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Question agreed to.


Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)(Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),
13 Dec 2005 : Column 1274

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.


Queen's recommendation having been signified—



Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I propose to put together the Questions on motions 8 to 12.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


That the draft Animal Health Act 1981 (Amendment) Regulations 2005, which were laid before this House on 9th November, be approved.

London Government

That the draft Transport for London (Best Value) (Contracting Out of Investment and Highway Functions) Order 2005, which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved.

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Electronic Communications

That the draft Communications Act 2003 (Maximum Penalty and Disclosure of Information) Order 2005, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved.

Criminal Law

That the draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Amendment) Order 2005, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved.

Environmental Protection

That the draft Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2005, which were laid before this House on 24th November, be approved.—[Tony Cunningham.]

Question agreed to.


Mr. Deputy Speaker: I propose to put together the Questions on motions 13 and 14.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Tackling Organised Crime

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 9997/05 and Addendum 1, Commission Communication: Developing a Strategic Concept on Tackling Organised Crime; supports the Government's position in welcoming the Commission's strategic approach to tackling organised crime; and notes that many elements of the strategy are, or will be, the subject of detailed negotiation.

Economic Migration

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 5436/05, Green Paper on a European Union Approach to managing economic migration; and supports the Government's position in response to it to date.—[Tony Cunningham.]

Question agreed to.


Tees Port

5.55 pm

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): This is the petition of the Redcar business association and the Redcar road west action group, the latter being a grass-roots group of people in the former steel town of South Bank in my constituency. Petitions on this subject have been signed by 810 people. They support a proposal by PD Teesport to develop a deep-sea container terminal to expand Tees Port and generate employment.

the proposed application—

southern congestion—

To lie upon the Table.

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Birtley Community Partnership

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Tony Cunningham.]

5.56 pm

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker. I also thank the Minister for being present to reply to the debate.

I rise to speak about the town in which I live—a town where I have lived for only just over a year, but a town that has already had a major impact on my life. Birtley is not unique, except perhaps to those of us who live there. We think it is special, but I imagine that anyone else here would think the same of where they live. At its roots, it is a town built on the basis of hard work, a town that has seen hard times, and a town that deserves a break. My aim tonight is to give some impetus for the achievement of such a break.

I shall describe the history of Birtley, the solidarity and strength of a dedicated group of townsfolk and, crucially, a planning process that, if it is allowed to succeed, could be a blueprint for real community development based on partnership, consensus and involvement—not just for Birtley and not just for the whole country, but for those beyond our shores. I also want to describe the way in which I believe the Minister, his Department and local authorities can help to bring all the hard work to fruition.

Birtley is a town of some 10,000 people. It lies between Chester-le-Street and Gateshead, on what was the old Great North road—the old A1. It is an old town: indeed, in 1996 it celebrated the 300th anniversary of the founding of its Benedictine mission. The mission was founded only nine years after the execution of the Blessed George Douglas, a catholic priest who was hung, drawn and quartered on 9 September 1687 for the crime of "persuading to popery". It is an old town, and today it still has brave inhabitants.

Over the next 200 years the area experienced massive immigration, particularly from Ireland—so much so that by 1871 more than a quarter of the population were of Irish birth or descent. They came to Birtley because at the time it was a Klondike: coal, iron, chemicals, shipbuilding and engineering all beckoned to people who were struggling to survive following five horrific years of famine. They built a future for themselves and laid the foundation for people such as me to follow on.

Brickworks were popping up all over the place from the early 1850s onwards. They thrived up to the 1970s. In the years before the second world war, almost 300,000 bricks a week were produced in just two yards.

The area, like all of County Durham, was home to a number of collieries. There was even a tinplate works that was owned by the local Co-op. It produced everything from tin water bottles for miners to tea caddies for the Queen's coronation. The tin was even used during the second world war to make cases for smoke bombs.

I was amazed to discover, when speaking to people from the town, that 70 years before Nissan came to Sunderland, we built cars in Birtley. If anyone knows how I can lay my hands on a 1921, 14-horsepower Angus Sanderson, please get in touch as soon as possible.
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Throughout the last century, we were one of the biggest manufacturers of munitions for all our armed services and for other countries, a role that is continued today by British Aerospace. It is noteworthy that, at its peak, over 7,000 people worked there, but today the number is nearer to 400. It is a very skilled work force dealing with high-quality equipment at a state-of-the-art facility.

Many of those workers in the early part of the last century were from Belgium, refugees escaping the trauma of the first world war. They settled in Birtley in an area that became known as Elizabethville in honour of the then Queen of Belgium. We were a town of hard-working people with lots of opportunities, but we were no strangers to struggle. Reading The Chester Chronicle—that is Chester-le-Street—from 11 March 1921, I was struck by the extract:

Real hardship was the order of the day for many. During the 1926 miners' strike, people came together and shared what little they had, sticking together, making soup, or broth as we call it in the north. Sadly, as happened 60 years later, starvation and desperation forced the men back to work. The means test became a way of life for far too many and, all these years later, many old people recall all too vividly the harsh reality of that pernicious form of welfare. The sooner we have no more of it, the better say I.

The town has prospered since those dark years, thankfully. Today, we see many positive signs of improvements that our forebears could only dream of. We have new houses that are sold before they are built. We have successful schools and, beneath it all, a great community spirit. Despite the setbacks of the 1980s and 1990s, we are moving forward.

One of the best pieces of news I heard in the past year was that the jobcentre was closing because hardly any clients were using it. I pray for the day when we can celebrate the closure of the last jobcentre. Even better than that, one of the reasons that the jobcentre closed was that its offices were to be expanded into by a local company, Komatsu, which builds earth-moving equipment in Birtley and is breaking records week in, week out. However, we still want to do better. We are committed to seeing real regeneration of the town centre to complement the town's spirit and the hard work that is going on across the town.

The body that has risen to take up that challenge is the Birtley community partnership, a dedicated group of people encompassing local councillors, residents associations, the police, local businesses, youth clubs, church groups, sports clubs and school governors. Representatives of all the community have come together, inspired by the directive laid out by the Deputy Prime Minister in 2000, which said:

We are taking part in that process in Birtley. Thankfully, we have had support from the Gateshead voluntary sector and Gateshead council. They have
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grown with the partnership, the collective voice of Birtley's people. Its remit is to seek improvements to the local environment, to communicate effectively on a two-way basis with and for local people, and to promote the regeneration of the town centre.

Already there have been small but important improvements, such as the introduction in the main street of flower baskets and flower tubs, a litter reduction scheme led and taken over by local schools, the siting of a Christmas tree in the centre of the town, which happened for years and has come back through the work of those people, and the development of an open-air carol service. Those are really small steps, but they make really tangible improvements to people's lives. They are things that put a smile on the faces of the people of Birtley.

The biggest challenge is still to come—the regeneration of the town centre. Using the avenue of the best value review carried out by Gateshead council—it was the first time that a town in this country was put under a best value review—the partnership engaged with officers from the council to put its plans forward. As part of that process, the council conducted surveys and sought the views of every person in Birtley.

To provide real ownership of the process, the council introduced Dr. Tony Gibson, OBE, to the partnership. Coincidentally, he lives in the Derwent valley, another great part of my constituency. Dr. Gibson was originally invited by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop the concept of Planning for Real. It involved local people in changing their environment according to their wishes and their needs, rather than at the whim of faceless bureaucrats.

Building on 30 years of work from across the world—from Kenya to the Caribbean and most places in between—Dr. Gibson relies on hands-on techniques and readily available materials to give people the real sense of ownership that they need. People already have pride in their home town: they just need the prompt and the power to move forward from hope to reality. Dr. Gibson makes it easy and welcoming for people to engage, using simple direct instructions and guidance, such as "You tell me how you would like to see your town". He encourages people to turn talk into action. He asks people to identify their problems, but not to look to others to resolve them. Rather, people are encouraged to use their own knowledge and common sense to provide the answers. It is built up by involving as wide a cross-section of the community as possible.

By all means use expert advice, but do not let the experts own it. Build people's self-confidences and get those who believe that "It's about time, too," to do more than talk. Get them to lead by example and pull others into the project. Then make that project come alive. Develop models and maps: they do not have to be state of the art, but they do need to be recognisable to local people. Set up a skills database. Who are the local bricklayers, dressmakers, IT experts or mechanics? Ask them to play their part in helping to improve their town. From all of that activity, we can then pull together a priority list that may not move the earth, but may well make a real difference for real people on a day-to-day basis. Putting a seat in the middle of the main shopping street may not mean much to most people, but if it
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allows old friends to sit together in their town and talk with pride of their shared past and their hopes for the future, surely that is a job well done.

People came together in Birtley and drew scale maps of the town, saying to other people that it was a foundation that they were working for. They then said: "Put on the map what you see as the problem areas, and put next to it what you see as the solutions". That focuses people's minds and brings a real sense of ownership and control, which is done by involving people themselves. Local people are encouraged to speak out and put their point of view for the town in their own way. There is no delineation between us and them. Whether experts or onlookers, everyone is treated as an equal whose view is as worthy as the next person's.

Packs were developed for schools in Birtley and the children at Barley Mow and Ravensworth schools were busily engaged in producing models to put on to maps. They produced a video that showed what they thought needed doing to improve their town. That is nothing new. As I said earlier, this is being done across the world by Dr. Gibson and others—and it works.

Listen to some of the comments from other towns. In Sheffield, it was said:

In Kingston, Jamaica, it was said:

In Statterham, South Africa:

In Kenya:

In Bosnia:

Commenting on the first Planning for Real project, the BBC said:

It works—and we in the House all know the reality of the failure when communities do not gel and do not work together. It is great—it is a shame that no Conservative Members are present—that, at long last, the Tory leadership has come to believe that there really is such a thing as society. But unless society produces communities that work—that control their own destiny and have pride in, and belief in, themselves—it is pointless having a society. Communities must work together.

Tony Gibson and active participants such as the Birtley partnership have put into reality the words of the Minister of Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), who said that we need to overcome


They are walking the walk in Birtley and replacing apathy with action. They are using local resources and skills, and involving their friends, neighbours, children and families. They are bringing people together,
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identifying and tackling problems and developing solutions. They are identifying the who, what, where, when and how. They are using experts but keeping them on tap, rather than letting them be on top; they are the doers, not the talkers. They have done the groundwork and involved the community across the generations. They have ignored partisanship and rivalries. They are encouraging people to think, rather than to moan; to see, rather than to talk; to act, rather than to debate.

I am glad to report that the Birtley project has just completed a very full programme of activities throughout the town. The maps, models and toolkit have been taken into schools, churches, pubs and clubs—anywhere where people come together—and the people want more. They care about the town and they want to build a future for their community.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields has agreed to visit Birtley in January and to see for himself what we do and where we are going. Gateshead council's best value review is almost in place and plans have been made up to 2010. It is hoped that soon the council will hand over to the partnership the old library, which will be developed into a drop-in centre owned by the town of Birtley and co-ordinated by the partnership. People became engaged in this process because they did not want to see a drift away from their town; they wanted to prevent further decline. They want a main street that acts as living proof of the vibrant community that Birtley has always been.

I said at the beginning of my speech that we are neither unique nor special—at least, not more so than any other town or community that has a pride in its history and a desire to build a better future. If our experience can help others, we will be happy to engage with them. This idea has worked around the world; it can work in Birtley and in other areas.

In closing, I ask the Minister to do all in his power to ensure that all this work—this effort and genuine commitment—is not in vain. Any help would be greatly welcomed and would be a testimony to our Government's real commitment to helping real people on the ground. We can put clothes on the words of the Deputy Prime Minister by not just letting people have "a say" in their future, but by providing the resources to allow them to shape their own future. We are talking about real empowerment and sometimes, for those of us in control, that can be challenging, but we must be up for it. The people of Birtley are, as Tony Gibson said in his book, like people trying to balance

It is hard and, as he says,

He is right, but we in Birtley are up for that challenge. I ask the Minister to keep our momentum going, to give us his support and to help us to keep moving forward together.

6.13 pm

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