand and grow the economy. This measure would apply an economic sedative to regions such as ours.

Grahame M. Morris: I agree with my hon. Friend’s analysis.

The other likely negative impact of the Government’s policy is a brain drain from the regions with lower pay to those with higher pay. In my opinion, the Tory party has never understood the values and principles of our public services, which were founded on fairness and equity. What is truly outrageous is that Ministers waste their time targeting low-paid public servants when the real crisis is in the private sector. I believe that those are diversionary tactics, and that, if implemented, they would take more money out of the northern regions, which are already suffering from a lack of demand throughout our economies.

The United Kingdom is crying out for a serious new industrial policy that would reduce regional inequalities and close the north-south divide. A regional pay policy of the sort that the Government propose would only make the position worse, and it lacks an evidence base. Any comparison between public and private sector pay is a very crude measure. There are far more highly qualified workers in the public sector, there is a smaller gap between the top and bottom levels of pay, and there is a smaller gender pay gap. The majority of low-paid work in catering or cleaning, for example, is in the private sector. Similar roles in the public sector are often outsourced, which skews the figures still further.

The hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) asked about figures relating to growth rates and relative performance. Under the last Labour Government, the rate of growth in my region, the north-east, went from being the lowest in any region during the 1990s to being the second highest during the last decade. Between the mid-1990s and the global economic downturn of 2008, employment growth increased by 11.2% in the north-east and by 9.2% nationally. Between 2002 and 2008, private sector employment in the north-east rose by 9.2% while public sector employment grew by 4.1%, a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson). Between 1999 and 2007, the number of businesses in the north-east rose by 18.7%, which compares favourably with London’s business growth of 19.6% during the same period.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

Speech: 145th Northumberland Miners Picnic

Friends & Comrades what an honour it is for a lad from Durham to be addressing you at this terrific working class gathering in the heart of the North East coalfield.

My dad, even grandfathers, uncles, cousins were all miners. My mam worked in the pit canteen and I’m proud to come from a mining community, a community that is still proud of its legacy.  Even in this enlighted age not many New Labour MPs can claim both parents were members of the NUM.

The mining tradition & values of comradeship, co-operation and collective action for a common purpose, often in the face of adversity, course through my blood and formed my character. They made me the man that I am.

Like Ian Lavery and I wish to pay tribute to the work he is doing and congratulate him on his election as Chair of the Parliamentary Trade Union Group.  Ian agree with me, As a Labour MP: To represent the area where you grew up; to represent the people of your own community; and the area where up have lived your whole life and raised your own children is a great privilege.

Easington has returned Labour Members of Parliament since 1921 including Sidney Webb & Manny Shinwell & the infamous Ramsey McDonald.

Ramsey McDonald led the last peacetime coalition Government,  splitting from the Labour Party in 1931 leading a Tory-Liberal Coalition with an agenda of severe cuts in spending.

Back then, Labour opposed such an agenda with fierce determination.

Labour developed a progressive and socialist alternative, opposed the cuts that hurt ordinary working people and the unemployed.

The following election in 1935 saw Labour gain 102 seats, and the election after that was a Labour landslide.

Funny how what goes around comes around – How history repeats itself…

The course of action charted by governments today, here in the UK and across Europe, has been characterised by unfairness.

The impact of their policies have been shown to disproportionately hit those least able to weather the economic storms in the first place.

And now in this country, proposals to rip up employment rights signal the return of class-based politics. It shows the Tory’s are determined to put their ideology ahead of the national interest.

The coalition’s failure on growth and jobs has now pushed workers’ rights to the top of the Tory agenda.

The cuts will continue, there will be no “plan B”, no new investment, just a new attack on ordinary working people.

Appointing Adrian Beecroft to oversee a review of workers’ rights was like asking Dracula to draw up plans for a new blood-donor scheme.

Beecroft is an asset-stripping venture capitalist whose portfolio includes the pay-day lender Wonga.

Himself a Conservative Party donor, his appointment in the first place was as good as a two-fingered gesture to ordinary working people.

So be under no illusions, ordinary people are under attack.

As local elections last month showed ordinary people across this country reject unfair cuts to local services and reject austerity.

And economist Paul Krugman tells us austerity is badly failing our country and our people too.

In France, our brothers and sisters have elected a socialist – President Francois Hollande.

They sent shock waves across Europe and the world.

One of his first acts has been to challenge the austerity consensus of Merkel & Sarkosy & reverse the increase in the state retirement age from 62 to 60 that Sarkosy implemented as part of his austerity plan.

Events like these must be about sending a common message to governments who think that ordinary people should pay for the mistakes of wealthy bankers and city financiers.

This Coalition government is forcing millions of struggling families to pay more, whilst it is allowing millionaires to pay less.

It is forcing our Labour councils that represent the poorest areas in the North to suffer the worst cuts, whilst Tory Councils in the South face little or no cuts.

And it is forcing its cuts agenda furthest on welfare, the disabled, the sick and the elderly, whilst it does nothing to promote growth in the economy and nothing to create employment.

We are told that there is no alternative to cuts and austerity. But there is. These are political choices and they are the wrong choices.

How dare politicians now attack our public services as if this is somehow a coherent response to a crisis that started in the banking sectors of the United States back in 2008?

Reforms by Andrew Lansley to the NHS, to allow fly-by-night private health firms unrestricted access to profiteer from public investment has nothing to do with our debts, with cuts or austerity.

Tory reforms, spinelessly supported by the Liberal Democrats, are ideological and they represent an attack on our National Health Service.

This meeting is about solidarity, it is about unity, society and about people. And these are the values that are best represented by our public services.

Those who work in our public services who teach our children, collect our refuse, build our roads, treat us and our family when we are sick and care for us and our families and friends when we are elderly.

In essence, it is our public services that create and sustain the civilised society in which we live.

The right-wing media and the millionaire politicians of this Coalition government, would have us believe that public services are a luxury we cannot afford when times are tough..

They want to pit private sector against public sector in order to divide and rule.

The real challenge we face is shrinking the growing gap between the richest (who are getting richer) and the poorest (who are getting poorer).

And the only way to achieve this is through tax justice.

If you are on a wage, you don’t have a choice about paying your taxes – they are deducted automatically. Yet, if you are part of the ‘corporate elite’, the richest 1%, and you can afford creative accountants, you can pay less tax than your cleaner!

This country – and the North East in particular – needs an end to austerity.

David Cameron promised that the private sector would ‘pick up the slack’ and replace the jobs he was axing in the public sector. That has not happened.

JD Sports, Dewhirst, Cumbrian Foods

We need a new agenda of investment, growth and jobs.

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak here. I am an optimist. Hell, I support Sunderland – but I feel we are at last at a watershed.

People no longer swallow a government’s narrative that there is ‘no alternative’.

There is always an alternative. We should have faith and confidence in a fairer future where social justice is not an alien concept.

Let me quote you the final verse of a Robert Burns poem, (Why Should We Idly Waste our Prime)…I think Burns had an incling then what it was to be a true working class optimist:

“Why should we idly waste our prime;

Repeating our oppressions?

Come rouse to arms!

‘Tis now the time

To punish past transgressions

The Golden Age we’ll then revive:

Each man will be a brother;

Friends thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you at this tremendous political gathering.  I wish you, on behalf of the Durham Miners and trades unionists everywhere a most successful 145th Northumberland Miners Picnic.

Speech: May Day Rally

Comrades,

The first and most important thing I want to do today is to thank all of you for being here.

Millions of working people across the world will have celebrated May Day this week, they will have joined rallies and they will have united to celebrate the role of ordinary hard working people in all sections of society.

However, working people across Europe, and beyond, are under attack.

In the same way that we have come here today to show unity and courage, governments across Europe have colluded against the best interests of ordinary people.

As local elections on Thursday undoubtedly showed people across this country reject the savage cuts to local services and reject the austerity that is so badly failing our country.

And hopefully tomorrow, in France, our brothers and sisters there will endorse our socialist friend Francois Hollande and send shock waves across Europe and the world.

Events like these must be about sending a common message to governments who think that ordinary people should pay for the mistakes of wealthy bankers and city financiers.

This Coalition government is forcing millions of struggling families to pay more, whilst it is allowing millionaires to pay less.

It is forcing our Labour councils that represent the poorest areas in the North to suffer the worst cuts, whilst Tory Councils in the South face little or no cuts.

And it is forcing its cuts agenda furthest on welfare, the disabled, the sick and the elderly, whilst it does nothing to promote growth in the economy and nothing to create employment.

We are told that there is no alternative to cuts and austerity. But there is. These are political choices and they are the wrong choices.

How dare politicians now attack our public services as if this is somehow a coherent response to a crisis that started in the banking sectors of the United States back in 2008?

Reforms by Andrew Lansley to the NHS, to allow fly-by-night private health firms unrestricted access to profiteer from public investment has nothing to do with our debts, with cuts or austerity.

Tory reforms, spinelessly supported by the Liberal Democrats, are ideological and they represent an attack on our National Health Service.

Today is about unity, society and about people. And these are the values that are best represented by our public services.

These are the people who teach our children, who collect our refuse, who build our roads, who treat us and our family when we are sick and care for us when we are elderly.

In essence, it is our public services that create and sustain the civilised society in which we live.

The right-wing media and the millionaire politicians of this Coalition government, would have us believe that public services are the enemy. They want to pit private sector against public sector in order to divide and rule.

The real challenge we face is shrinking the growing gap between the richest (who are getting richer) and the poorest (who are getting poorer).

And the only way to achieve this is through tax justice.

If you are on a wage, you don’t have a choice about paying your taxes – they are deducted automatically. Yet, if you are part of the ‘corporate elite’, the richest 1%, and you can afford clever accountants, you can pay less tax than your cleaner!

This country – and the North East in particular – needs an end to austerity.

David Cameron promised that the private sector would ‘pick up the slack’ and replace the jobs he was axing in the public sector. That has not happened.

We need a new agenda of investment, growth and jobs.

We need investment in our public services, our infrastructure and our manufacturing base.

We need growth in the private sector, balanced across all sectors and all regions, not weighted in the banks of the City of London and the South East.

And we need jobs, for all those able to enter training and employment. This government would rather see generations of people in the North East linger on benefits than invest to create work.

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak here today. We must challenge what this government is doing at every point and at every opportunity. Today is part of that agenda.